Dan Franklin Smith


March 10th, 2011

Program notes for all-Busoni Recital, Bernried, Germany

During his lifetime Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was a legendary musician renowned as virtuoso pianist, teacher, aesthetician and composer. His advocacy of progressive music encouraged such composers as Arnold Schoenberg. Today, Busoni’s music is not as mainstream as one might have expected. The selections today present a small portion of his creative output and represent the range of his musical creativity in compositions for piano.

This group of five from the early 24 Preludes, from 1881, shows interesting harmonic and rhythmic exploration within traditional forms.

Throughout his career Busoni edited and transcribed the music of J.S.Bach. These four Organ-Chorale-Preludes selected from the nine that he transcribed show a precision and loyalty to the originals. Perhaps Busoni’s best-known work of this type is his brilliant transcription of the Violon Chaconne.

Busoni visited with a former student, Natalie Curtis, who had published a book, The Indian Book, of Native American Indian melodies. He was inspired to write several works, including these two selections from the Indianisches Tagesbuch: Erstes Buch. The first is a Cheyenne “Song of Victory;” the second incorporates two songs, from the Wabanakis and Hopi tribes.

The Berceuse, one of seven Elegien published in 1907, was written in memory of his mother. The chromaticism and wandering tonality just hint at some of his later work. This piece was orchestrated in an expanded version and was the last new work Gustav Mahler conducted in New York City.

The Sonatina Seconda, an extraordinary modern work, is imbued with the essence of tonality although it is an atonal work. Busoni combines tone rows and melodic cells in an intense complexity of dissonance and consonance.

From one of Busoni’s several operas, Turandot, this music based on the traditional English tune Greensleeves represents a quiet choral moment in the story. Of course Busoni expands on the simplicity of the tune in this arrangement, one of the seven Elegien.

Finally, the elegy “Meine Seele bangt…” is a subtle set of variations based on the Bach chorale tune. In a much-expanded version, Fantasia contrappuntistica, Busoni further endeavored to explore his goal of musical expression in which form and expression are in perfect balance.

March 10th, 2011

Program notes for London Orchestral Debut,
Arthur Hinton Piano Concerto

Music from the beginning of the Twentieth century—especially conservative Romantic music—has recently been undergoing a revival. We are discovering that some of these works have been unfairly neglected. The Piano Concerto in D Minor of Arthur Hinton (1869-1941) is one such overlooked musical treasure. Although the copyright is dated 1920, a reference in an old London Illustrated mentions a performance as early as 1911 with Hinton’s wife, the well-known concert pianist Katherine Goodson (1872-1958), as the soloist.

The D Minor Concerto is certainly a late Romantic virtuoso work, but not in the clattery and ponderous manner of so many other similar works. It is a thoughtful and passionate work, skillfully constructed. The first movement opens with a timpani statement of the motive. This motive plays an important role throughout the movement and is repeated by the full orchestra leading to the opening piano cadenza. A poignant second theme beautifully contrasts with the bold opening material. The second movement, a scherzo, is a charming visit to an elfin eyrie. The movement contains a transparent orchestral texture, leggiero piano configurations, and a waltz midway through the movement.

The brief third movement is perhaps the most “british” of the movements. The cor anglais presents an eloquent and melancholy theme. The piano responds with reminiscences of the first movement’s second theme. The final rondo movement brilliantly combines the 9/8 theme in a transition to what might be the high point of the concerto, the lyrical 2nd theme that is almost Brahmsian in its expansiveness.

I located this work in the archive collection at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center in New York City. I learned subsequently that Hinton and Goodson summered for a number of years in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Both artists were enthusiastically received by American critics over the years in the early twentieth century. I hope this performance helps to restore a most worthy piano work to the great British music repertoire.

March 10th, 2011

Program notes for Recital Program, Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, La Jolla, California

Irish-born poet Thomas Moore, born 1779, wrote many poems to Irish tunes, including the enormously popular Last Rose of Summer. This song was possibly the best-known song in America early in the 19th century. Mendelssohn’s Fantaisie from 1833 is an emotional operatic scena beginning with a simple statement of the original melody followed by a virtuosic agitated response interspersed with fragments from the melody in a central recitative. The work concludes with a touching reworking and expansion of the original.

Possibly the best known of Mendelssohn’s many solo piano works, the Rondo Capriccioso exemplifies the composer’s gifts for the graceful, elegant scherzo movement. It is reminiscent of similar pieces from Midsummer Night’s Dream and the String Octet.

Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Late Summer Nights is a wonderfully unified set of five pieces. Related by key, metrical unity and recurring use of melodic and motivic fragments throughout, a unity is created. One can create an overall scenario, based on the title, or hear each piece as an exploration of an abstract musical idea with emotional content, akin to the Brahms character pieces.

Ferruccio Busoni is best remembered as a titan of the piano, a Late Romantic whose transcriptions for piano of Bach’s works are unsurpassed in that genre. Yet, in his writing and experimentation as a composer he pointed the way to music’s future. Among other ideas, he proposed microtonal division of the 12-tone chromatic scale. Another idea, less radical, was redistribution of the 7-note diatonic scale, creating 113 different scales within the 12-note octave. This pre-dates by nearly 15 years Schoenberg’s dodecaphonic method. The Sonatina Seconda (1912) is specified ‘senza tonalita’ by the composer because traditional harmonic hierarchy is abandoned. The occasional “harmonic” chord is quickly displaced by chromatic voice progression. The line between major-minor is also blurred. Busoni uses motivic chromatic groups of major and minor thirds as well as chromatic scales throughout the work.

During much of the Middle Ages Sweden was an imperial force wielding great power and influence in much of Northern and Eastern Europe including the Baltic States and Poland. At the end of the 16th century the crowns of Sweden and Poland were united for a brief period. From this region Sweden took what became the polska back home, developing it into one of its most identifiable folk music idioms, the fiddle tune. The polska, in 3/4 meter, is not related to the polka, which is a dance in 2/4 from Bohemia, and of much later development. It is more closely related to the mazurka.

Dag Lundin is a prolific and respected composer in Sweden today writing for symphonic, chamber and vocal ensembles. The first of this group was originally from Estonia. The second tune is originally by Swedish fiddler Roligs Per. Next, and not a polska, is a melody played on animal horn to call the cattle home at night. The last of this set is a fiddle tune from a region of southwest Sweden.
All the transcriptions are by Dag Lundin.

Rachmaninoff is deemed by many to be the greatest of the late Romantic composers for piano. But the advent of modern musical idioms during his career caused much of his music to be considered old-fashioned by his critics. A complex contrapuntal style typical of late Romanticism is infused with a melodic and emotional intensity. These five preludes may be less familiar than the famous C# Minor, Op. 3, and G Minor, Op. 23, yet each is rich with musical ideas which could have been developed into a significantly larger work.

March 10th, 2011

Program notes for Recital Program, Soka University, Aliso Viejo, California

Padre Antonio Soler took over duties as organist and choirmaster at the monastery of Escorial, near Madrid, in 1752. This is where he became acquainted with the keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti, and perhaps studied with him. In 1757, after Scarlatti’s death, Soler succeeded to the position of tutor to the Infante Gabriel de Borbón, for whom he wrote many of his sonatas. One can hear in Soler’s sonatas some startling modulations and certain guitar effects. Later works were more in the galant style of the early Classical period.

Joaquin Turina’s early musical training was in Seville and Madrid, later in Paris with Vincent d’Indy. His Paris years introduced him to Impressionism as well as the European late Romantic style, all of which informed his distinctively Spanish /Andalusian style. The Sonata Sanlucar de Barrameda is a descriptive and cyclical work, describing in sound the ancient Andalusian city of the same name: The Tower of the Castle; various sights in the old city seen by someone scurrying through; the shore; fishermen in the bay coming in with their catch. Thematic elements appearing in the first movement recur throughout the work.

Frederic Chopin’s Fourth Ballade (the greatest of his piano works) is a set of variations with intervening episodes of fantasy and reflection. It was published in 1843.

Rachmaninoff is deemed by many to be the greatest of the late Romantic composers for piano. But the advent of modern musical idioms during his career caused much of his music to be considered by his critics as old-fashioned. A complex contrapuntal style typical of late Romanticism is infused with a melodic and emotional intensity. Three of these four preludes may be less familiar than the famous G minor Op. 23, yet each is rich with musical ideas that could have been developed into a significantly larger work. Rachmaninoff on occasion accompanied the great violinist Fritz Kreisler. His complex transcription of Kreisler’s charming Viennese schmaltz keeps the charm but adds some fireworks.

March 10th, 2011

Program notes for Recital Program, American Matthay Festival

The Corelli Variations, Op. 42, a work from 1932, was the second set of solo piano variations by Rachmaninoff, the first being the Variations on a Theme of Chopin, from 1909. The history of the Corelli Folie d’Espagne theme is not so precise. The folia, a wild and rhythmic dance, probably first appeared in Portugal in the mid-16th century. The so-called Corelli theme appeared in Spain mid-17th century.

The Rachmaninoff set of 20 variations is divided into two parts separated by a quasi recitativo intermezzo. Rachmaninoff apparently had doubts about the success of this serious work. Reportedly he would routinely eliminate variations if the audience seemed bored or distracted.

Granados, one of the great triumvirate of Spanish composers that includes DeFalla and Albeniz, was the most romantic of the three in his approach to composition. The Spanish Dance in Bb Major is actually a masurca with the typically strong emphasis on the 2nd beat of each bar.

The Maiden and the Nightingale, one of the six pieces from his pianistic masterpiece Goyescas, became the hauntingly beautiful aria of love and jealousy in his opera of the same name. El Pelele is an arrangement by Granados of the opening music from the Goyescas opera. It depicts women tossing a straw doll, the pelele, representing their old loves. The Danza Aragonesa, derived from a dance called the jota, was published posthumously.