Charles-Valentin Alkan (November 30, 1813 - March 29, 1888), and his four brothers, all musicians, adopted their father's first name as their surname. Alkan Morhange (1780-1855) was the proprietor of a music school in Paris, and he early recognized among the musical talents of his sons the singular ones of young Charles-Valentin. Consequently, at the age of five Alkan was enrolled in the Paris Conservatory of Music, the breeding ground of many outstanding musicians and composers in the Nineteenth Century. Alkan studied composition and piano, making his debut at 12 years of age performing his own compositions as well as those of others. He seemed a star ascendant. Before he was 20 he embarked on the first of two trips abroad (the second two years later), the only times he was ever to leave Paris in his lifetime.
In Paris Alkan was a member of an accomplished social circle that included many of the leading names of his times in thought and the arts. In 1838 he appeared in concert with his close friend and neighbor, Frédéric Chopin, and was warmly received by critics and public alike. To this day there is no definitive explanation of what ensued from this point, though surmise and conjecture aplenty have flourished. For six years Alkan disappeared from the concert stage. He performed for nearly two years, then dematerialized as public pianist for 28 more years; when he again appeared he was past 60.
In his time Alkan was considered the peer of Chopin and Franz Liszt in technique. He is widely thought of as an eccentric par excellence. In his later years he became intrigued with the pedalier, a pedal board that attaches to the piano and enables full performance of organ literature on the piano. He was fond of playing the compositions of Bach on this device, and composed copiously for it. His piano works require the utmost of skills, attesting to Alkan's own. Few performers care to attempt the difficulties of the Alkanian oeuvre in public, though some display their uncommon prowess by means of his works. The name of Alkan even now remains one capable of engendering vigorous debate in musical circles. ~Douglas Purl