Dances for The Piano – Walter Hautzig, piano


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AMR20011017 Dances for the Piano Walter Hautzig

When the 29-year old Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) set foot in Vienna in 1862, he surely felt a shiver of excitement to be in the city of his heroes Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. The neglected Schubert was a composer especially cherished by Brahms, and within two years, Brahms became the anonymous editor of twelve Schubert Ländler, Op. 171, known today as D 790. Not long after this editorial labor of love, Brahms sent his publisher his own set of Sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39 (1866), for piano duet. He dedicated the waltzes to Eduard Hanslick, one of his closest friends in Vienna, and, in a letter informing Hanslick of the dedication, strengthened the Schubert connection for posterity with these words: It consists of two volumes of innocent little waltzes in Schubertian form. If you don’t want them and would rather see your name on a proper piece with four movements, “your wish is my command.” Brahms also supplied his publisher with two versions of his waltzes for piano solo – one for “clever hands, and one perhaps, for more beautiful hands.” The version heard on this recording, indeed, is the one for clever hands.

All sixteen waltzes are composed in binary form, and most exhibit the streamlined harmonic compression that absorbed Brahms throughout his life. Robert Schumann’s influence is also apparent – No. 9 in D minor bears a family resemblance to the final dance in Davidsbündlertänze, and Brahms’ decision to end the set not with a blaze of excitement but with quiet contemplation is certainly a Schumannesque decision.

The Polonaise in B-flat Major, Op. 71, No. 2 (1828) was written along with two other polonaises, while Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) was still in his teens. The polonaise had already been elevated to the status of a political symbol of national pride in Poland by composers in the generation preceding Chopin. Chopin, of course, added his own musical gifts and intensity. In the fanfare-like opening of this polonaise, we already hear his favorite interval 6 to 5 (sixth degree of the scale falling to the fifth degree), which was to become a melodic and structural thumbprint throughout his career.

Written a year earlier than the B-flat Polonaise, the A Minor Mazurka, Op. 68, No. 2 (1827) represents another uniquely Polish aspect of Chopin’s music. The ma­zurka as a regional dance was quite popular throughout Poland, and when Chopin made it his own, he preserved its unique characteristics: the dudy drone, the Lydian raised-fourth degree of the scale, and the agogic emphasis on the second of the three beats of the measure. The second beat can be stretched and there is virtually no break­ing point. The Lydian fourth of this A Minor Mazurka is specially emphasized by an accented trill on its every occurrence.

Chopin’s B-flat Mazurka, Op. 7, No. 1 (1831), emphasizes rhythmic rather than melodic aspects of the mazurka dance. But while the sunny B-flat major sound of the opening is not at all modal, Chopin cannot resist the ultimate contrast - an un­stable, haunting eight measures (mm. 45-52) that rest ever so lightly (pianissimo, sotto voce) on C-flat. A tedious chord labeler might tell you that these measures contain an augmented sixth chord with an accented upper auxiliary tone built upon the flattened sixth degree of the B-flat scale, but it would be much more poetic to simply say that Chopin is gathering his courage to peer into the perilous world of chromaticism. In these two early dances, Chopin had not yet developed his affinity for mysterious intro­ductions and extended codas. These two Mazurkas can actually be danced to - pro­vided, of course, one knows’ the steps.

The Waltz in A-flat, Op. 69, No. 1 (1835) was dedicated to the 16-year-old Marie Wodzinska, the daughter of family friends of Chopin. Rumors were flying that Chopin was secretly engaged to her, and that he was just waiting for her father's ap­proval to marry her. To let readers judge for themselves the extent of the infatuation, (at least from her point of view), an excerpt of one of Maria's letters to Chopin is reproduced here:

Dresden, September 1835

Dear Chopin,

It's me, Maria, again. We’re so sad that you've returned to Paris! Felix kept asking me to play that Waltz (the last thing you played and gave to us). They enjoyed listening as I enjoyed playing, for it brought back the brother who had just left.

Do you know that you left the pencil belonging to your notebook on the piano? You must have missed it badly on your journey and we are keeping it here, with great respect as if it were a relic.

…The slippers are finished; I’m sending them to you. Alas, they are too big! Doctor Paris consoles me by saying that it’s actually good for you, since you must wear heavy woolen socks in winter to keep you warm  

Adieu, Maria

The Waltz in E Minor, Op. Posth. (1830) is another remarkable work that was published only after Chopin’s death. Most of the themes feature rising rather than falling ges­tures. This compositional feature, plus the indicated Vivace tempo, create a whirlwind of exuberance. The coda is preceded by an intense chromatically rising bass, the very type of procedure that adds such beautiful tension to the endings of Chopin’s later extended works such as his Second Ballade, and most of the Scherzi.

Spain experienced a blossoming of keyboard music during the eighteenth century, but it was not until the very last years of the nineteenth century that any composers produced what could be considered Spanish Romantic piano music. It was the brilliant output of both Enrique Granados (1867-1916) and his compatriot Isaac Albeniz (whose lifespan ended exactly seven years earlier) that put Spain back on the pianistic map. Granados, although Catalan by birth, was very influenced by music of all regions of Spain, especially the southern region of Andalusia. In fact, the dance heard here, No. 5 from a set of twelve Danzas Españolas, is often referred to as “Andaluza.” Though it does not require the technical wizardry of Goyescas, the Goya-inspired mas­terpieces that were to come later, Andaluza does require from the pianist a subtle sensitivity to its evocative dance rhythms.

The milonga, a dance form older than the tango, was quite popular in nine­teenth-century Argentina. This particular Milonga by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) is his transcription of his own song, “Cancion al arbol del olvido” (“Song to the Tree of Forgetting”), one of a pair of songs that he published in 1938 as Op. 3. The song was based on a poem by Fernando Silva y Valdés, a poem so popular in Argentina that it was required reading for all elementary school students. The poem tells of a legendary tree under whose branches one could forget one’s pain and troubles. Inconsolable over losing his beloved, the poet goes to take a nap beneath the tree. But when he awakens from a dream, he thinks about her again, and realizes, to his despair, that he forgot to forget.

As a young composer in the 1930s and '40s, Ginastera was surrounded by the strong influence of Argentine nationalism. It is not surprising, then, that his first piano work, written a year before his graduation from the Conservatorio Nacional de Buenos Aires, should be a powerfully effective set of three dances strongly influenced by Argentine dance rhythms. These Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2 (1937), signal the be­ginning of Ginastera’s self-described period of “objective nationalism.” His absorption with indigenous themes is apparent, but he rarely quotes them directly. He loves disso­nant clusters as hot spice for his music, and he even sprinkles polytonal moments throughout all three dances. All of these traits have led some observers to refer to Ginastera as the “Argentinian Bartok.” The three dances may be translated as “Dance of the Old Herdsman” (Danza del Viejo Boyero), “Dance of the Amusing Coquette” (Danza de la Moza Donosa), and “Dance of the Crooked Cowboy” (Danza del Gaucho Matrero). It is significant to note that Ginastera himself wrote the following inscription on Walter Hautzig’s copy of the music: “Para Walter Hautzig - gran interprete del estas danzas de la Pampa. Con un fuerte abrazo. Genève, 1976.” (For Walter Hautzig - a great interpreter of these dances from the Plains. With a strong embrace - Alberto. Geneva, 1976).

During the years that have come to be known-as the Golden Age of Pianism, the legendary Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) was the pianist whose beauty of tone and magnificent technique arguably surpassed that of all the other monumental tal­ents of his generation. Born near Vilnius, Godowsky emigrated to the United States before World War I. Before making Manhattan his home, he lived for a while in Seattle, Washington, and it was there that he composed Triakontameron: Thirty Moods and Scenes in Triple Measure, a unique set of pieces for solo piano. The pianistic demands are not virtuosic, certainly not in the sense of his transcendentally difficult 53 Studies on Chopin's Etudes. Using the storytellers in Boccaccio’s Decameron as a model, Godowsky set himself the task of completing each piece in a single day. The most popular of the thirty, “Alt Wien” (Old Vienna), is featured on this CD - its precise date of composition was August 8, 1919. It is a nostalgic evocation of the Viennese Waltz, as Godowsky wrote as an epigram, “… whose yesterdays look backwards with a smile through tears.”

Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948) was another of the remarkable pianists to emerge from Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. Born in Podgorze, Poland, he eventually made Sydney, Australia his home. He composed nearly one hundred works, including his own set of variations on the popular Paganini Caprice No. 24, but the only works that are ever revived are his graceful Viennese Waltzes based on themes by the Austrian baritone Eduard Gartner. The second waltz, probably the most charming of the set of six, is heard here.

When one contemplates the enormous output of nineteenth-century waltzes by the talented Strauss family, and the various musicians* involved in creating subse­quent transcriptions, arrangements, and potpourris, one would never expect to hear the name of Artur Schnabel (1882-1951). Yet indeed, there exist four Old-Viennese Waltzes (Vier Altwiener Walzer) by Josef Strauss (1827-1870) that were “rendered and set by Artur Schnabel.” It is difficult to track down the circumstances of this publication - perhaps he wrote these arrangements while doing other editorial work in Berlin in the 1920s. Unlike the highly embellished pianistic transcriptions and paraphrases of so many of Schnabel's contemporaries, these settings are essentially piano reductions of the original orchestral settings. The first of this set of waltzes is included on this CD.

Alfred Grünfeld (1852-1924), a student of famed pedagogue Theodor Kullak, was yet another pianist who contributed to the Golden Age of Pianism. Like Friedman, Grunfeld’s transcriptions have endured longer than have his original compositions. On this recording, Grunfeld’s Paraphrase of Themes from Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899) Fledermaus are freely transcribed and further enhanced by pianist Walter Hautzig (1921-2017).

David WittenProfessor of Piano, Montclair State University

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Recorded in Kristiansand, Norway, September 1999, at Sigurd Lie Hall of Agder University College. John Bøe is the recording engineer and editor. The producer is Walter Hautzig and the executive producer is John DesMarteau. The cover photograph is courtesy of the Kirigaoka Educational Institution, Kiryu, Japan. Graphic design by John DesMarteau.