Sigismond Thalberg (8 January 1812 – 27 April 1871) was a composer and one of the most famous virtuoso pianists of the 19th century.


Sigismond Thalberg (8 January 1812 – 27 April 1871) was a composer and one of the most famous virtuoso pianists of the 19th century.

Thalberg as composer

Sigismond Thalberg was one of the most famous and most successful piano composers of the 19th century. During the 1830s and the 1840s his style was a major force in European piano-playing. He was greatly in fashion and was imitated by others. In 1852, Wilhelm von Lenz wrote:

'The piano playing of the present day, to tell the truth, consists only of Thalberg simple, Thalberg amended, and Thalberg exaggerated; scratch what is written for the piano, and you will find Thalberg.'

Ten years later, in 1862, a London correspondent of the Revue et gazette musicale wrote:

'Nobody in fact has been so much imitated; his manner has been parodied, exaggerated, twisted, tortured, and it may have happened more than once to all of us to curse this Thalbergian school'.

Expressions like "exaggerated", "twisted" and "tortured" indicate that some contemporaries were starting feel jaded of his style. It was at this time when Thalberg's career as composer and as virtuoso came to an end.

In the late 19th century, Thalberg's fame had come to depend on his association with a single piano technique, the 'three-hand effect'. Carl Friedrich Weitzmann, in his Geschichte des Klavierspiels (1879), wrote about this.

'His bravura pieces, fantasies on melodies from Rossini's Mosè and La donna del lago, on motifs from Bellini's Norma and on Russian folk-songs, became extraordinarily popular through his own, brilliant execution; however, they treat their subjects always in one and the same way, [namely] ... to let the tones of a melody be played in the medium octave of the keyboard now by the thumb of the right, now of the left hand, while the rest of the fingers are executing arpeggios filling the whole range of the keyboard'.

In a review in the Revue et gazette musicale, the finale of Thalberg's Mosè fantasy is described as follows

'it consists of a principal melody on the strings in the medium of the instrument, played alternately by both thumbs, while both hands are traversing with rapid arpeggios the whole range of the keyboard.'

It is not a difficult trick, and it sounds (and looks) much harder than it is, but it was new in the 1830s and it caused a sensation. Audiences were entranced, and would rise up from their seats to see how Thalberg did it.

While Thalberg was still in Vienna, in the Revue et Gazette musicale of 8 January 1837, Liszt's review of some of Thalberg's piano works appeared. Liszt claimed that in the Grande fantaisie op.22 the left hand continually played arpeggios and nothing else. The description was polemic, since in large parts of the piece the left hand plays a variety of firms: but thumb-melodies were not mentioned by Liszt.

In response to Liszt's review, in his essay "MM. Thalberg et Liszt"' in the Revue et Gazette musicale of 23 April 1837, Fétis claimed that Thalberg had created a new piano-style by uniting two different schools. While playing brilliant passages, Thalberg simultaneously executed a singing melody. Liszt, in his reply in the Revue et Gazette musicale of 14 May 1837, wrote:

'Posing M. Thalberg as representative of a new school! Apparently the school of arpeggios and thumb-melodies? Who would admit that this was a school, and even a new school? Arpeggios and thumbs-melodies have been played before M. Thalberg, and they will be played after M. Thalberg again.'

Fétis protested against Liszt's insinuation. But Thalberg had at his concert in the Paris Conservatoire on 12 March 1837, played for the first time his Mosè fantasy. The audience noted a magical effect. They could see that in the finale Thalberg was playing a bass and accompanying with his left hand. His right hand was busily occupied with rapid arpeggios. But in addition, a broad melody was to be heard. Liszt's explanation of the thumb-melodies was accurate. This characterization of his style followed him until the end of his life.

Thalberg by the late 19th century was often only characterised as "Old Arpeggio"; his musical innovations were unrecognised or had been forgotten. Others were tempted by the successes of Thalberg's works to inundate the musical world with imitations ad nauseam. In the end his reputation was submerged by the trivial productions of his imitators.

Info: Swiss composer
Index: 7.0
Type: Person Male
Period: 1812.1.8 - 1871.4.27
Age: aged 59
Area :Switzerland
Occupation :Composer / Pianist
Periods :Romantic Music


Update Time:2020-11-03 10:16 / 3 years, 8 months ago.