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January 30, 2006

Raise a Pinto - Piano music of George Frederick Pinto played by Thomas Wakefield

Posted by David Conway

Piano music of George Frederick Pinto
played by Thomas Wakefield
Foxglove Audio FOX1205CD

Available from Thomas Wakefield, Flat 8, Carlogie House, 365 Wilmslow Road, Fallowfield, Manchester, M14 6AH
£10 inc. p&p in the UK

David Conway encounters a forgotten British musical master.

You will already have seen cascades of verbiage on a certain musical anniversary this year, and you ain't seen nothing yet. But how about a very British musical bicentenary which has received no coverage anywhere and, unless perhaps someone at the BBC catches on, is likely to pass without a single public recognition?

It is the death, on 23rd March 1806 in Chelsea, of George Pinto, aged 20 years and six months. Never heard of him? Neither had I, I think, until the pianist Thomas Wakefield sent me a copy of a CD he has recorded of some of Pinto's works. I have now listened through this fascinating recording several times and I am convinced that there was more than conventional piety in the verdict of the London impresario Salomon, (who also introduced Haydn to England):

If he had lived and been able to resist the allurements of society, England would have had the honour of producing a second Mozart.
The biographical facts are simply stated. Pinto was born George Frederick Sanders or Saunders in Lambeth on 25th September 1785, his mother Julia being the daughter of the English violinist Thomas Pinto, himself of Neapolitan descent. Initially a prodigy on the violin, he came at the age of eight under the aegis of Salomon, adopted his mother's maiden name and appeared playing a concerto in 1796.

For the rest of his brief career he played regularly at concerts in London and the provinces, and made two brief concert tours to Paris. He seems to have taken up the piano whilst already a professional violinist, but it soon became his favourite instrument. He wrote a number of pieces for both instruments, some of which were incomplete at his death. Others, including a violin concerto, are lost. He died, allegedly "a martyr to dissipation", from unknown causes after giving a charity concert in Birmingham and sleeping in a damp room. As Wakefield puts it:

Well-educated, strikingly good-looking and charismatic, in high society he charmed all he met, whilst in circles more Hogarthian he was noted for his generosity towards the inmates of gaols and the protection he gave to distressed animals […] From the blue-stockinged to the picaresque, his adventures left him little time for looking after his health.
How much we are to read between the lines of Salomon's reference to "allurements", or a Scottish critic's warnings in 1802 of "dissipation and consequent idleness", can only be conjectured.

So, instead, to the music: and here we encounter a personality indeed. Wakefield has recorded the two piano sonatas op. 3 of 1802-3, the piano sonata in C minor of 1803 (dedicated to John Field, whom Pinto had partnered in concert in 1800), one of Pinto's three sonatinas based on folk songs, a stray Minuet, and the final unfinished Fantasia and Sonata in C minor, to which Wakefield has supplied his own completion to replace the anodyne ending offered by its original editor, Beethoven's rival Wölfl, who took up residence in London in 1805.

I challenge anyone listening to this music "blind" to place it accurately, as to country or date of composition, let alone as to composer. Clearly it is young man's music; often neurotic, passionate, showing a welter of influences not always quite welded into a homogeneity, but always fresh and intriguing.

The sonata op. 3 no. 1, in the very "romantic" key of E flat minor, starts in its first bar like Mozart, but before very few beats we are with harmonies that bespeak Schubert, and rhythmic obsessions that bespeak Beethoven. The second movement takes us to the world of the Czech miniaturists immediately preceding Schubert, Tomašek and Vořisek, with hints of Chopin and even Schumann. The last movement is clearly an early Beethoven sonata finale which got away.

The radiant sonata op. 3 no 2 in A major, more pastoral in nature, carries echoes of all of these. The sonata dedicated to Field displays, as Wakefield puts it "fiery Beethovenian dialectic"; and all of these show a clear and original command of form and coherence – not, unsurprisingly, with the maturity we expect of a master, but with the daring and confidence we can attribute to a genius.

The unfinished Fantasia and Sonata brings additional surprises, with an "adagio fugato" clearly echoing the C sharp minor fugue and B flat minor prelude from the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

I agree with Wakefield's assertion that Pinto was no "second Mozart", but was rather a true innovator, a great master in the making for whom there was to be, alas, no stage much beyond the chrysalis. But every genius stands on the shoulders of those who went before him. From where exactly, during his brief life, could Pinto have drunk in the elements which he began to transform? Beethoven was only in his early 30s when Pinto was writing and his music was scarcely known in London. Indeed one authority has sought to maintain that Pinto influenced Beethoven, though it is even more difficult to see how that might have transpired. London in the 1790s was the home to a "school" of pianists and virtuosi which included Clementi, Cramer and Dussek, all of whom Pinto must have known – he played in concerts organised by Dussek's brother-in-law and sometime business partner Domenico Corri – and their spirit must have infused his work, as it did that of Beethoven himself. Perhaps Dussek provides the Bohemian connection as well. It is a fascinating puzzle.

All praise therefore to Thomas Wakefield, for bringing Pinto back to life for us. Tom is a remarkable pianist. He shares with the late, great, Jorge Bolet, a live stage presence at his (all too rare) concerts which appears stolid, almost dour, but which then generates oceans of sound with clarity, dexterity, humour and intelligence. No one who has heard him play Alkan's monumental arrangement for solo piano of the first movement of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto (complete with cadenza invoking the Fifth Symphony) will ever forget the experience. He is no less musicianly working on the more intimate canvases of Pinto's works. With all due credit to Pinto's distant Italian origins, this is a great British tribute to a great British composer.

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