“Fewer is better,” writes music historian Michael Steinberg: “A stage with just four or five musicians on it, or even fewer—now we’re on the way to transfiguration and ecstasy… When you go down from three people to two you cross a border, and from two to one there is another frontier to traverse, a really daunting one. We enter another world, and so it makes sense that we have a separate word to distinguish concerts given by two musicians, or just one: recital.”
Less is more
Recital music is limited to one or two performers, whether they are international stars of the stage or accomplished amateurs at home.
When Johann Christian Bach, son of Johann Sebastian, sat down to give a performance in London on June 2, 1768, he debuted a new music form–the solo public recital–that still thrives today. He performed on a Zumpe square piano. This inexpensive, sturdy piano also transformed the music scene at home for the middle class. Piano playing would become a prerequisite for young ladies like Jane Austen’s Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility.
Schubert and the art of collaboration
The Schubert Club’s namesake, Franz Schubert, wrote thousands of recital pieces, including over six hundred songs. The informal Viennese house parties that celebrated Schubert’s music, called “Schubertiads,” emphasized lighter music—songs especially—and participation. He preferred the intimate art of collaboration over the dazzle of a single star.
“Le Concert—c’est moi”
In contrast, virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt called his solo performances soliloquies, monologues or recitals. “I dared” he wrote to a patroness, “to give a series of concerts entirely alone,…saying cavalierly to the public, ‘Le Concert—c’est moi.’”
This piano was originally owned by Adolph von Menzel, one of the most celebrated German painters in the 19th century, who regularly held musical recitals at his home in Berlin. Among those who played on this instrument were Robert and Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Felix Mendelssohn. The piano has a light Viennese action, well-suited to the music of the era. Donated to the Schubert Club in 1972, this instrument was the beginning of the museum’s keyboard collection.
Christian Heinrich Kisting began piano manufacture on Potsdam in 1799. In 1815 he moved his business to Berlin, giving himself the title ‘Court instrument maker.’ In 1828 his son joined the firm. Kisting pianos are mentioned in the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman and other German writers.