Encores of the Golden Age: A Compendium
Encore pieces play a very important role in piano recitals. If well-chosen and well-played, they become a surprising and welcome bonus to the printed program, and are often received with more enthusiasm from the audience than the pieces performed during the main part of the recital. Many great artists of the past used the effect of the encore piece to their advantage. Legendary pianists such as Joseph Hofmann, Ignace Jan Paderewski and Sergei Rachmaninoff were known to supplement their recitals with many great encores, which the virtuosos would play by demand of the cheering audience. The encore sections of the above-mentioned pianists’ recitals sometimes lasted for more than an hour. For example, the New York Times review of Paderewsky’s concert in 1930 mentions that the pianist added virtually a second recital program to the announced one – in the form of encores1.
During the so-called “Golden Age of Pianism,” which lasted from approximately the end of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th century, encores were often expected by the audience, with much anticipation. The listeners often flocked by the stage after the concert in order to call out the names of their favorite encore pieces. Contemporary audiences are not as emotional, yet they still greet encores with much gratitude.
While the popularity of the piano encore began to decline in the second half of the 20th century, it is still used in recitals by many concertizing pianists of today. However, pianists do not use “favorite” encores any more, and they very rarely play more than two or three encore pieces. The programming pattern revealed by Janet Gail Steward in her historical overview of the piano encore shows that towards the end of the 20th century, pianists preferred to play more modern pieces as encores. The pieces of the “Golden Age” lost their popularity and fell into obscurity. Moreover, the whole tradition of playing encores after the recital is declining, for it is not unusual for today’s pianists to omit the encore completely.
The purpose of this research is to compile the pieces that lend themselves to be useful as encores in piano recitals, with particular attention to the pieces that were performed in the “Golden Age.” This collection was created through a careful selection of pieces used as encores by the greatest pianists of the “Golden Age,” such as Ignace Friedman, Leopold Godowsky, Joseph Hofmann, Misha Levitzki, Joseph Lhevinne, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Guiomar Novaes, Ignace Jan Paderewski, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
1 Olin Downes, “Paderewski, Conqueror of His Destiny,” New York Times (November 1930): 25.
Alexandra Beliakovich performed a Lecture-recital on the topic of “Encores of the Golden Age of Pianism” in February of 2016. The above excerpt is from Alexandra’s Doctoral Research Project on the same topic; the Compendium was completed in May of 2016.