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Re: Discovery–The Two Opus 2s of Eugen d’Albert

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Every so often we read about the discovery of some long-lost manuscript in the crypts of an archive, or the unearthing of a heretofore missing missive found locked in a trunk in somebody’s attic. At the Library of Congress we encounter these proclamations more frequently than you might think, usually in the world of special collections research. While some of these are bona fide “discoveries” of material unknown to the world at large, often they may be better described as “celebrations of new awareness,” be it for the individual researcher, a niche scholarly community, or for broader audiences. At a library, for instance, such materials are usually cataloged or at least inventoried, suggesting that at some point someone held it and noted its existence.

Many of these stories of discovery or new awareness really amount to the happy encounter between a content-rich collection and a researcher aware of the context and potential significance of a given piece of stumbled-upon information. Sometimes “the new” comes into focus as a result of making a list and checking it against the inventory. I experienced this recently when I “discovered” a “missing” piano concerto, and I figured that “In the Muse” would be a good place to share the story.

First, some background: last year I had the opportunity to speak about a small portion of the Heineman Foundation Collection in the Library of Congress. As a focal point I chose the composer most represented in manuscript in the collection: Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932). D’Albert, like so many worthy figures, was well-known and respected in his lifetime as a pianist and a composer (particularly of operas), only to face posthumous neglect and the threat of oblivion shared by so many talented but “non-canonical” composers. One of Liszt’s best students (he deemed him “Albertus Magnus”), d’Albert also had another important keyboard relationship: he was a descendant of Domenico Alberti, of “Alberti bass” fame. D’Albert’s piano writing wasn’t all about the bass, though; his sophisticated pianistic skills are on display in the pages of his piano music in our collection, ranging from character pieces and waltzes to the F-sharp minor piano sonata. The Library also has two of d’Albert’s Bach transcriptions, including the one for which he is perhaps best known—the C-minor Passacaglia.

Now that the d’Albert-y basis of this story is clear, I can continue: in 1963, the Music Division was able to purchase a large volume of d’Albert’s extant manuscripts, many through the largesse of Heineman Foundation funds. After I had spent some time physically looking through the collection, I encountered a list of these d’Albert acquisitions in Irving Lowens’ article about fiscal year 1963 acquisitions in The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, Vol. 21, no. 1 (January 1964). Lowens had been the Assistant Head of the Music Division’s Reference Section at the time, and quite meticulous in his accounting of d’Albert’s works as represented in the Library’s collections.

Naturally I wanted to take a look at the non-Heineman d’Albert works, classified separately, and that was when I first noticed what I assumed to be a mistake on the part of Lowens. In his listing of “D’Albert works bearing opus numbers acquired in holograph,” the first in the lineup reads:

Op. 2 (October, 1880): Concert für das Pianoforte mit Begleitung des Orchesters.

The list continues with:

Op. 3 (October 18-26, 1885): Lieder und Gesänge.

If true, that would leave a five-year gap between early works—rather unlikely for a young go-getter trying to make a name for himself. But who knows, perhaps op. 1 dated from even earlier. So I checked the composition date of d’Albert’s op. 1 Piano Suite, and it was listed as 1883.

One of several things could be happening here:

  • Lowens’ date for the concerto could be incorrect;
  • The concerto did not make the cut until after the publication of the op. 1 suite, accounting for the dates being out of order (this does occur sometimes, usually in the early music of some composers)
  • Other sources could be incorrect.

I was not anticipating the discovery that none of these possibilities was the case. As it turned out, Lowens was absolutely correct. A look at the title page confirmed it:

D’Albert, Concert für das Pianoforte mit Begleitung des Orchesters [title page]
If this was d’Albert’s op. 2 as labeled, a simple turn of the page would settle the matter, as I would see the low strings and timpani roll that start the piece. However, what I saw was this:

D’Albert, Concert für das Pianoforte, p.1

A minor! Either d’Albert hadn’t realized that his op. 2 concerto was supposed to be in B minor, or this was a different piece altogether. Of course, it was the latter—the manuscript is likely the “missing” concerto in A that d’Albert had performed under Hans Richter in London in 1881. Pushing ahead to the end of the manuscript, d’Albert clearly dated the concerto, bolstering the argument that this was the concerto performed under Richter:

D’Albert, Concert für das Pianoforte in A, final page

The work is substantial—436 pages in length across its three movements. While it is beyond the scope of this blog post to give the work the musical attention it deserves, it appears to be a fair copy of the piece, but with edits and sketches appearing periodically; for instance, notice the pencil sketches and modified cadenza passage:

D’Albert, Concert für das Pianoforte in A, with sketch material


D’Albert, Concert für das Pianoforte in A, cadenza modifications

While I am not certain, given the general completeness of the score and the nature of the modifications, I believe that this may well be the manuscript used by Hans Richter in performance. The concerto seems to have had a mixed (albeit limited) reception—but bear in mind that it is the precocious work of the 16-year-old d’Albert. His experiences with Richter and his subsequent travel to the Continent spurred along the progress of his musical maturation, and at some point he decided to start his works list afresh (this may have happened several times). It is by chance that d’Albert’s “official” first piano concerto would also be acknowledged as his “opus 2,” making the statement that “the Library of Congress holds the op. 2 piano concerto of d’Albert” both true and false at the same time.

Irving Lowens made a proper account of the d’Albert manuscript in his writing, as did the cataloger who gave the correct information in the record for the item. It was only armed with their information—and possessing some knowledge of what the piano concerto I expected to find should look like—that the rediscovery of this “lost” work was possible. It is my hope that what had been hiding in plain sight might now be available for study, publication and recording. D’Albert composed this substantial work before meeting Liszt or Brahms, two composers whose work and presence would greatly affect him and his career. As such it is worthy of attention, chronicling the growth of d’Albert’s instrumental music alongside his rising reputation as a pianist. More than just a work of juvenilia, d’Albert’s early concerto illuminates not only the active state of his creative mind, but also his willingness to explore larger musical structures—an arrow in the quiver that would serve him well over the years as he shifted to a focus on operatic composition.

After looking through the rich body of d’Albert’s music held at the Library of Congress, I thought it might be useful to provide a listing below of our primary d’Albert manuscript holdings (not including correspondence), since the curious researcher will not find all of them in the Heineman Foundation Collection.

Music Manuscripts by Eugen d’Albert at the Library of Congress
Items marked  with an asterisk can be found in the Heineman Foundation Collection [ML31 .H43 (partial)]. The remainder are classified as ML96 .A5

Piano solo
Acht Klavierstücke, op. 5 [1885-6]
*Sonate in F-sharp minor, op. 10 [1892]
*Vier Klavierstücke, op. 16 [1898]
Fünf Bagatellen, op. 29 (Fünf Klavierstücke) [1905]
Studie über den Traum der Ghismonda [1898]

Transcriptions and Cadenzas:
Bach: Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582 [1888]
Bach: Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532 [1892]
Liszt: Two Cadenzas to Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2

Piano duet
*Symphony (4-hands version, incomplete) [1878-9, through part of third movement]
Walzer, op. 6 (4-hands) [1885-8]

Lieder und Gesänge, op. 3 (nos. 1, 5-10) [1885]
Fünf Lieder, op. 17 [1898]
Vier Lieder, op. 18, nos. 1 and 4 [1898]
Fünf Lieder, op. 21, nos. 2, 4 and 5 [1899]
Lieder, “Hüt du dich” op. 22, no. 3 [1899]
*Acht Lieder für vierstimmigen Männerchor, op. 23 [1900]
*Fünf Lieder, op. 27 [1904]
Sieben Lieder im Volkston aus des Knaben Wunderhorn, op. 28 (missing nos. 1 and 2) [1905]

Chamber music
Romance in F-sharp minor for cello and piano [1878]

Orchestral (including vocal/choral plus orchestra)
*An den Genius von Deutschland, op. 30 (after Herder) [1904]
*L’Apparition de l’ombre de Samuel á Saul (dramatic scene) [1879]
*Cello Concerto in C major, op. 20 [1900]
*Der Cid (after Herder)
*Esther, op. 8 (Overture to Grilllparzer) [1888]
*Der Mensch und das Leben, op. 14 (O. Ludwig) [1893]
Overture zu Byron’s Lara [c.1878]
Piano Concerto, op. 2 [1880]
Seejungfräulein, op. 15 [1898]
*Symphony in F major, op. 4 [1885]
*Violin Concerto

Die Abreise (F. von Sporck) [1897]
*Flauto solo (H. von Wolzogen)
*Gernot (G. Kastropp) [1896]
*Ghismonda (d’Albert, after K. Immerman) [1894]
*Der Golem (F. Lion) [first perf 1926]
*Der Improvisator (G. Kastropp) [1901]
*Izeÿl (R. Lothar) [1908]
*Kain (H. Bulthaupt) [first perf 1900]
*Der Rubin (d’Albert, after F. Hebbel) [1892]
*Scirocco (L. Feld, K/M/ von Levetzow) [1915]
*Der Stier von Olivera (R. Batka) [1917]
*Tragaldabas (R. Lothar) [1907]
Die verschenkte Frau (large fragment) [1912]

*Multiple volumes


  1. Fascinating blog post, David! I hope you’ll follow up with a post devoted to the details of this concerto.

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