Moritz Ernst Second Concert Pays Homage to German Greats

On Tuesday night, pianist Moritz Ernst returned to Gasson 100 to perform his second concert entitled “Silenced Keys: The Composer as Victim,” drawing in a crowd of young and old alike to appreciate an emotional array of music.

Ernst’s music career dawned at the age of five in his home country of Germany. He continued studying piano and musicology after graduating from high school at 16 years old and soon became a student of renowned professor Peter Feuchtwanger. He ventured into the professional realm of piano shortly after, playing concerts across the Europe.

Over his many years of music study, Ernst has developed a particular passion for music of the 20th and 21st century, focusing on lesser known composers in hopes of shedding light on their stories and rich works.

In this second concert, Ernst further developed his goal of invoking the genius of relatively unknown artists. The theme of “The Composer as Victim” touches on the common thread of the four composers whose pieces he played:victims of the Nazi Regime.

Norbert von Hannenheim was the first composer in his concert. Although actively composing in the 1920s, today most of Hannenheim’s works are missing due to an Allied air raid that resulted in a bombing of the bank where some of his works that he shared with friends were preserved. Otherwise, he did not press to preserve his compositions. He also composed without any sketches, simply putting music to paper without any drafting that could be saved.

Hannenheim’s style consisted of a richer, harmonic sound that flourished within short pieces. He tended to reshape the same essential flow of one movement in the movements following. Because he wasn’t exactly a performer by nature, most of his compositions Hannenheim cites as “awful to play.”

This sentiment, however, did not manifest when Ernst took his seat behind the keys for Hannenheim’s “Sonate 3.” Initially beginning with low, dramatic notes, scales of sound gradually began to grow faster and higher, setting a tone of suspense that would loom throughout the entirety of the composition.

Eventually the scales evolved into a rush of sound that listeners could only seek relief from through the next, slower movement, which expounded on a lingering sentiment of grief and quiet desperation. A permeation of lower notes anchored the composition until the third movement returned to those quick, anxious scales, which concluded in one final crash of sound.

Ernst then played Hannenheim’s “Sonate 6,” which began with a much lighter yet still anticipatory sound. A hope-tinted harmony then descended back into a mix of low and high scales, with fluttering notes grounded in the lower sound.

Karel Reiner was the next composer in the concert and the only of his composers to have survived Auschwitz, one of the largest concentration camps of the Jewish Holocaust.

Reiner had a passion for philosophy that shone through his compositions. He believed humans lived together with nature and were innately connected to the Earth, supporting a notion that emotion could only come through thoughts and the intellect.

Playing Reiner’s “Sonate Nr. 2,” Ernst demonstrated his lofty themes through a rollercoaster of gentle harmony and clashing dissonance, offering either a fresh breath or an incessant, aggressive flow of sharp notes. None of the four movements in the sonate replicated another, offering a unique reflection on Reiner’s individualistic tendencies.

After a short intermission, Reiner played Arthur Lourie’s “Nocturne,” demonstrating a melodic layering of sound that swayed back and forth from a mood of bleak solitude to a more joyous anthem.

Lourie inflicted a notion of Neoclassicism with a Russian twist onto his works, as he was a Russian-born Jew who migrated to Paris and then later the United States after the Russian revolution and the Nazi invasion of France. His reputation as a disjointed character in his early life manifested in the continuous up-and-down of his compositions like “Nocturne.”

Viktor Ullmann’s “Sonate Nr. 4” was the final piece in the concert, concluding with a fluidity of themes throughout the three movements. The piece, with its harmonious underpinnings, illuminated Ullmann’s inclination toward a classic style like that of Beethoven. He melted such classic sounds with a rich tonality, creating a piece that Ernst noted as very pianistic, saying Ullmann was a “performer who [knew] what’s needed for concert use.”

In his compilation of desperate yet at times hauntingly hopeful works, Ernst’s second concert in his “Keyboard Landscapes” series accomplished its goal of paying homage to the unknown greats of Germany as well as highlighting Ernst’s musical genius and masterful playing capabilities.

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor