Joseph Kalichstein, Pianist

By Lawrence Budmen

The rhythms of the dance have long inspired composers of purely instrumental music. From the Baroque dances of Bach's "English Suites" (for harpsichord) and four orchestral suites to the quirky 20th century Gavotte of Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony," composers have used dance forms in purely abstract music that was never intended to be choreographed. Inevitably some of these "abstract" scores were adapted by gifted choreographers into full scale ballets. Virtuoso pianist Joseph Kalichstein presents a program of keyboard works that were greatly influenced by the dance. 

From "Soirees Musicales for Piano," Opus 6
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Clara Schumann was the most acclaimed concert pianist of the 19th century. Her father Friedrich Wieck was a music teacher. Her mother Marianne Tromlitz Wieck (Bargiel) was a soprano and had been a student of Wieck. Developed by her father, Clara won wide acclaim as a piano virtuoso who championed a repertoire by the progressive composers of her day (Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms). She continued to perform after her marriage to Robert Schumann in 1840. She made38 concert tours outside of Germany and was a highly prized teacher at the conservatories of Leipzig and Frankfurt. 

Clara Schumann was a sensitive and imaginative composer. She wrote 29 songs, 3 part songs, 4 works for piano and orchestra, 20 solo piano pieces, and cadenzas for 3 piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven. Her Chopinesque "Piano Concerto in A Minor," Opus 7 is a glittering pianistic display piece. In her "Soirees Musicales," Opus 6 (composed in 1835-36) she turned to the Polish mazurka as part of her keyboard divertissement. The influence of Chopin was palpable. By this time Clara and Robert were deeply in love. In his "Davidsbundlertanze," Opus 6, Robert Schumann opens with a quotation from Clara's "Soirees Musicales," No. 5, Opus 6 - the Mazurka, a heartfelt exchange of creative ideas. 

Clara Schumann ceased composing in 1854 after Robert's mental collapse. After his death two years later, Clara edited a complete edition of Robert's works and letters. In 1878 a series of jubilee concerts were held in Leipzig to honor Clara's 50 years as a performing artist. The auditorium of the Leipzig Gewandhaus was decorated with leafs of green and gold and garlands of oak leaves. When Clara took the stage, the audience showered her with flowers. Her program was devoted to the music of one composer - Robert Schumann.

"Davidsbundlertanze," Opus 6 Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

The daringly original early piano works of Robert Schumann were greatly influenced by his relationship with Clara Wieck. On September 5, 1839 Schumann wrote to his former teacher Heinrich Dorn: "Certainly some of my music contains some of the struggles Clara has cost me, and it certainly can be understood by you as such. She was practically my sole motivation for writing the Concerto, the Sonata, the Davidsbundlertanze, the Kreisleriana, and the Novellettes." Into these works Schumann poured his passionate love, anxieties, longings, visions, dreams, and fantasies. 

For Schumann the intimate character piece was a fertile creative genre for his experimental ideas and emotions. The composer noted that no work gave him greater pleasure in the act of creation than the "Davidsbundlertanze" ("Dances of the Band of David") of 1837. In many ways this score is his most personal work - a self portrait of his mood swings and split personality. In 1838 Schumann told Clara that the Dances contained "many wedding thoughts" and that "the story is an entire Potterabend (German wedding eve party, during which old crockery is smashed to bring good luck)." 

The score's title refers to Schumann's fictitious Band of David, a brotherhood of artists who did battle with the Philistines of contemporary music and art.( In addition to the composer and Clara and other creative artists, the Band of David included two imaginary characters - Florestan and Eusebius.) The title page of the manuscript states that the Dances were dedicated to Walther von Goethe (the poet's grandson) by "Florestan and Eusebius." Eusebius embodied the composer's sensitive, softly lyrical side while Florestan represented his intense, rhythmically complex persona. (In the score's first edition, Schumann credits the composition of nos. 2, 5, 7, and14 to Eusebius while he indicates that Florestan wrote nos. 3, 4, 6, 10, and 12. He would later excise these fantasy designations.)The music ranges widely in its emotional extremes. Many of Schumann's contemporaries considered the work's sudden changes of mood and unconventional approach to tonality and rhythm so original that it verged on madness. (How ironic that the composer would eventually be judged insane.) 

Late in his life and career, the master choreographer George Balanchine created a dark, brooding ballet to "Davidsbundlertanze." The music's dance rhythms are subtle - an intimate concert ballet. This score is one of Schumann's most personal, intense creations. The music is marked by romantic ardor and creative generosity of spirit from first bar to last. The technical and intellectual demands of this score pose a formidable challenge to the performing artist. In the hands of a great artist "Davidsbundlertanze" is an unforgettable experience! 

"Chaconne in D Minor" (for Left Hand)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

No.5 from "Five Studies for Piano"
Transcribed by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

The Chaconne is a Baroque dance and variation form. It originated in Latin America as a dance-song and became popular in Spain and Italy in the 17th century. Chaconnes were a hallmark of the ballet sequences in the operas of Rameau and Lully as well as in German keyboard music of the 17th and early 18th century. Bach and Purcell elevated the Chaconne to concert ("art music") status. 

We tend to think of left hand piano music as being the creation of Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), the Austrian pianist who lost his right arm in World War 1. Wittgenstein commissioned Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten, Richard Strauss, Franz Schmidt, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold to write virtuoso works for the left hand alone. (This repertoire has served pianists who developed right hand problems well and allowed them to continue their careers.) Long before Wittgenstein Johannes Brahms transcribed a Bach Chaconne for left hand piano in his (unpublished) "Five Studies for Piano." These student exercises require considerable virtuosity and provide a rare 19th century perspective on a Baroque master. 

"Three Mazurkas"
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

Frederic Chopin was the ultimate poet of the piano. As a Polish nationalist in exile in Paris, he was the toast of Parisian society and the king of the musical salon. He was greatly admired by Schumann and Liszt. The exquisite delicacy of his music (pianistic bel canto) was in sharp contrast to the shallow display pieces of many of his Parisian contemporaries. His strong Polish roots manifested themselves in his many polonaises and mazurkas - Poland's national dances. 

One of the major challenges to all pianists in the Chopin Mazurkas is the folk inflected rhythm. On the printed page they appear as exotic waltzes - in 3/4 time. Yet contemporary accounts of Chopin's performances indicate that he played the Mazurkas very freely with beats and accents not indicated in the music. The score therefore was a blueprint to a stylistic performance practice that was passed down by his students and contemporaries. Much of this 19th century tradition can be found in the recordings of the Polish virtuosos Moritz Rosenthal (1862-1946) and Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948). Yet Artur Rubinstein had a more literal approach to these dances and Vladimir Horowitz played these works in a typically eccentric, brilliant manner. Above all these are elegant Imperial Polish Mazurkas - music that allows each artist to bring his own personal view to these dances. 

Waltz from Gounod's "Faust" S.407 Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Franz Liszt was the Paganini of the piano. After studying piano with Carl Czerny in Vienna (1822-3) and composition with Reicha and Paer in Paris, Liszt found inspiration in the daredevil violin virtuosity of Paganini. Having established himself as a brilliant pianist by age 12, Liszt sought to transfer the Italian violinist's demonic pyrotechnics to the keyboard. His numerous operatic fantasies, transcriptions, and paraphrases are showpieces of remarkable depth. 

Charles Gounod (1818-1893) was also a student of Reicha at the Paris Conservatory. He won the Prix de Rome in 1839. While he wrote numerous choral and religious works, it was as a composer of French opera that Gounod made his greatest artistic contribution. His melodic gift and sense of orchestral color distinguish a trio of lyric dramas: "Faust" (1859), "Mireille" (1864), and "Romeo et Juliette" (1867). "Faust" was a highly romanticized adaptation of scenes from Goethe's novel. It was Gounod's greatest success and remains a landmark in the history of French opera. Gounod was greatly admired by the next generation of French composers, particularly Bizet, Faure, and Massenet. Massenet's operas were deeply influenced by Gounod's brand of Gallic lyricism.

In Act 1, Scene 2 of Gounod's "Faust" the newly youthful and rejuvenated "Faust" attends a country fair where he meets Marguerite. The rousing, elegant waltz marks the climax of the scene. Like all of Liszt's operatic adaptations, this 1861 pianistic version of the waltz from "Faust" is far more than a note for note transcription. Liszt transforms the music into a dazzling showpiece - an appropriately brilliant conclusion to a program of dance music for piano. 

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