Complete Album Notes
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This album contains a collection of pieces that represent a true odyssey through American piano music. The music hails from quite different periods and demonstrates different styles. Four of the five composers are dead. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who died in 1869, was America’s first musical superstar. Samuel Barber died in 1981, while Norman Dello Joio passed away in 2008 and Benjamin Lees in 2010. Bolcom, Dello Joio and Lees personally provided brief notes about their music.
Samuel Barber’s (1910-1981) Nocturne is subtitled Homage to John Field, the Irish pianist and composer generally credited with creating the nocturne. Like the nocturnes of Field and Chopin, the writing is firmly rooted in a sense of key, and is characterized by an arpeggiated accompaniment supporting a long cantabile line graced with elaborate fioratura. Pas de Deux was arranged for piano by Barber from Souvenirs, his ballet suite for orchestra. The long expressive melodic line is imitated in the treble over a supporting harmonic progression thus giving the effect of a “pas de deux.”
William Bolcom (b1938) wrote: “The Graceful Ghost is a reminiscence of my father. In this piece I have tried to imagine an extension of Louis Chauvin’s gentle French Creole quality. It was written in 1970, the year my father passed away. It is the first of a group entitled Three Ghost Rags, the other two being The Poltergeist and Dream Shadows.”
Norman Dello Joio (1913-2008) wrote: “My third piano sonata was written in 1949. It is in four movements: Variations, Scherzo, Adagio, and Allegro. It was premiered in performance by Jorge Bolet at Carnegie Hall in 1952. The whole work is based on a Gregorian theme, a Kyrie of the Mass of the Angels."
Benjamin Lees (1924-2010) wrote: "Odyssey I was written in 1970 for the pianist John Ogdon. It is an exploration of textures and techniques, together with a working out of musical materials which seem to generate a sense of journey through some surrealistic landscape. There is both violence and lyricism, each sharing equal space in the construction of this work. Odyssey II was composed in 1986. Again, there is a feeling of journeying through some strange landscape. This time, however, the emphasis is on ornamental figurations, dramatic outbursts alternating with calmer sections. Odyssey I and II share in compositional development. This lends a sense of flow to both works. The harmonic language is nether avant-garde or conservative, not that this is important in itself. The composer has chosen the language best suited to his needs at a particular time for a particular purpose."
Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) was born in New Orleans, and at age 12 was sent to Paris to study. Even though rejected by the Conservatoire because he was an American, he rapidly achieved success. Chopin exclaimed upon hearing him play, ”Vous serez le roi de pianists.” (You will be the king of pianists.) Gottschalk was greatly influenced by the music of the South and the Caribbean. For instance, La Savane is based upon a Creole ballad. And O ma chamante, épargnez-moi (”Oh my charmer, spare me”) with its habanera rhythm also captures the passion of Creole music. Gottschalk ended all his American concerts with the rousing Tournament Galop. One can surely imagine a horse galloping along as you hear this sprightly piece.
Recorded December 1996 at the John Addison Concert Hall in Fort Washington, Maryland on a Steinway Model D grand piano kept in tune by Marshall Hawkins. The producer and editor was David v. R. Bowles, who also did the mastering. Edward J. Kelly was the recording engineer. Graphic design was done by John DesMarteau MD.
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