Saturday, September 22, 2007

Performer’s Notes: Twentieth Century Dance Music

Dance Suite—Bartok

Commissioned in 1923 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the union of Buda and Pest, the Dance Suite reflects Bartok’s passion for musical cultures he had studied in the field. He identified the national origin of each movement. The first dance he labeled as partly Arab (he had visited North Africa in 1913), ending with a ritornello tune of Hungarian character. The second dance is a whirling Hungarian Magyar dervish, followed by the return of the ritornello.

The third dance, Bartok calls a mix of “Hungarian, Romanian and even Arab influences alternate” and is pentatonic. The fourth dance, slow and introspective, Bartok describes as being “entirely of an Oriental (Arab) character” with interesting alternating meters found in Bulgaria. The slow tempo extends in to another appearance of the ritornello, now inverted. The finale serves as a kaleidoscope of diverse folk traditions, with quotations from earlier movements. It affirms Bartok’s profound belief in both national identity and the brotherhood of nations.

Cancion Y Danza—Mompou

Born in Barcelona, Mompou left his native Spain for Paris in 1911 following an epiphytic recital by Gabriel Faure and Marguerite Long. While in Paris, Mompou became acquainted with the works of Satie and Ravel and met his compatriot, the famous pianist, Ricardo Vines. Mompou’s music melds the sensuous coloration and nuance of French impressionistic style with an introspective and intense Spanish flavor, sometimes tinged with sadness. Notable friendships include the painter, Miro, with whom Mompou shared a love of Catalan folklore. The Cancion no.6 is dedicated to Artur Rubenstein.

Valses nobles et sentimentales—Ravel

Completed in 1911, the title page offers a line from Henri de Regnier: “the delightful and ever new pleasure of a useless occupation.” In this uninterrupted chain of seven waltzes, Ravel both enjoys the strict three-four rhythm for itself, and at the same time views it through twentieth-century eyes. The harmonies are those of a composer who knows all about Wagner and Schoenberg, as well as Gershwin, and who has sensed instinctively that his aesthetic world contains the seeds of its own decay, as heard in the introspective Epilogue. Ravel himself conducted the orchestral premiere of the ballet version entitled, “Adelaide, ou Le langage des fleurs”.

Waltz for Debby-- Bill Evans

One of the most striking qualities of Bill Evans music is his ease at fusing impressionistic scales and harmonies with jazz voicings. It is interesting to note that while disc jockeying on a New York radio station, Evans’ playlist included Ravel’s Valse nobles et sentimentales.

Mazurkas, Opus 50—Szymanowski

Born in the Ukraine, Szymanowski spent much of his academic and artist life in Warsaw. After spurning the use of folk materials for much of his career, he was inspired by Stravinski’s flexible and novel application. Further, a surge of nationalism among Polish artists celebrated the return of Poland as an independent country in 1918, after more than a century with any political status. Much of Szymanowski’s output from the 1920’s was inspired by the somewhat exotic culture of the Tatra highlands, a style featuring primitive rhythmic energy. The opus 50 Mazurkas mark Szymanowksi’s response to Chopin and were dedicated to his friend Artur Rubenstein.

Three Argentine Dances—Ginastera

His first published work, these dances revel in the Argentine culture. The pulsating dance rhythms of the first and third pieces are Ginastera’s South American response to his contemporaries, Bartok and Stravinsky. The desolate middle dance is Ginastera’s portrait of the solitude found in the pampas, miles of endless grassy plains in northern Argentina. The soulful melody is accompanied by a simple guitar figure.

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