Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813–1888) was a French composer and pianist of great originality. In his youth he was good friends with Chopin (who was his neighbour in Paris), Liszt and the writers George Sand and Victor Hugo. Later in life he withdrew from social life and lived as a recluse, engaging in intense study of the Bible and the Talmud.
His works, written almost exclusively for keyboard, are often quite unconventional, of enormous length and technically extremely demanding. As a performer, Alkan was interested in a wide repertory of historical music from Bach onwards and performed works such as the late Beethoven sonatas and Schubert’s piano music, not very fashionable at the time. He was proud of the strictness and precision of his own playing, and was a rigorous user of the metronome.
Alkan´s music was for a long time widely neglected, but in the last decades more and more pianists have begun to explore his music, not all of which is extravagantly difficult to play. The story that Alkan’s death was caused by a bookcase falling on him as he reached out for a volume of the Talmud has turned out to be entirely untrue.
- Chemin de fer, Op 27 (first composition ever describing a railroad in musical terms)
- Grande sonate Les quatre âges, Op. 33 (depicting the Four Ages of Man)
- Two sets of etudes in all the major and minor keys, Op. 35 and 39. (The opus 39 collection contains the Symphony for Solo Piano and the Concerto for Solo Piano)
- Chamber music compositions include a violin sonata (0p. 21), a cello sonata (Op. 47), and a piano trio (Op. 30).