|Preface to the Piano Sonatas|
"Why nobody plays Medtner? He is wonderful composer. Piano composer - in some ways deeper than Rachmaninoff."
Thus, in his inimitable intercontinental English spoke Vladimir Horowitz on one of my visits in the late 1970s.
"There are special colors - perfumes - complex rhythmic counterpoint. I want to play it now, but it's a lot of work! You should play it.
Listen, I will play a few sections for you." Then out came some wonderful sounds that fascinated my ear.|
I had of course heard of Nikolai Medtner as the least appreciated of the Russian 20th Century Romantic Triumvirate, grouped with Rachmaninoff
(who dedicated his Fourth Piano Concerto to Medtner) and Scriabin. Only in Russia had he been given importance; in America, and in the West in general,
the only interest seemed to come from a very tiny cult of serious piano professors and a still smaller group of devotees. In my long-past youth,
I recall that William Kapell spoke of Medtner as someone to "look into" - even while the composer still lived in exile in London. Yet the only
world-famous pianist to play him (in the West, anyway) was Emil Gilels, who also recorded the Opus 22 Sonata.
Horowitz's excerpts and his passionate conviction were compelling, but it turned out that he did not publicly perform that same Opus 22 Sonata he loved.
My impressions buried themselves in memory, to be called back at a later time.
That time came in 1985 while searching for books (on another subject entirely) at Dover Publications' retail store in New York City. I noticed a section
on music scores and ran my eyes over a few of them. One called Rare Masterpieces of Russian Piano Music held my attention. Even though
Medtner's name was not featured on the cover, I found that the G Minor Sonata, Op.22, was in fact included in the collection. I took the
volume home with me for leisurely browsing. Some weeks later, I got around to it.
The sounds I delighted in under Horowitz's fingers were now under mine. This pleasurable dabbling soon evolved into a powerful urge
to "possess" the work, and after long and hard preparation, I played the sonata in my programs for several seasons in America and Europe.
For several generations of performers and audiences, Medtner has lain overlooked somewhere between the genius of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin
and the juggernaut of Prokofiev's "modernist" masterpieces. But he is not just a quintessential Russian composer; he is a master for all, and now
perhaps his time has come. Finally, we have all fourteen Medtner sonatas together, at last available to a new world of piano music lovers! -
a long overdue event for which I congratulate The International Medtner Foundation and Dover. All pianists should rejoice!