Grand Duo Concertant in f# minor, Op.30
For Violin & Piano
Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) was born in Paris and entered the conservatory there at the age of 7. He was a child prodigy on both the violin and the piano. During his lifetime, he was regarded as the equal of Liszt as a piano virtuoso. Liszt himself said Alkan had the best technique of any pianist he knew. For the last 40 years of his life, Alkan became a recluse and gave up his concert career, but kept on composing, although his music did not receive the attention it deserved until the 20th century. Several critics have now written that Alkan, along with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms was one of the five greatest composers for the piano since Beethoven. It is said he was one of the truest of Beethoven’s heirs in terms of his structural handling of rhythm. Hummel, Cherubini, Chopin, Bach and above all Beethoven influenced Alkan's music. Although a great piano virtuoso whose output was mostly for the piano, Alkan, who began as a violinist, knew how to write for strings.
His Grand Duo Concertant dates from 1840. It is clear from the violin that the composer knew how to write for this instrument and the fact that he himself was an excellent violinist helped him in laying out the part. The opening movement, Assez animé, is a study in contrasts between the opening somewhat archaic sounding melody and the soaring secondary theme in the major. The work's center of gravity is its slow movement, L'enfer (Hell), which offers a very stark and powerful musical vision of the darkest abyss. The dissonances are by not means accidental but clearly intended to create a simultaneous sense of horror and mourning. The soft but dramatic middle section creates an elegiac mood. The brilliant finale, as the composer instructs, is to be played as fast as possible.