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Topic Of the Month July: Musical Journey

What is typically American?

This is the story told by the works on this CD. Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, for instance, took up the traditions of music characterized as European and gave them a typically American tone all their own. In his turn, John Cage – like Morton Feldman a member of the New York School – tried to leave behind all that was “used up” and find his way to new es­thetic standards through experimentation. And Steve Reich, nearly a whole generation younger and inspired by jazz, West African and Balinese music, became one of the founders of minimal music. All of these vastly different approaches are based on a genuinely American identity. It may be reinforced, questioned or occasionally even repudiated in the compositions – but in any case it remains noticeable.



George Enescu  far from being only Romania’s most important composer, is one of the most colourful music-al personalities of the twentieth century. His genius unites a great composer, an inspiring conductor (he was offered the position as Toscanini’s successor in New York), one of the most prominent violinists of his time, a highly esteemed pianist (whose piano technique Alfred Cortot envied),  a caricaturist who wielded a formidable pen and a selfless supporter of young colleagues. His pupil Yehudi Menuhin said in a reverent judgement that “Enescu remains for me the most extraordinary human being, the great­est musician and the most formative influ­ence I have ever experienced”. The present recording was greeted with enthusiasm by the critics and includes all Enescu’s works for violin and piano  in existence. According to Carl Flesch, the Second Violin Sonata is “one of the most important works of all sonata literature, whose neglect is totally unjustifiable”.­




The extent to which Enescu‘s musical language changed and matured into an individual style over the decades is fascinatingly demonstrated by the two Sonatas for cello and piano of op. 26, which are separated by thirty-seven years. The drama and playfulness of the earlier piece reflects influences ranging from Johannes Brahms to Camille Saint-Saëns. In all four movements, Enescu produces a happy combination of melodiousness and richly coloured harmony with dense writing and contrapuntal concentration. 






In nineteenth-century France, instrumental music was not particularly en vogue. Many at the time, such as the writer Stendhal, saw it as inferior or even harmful compared to the opera. One exception was Camille Saint-Saëns, in whose multifaceted work symphonies, symphonic poems and instrumental concertos occupy an important place. In 1871, he joined César Franck and others to bring into being the “Société Nationale de Musique”, whose goal was to promote the performance of orchestral and chamber music by contemporary French composers. This return to instrumental music awakened in France a new interest in concertos for piano and orchestra, which was to endure into the twentieth century.





Antonio Salieri‘s works for the stage were long considered the epitome of the art of musical drama. Many of his operas were practically idolized and considered to be among the best music ever made. Beginning in the mid nineteenth century, however, they gradually passed into oblivion. Instead of their resounding titles, a slanderous story became the constant companion of the erstwhile honored name of Salieri. After his last acquaintances had died, there were no more contemporary witnesses who would have been able to defend his reputation. Often enough, self-appointed judges condemned his works without having ever held the scores in their hands. Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus and the hit film of it by Miloš Forman gave the fable about the “patron saint of mediocrity” new sustenance. However, virtually nothing that was reported about Salieri appears to match the historic truth.




The beginnings of the tango are found in the world of the ports and demimonde in the suburbs and slums of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, cities to whose bars immigrants and gauchos, hard-working people and adventurers all went in search of entertainment. Between 1930 and 1940 there were hundreds of tango ensembles in Buenos Aires alone – in Europe, however, the tango was considered to be rather disreputable.  “It was necessary to liberate the tango from the monotony that so limited it in terms of melody, harmony and esthetics. It was an irresistible impulse toward a musical reassessment in order to give instrumentalists a new form of enlightenment. In other words, to understand the tango more than ever before as music” (Piazzolla) – the traditional tango, which nearly went extinct owing to the changed political, social and cultural situation in Argentina in the 1960’s and 70’s and the growing dominance of “imported” popular music, owes its revival primarily to Astor Piazzolla.