Selected excerpts from the research thesis: “The genesis and development of the solo piano recital as exemplified by the practices of selected virtuoso pianists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (The Piano Recital – An Opera in 3 Acts)"




INTRODUCTION (Prelude)     1
Introduction     2
The meanings: concert, solo performance and recital     2
Important factors that influenced the growth of 19th century piano performances - Grounds conducive to the emergence and development of the ‘solo piano recital’     4
Chapter 1 (Act 1)     9
Introduction     9
The ‘variety’ benefit concert as a precursor of the solo piano recital     10
        General characteristics     10
        Repertoire     12
        Performance practices     13
        Audience/concert etiquette     15
Virtuoso pianists during the pre-recital period     16
        Introduction     16
        Franz Liszt     17
        Thalberg     22
        Chopin     22
        Moscheles     24
        Clara Josephine Wieck (later Clara Schumann)     25
Chapter 2 (Act 2)     27
Emergence and early beginnings of the solo piano recital     27
        The myth of Paganini     27
        Emergence and first instance of exclusive piano concert     27
        Liszt’s second exclusive piano concert and the rise of the term ‘recital’     28
        Liszt continued     29
        The application of the term ‘recital’ and the nature of the concert scene     31
Shift of emphasis from ‘the pianist as a composer’ to ‘the pianist as an interpreter’ – The canonic standard practice begins     32
        ‘A work (textual) orientation’     32
        Political, sociological and musical forces behind the shift     33
From consolidation towards the modern model of the recital     34
        Repertoire/General concert/recital characteristics     35
        Performance practice/audience etiquette/organisational matters     36
Virtuosos during the recital era     38
Chapter 3 (Act 3)     39
Introduction     39
General period characteristics     40
Late Golden Age Pianists     41
The ‘Late Golden Age’ Recital Experience     42
        Ignace Jan Paderewski     42
CONCLUSION / (Epilogue)     45
Current recital situation     45
The Chopin and Friends project     47
Summary Chart: The genesis and development of the ‘piano recital’ by Maria Welna     55
Appendix II     56
Concert Programmes (Reproduced with permission from the Royal College of Music, London)     56
        Programme: Concert of Nicolò Paganini, 6 July 1832     56
        Programme: J. N. Hummel Benefit Concert, London, April 29, 1830     57
        Programme: Concert by Franz Liszt, Hanover Square Rooms, 9 June 1840     58
        Programme: Concert by Franz Liszt, Assembly Rooms, Stamford, 16 September 1840     59
        Programme: Concert by Clara Schumann, Leipzig, 10 December 1860     61
        Programme: Concert by Chares Hallé, 5 May 1865     62
        Programme: Concert by Anton Rubinstein, Leipzig, 21 October 1867     63
        Programme: Concert by Leopold Godowsky, Bechstein Hall, 18 October 1902     64
Late ‘Golden Age’ pianists – a sample of recordings and a short summary of differences by Terry Teachout     65




As members of the 21st century, most classical audiences are familiar with the structured format of the solo recital along with the etiquette required of both the performer and observers. However the recital, defined by Michael Hurd & Paul Griffiths in the Oxford Companion to Music as a concert given by one performer or small group, did not come into existence overnight. On the contrary, after its origin the recital underwent a painstaking evolution that consisted of a multitude of changes before moulding itself into the rather rigid format the 21st century has come to know, expect and revere.


This thesis will examine the genesis and development of the solo piano recital which dates back to the 19th century, the historical context of that development in terms of the recital’s predecessor - the ‘variety’ benefit concert and the particular stages of evolution which the recital underwent in order to attain the systematic structure and methodology of its 21st century counterpart. In this thesis the stages will be broken down into recital development phases consisting of the pre-recital (concert) period, the recital era and the post recital era. The first use of the term ‘recital’ for an exclusive piano performance by Franz Liszt in 1840 is assumed as a starting point for dating the recital period.


The contribution of chosen composer-virtuosos-pianists will be studied throughout each phase since the genesis and further development of the solo piano recital would have been impossible without the colossal input and impact of their selected performance practices and innovations. Because of the scope of this work, some pianists are discussed in more detail than others (sometimes a brief note only is made in a wider context).


The issue of historical authenticity will also be raised in terms of the 21st century piano recital and what that means for the art of performance practice particularly in regards to historical continuity.


CONCLUSION / (Epilogue)


Current recital situation


The nature of the solo piano recital, once formed and consolidated, has remained surprisingly resilient, even to the extent of becoming an ‘institution’ in and of itself. The recital in the 21st century has retained a conservative approach to canonic repertoire, and continued to make an object of the musical work and its perfectly accurate interpretation. Critics suggest that the structured programs of a solo recital today consist of nothing more than a string of “implicitly educative litanies to the great composers” I resulting from the focus on an object (musical work) and an ethos of adequately interpreting this work. In spite of the unbroken structural chain of the recital today (leading back to the classical and interpretative qualities that were stressed in the recital and post-recital/recording period), a serious problem has emerged. If it is not solved and rectified the recital, nay even classical music itself, faces the looming danger of losing its place and status within the musical scene. II


Although this thesis did not explicitly deal with America, one may put forward the proposition that the development of the solo piano recital and its popularity thanks to European touring virtuosos of the 20th century who travelled across the country giving concerts, was similar. The same phases of development apply in America with the main difference being a delay of approximately thirty years. III In any case, news of an alarming nature is spreading throughout contemporary America. Classical music is in “dire even desperate straits” IV, with concert audiences steeply declining and aging. The average member of society is heavily influenced by the popular music scene and extremely frightened by the notion of classical music, if not unconsciously repelled before ever even listening to it. Methods of rectifying the situation have been studied and suggested in the hopes of restoring classical music back to its rightful place (centre stage). Performers are encouraged to make changes to the deeply set customs that go with a solo recital performance by speaking to the audience, wearing less formal concert attire, playing a wider and more interesting mixture of repertoire, increasing their use of stage-techniques (lighting and other effects) to name a few. V North American institutions (my own observation) are also educating their conservatory students about career issues such as arts management, resume writing, concert promotion/marketing etc in order to ensure that each alumni is equipped with the knowledge needed to maintain a solo classical career in today’s world.


Is the situation also serious in Europe, Australia and other parts of the world? Although the deeply rooted roots of classical music in Europe would appear to suggest that there is no grim danger, Hamilton (one of several pianists in England with this opinion), as Ross comments, believes that the situation is far from what it should be. He looks for inspiration to the ‘Golden Age’ pianists (from Liszt to Horowitz) who were blessed with a legendary concert attendance and calls for the adoption of ‘Golden age’ performance mannerisms now sidelined as vulgar (rolling chords, detaching melody from accompaniment, improvisation, preludes to introduce major works, transcriptions etc). VI

Hamilton suggests that making recitals a more ‘fun’ (less serious) experience couldn’t hurt either. VII In Teachout’s words, Hamilton, a concert pianist and teacher at the University of Birmingham in the UK, offers the fruits of his labours in the hope that they will inspire performers to break with “the fusty rituals of modern concert-giving, in which the music is served up with the superciliousness of a sneering sommelier offering overpriced wine at a too-long-established restaurant. 

His style is dryly witty, his scholarship immaculate—and his conclusions challenging. VIII


Samson points out that if one adopts a truly historical perspective in terms of one’s outlook on pianism and performance in the first half of the 19th century, the orientation of the work as an object of the highest realm will consequently become a distortion or anomaly. In order to objectively understand the nature of the early 19th century concert scene, Liszt’s vision of the recital and the ‘golden age’ of pianism one must discard the “distorted lens” IX through which one views the work as a God-like creation. Only then will a creative and historical solution to the current problems of the classical world, emerge. It may seem that I did not touch on the notion of the ‘distorted lens’ within this thesis, but although it was not explicitly mentioned, the general idea is implicitly contained within the confines of the genesis and development of the solo piano recital, and within the difference between today’s canonic, conservative recital and the instance of the first exclusive solo piano concert (later dubbed the recital by Liszt).


Researchers, musicologists, musicians and social commentators are slowly coming to the realisation that the nature of the recital development that occurred during the second half of the nineteenth century and its focus on serious classical repertoire and its interpretation (reflecting the intentions of the composer) served to loose track of a crucial musical aspect. The towering importance of the musical work caused the subversion of the role of creativity and performance. Thus the performer no longer possessed the intermediary role of interpreter, artist and creator but was reduced only to an interpreter. This in turn caused the loss of a flourishing virtuoso scene full of original compositions, transcriptions and improvisations. These skills were an essential component of music and for the most part they have been irrevocably lost. Like Hamilton and others, I believe that both the creative and interpretive aspects of performance should exist in a balanced equilibrium. Like two sides of a coin, the notion of creativity and interpretation should exist together, and not apart with either one being favoured over the other. Historically the two sides of the coin were present during the pianistic “Golden Age”, and that is why the resulting product was so phenomenal.


The Chopin and Friends project


My artistic endeavours in Australia seem to touch on a personal solution to the classical music crisis. I never consciously served to address the problem within my performances, in that my ideas were not based on research or extensive studies. I acted from intuition and natural inclinations stemming from my theatrical, and performance oriented background.


My personal convictions and views have been shaped by a life-long passion for music and performance. I have always believed that the latter constitutes a crucial part of music itself and is not “at the best an imperfect and approximate representation of the work”. For me the quest for an equilibrium between creatively performing a work, taking on the role of a mediator (between the composer and listener) and interpreting the intentions of the composer has been of prime importance. I have felt called to the popularisation of classical music to large non-musical and musical audiences in the face of thinning classical audiences and the domination of popular entertainment. In doing so I adhered to three general principles. Firstly, the music presented must be of the highest quality in terms of professionalism, secondly, performance practices and the element of creativity must be held in high esteem and thirdly I must take on the role of an advocate for the Arts as a whole and delve into political and sociological issues in order to exert some kind of positive change (Arts funding, education etc).


I found myself employing a number of techniques in order to attract a large, broad audience to my performances and to speak out for classical music. I wanted a vast number of people from different socio-economic and educational backgrounds to fall in love and become fascinated with classical music, solo instruments such as the piano and the Great Masters’ works. I used certain key variables that would make my recitals genuinely beneficial and entertaining for both the non-musician and musician of the highest calibre. My approach to programming consisted of choosing a canonical yet varied repertoire, which also included my own critically acclaimed compositions. A virtuoso program full of a number of eras, genres and eventually instruments ensured receptive interest from the side of an audience especially since the pieces were arranged in an order that brought about a bravura finish.


Innovations such as speeches about the composers featured in the program and their works/lives crept into my recitals, fulfilling an educational role but also facilitating a connection between the performer (me) and the audience. The speeches were interwoven with musical pieces and featured interesting and little-known aspects of the composer’s lives, serving to provide context for the music and to portray the ‘human’ aspect of the Great Masters.


I wrote additional program notes to be perused by audience members at their leisure (during the interval). By going to different recitals I observed that program notes were usually scant and that no oral contact was made with the audience. Something felt lacking and I thought of the importance of providing the audience with thought-provoking written and spoken material. During the interval, a display was put up consisting of various memorabilia relating to the composers, their works and lives (books, pictures, manuscripts, busts etc).


I found that some theatrical and organisational elements could also be introduced to create a suitable performance atmosphere. Each recital featured an MC (master of ceremonies) for fluidity in technical matters such as mentioning biographical information about the performer, recital structure, welcoming the audience and distinguished guests, asking for phones to be switched off etc. Professional venue staff was employed to look after lighting, stage management and sound (amplification for speeches). In terms of the former, more theatrical lighting was used (spotlight) which is not the norm for symphonic concerts and most recitals. However, the emphasis was not on effects that would disrupt the music, but on subtle methods of accentuating a beautiful classical music performance. My love for drama and all things theatrical called for the recital platform to include stage elements for that is the distinguishing factor between music performed in the confines of privacy and music performed on stage at a large concert hall. Subtle dramatic acts made up part of the program, for instance the presence of ushers dressed in folk costume (to highlight folk roots in Chopin’s music) or a dramatic act featuring the legendary ‘ghost host’ Ignace J. Paderewski.


The connection between the audience and their reception of the music I present at my recitals has always been splendid. I routinely receive many congratulatory emails and phone calls. What is more, the audience does not follow me backstage after the recital but proceeds to walk up on stage to offer their congratulations. The resulting feeling is one of not only personal satisfaction but also musical satisfaction because each member comes out of my concerts feeling new fascination for the world of classical music. People that have never been to classical concerts before come to my performances and then enter the classical concert going scene by participating in other concerts the musical world has to offer with new or renewed fervour. This means that my role of advocate for the world of classical music has had its successes.


Over the years I have performed for various government dignitaries and honourable guests, some as part of my recitals, some in other circumstances. They have included the Consul of the Republic of Poland, Cardinal Szczepan Wesoly of Rome, the Archbishop of Western Australia, the Auxilary Bishop of Queensland, Mr. L Taylor the Mayor of the City of Nedlands and other local politicians, ministers and government department representatives. I was also in contact with the then Premier of Western Australia, Dr. Geoff Gallop. Such opportunities enabled me to further develop my role of advocacy for the arts, within the political scene and also within the scene of church music. Arts funding and interest is low when compared to other fields and more needs to be done to rectify the situation. By showing politicians why classical music deserves patronage, individuals, institutions, orchestras, concert series may benefit in the long run if the government (in Australia) takes an interest.


The Chopin and Friends recital series is a concrete example of my musical activism. In 2003 I established the Chopin and Friends Recital Series and single-handedly organised, promoted and performed in the first recital of the series, which helped raise funds for the Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Research Foundation. The set up of the recital series stemmed from my artistic vision of advocating quality classical music to large non-musical and musical audiences at the same time striving to make the works and lives of the Great masters more accessible and appealing to the larger public. Chopin and Friends was preceded by a piano and voice recital organised in 2002 as part of my mother’s PhD dissertation completion ceremony.


Since that time four recitals followed, organised in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008 respectively. The 2005 and 2007 recitals were joint piano and pipe organ concerts while the 2008 event entitled ‘Piano, Voice and Pipe Organ with Maria Welna’ showcased a unique blend of virtuoso works across three instruments that don’t often bask in the full glory of a recital stage. The first two recitals (2003, 2005) were recorded live and released as nationally and internationally selling CD’s. What is more the CD of the 2003 recital continued to raise funds for the Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Research Foundation.


The 2005 and 2007 Chopin and Friends concerts played on the unique concept of merging a solo piano recital with an organ recital thus enabling a large audience of people to discover the majestically powerful beauty of the ‘King of all Instruments’, which still remains an unknown and mysterious entity in the context of authentic historical scholarship and practice outside classical music circles in Australia. In 2008 ‘Piano, Voice and Pipe Organ with Maria Welna’ carried out all of the previous goals of the Chopin and Friends series whilst also incorporating a third instrument into a solo-one performer recital setting. This ensured an evening of three distinct sections across three instruments filled with virtuoso works from several musical genres, four musical eras and five languages.


Articles, editorials and comments about my artistic and musical achievements, successes and ideas have appeared across a broad range of local, state, national and international newspapers and other media outlets. I have also had interviews and broadcasts on local, state and national radio. Two important broadcasts have included Bay FM’s ‘Compact Classics’ program (a two hour live interview and musical broadcast) and 4MBS Classic FM’s ‘Music Lover’s Choice with Howard Ainsworth’. The latter program was a two-hour live interview interspersed with my personal selections from classical music literature as well as other observations. It was broadcast live via radio to the entire state of Queensland and parts of New South Wales and to the world via a live feed on the web.

i Samson, J. (Ed.). (2001). The Cambridge history of nineteenth-century music, Published by Cambridge University Press, p.13

ii Samson, J. (Ed.). (2001). The Cambridge history of nineteenth-century music, Published by Cambridge University Press, p. 13, 14 and also Horowitz, J. (n.d.). American Piano - Lectures and Worshops. Retrieved April 29, 2009 from American Piano:

iii Based on Lott, R. A. (2003). From Paris to Peoria: how European piano virtuosos brought classical music to the American heartland. Oxford University Press US.

iv Teachout, T. (2008, April). Free the Piano Player, Retrieved April 23, 2009 from

v Teachout, T. (2008, April). Free the Piano Player, p. 1

vi Ross, A. (2008, September 8). Why so serious? How the classical concert took shape, Retrieved February 2, 2009 from The New Yorker, Arts & Culture, Musical Events:

vii Hamilton, K. (2008). After the Golden Age. Oxford University Press, p. 31

viii Teachout, T. (2008, April). Free the Piano Player.

ix Samson, J. (Ed.). (2001). The Cambridge history of nineteenth-century music. Published by Cambridge University Press, p. 27


Maria Welna, a young Australian concert pianist, pipe organist, singer, composer, writer, and Arts advocate (to name a few) always had a clear vision of what her future would be like.  read more



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