Today I’ll be posting on a composer I think is one of the most tragically neglected – Friedrich Burgmüller.
Wikipedia gave him an astonishingly short 3 paragraphs as his bio and I couldn’t find much else online, but I kept digging, and here’s what I managed to find:
Burgmüller was born in Ratisbon, (now Regensburg) Germany, December 4th, 1806. His name was Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller, but he’s more commonly called Friedrich Burgmüller. His younger brother, Norbert, was a musician too, and Friedrich’s father was a musical theater directer. For many years, Friedrich and Norbert were taught by their father at home.
When Friedrich was 23, he and Norbert moved to Kassel, Germany to study under Ludwig Spohr and Moritz Hauptmann. A year later, Friedrich appeared as a pianist for his first concert.
In 1832, at age 26, Friedrich moved to Paris, where he would stay until his death. He became a noted teacher and developed his own lighthearted style of playing, something that was reflected in his compositions. He wrote almost 100 works for piano and two ballets, La Péri and Lady Harriet.
Friedrich’s brother Norbert was of a weak constitution and died at just 26 years old. He too was a composer, and won much acclaim for it. One of his two unfinished symphonies was completed by Robert Schumann, who admired Norbert’s compositions.
Friedrich died February 13th, 1874, at 68 years of age.
Friedrich is well-known for his Opus 100 compositions, a collection of études. Though meant for young piano students—none of them are longer than 2 minutes—all of the études are individually beautiful. I particularly enjoy La Candeur, L’Adieu, and Consolation, while some more energetic ones include La Retour and Chevalaresque.
However, Opus 100 isn’t the only Burgmüller opus worth your while. His others, Opus 105 and Opus 109—which are both more challenging that the Opus 100—are certainly not lacking in individual uniqueness and beauty. Each one has something different in technicality and mood to offer to the player, which makes these études fine choices for sight reading.
I especially love the Opus 109 because each étude is so melodious and has a peculiar identity. There’s Les Perles, a more well-known one, which features quick runs in the right hand. My personal favorite is number 14, Refrain du Gondolier, which features some beautiful melodies, ornaments, and trills in the right hand.
Here’s a playlist for all the Opus 100 études, very well-played.
Here’s a playlist for all the Opus 109 études.
One of Friedrich’s most famous pieces is the Corbeille de Roses (Basket of Roses), Op.68, No. 3. I couldn’t find Nos. 1, 2, or 4 anywhere!
Here’s another piece for solo piano, Le Pardon de Ploërmel.
There are many more pieces by Burgmüller that are probably very beautiful—Fleurs Mélodiques, Les Étincelles, L’Ange Consolateur—but I can’t find any videos of them on Youtube. Maybe one of these days I’ll have to just learn and record them myself!
If you like Burgmüller, you may enjoy Stephen Heller, who lived in Burgmüller’s time and wrote many études.
In conclusion: Burgmüller’s music has been lost in a vast sea of superior compositions. Furthermore, his études were composed for children – why play his simple themes when one can play a more complicated Brahms Intermezzo? However, I think most of his music’s elegance lies right in its simplicity. I love to play Burgmüller because his pieces are so pure.
Burgmüller is regularly played by children of all ages, but what I’d like to see is more of his pieces performed by older musicians. There are many interpretive possibilities in his music – the only thing it really lacks is mature pianists to fully reveal its expression.