Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888), French composer and virtuoso pianist, was born Charles-Valentin Morhange, but assumed his father's first name as his last name. At the age of six he was accepted to the Paris Conservatory to study piano and organ. As the most gifted student of Joseph Zimmermann, his most important teacher and mentor, he gave his concert début at the age of twelve. It was an understood thing that Alkan would succeed Zimmermann in his post as Professor of Piano. That this because of a political intrigue did not come to pass is one of the reasons why Alkan became an embittered man and retreated almost completely from public life, supporting himself by giving piano lessons. As a young virtuoso, however, he was one of the leading pianists of his time who, like his rivals Franz Liszt and Sigismund Thalberg, exhausted the possibilities of the modern piano, extending the technical possibilities for artistic expression.
Only in his later years did he play for small gatherings of music-lovers. He dedicated himself then particularly to the interpretation of composers of the Viennese classical period, at the time neglected in Paris, in particular the late sonatas of Beethoven. Alkan died in almost complete oblivion, but his outstanding works for piano and chamber ensembles are now being rediscovered.