There are several notable birthdays today, and perhaps the most important is Charles-Valetin Alkan. A brilliant composer of music mostly for the piano, Alkan was also an amazing virtuoso pianist on the level of Chopin and Liszt, both of whom were friends and colleagues. Alkan was quite the child prodigy-he entered the Conservatoire de Paris at an unusually early age, 5 months *before* his 6th birthday and while there studied both piano and organ. Much of his music requires extreme technical virtuosity, clearly reflecting his own abilities, and often calling for great velocity, enormous leaps in speed, long stretches of fast repeated notes, and the maintenance of widely-spaced contrapuntal lines.
Few performers care to attempt the difficulties of the Alkanian oeuvre in public, though some display their uncommon prowess by means of his works. The name of Alkan even now remains one capable of engendering vigorous debate in musical circles.
Alkan's performing career was punctuated with long withdrawals from public performance, and from 1848 he began to adopt a reclusive life style, while continuing to compose. He was considered something of an 'eccentric', and sadly spent much time over the years battling depression, which was followed periodically, and happily, with sunnier moods. During this period he published, amongst other works, his collections of large-scale studies in all the major keys (Op. 35) and all the minor keys (Op. 39). The latter includes his "Symphony for Solo Piano" (Op. 39, nos. 4–7) and Concerto for Solo Piano (Op. 39, nos. 8–10) which are often considered among his masterpieces and are of great musical and technical complexity. Alkan was a fascinating and mysterious figure and armed with his key instrument, the piano, he sought incessantly to transcend its inherent technical limits, remaining apparently insensible to the restrictions which had withheld more restrained composers.
I'm adding both covers because I own both the Naxos and the original Marco Polo; the Naxos purchase was, like several others over the years, because I forgot I already had the original. I'm also posting both I suppose, because I'm ocd, especially when it comes to music collecting (surprise, surprise!)