Searching for the Plot: Charles-Valentin Alkan's Souvenirs: Trois morceaux dans le genre pathétique, Op. 15
In the early nineteenth century, the piano étude was conceived as an outgrowth of the eighteenth-century exercice, perpetuating the idea of mechanical virtuosity devoid of any poetic meaning; but it was also shaped by the Romantic pièce de caractère. Drawing upon the context of Parisian musical life in the 1830s (notably the reception of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony), this article discusses Charles-Valentin Alkan's piano études Souvenirs: Trois morceaux dans le genre pathétique, op. 15 (Paris, 1837). This work shows how virtuoso idiomatic figures can act as genre markers, thereby allowing the encoding of a specific extramusical meaning. It further addresses the issue of the privileged understanding between the composer and his performer that goes back to eighteenth-century tradition.
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