Ignaz Moscheles

Ignaz Moscheles

(Isaac) Ignaz Moscheles (May 23, 1794–March 10, 1870) was a Bohemian composer and piano virtuoso, whose career after his early years was based initially in London, and later at Leipzig, where he succeeded his friend and sometime pupil Felix Mendelssohn as head of the Conservatoire.



Much of what we know about Moscheles's life is derived from the edition of his diaries prepared by his wife, Charlotte, after his death, and published in 1874. This edition also gives lively portraits of his era and of his musical contemporaries. Unfortunately however the diaries themselves have since gone missing, although they may perhaps rematerialise. Another important source is the correspondence between Moscheles and Mendelssohn, preserved at the Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds, and published in 1888 by Ignaz's son (and Felix Mendelssohn's god-son), Felix Moscheles.

Early career

Moscheles was born in Prague to a well-off Jewish merchant family. His first name was originally Isaac. His father played the guitar and was keen for one of his children to become a musician. Initially his hopes fixed on Ignaz's sister, but when she demurred her piano lessons were transferred to her brother. Ignaz early developed a passion for the (then revolutionary) piano music of Beethoven, which the Mozartean Bedrich Divis Weber, his teacher at the Prague Conservatory, attempted to curb, urging him to concentrate on Bach, Mozart and Muzio Clementi. Nevertheless his abilities were such that he was able to study in Vienna under Albrechtsberger for counterpoint and theory and Salieri for composition. At this time he changed his first name from 'Isaac' to 'Ignaz'. He was one of the leading virtuosi resident in Vienna during the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna and it was at this time that he wrote his enormously popular virtuosic 'Alexander Variations' Op. 32, for piano and orchestra, which he later played throughout Europe. Here too he became a close friend of Meyerbeer (at that time still a piano virtuoso, not yet a composer) and their extemporized piano-duets were highly acclaimed.

Whilst in Vienna Moscheles was able to meet his idol Beethoven, who was so impressed with the young man's abilities that he entrusted him with the preparation of the piano score of his opera "Fidelio", commissioned by his publisher Artaria. At the end of his manuscript, before presenting it to Beethoven, Moscheles wrote the words "Fine mit gottes Hülfe" (Finished with God's help). Beethoven approved Moscheles's version, but appended the words "O Mensch, hilf dir selber" (O Man, help thyself!). Moscheles's good relations with Beethoven were to prove important to both at the end of Beethoven's life. (See below).


Moscheles was still a practising Jew in 1816, when he wrote for the Vienna Jewish community an oratorio celebrating the peace. Throughout his life, he (like many other musicians of Jewish origin) remained close to the circles of other musicians of Jewish origin (e.g. Felix Mendelssohn, Anton Rubinstein, Joseph Joachim, Ferdinand Hiller), and patrons of Jewish origin (the Eskeles family in Vienna, the Leo family in Paris, and the Rothschild banking family of England). He married in the Frankfurt synagogue in 1825 Charlotte Emden, daughter of a Jewish banker and a cousin of Heinrich Heine. Nonetheless, after he settled in England he clearly found it convenient to be, technically at least, a member of the Church. His children were all baptised at birth and he and his wife were baptised in 1832. Moscheles never disavowed his Jewish origins and frequently took his family to visit his relatives in Prague, all of whom had retained their Jewish allegiances.

Meeting with Mendelssohn and the London period

After his Viennese period there followed for Moscheles a sensational series of European concert tours— it was after hearing Moscheles play at Carlsbad that the boy Robert Schumann was fired to become a piano virtuoso himself. But Moscheles found an especially warm welcome in London, where in 1822 he was awarded an honorary membership of the London Academy of Music (later to become the Royal Academy). At the end of the year he wrote in his diary " 'I feel more and more at home in England' ", and he had no hesitation in settling there after his marriage.

Before that however in 1824 he had accepted an invitation to visit Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy in Berlin to give some lessons to his children Felix and Fanny. His comments on meeting them were:

"This is a family the like of which I have never known. Felix, a boy of fifteen is a phenomenon. What are all prodigies compared with him? ...He is already a mature artist. His elder sister Fanny [is] also extraordinarily gifted."

A couple of weeks later, he wrote:

"This afternoon... I gave Felix Mendelssohn his first lesson, without losing sight for a moment of the fact that I was sitting next to a master, not a pupil."

Thus began a relationship of extraordinary intensity which lasted throughout and beyond Mendelssohn's life (he died in 1847). Moscheles was a major instrument in bringing Felix to London for the first time in 1829 - Abraham entrusted Felix to his care for this visit. Moscheles had carefully prepared for it. In London, apart from becoming a regular successful performer and a musical adviser for the soirées of the Rothschilds, he had become an invaluable aid for Sir George Smart and the Royal Philharmonic Society, advising them of the talents of European musicians he encountered on his own concert-tours. When Smart himself toured Europe in 1825 looking for new music and musicians for the Society, Moscheles furnished Smart with a list of contacts and letters of introduction, including both Beethoven and Mendelssohn. (In Prague, Moscheles's brother acted as Smart's guide). Smart visited the Mendelssohns in Berlin and was impressed with both Felix and Fanny. This eventually led to Mendelssohn's invitation to conduct at the Society on his 1829 visit.

In 1827 Moscheles acted as intermediary between the Philharmonic Society and the dying Beethoven. He helped persuade the Society to send Beethoven desperately needed funds during the composer's illness. In return Beethoven offered to write for the Society his Tenth Symphony. It was never completed.

Mendelssohn's great success in England from 1829 until the end of his life also reflected well on his friend. Although Moscheles's music was now being looked on as a little old-fashioned, he was heavily in demand as a music teacher and included amongst his pupils many children of the rich and aristocratic classes. He was also appointed 'Pianist to Prince Albert', a sinecure which nevertheless confirmed his status.

Moscheles never ceased to promote the music of Beethoven and gave many recitals of his music: in 1832 he conducted the London premiere of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" and he translated A.F. Schindler's biography of Beethoven into English. He was an early exponent of the piano recital - the concert of music for piano alone, the innovation of which is disputed between Liszt and Moscheles. Moscheles notably reintroduced the harpsichord as a solo recital instrument. He also often performed in concert with Mendelssohn in London (and elsewhere) - one great favourite of both musicians were Bach's concerti for multiple keyboard instruments. On these occasions Mendelssohn and Moscheles were renowned for vying with each other in impromptu cadenzas. Performances of the three-harpsichord concerto were given, on one occasion with Thalberg at the third keyboard, on another with Clara Schumann. Moscheles often appeared as a conductor, especially of Beethoven.

The Leipzig years

Although throughout this period Moscheles continued to write music and travel on concert tours, he depended heavily on teaching for income, and this placed him under considerable stress. When therefore Mendelssohn established a Conservatory at Leipzig in 1843 he was keen to attract his friend Moscheles there as a colleague, promising him ample time in his schedules for concertising and music-making. Moscheles gladly accepted and became the leader of the Conservatory after Mendelssohn's death in 1847.

The Conservatory became in effect a shrine to Mendelssohn's musical legacy. The critic and pianist Edward Dannreuther, who studied under Moscheles at Leipzig between 1859 and 1863, later wrote:

" […] it was whispered that the two old Grands in the pianoforte-room of the Conservatorium were wont to rehearse Mendelssohn’s D minor Concerto all alone by themselves, from 12.30 on Sunday night until cock-crow! Force of habit, probably."

It thus fell to Moscheles to lead the counter-attack on Wagner after the latter's snide attack on Mendelssohn (and Meyerbeer) in his notorious article "Das Judenthum in der Musik" ("Jewry in Music"), which he did by requesting the resignation from the conservatory's board of Wagner's editor, Brendel. Like Mendelssohn, Moscheles believed that music had reached its Golden Age during the period Bach to Beethoven, and was suspicious of (although not necessarily antagonistic towards) new directions such as those shown by Wagner, Liszt and Berlioz. Nevertheless his personal relations with all of these (except perhaps Wagner) remained cordial. The Mendelssohn legacy in Britain meant that the Leipzig Conservatory had a high reputation amongst English musicians and amongst those who studied there during Moscheles's time were Arthur Sullivan and Charles Villiers Stanford.

Moscheles died in Leipzig on 10th March 1870, nine days after attending his last rehearsal with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.


Among his 142 opus numbers, Moscheles wrote a number of symphonic works. Apart from an overture and a symphony, all are scored for piano and orchestra: eight piano concertos (of which the last has only come down to us in fragmentary form, no orchestral parts having survived) and sets of variations and fantasias on folk songs. The main theme of the finale of his fourth piano concerto is based on the tune, British Grenadiers.

Moscheles also left several chamber works (including a piano trio that has been recorded), and a large number of works for piano solo, including sonatas and the etudes that continued to be studied by advanced students even as Moscheles's music fell into eclipse. There are also some song settings.

In the last decade, with the modest but noticeable revival of interest in compositions by this composer and those of his colleagues, more of Moscheles's works are being made accessible on compact disc, especially by small and independent record labels. All the completed piano concerti and fantasias for piano and orchestra are available on the Hyperion Records label, played by Howard Shelley who also conducts the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra; they have also issued the complete piano studies, played by Piers Lane. Ian Hobson has also recorded the first six, and included a pair of variations not recorded by Shelley.


The name is pronounced 'Mosh-el-ez', with accent on the first syllable.


* Charlotte Moscheles, tr. A. D. Coleridge, "Life of Moscheles", 2 vols. London 1873
* Felix Moscheles (ed.), "Letters of Felix Mendelssohn to Ignaz and Charlotte Moscheles", London , 1888.
* Felix Moscheles, "Fragments of an Autobiography". London, 1899

External links

* [http://www.moscheles.org/ Website about Moscheles]

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