Martin Stadtfeld’s Händel Variations

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

At the age of seven, Martin Stadtfeld had a clear vision of his career goal: to become a concert pianist. From his first piano lessons with Hubertus Weimar he explored counterpoint and harmony. At 14 he went on to study with Lev Natochenny in Frankfurt, and by the age of just 22 he had signed to SONY Music Germany and released his debut CD: a recording of Bach’s monumental Goldberg Variations.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and with a string of successful recordings behind him (including Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Chopin), Stadtfeld turned to Handel for inspiration for his 2019 Händel Variations recording. Transcribing the great Baroque composer’s themes to produce fresh new piano showpieces, much as he had previously done for his Hommage to Bach album the previous year, Stadtfeld scored another hit.

And now, following the album’s popularity, Schott Music have delivered the official sheet music score of Stadtfeld’s “transcriptions for piano solo on themes by Georg Friedrich Händel”. Let’s have a look…

“Handel freely adapted…”

According to Stadtfeld’s introduction,

“During the past few years I have been overwhelmed by a profound attraction to Handel’s music. Ever since becoming a father, I have increasingly felt the need to write my own music and continue to develop my own concepts. Viewed from this aspect, Handel is the ideal model…

The current volume contains a selection of my own personal favourite works by Handel freely adapted to the modern piano. Although I believe that today’s generations have lost touch with the Baroque operatic world with its feudal codes and allusions, I am convinced that individual ‘detached’ arias can still unfold their effect and aura, even when extracted from their original emotional context. This possibly functions best on the piano which in essence always remains an abstract instrument, irrevocably focussing on the music itself, unimpeded by text.”

Here’s the list of Stadtfeld’s virtuosic transcriptions, which I would say are suitable for players at diploma level:

  •  I Lascia ch’io pianga (from “Rinaldo”, HWV 7)
  • II Se pietà di me non senti (from “Giulio Cesare”, HWV 17)
  • III Ombra mai fù (from “Serse”, HWV 40)
  • IV Passacaille (from “Trio Sonata in G Major”, HWV 399)
  • V Will the sun forget to streak (from “Solomon”, HWV 67)
  • VI Sarabande variations (based on the “Sarabande” from “Suite in d minor”, HWV 437)
  • VII Siciliano (from “Organ Concerto in F Major”, HWV 293)
  • VIII Wher’er you walk (from “Semele”, HWV 58)
  • IX Prelude (from “Suite”, HWV 430 first Version)
  • X Largo (from “Theodora”, HWV 68)
  • XI Piangerò la sorte mia (from “Giulio Cesare”, HWV 17)

You can listen to the full album on Spotify here, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts (please leave a comment at the end of this post):

Listening to the recording, Handel’s keyboard writing style is never far from my mind but the impact of more recent composers is also felt here, perhaps (tellingly) the great “Handel Variations” composed by Brahms.

For me, the success of Stadtfeld’s approach is in the way he gels contemporary pianism with Baroque compositional approaches, producing an aesthetic which offers something genuinely new.

Handel’s gift for melody effortlessly prevails, but in creating these new variations Stadtfeld has added plenty of his own personality, fitting with our times, to create a musical vista that encompasses drama, passion, blazing joy and serene beauty.

The Schott Music publication

The music book is superbly presented, with a cover that duplicates the SONY Music CD:

Artist photography Yvonne Zemke

Within the glossy cover and in Schott Music’s house style, the 60 staple-bound pages are printed on quality cream paper, making notation easier on the eye.

This is spaciously and beautifully engraved, albeit without fingering suggestions or pedal marks. Stadtfeld explains in his detailed and informative Foreword (which is reproduced in English, German and French):

“In this volume I have attempted to reduce the performance instructions to the absolute minimum, quasi in the Baroque manner, giving pianists the freedom to enhance the works according to their own personal expression and emotional reflection.”

Describing the idea of playing without utilising the damper pedal as “unimaginable, he suggests players explore intermediate half pedaling using their own taste and judgment.

Closing Thoughts

This publication in my view has appeal beyond Stadtfeld’s fans, and offers a valuable addition to the concert repertoire, synthesising Baroque keyboard writing with modern playing sensibilities and contemporary taste to stunning effect, with emotional intelligence and musical success.

Advanced players looking for music which is at once both fresh and familiar may well find that this collection offers many hours of rewarding discovery, while there’s plenty here which will undoubtedly delight audiences wherever it is performed. Martin Stadtfeld’s Händel Variations is by any standard an outstanding achievement.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.