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Volume 2 of the American Piano Music Series

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Album Notes

 

Volume 2 of the American Piano Music series focuses on the following seven composers. Click on a composer name to see full biographies.

     Scott Joplin (1868 - 1917)
     Amy Beach (1867 - 1944)
     Dave Brubeck (1920 - 2012)
     Keith Jarrett (b1945)
     Florence Price (1887 - 1953)
     Dave Grusin (b1934)
     Zez Confrey (1895 - 1971)

I've recorded three pieces by each of these seven composers and, as I did in Volume 1, I've mostly dovetailed the pieces from each composer in a more programmatic fashion, as opposed to playing the pieces sequentially by composer. The only time I don't do this is with the compositions of Florence Price and Zez Confrey. Their pieces were meant to be played sequentially; Price's three pieces forming her "Dances In The Canebrakes" suite and Confrey's comprising his "Three Little Oddities" suite. 

There’s a lot of nuance and detail in this music. The very best way to appreciate the album is to listen with a good pair of headphones. Try it - It makes a big difference!

I hope you enjoy listening to each of these pieces as much as I enjoyed recording them.

- Corte Swearingen, May, 2022

 

Notes on the Music

1.  Gladiolus Rag (1907)

By 1907, Scott Joplin was already a recognized master of ragtime, and "Gladiolus Rag" is evidence of his evolving compositional technique. In this piece, he demonstrates a departure from the strict oom-pah left-hand pattern that characterized many earlier rags. Instead, Joplin employs a range of devices, including octaves and intricate 16th note lines. This evolution in his writing technique showcases his desire to push the boundaries of ragtime and explore new musical territories.

One of the defining characteristics of "Gladiolus Rag" is its rhythmic appeal. Joplin's skill in creating catchy and toe-tapping rhythms is on full display, making it a joy to listen to and perform. Additionally, the piece is adorned with melodic charm, offering memorable and tuneful passages that continue to captivate audiences.

"Gladiolus Rag" beautifully demonstrates how Scott Joplin's writing technique was evolving and expanding. While honoring the traditions of ragtime, he embraced innovation and explored new musical avenues. This piece serves as a snapshot of a composer who was at the forefront of a musical revolution, pushing the boundaries of what ragtime could be.

2.  Under The Stars (1907) - Amy Beach

Amy Beach, a remarkable American composer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is a name that has regrettably faded from the public consciousness over time. Her compositions, particularly her piano works, offer listeners a glimpse into her world of beautifully intimate and evocative music. "Under The Stars," penned in 1907, is a shining example of Beach's ability to use the piano to depict the wonders of nature, in this case, the nighttime sky.

While Amy Beach was celebrated during her lifetime, her legacy had, at one point, become overshadowed by other composers. However, recent efforts have been made to revive her music, bringing attention to her immense talent and contributions to the world of classical music. "Under The Stars" is a poignant reminder of her artistry and the timeless beauty of her compositions.

Amy Beach had a profound connection with nature, and she often used her music as a means of expressing her deep appreciation for the natural world. "Under The Stars" is a testament to her ability to translate the sights and sounds of nature into music. The composition allows us to embark on a journey into the depths of the nighttime sky, evoking a sense of peace and awe.

Beach's ability to create such intimate and moving music speaks to the timelessness of her artistry and the enduring relevance of her compositions. Through "Under The Stars," we are invited to rediscover the magic of her music and appreciate the beauty she found in the natural world.

3.  Nimble Feet (1953) - Florence Price

"Nimble Feet," a remarkable solo piano composition by the pioneering composer Florence Price, carries with it not only a captivating musical narrative but also a profound historical significance. Florence Price, recognized as the first African-American woman to achieve recognition as a symphonic composer, shattered barriers and left an indelible mark on the world of classical music. Her legacy is illuminated by compositions like "Nimble Feet," which stand as a testament to her talent and enduring contribution to the art of composition.

Florence Price's achievements are historic in nature. She was not only a prolific composer but also the first African-American woman to have a composition performed by a major orchestra, specifically the renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her journey to recognition was a testament to her determination, talent, and the profound impact she had on the classical music world.

"Nimble Feet" is a musical treasure that showcases Price's gift for crafting engaging and emotive compositions. The piece exudes a sense of vitality and rhythm, capturing the essence of nimbleness through its intricate phrasing and lively melodies. As a solo piano composition, it allows us to delve into Price's unique musical voice and appreciate her ability to evoke a rich tapestry of emotions through her music.

4.  Tropical Noon (1953) - Florence Price

Florence Price was an extraordinary American composer whose works continue to enjoy a well-deserved revival, shedding light on her immense talent and contribution to the world of classical music. "Tropical Noon" stands as a testament to her creative genius, capturing the essence of her unique style. Composed in 1953, this movement is a part of Price's solo piano suite, "Dances in the Canebrakes." In this composition, Price artfully fuses elements of slow-drag, offbeat rhythms, and the echoes of ragtime to create a musical tapestry that transports listeners to a place of serene beauty.

Despite her undeniable brilliance, Florence Price's music had, for a time, been overshadowed and forgotten. However, the focused revival of her compositions in recent years has rekindled the appreciation for her artistry. Price's contributions to American classical music are now receiving the recognition they deserve, allowing audiences to rediscover her rich and diverse body of work.

"Dances in the Canebrakes" is a suite that provides a snapshot of American life, blending elements of folk traditions and classical composition. "Tropical Noon" is a particularly striking movement within this suite, evoking the languid atmosphere of a hot afternoon in the South. Its slow-drag style and offbeat rhythms harken back to the spirit of ragtime while infusing it with Price's unique voice.

 Price's enduring legacy reminds us of the profound impact of her music and the importance of celebrating the contributions of underrepresented composers in the classical canon. As we listen to "Tropical Noon," we embark on a musical journey that transcends time, offering a glimpse into the heart and soul of one of America's greatest composers.

5.  Silk Hat And Walking Cane (1953) - Florence Price

"Silk Hat and Walking Cane," composed in 1953, serves as the third movement of Price's "Dances in the Canebrakes," a suite that showcases her ability to blend elements of folk traditions and classical composition.

The "Dances in the Canebrakes" suite embodies the essence of African American culture, drawing inspiration from the rich tapestry of folk traditions. Each movement of the suite is a celebration of life, rhythm, and melody, offering a musical journey that honors the heritage and spirit of the African American experience.

Price pays homage to the resilience, creativity, and cultural vibrancy of the African American community. The composition is a reminder of the enduring impact of African American traditions on the American musical landscape and the importance of recognizing and celebrating these contributions.

6.  All My Love (1999) - Dave Brubeck

"All My Love" is a poignant and introspective solo piano composition that emerged from the creative genius of the legendary jazz pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck. Composed during a vacation on the enchanting shores of Maui in February 1999, this tender piece serves as a heartfelt tribute to Brubeck's wife, Iola. Known for his innovative and groundbreaking contributions to jazz, "All My Love" offers a glimpse into the more contemplative and sensitive side of Brubeck's musical persona.

As the title suggests, "All My Love" is a musical love letter. Brubeck's composition is a testament to the depth of emotion and connection he shared with his beloved wife. Through its delicate and evocative melodies, the piece conveys a sense of intimacy and sincerity that is both touching and deeply moving. "All My Love" invites listeners into a world where emotions are expressed through the language of music, evoking the tenderness and devotion found in a loving partnership.

7.  Cuba Libre (1990) - Dave Grusin

Cuba Libre (Dave Grusin, 1990) - This is a wonderful Dave Grusin composition from the score he produced for the 1990 Sydney Pollack film "Havana." Grusin performed the version you hear in this recording on his CD "Now Playing."

8.  Testament (2008) - Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett doesn't write down his compositions like most composers. His piano pieces are spontaneously improvised at live concerts. "Testament" was improvised by Jarrett at the Salle Pleyel in Paris at a live 2008 Concert.

9.  Magnetic Rag (1914) - Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin, celebrated as the "King of Ragtime," left an indelible mark on the world of American music through his iconic ragtime compositions. "Magnetic Rag," written in 1914, stands as one of his most poignant and experimental works. At the time of its composition, Joplin was grappling with the devastating effects of syphilis, and this composition reflects a profound melancholy rarely heard in his earlier rags. "Magnetic Rag" is not only a masterpiece in Joplin's catalog but also a testament to his willingness to push the boundaries of the ragtime form during an experimental phase.

"Magnetic Rag" was composed during Joplin's experimental period, during which he sought to expand the boundaries of ragtime music. In this work, he pays tribute to "transplanted Middle-European dance music" and the European masters whose influence he attempted to emulate. The composition's unique character and structure exemplify Joplin's desire to evolve beyond traditional ragtime, experimenting with form, harmony, and mood.

As noted by Joshua Rifkin in the album notes to "Scott Joplin: Piano Rags," "Magnetic Rag" can be interpreted as a "valedictory work" in which Joplin pays homage to a European musical tradition. The composition's melancholic undertones and the short coda at the end lend credence to the idea that Joplin may have sensed the brevity and bleakness of the time left to him. The coda, in particular, seems like a poignant farewell, a musical reflection on the challenges and hardships he faced during his later years.

10.  Columbine (1894) - Amy Beach

"Columbine," a charming waltz composed by the remarkable American composer Amy Beach, stands as one of the delightful pieces in her suite "Children's Carnival." Crafted in 1894, this miniature masterpiece is a testament to Beach's compositional prowess and her dedication to nurturing the musical talents of young pianists. The suite, comprised of six enchanting movements, takes inspiration from the characters of early European pantomime, which enjoyed popularity in America during the late 19th century. "Columbine" is a vivacious portrayal of one of these captivating characters.

One of the remarkable aspects of "Children's Carnival" is its purpose as a teaching tool for young pianists. Amy Beach's compositions often sought to encourage musical education and exploration, and this suite is a perfect embodiment of that mission. "Columbine" and the other movements provide young musicians with the opportunity to develop their technical skills while immersing themselves in the world of storytelling through music.

11.  One Moment Worth Years (1956) - Dave Brubeck

"One Moment Worth Years," an original composition by the legendary jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, is a captivating musical journey that highlights Brubeck's remarkable talent as both a pianist and a creator of innovative jazz compositions. This piece was first introduced to audiences in 1956 on Brubeck's album "Brubeck Plays Brubeck," offering a glimpse into his creative genius and his ability to push the boundaries of jazz.

The title, "One Moment Worth Years," hints at the composition's thematic exploration of time and expression. Brubeck's composition takes listeners on a musical journey, evoking a sense of depth and contemplation. The piece's structure and dynamics convey the idea that a single moment can hold the weight of years' worth of emotion and experience.

The album "Brubeck Plays Brubeck" serves as a platform for Dave Brubeck to showcase his original compositions and interpretations. It captures his innovative approach to jazz, where he seamlessly blends classical influences, rhythmic complexity, and improvisation into a cohesive and compelling musical narrative.

12.  Thanksong (1980) - Dave Grusin

"Thanksong" is a captivating solo piano composition that emerges from the illustrious career of the celebrated American composer Dave Grusin. Born in 1934, Grusin has earned numerous accolades, including an Academy Award and ten Grammy Awards, firmly establishing himself as one of the most prominent figures in the world of music. While he is best known for his iconic film compositions for movies like "The Graduate," "On Golden Pond," and "Tootsie," Grusin's oeuvre extends beyond the realm of cinema to include a diverse range of musical endeavors. "Thanksong" is a poignant and evocative testament to Grusin's multifaceted talent and his ability to traverse the classical landscape.

"Thanksong" made its debut on Dave Grusin's 1980 album, "Mountain Dance." This composition stands as a shining example of Grusin's capacity to seamlessly blend classical influences into his body of work, while still retaining the essence of his jazz roots. The album itself is a showcase of Grusin's prowess as a pianist and composer, inviting listeners on a journey through the captivating vistas of musical imagination.

13.  Solace (1909) - Scott Joplin

"Solace," an exquisite solo piano composition by the legendary composer Scott Joplin, stands as a timeless gem in the world of ragtime music. This piece, crafted in the late 1890s, has captured the hearts of listeners for over a century, and its enduring beauty continues to captivate audiences worldwide. "Solace" is not only a testament to Joplin's exceptional talent but also a musical treasure that has left an indelible mark on the history of American music.

For many, the first encounter with "Solace" was through the iconic 1973 film "The Sting." This cinematic masterpiece introduced a new generation to the enchanting world of ragtime music. The film's soundtrack, filled with Joplin's compositions, including the unforgettable "Solace," left an indelible impression on viewers, forever associating the piece with the timeless allure of ragtime.

One of the defining features of "Solace" is the distinctive habanera rhythm in the left hand, a syncopated and hypnotic pattern that infuses the piece with a sense of both melancholy and rhythmical drive. This rhythmic complexity adds depth and character to the composition, creating a captivating contrast with the haunting melodies in the right hand.

"Solace" is undoubtedly one of Scott Joplin's finest compositions. It stands as a testament to his innovative approach to ragtime, where he pushed the boundaries of the genre to create music that was not only rhythmically engaging but also emotionally resonant. The piece invites us to explore the rich tapestry of emotions that can be conveyed through the art of ragtime.

14.  Radiance (2002) - Keith Jarrett

 Keith Jarrett spontaneously improvised this piece at a Tokyo concert on October 30th, 2002. It's amazing that he can produce these beautiful melodies without working them out ahead of time.

15.  Impromptu (1923) - Zez Confrey

"Impromptu" is a remarkable composition by Zez Confrey, a prolific American pianist and composer known for his distinctive novelty piano pieces. This composition is part of his delightful piano suite titled "Three Little Oddities." In contrast to Confrey's more energetic and novelty-driven compositions, this piece exudes a sense of introspection and sophistication. With its lush harmonies, delicate nuances, and evocative melodies, "Impromptu" channels the spirit of French impressionism, drawing parallels to the works of Debussy and Ravel.

As you immerse yourself in the enchanting world of "Impromptu," you'll experience the sophisticated beauty and evocative qualities that echo the great impressionist composers of the past. It is a reminder that Zez Confrey's musical legacy is as rich and multifaceted as the keys of a piano—a legacy that continues to captivate and surprise audiences.

16.  Novelette (1923) - Zez Confrey

"Novelette," a delightful piano composition by the talented composer Zez Confrey, is part of his enchanting suite titled "Three Little Oddities." With its gentle and impressionistic mood, this piece transports listeners into a world of whimsy and musical charm.

As "Novelette" unfolds, it weaves a musical tapestry that evokes a gentle and impressionistic mood. The composition's melodies and harmonies create an atmosphere of enchantment, inviting listeners to explore its intricate phrasing and emotive nuances.

17.  Romanza (1923) - Zez Confrey

"Romanza," the third piece in Zez Confrey's "Three Little Oddities" piano suite, is a captivating musical gem composed in 1923. Zez Confrey, renowned for his inventive and often whimsical novelty piano compositions, crafted this suite as a departure from his more characteristic style. Although labeled as "oddities," these pieces defy their title and instead offer beautifully impressionistic miniatures that reveal Confrey's versatility and flair for classical expression.

The title "Three Little Oddities" may lead one to expect quirkiness and whimsy, typical of Confrey's more well-known works. However, as evidenced by "Romanza" and its suite companions, this collection surprises with its depth and classical sensibility. The title may indeed be misleading, as these pieces are far from oddities and instead reveal a side of Confrey that many may not have expected.

18.  Heartease (1922) - Amy Beach

"Heartease," a beautifully impressionistic solo piano composition by the distinguished American composer Amy Beach, stands as the second movement in her evocative 5-movement piano suite titled "From Grandmother's Garden." Composed in 1922, "Heartease" reflects Beach's ability to draw inspiration from nature and transform it into music. In this composition, Beach captures the essence of the summer wildflower known as Heartease, with its delicate and intricate pattern of purple, lavender, and yellow blooms.

The composition reflects her keen impressionistic sensibilities. Like the works of composers such as Debussy and Ravel, Beach's composition relies on color, texture, and mood to create a vivid and evocative musical landscape. In "Heartease," she uses the piano to paint a picture of the wildflower, allowing the listener to feel its presence and appreciate its intricate beauty.

19.  Audrey (1954) - Dave Brubeck

"Audrey" is a captivating short blues piece written by the legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, in collaboration with the iconic saxophonist Paul Desmond. The composition serves as a heartfelt homage to the timeless elegance and grace of the beloved actress Audrey Hepburn. Originally recorded in October 1954, it made its debut on the "Brubeck Time" album in early 1955. 

"Audrey" found its place on the "Brubeck Time" album, a testament to the creative genius of Dave Brubeck and his quartet. The album features a diverse range of compositions and styles, showcasing Brubeck's ability to push the boundaries of jazz while maintaining a deep respect for its roots. "Audrey" stands out as a memorable piece in this collection.

The transcription of "Audrey" used in this performance was originally heard in Clint Eastwood's blues documentary, a poignant moment that captured the essence of Brubeck's artistry.

20.  Staircase (1976) - Keith Jarrett

 This piece us from Jarrett's fourth piano recording. Jarrett and producer Manfred Eicher had arrived at Studio Davout in Paris to record a soundtrack to a film. Finishing early with several hours of studio time left and impressed by the quality of the studio's piano, they spontaneously decided to record this album. This is one of the pieces Jarrett improvised for the recording.

21.  On Golden Pond (1981) - Dave Grusin

"On Golden Pond" is a musical gem composed by the renowned American composer and pianist, Dave Grusin. Originally written as part of the score for the 1981 movie of the same name, "On Golden Pond" has since become a cherished piece in the world of film music. Grusin's original composition was conceived for orchestra, but in 2004, he revisited this timeless melody and created a solo piano version that holds a special place in the hearts of music enthusiasts and pianists alike.

In Grusin's solo piano rendition, the essence of "On Golden Pond" is distilled into a single instrument, allowing the melody to shine with exceptional clarity and emotional resonance. The solo piano version highlights the depth of Grusin's composition, revealing its capacity to convey profound emotions with the simplicity of a single instrument. It's a testament to Grusin's skill as a composer and pianist that this version captures the same enchanting atmosphere as the original orchestral arrangement.

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