Francis Planté is the third earliest born classical pianist to have made recordings. (
, born in 1824, and
, born in 1835, are the only pianists of whom I am aware whose dates of birth preceded his.) Born in 1839, and having begun his study of the piano at the age of 7, he had the good fortune to have heard Frédéric Chopin perform. One can safely assume that he was influenced by Chopin's style of playing.
Certainly, as the only pianist we know of who actually heard Chopin and left us recordings of Chopin's music, these documents are of great historical significance.
His close association with Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg, the reigning virtuosi of the age of Chopin, as well as with Camille Saint-Saens, places him firmly in the great 19th Century performance style.
Planté won first prize at the Paris Conservatory in 1850, a year after the death of Chopin. To put this in historical perspective, in 1850 when Planté embarked on his career as a concert pianist, Schumann was still to live for six more years, Saint-Saens was only four years his senior, and Vincent D'Indy would not be born for another year.
Planté's performances of Chopin Études evoke a style more elegantly musical than pyrotechnical, and perhaps more of the theatre than of the concert hall. They are in great contrast to the performance style of our own pianistic age.
Listen to the Etude Opus 25 No 1. Listen to it a few times as what is initially perceived as the strangeness of the playing becomes a magnificent and totally right way to play this music. We are so accustomed to hearing these Etudes as studies that we forget to ask for them to be played as music. Not that the great pianists of our day do not play them beautifully and musically, but this style of playing all but ignores the fact of the technical difficulties inherent in the music. And rightly so, for was not Chopin's intent to write great music which incidentally happened to exploit certain technical difficulties?
These etudes were recorded by Francis Planté at the age of 89, surely not at the height of his technical prowess, but just as surely very typical of the pianistic style of mid-late 19th Century France.
Chopin Études, Op 10 recorded in 1928
4 in C♯ minor
5 in G♭ major
7 in C major
And his hands playing part of this etude
Chopin Études, Op 25 (rec. 1928)
1 in A♭ major
9 in G♭ major
11 in A minor
Chopin Grande Polonaise Op 22
Planté's preformances of three Songs Without Words by Felix Mendelssohn are evocative of a 19th Century French Salon. While listening to Opus 67 No 6 you will feel that at any moment Liszt, arm in arm with Saint-Saens, might stroll across the room.
Mendelssohn Songs Without Words recorded in 1928
I have been able to find several other performances which you will find below. The Boccherini is quite shocking to our modern ears.
Boccherini Minuetto recorded in 1928
Gluck Gavotte-Planté recorded in 1928
Berlioz-E Redon) "Serenade of Mephistopheles from La Damnation de Faust, Op 24 "Devant la Maison"
Schumann-Debussy "Am Springbrunnen" Op 85 piano roll ca1912
Here is my new book, a murder mystery with a musical polemic