|Homage to Paderewski (Boosey & Hawkes, 1942)|
Andante tranquillo, rubato [0'53]
Following the resounding success of Jonathan Plowright’s 2010 Hommage à Chopin, the acclaimed British pianist becomes the first artist to record the album of works written and published in homage to one of the early twentieth century’s most fascinating figures, Polish pianist, composer and politician Ignacy Jan Paderewski.
Of the twenty-two works on this recording, from composers including Bartók, Martinu and Milhaud, seventeen were intended for the memorial piano album Homage to Paderewski published by Boosey & Hawkes in New York in 1942. A further six pieces written for the pianist also feature, including a Mazurka for two pianos by Britten, for which Plowright is joined by Aaron Shorr.
Plowright performs these diverse works with flair and dedication.
Other recommended albums
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A man of many titles in both the world of politics and music, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941) was one of the human wonders of the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Presidents and kings, generals and statesmen, as well as millions of freedom- and music-loving people, fell under the spell of his impassioned pleas for an independent Poland or succumbed to his magical renditions of Chopin.
The awards bestowed upon him ranged from the Legion of Honour and Order of the British Empire to Poland’s Virtuti Militari, along with many honorary doctorates from European and American universities. He was Poland’s first Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs following the Great War, her delegate at the Treaty of Versailles Peace Conference and Ambassador of Poland at the League of Nations. Pianist and composer, a millionaire and the highest-paid musician of his day, he was also a philanthropist and humanitarian. Camille Saint-Saëns described him as ‘a genius who happens to play the piano’. A superstar of his time, he was idolized by the public, and owing to the immense popularity of his Minuet in G he became a household name. The Minuet was still making the charts of all-time recorded hits a dozen years after his death (The New York Times, 22 March 1953). Nearly twenty years before his death, following a recital he played in Detroit on 14 January 1924, W K Kelly, a critic for The Detroit News, lamented a future world without Paderewski: ‘When Paderewski closes his piano for the last time, a star will have fallen from heaven. Other stars may rise, but then there will be none like him for many a year. He is the Sirius of our skies. He will pass into legend.’
The inspiration for creating this Homage to Paderewski came from an album of piano music bearing the same title published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1942. Originally intended to celebrate the golden jubilee of Paderewski’s first American concert tour of 1891, his untimely death on 29 June 1941 caused a delay in publication, and the volume was then released in memoriam to mark his passing.
Of the twenty-two pieces written by twenty-one composers on this recording, seventeen were intended for the memorial piano album. The pieces recorded here that were not written for the original printed anthology include those by Schelling, Wieniawski, Zarzycki, Chaminade and Blumenfeld—although like the works from the 1942 publication, each of these pieces was also dedicated to Paderewski.
The anthology’s editor, music librarian Dorothy Lawton, was responsible for contacting the composers, all living in North America, to contribute to the collection. There were only three native-born Americans in this group: Chanler, Schelling and Whithorne. Some of the composers emigrated to the USA before World War II, including Stojowski, Hammond and Labunski, while Arthur Benjamin, Britten and Goossens were in either the USA or Canada at the outbreak of the war. The remaining composers were either self-exiled musicians such as Bartók, Nin-Culmell and Martinu, who were fleeing the rule of Nazi oppression and the eventual destruction of their homelands, or Jewish musicians such as Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Rieti, Milhaud, Rathaus and Weinberger, seeking refuge from the Holocaust. These composers—along with many other famous European composers who also settled in the USA during the 1940s, including Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Weill—paved the way for America to become an international leader in new trends in Western music following World War II.
Józef Wieniawski was the younger brother of the more famous violinist/composer Henryk. Like his brother, he was born in Lublin and studied in Paris where he took first prize in piano at the Paris Conservatory at the age of twelve in 1849. He settled in Warsaw and became the second director of the Warsaw Musical Society until in his later life he moved to Brussels to teach at the conservatory. Wieniawski’s music was once described by one of his contemporaries as being ‘full of original ideas’, but at the same time ‘dry and pensive’. His Étude Op 44 No 22 is virtuosic and Chopinesque.
Born in New Jersey, Ernest Schelling studied with Paderewski for several years in the 1890s. The Impressionistic Nocturne (Ragusa), bearing the dedication ‘To my master, I. J. Paderewski’, is at times reminiscent of Debussy’s La mer. Published in 1926, it was later recorded by Paderewski on Victor Records.
The 1942 Boosey & Hawkes publication opens with the Three Hungarian Folk-Tunes Sz66 (BB80b) by Béla Bartók, which were composed many years before the commission, in 1914–18. The Hungarian characteristics of these pieces include the use of modal melodies based on the Mixolydian and Dorian scales and frequent melodic leaps of the fourth as found in the last two folksongs.
Arthur Benjamin, Australian-born and British-trained, was living in Vancouver at the beginning of World War II. He had been one of Britten’s teachers at the Royal College of Music in London. His Elegiac Mazurka is dominated by this dance’s trademark dotted rhythm, which is used with dramatic effect.
Best remembered for his art songs, Theodore Chanler studied with Ernest Bloch in Cleveland and Boulanger in Paris. His Aftermath is a romantic gem, lyrical and soothing.
A Polish immigrant, Felix Labunski relocated to America in 1936 and settled in Cincinnati. He was especially indebted to Paderewski, who, following their meeting in Paris in 1928, funded the remainder of his studies with Dukas and Boulanger. In addition to his Threnody, a very intense piece with a beautiful cantabile middle section, Labunski also dedicated a symphonic poem entitled In memoriam to his mentor.
Born in Italy, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco settled in California where he composed the music to some 250 Hollywood films. His musical tribute Hommage à Paderewski is a sweet mazurka with a strange cadenza-like passage before the end.
British-born and educated, a composer as well as a conductor, Eugene Goossens was working as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Ohio at the outbreak of World War II. Goossens’ Homage is based on Chopin’s Prelude in C minor.
Richard Hammond moved from England to America during World War I, graduated from Yale and eventually settled in Los Angeles near Igor Stravinsky, one of his closest friends during the 1940s and 1950s. Hammond’s Dance, a rhythmic and exuberant work in mixed metres, provides a welcome contrast to the sombre and sobering piece of Goossens that precedes it.
The French composer Darius Milhaud emigrated to the USA in 1941. His contribution to the piano album was a Choral in 5/4 metre. Harmonically, the hymn is polytonal with the two hands playing simultaneously in different keys.
Bohuslav Martinu also composed a mazurka for the memorial volume; this one is in ABA form with the outer sections marked Moderato poco andante and the middle section marked Poco vivo. The prolific Czech composer arrived in America in 1941 and settled in New York until he returned to Europe in 1956.
Born in Berlin of Cuban ancestry, Joaquín Nin-Culmell moved to the USA in 1939. He was a prolific composer for the guitar, writing some 100 pieces. In Memoriam Paderewski is another short mazurka, and Nin-Culmell adds a bit of Latin American flavour by the use of syncopation in the second half of the piece. This is achieved by the right hand playing in 3/4 while the left hand simultaneously plays in 6/8.
A native of Cleveland, Emerson Whithorne studied in Europe, including the piano with Leschetizky, who had also been Paderewski’s teacher. At some point following his return to the USA in 1915 he gave composition lessons to Richard Hammond, composer of the Dance found earlier in the volume. Hammond and Whithorne cofounded the Composers’ Music Corporation in New York, specializing in publishing the scores of contemporary composers. Most of Whithorne’s Hommage is written on four staves. Marked Lento, the theme of this piece is based on a rhythmic motif that incorporates a triplet figure which dominates the opening and closing sections of the work. The solemn, slow-moving pace creates a depressed mood.
Born in Egypt, the Italian Vittorio Rieti studied with Respighi. He went to the USA in 1940 and settled in New York. The delightful and sparkling Allegro danzante breaks the spirit of mourning created by Whithorne’s piece. Neoclassical in style, one can hear echoes of Scarlatti in this dance. Rieti’s frequent pianistic punctuations played in octaves by both hands also remind the listener of Paderewski’s own Caprice from his Humoresques de concert, Op 14.
The death in 1939 of Paderewski’s student Ernest Schelling caused the master much grief, and when the volume in Paderewski’s honour was being compiled in 1941 Schelling’s widow submitted her husband’s last composition, knowing that he would have wanted to share in any tribute to his mentor. The piece is untitled, and has the tempo marking Con tenerezza.
Born in Tarnopol (now Ternopil, Ukraine), Karol Rathaus received his musical training in Berlin and Vienna. In 1938 the composer moved to New York where he spent the rest of his life. Neoclassical in style, Rathaus’s Kujawiak (a Polish dance in triple metre) is characterized by its highly chromatic and sinuous melody.
Like Schelling, Sigismond Stojowski had the distinction of being one of the few pianists to have studied with Paderewski over a long period of time. Zygmunt, as he was called in Polish, studied in Cracow and Paris. He moved to New York in 1905 to be on the founding faculty of the Institute of Musical Art. Stojowski’s Cradle Song is a Spanish-American berceuse based on the lullaby Alarroro rito which Stojowski learned from his Peruvian wife, Luisa. In fact, it was thanks to Paderewski that Zygmunt and Luisa first met.
Jaromír Weinberger was born in Prague, and fled his native country for America in 1939. In his Étude in G major the composer incorporates a Polish patriotic hymn of the nineteenth century, Z dymem pozarów (‘From the smoke of fires’), and provides the pianist with an extraordinary tour de force. The same melody was used by Edward Elgar in his symphonic prelude Polonia, dedicated to Paderewski during World War I.
Benjamin Britten misunderstood the commission and composed a work, entitled Mazurka elegiaca, scored for two pianos, instead of writing one for solo piano. Thus although it was intended for the volume it had to be published separately. Britten captures the melancholy characteristic of so many of Chopin’s mazurkas, thereby saluting Paderewski as the great Chopin interpreter.
Aleksander Zarzycki was born in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine), studied in Berlin and Paris, and settled in Warsaw. He was a co-founder and the first director of the Warsaw Musical Society as well as the choir conductor at St John’s Archcathedral where Paderewski’s remains are entombed in the crypt. French in flavour, the Chant du printemps is a typical morceau de salon. Following a programmatic-like introduction of springtime nymphs welcoming the listener on their harps, a beautiful melody reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words takes over.
Cécile Chaminade studied in Paris with several teachers, including the composer Benjamin Godard. Although a prolific composer, her music (in common with that of several other composers on this recording) has fallen into obscurity. In 1913 she became the first woman composer to be awarded the Légion d’honneur. Although the title Étude symphonique is reminiscent of Schumann, the music begins in the style of a Chopin nocturne, and then alternates between the lyrical (Andante) and dramatic (Allegro appassionato) in a manner characteristic of the Romantic period.
Felix Blumenfeld was born of an Austrian father and Polish mother (Maria Szymanowska) in Kovalevka, Russia (now in Ukraine). He was Karol Szymanowski’s uncle. He studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov in St Petersburg, and his own piano students included Vladimir Horowitz, Heinrich Neuhaus (also his nephew) and Wiktor Labunski (the younger brother of Homage composer Felix). The Kujawiak recorded here, the second movement of his Suite polonaise No 2, Op 31, is marked Allegretto and develops into a frenzied Obertas (a lively Polish dance marked Vivo). The tempo of the Kujawiak returns, before the piece ends in a dancing whirlwind (Più mosso e molto vivo).
Joseph A Herter © 2011