Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Strange Deaths of Charles - Valentin Alkan

There is a degree of mystery surrounding the name Charles - Valentin Alkan.
He was born in and lived out his life in the Paris area, and by his thirties he was already in what turned out to be a rather permanent obscurity.
He was considered a child prodigy, and the rave of his surroundings for some time. His overwhelming pianistic abilities were recognized by such luminaries as Chopin, Liszt, Hugo and Delacroix.
The music he wrote is certainly some of the most difficult written for the piano. One of his Sonatas requires almost an hour to get through, and although his music has been obscure since the period after his time, there is a kind of renascence in recent years by some of the pianists; most notably, the recordings of the late Raymond Lewenthal.
I feel that his being a direct contemporary of Franz Liszt was one of the reasons we do not hear of him to a palpable degree in our time. He was born about a year and a half after Liszt, and died a few months after the legendary Hungarian.
His death enhances the aura of mystery surrounding him.
One account lists his demise as a result of a bookcase falling on him as he was on a ladder reaching for a book in the library of his home.
The other claims his death from smothering when a heavy umbrella or clothes rack pinned him to the floor.
You choose.

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