This is a remarkable collection of etudes. Many composers have written etudes as a means of exploring different compositional devices in a set of pieces, usually for piano, (but other instruments are available!), but rarely by a woman composer in those times (late 18th and early 19th century).
Hélène de Montgerould’s etudes are much more far-reaching than that. Written during a period when Chopin was around two years old they contain pre-echoes of nocturnes (a la John Field and Chopin), stylistic traits normally found in the works of Mendelssohn, Brahms, Schumann and Reger, seemingly pastiche reworkings of JS Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and with a tonality reminiscent of Schubert.
While her three-volume Cours Complet was published in 1816 as a complete piano tutor, it was considered too demanding (at a time when France was preoccupied with opera comique). Her pupil Cramer’s work Studio per il piano whilst being less demanding and not as comprehensive, found far greater acceptance. There are apparently only 24 known copies of Montgeroult’s Cours’ in libraries worldwide, but some 100 times more of Cramer’s.
Montgeroult’s propensity for exploration might be the result of her rather tumultuous personal life, having been captured, imprisoned and her husband dying in prison. When released she was then tried in front of the French Committee of Public Safety, but was only granted her freedom when she improvised a set of variations on the Marseillaise , which allegedly moved the judges to tears. Montgeroult’s own story (music apart) is fascinating, and makes for an engaging fictional novel if you’re so inclined!
Mention must be made of both the recording and the pianist. Clare Hammond really wows the listener with her playing. It’s both sensitive when needed, shows great assuredness throughout the many and varied styles within the collection, and gives full vent to the grandeur of some of the larger scale etudes when required.
The recording acoustic is not large, and the performance and soundscape is very much one of one listening to a salon performance, entirely appropriate for the music being played.