Charles-Valentin Alkan, classical music composer

Charles-Valentin Alkan image

Charles-Valentin Alkan


Charles-Valentin Alkan was born Charles-Valentin Morhange on November 30th, 1813 in Paris to Alkan Morhange and Julie Morhange née Abraham. The second of six children, he and his siblings adopted their father's first name as their last at an early age. Alkan was a child prodigy and entered the Conservatoire de Paris at only six years of age. During his years at the Conservatoire he won prizes in piano, harmony, solfège and organ. At the age of twelve, he gave his first concert as a pianist, performing his own compositions, at a private home.

During his twenties, Alkan reached the height of his career. He taught and gave concerts, and was friends with many of Paris's leading artistic figures, including Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, George Sand and Victor Hugo. He was considered one of the leading piano virtuosi of the day rivaled only by Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg. However, at his peak in 1838, he withdrew into private study and composition, and did not perform publicly again until 1844.

In 1848, he lobbied for the position of head of the piano department at the Conservatoire after the retirement of his former teacher, Joseph Zimmerman. However, his expectations were dashed and the appointment went to one of Alkan's former pupils. Alkan was severely disappointed over the incident and it may have caused his gradual recession from public life. He gave two concerts in 1853 but otherwise lived a secluded life for the next twenty-five years.

Despite his seclusion, Alkan maintained friendships and continued to compose. Like Liszt, Alkan's works are technically challenging and require exceptional skill to execute. His most well-known works are his Grand sonate Les quatre ages and two sets of etudes in all the major and minor keys. Unfortunately, many of his compositions have been lost, including chamber music and a symphony for orchestra. In addition to music, he was an ardent student of the Bible and the Talmud, and is believed to have completed a full translation of the entire Old and New Testaments into French from the original languages. This significant undertaking, however, has also been lost.

Alkan eventually emerged from his secluded life to give a series of concerts at the Érard piano showrooms, performing his own works as well as those by composers from Bach onward. On March 29th, 1888, Alkan died in Paris.

Composer Title Date Action
Charles-Valentin Alkan Allegro Barbaro 01/30/2010 Play Add to playlist
Charles-Valentin Alkan La chanson de la folle au bord de la mer 10/01/2011 Play Add to playlist