Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ervin Schulhoff - Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra - Symphony No. 5 - Kolner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester - Gunther Schuller - Michael Rische, Piano - Koch Schwann 1995

I should stop making promises I cannot keep! This is the second Schulhoff post, meant for last night. I was too deflated emotionally and physically so here it is this Tuesday afternoon.

Two extremes of Schulhoff’s art are represented here. The jazzy (Second) Piano Concerto is here played by the pianist Michael Rische, the work’s first champion in modern times. The concerto displays the fashionable, 'Roaring Twenties' aspect of Schulhoff’s oeuvre before plunging into the gritty socialist realist world he created for himself in the 1930s. The idiom of the Fifth Symphony is consistent with that of the Third. Schulhoff completed its orchestration after the fall of Czechoslovakia and it is not easy to consider the work as an abstract entity when we know what became of its maker. There are four movements, each longer than its predecessor.

The "Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra" occupies a special place within the group of works inspired by Dada and jazz. Schulhoff composed this piece in June and July 1923 in Berlin, where he lived with his wife and his one year old son until November of that year. He returned to Prague afterwards. The influence of provocative Dadaist poetry was already ebbing as he was writing the Piano Concerto. He has sown his wild oats as an "Uber-Dada" (as Schulhoff referred to himself in a letter to Richard Stiller) the previous year, when he had composed "The Cloud Pump" (texts by Hans Arp), the "Bass Nightingale" for contrabassoon solo and, earlier yet, the lascivious "Sonata Erotica" for solo 'mother trumpet' and vocal whispers of an aroused female (!), and the unperformable "Symphonia germanica", which took aim at militaristic patriotism. The Piano Concerto is an homage to jazz, which bursts like a hurricane into the calm musical flow which strives to abide to the good old traditions. Schulhoff held the same views as Jean Cocteau and the Paris group "Les Six" and felt that jazz dances should fulfill the same function in today's serious music as the sarabande, contredanse, minuet, polka or furiant did in the days of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and even that of Smetana. Though the work was intended to be programmatic, jazz did not make its entrance as a victor determined to do away with past musical tradition, but as a champion of vital new impulses. Jazz sought to become a part of this tradition by imparting these impulses on it. There is no denying that this program was far removed from the Dadaist slogan of "anti-art".  Thus the one-movement Piano Concerto is based on a stylistic bipolarity; on the one hand it is the music of a distressed soul of a musical poet and romantic dreamer troubled by the restlessness of the Fin-de-siècle; on the other, there is the primitive, challenging sound of jazz, bursting with energy and spirit, the symbol of the new way of life, of technological revolutions, and thus of America. 

The stylistic divergences which poked fun at the aesthetic ideals of the time are practically programmed into this work and permeate all parameters of the musical structure. In the first section, the orchestra serves up samples of refined sonorities a la Debussy or more pungent Straussian bits. The solo part recalls Liszt's virtuoso technique and lets loose in the frequent cadenzas. The harmonic apparatus obviously includes the augmented fifth and the seven-nine chord, for chromaticism is omnipresent in this work. But it is not the only device which weakens the foundations of major-minor tonality; its stability is also undermined by sequences of whole tones, tritone intervals in the melodic line, pentatonic passages and gypsy scales, thus by means which Schulhoff frequently used in earlier times. The head motif, which plays a crucial linking function in the work, appears very soon introductory cadenza over the chrdal pedal C - G - d flat - g flat - b flat in the descending sequence of the gypsy scale with its characteristic lowered second: f - e - d flat - c. By adding a further descending tone, Schulhoff does not attack the gypsy mode but reinforce it with an even more characteristic raised fifth which now comes to the fore.  Though the work is theoretically a one-movement concerto, the traditional three-movement form is clearly recognizable, for the sostenuto section which now follows is nothing else than the second movement. Here the head motif extends from a perfect fourth to an augmented fifth, whereby it descends on a whole tone scale. Although this motif does not return in e closing movement, the "Allegro alla jazz", its distinctive form is recalled in the main theme by the two altered tones of the gypsy scale: it is heard once again in its whole-tone form. In addition, the central section, "Alla zingresca", features a completely new, pentatonic theme which modulates in steps of a second. It can only be associated with the Zingaresca  through its whimsical humor however. 

-The jazz entrance is nothing less than stunning. The motoric drive, which pulsates in a fox-trot rhythm, is accompanied by the din of a steamer siren, car horn, anvil, cowbells, rattle, zobo, tam tam, Japanese drum and a number of other percussion instruments. So....bruitist music? In the Dadaist manifesto he drew up in 1918, Richard Huelsenbeck wrote: "Life is like a simultaneous jumble of noises, colors, and intellectual rhythms which is unerringly reproduced in Dadaist art, with all its sensational screams, the agitation of its everyday psyche and in its brutal reality". Indeed, Schulhoff's Piano Concerto is the last work that really reflects the composer's affinity to Dadaism-a farewell to a style.

*I will write about the Fifth Symphony tonight, I must get to work! 

Track Listing:

Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra (1923)

1)Molto sotenuto -Allegro expressivo -Alla marcia maestoso - Sostenuto - Cadenza- Molto sostenuto e astrattamente- Allegro alla jazz - Alla zingeresca -Tempo 1 - Prestissomo (18:45)

Symphony No. 5 (1938)

2)Andante, ma molto risoluto (4:38)
3)Adagio (9:18)
4)Allegro con brio (10:12)
5)Finale. Allegro con brio (14:49)

Schulhoff_ Klavierkonzert_Sinfonie_No._5_(PART1)_Tzadik.zip


Schulhoff_ Klavierkonzert_Sinfonie_No._5_(PART2)_Tzadik.zip



Toon van Dijk said...

Many thanks and regards from The Netherlands.
Veel dank en groeten uit Nederland.

David said...

Links don't seem to work - link to Zippyshare is OK, but on clicking the download button you get taken to a new web page where nothing happens.

Paul Terry said...

I was able to download them OK.
I just wanted to pop a line and say this is the single best Classical music blog I have ever seen. Thanks for turning me on to Schulhoff, a new favorite.

David said...

Downloads now working - must have been a temporary fault - thanks a million.

Clare said...

The download is not working. Track 1 will not extract due to overlong file name. Has nobody else got this?

Johannes R. Becher said...

Hi Tzadik,

no, I didn't know Supraphon had also released the Schulhoff's symphonies, although it makes a lot of sense. Anyway they must be very old editions, probably out of print LPs, aren't they? I know Capriccio has quite a few Schulhoff works on cd, his symphonies among them.

Thanks for this version of the fascinating piano concerto. I've also paid a listening to the 5h, which I didn't know, and I haven't found it so harsh as I found once the 2dn and 3rd, or the Ogelala and the Serenade for that matter. Nevertheless, and notwithdstanding the commonly held point of view that Schulhoff turned into socialist realism after the first world war, I think his mature works are anything but mass-appealing. As a matter of fact his 'roaring twenties' phase is far more likely to be enjoyed by the musically uncultured (like me) like than the mature one. He's by all standards no Khrennikov creating for the masses.

And of course I do appreaciate your dissecting of his music, if only I had the knowledge to keep up with your explanations...

Ah, Decca and their Entartete Musik Series... I of course enjoyed their hypercommercial Korngold's Between Two World. There are some items in that collection I'm somehow emotionally attached to and sometims I think I'd like to order them, but they are mostly out of print and only available as second hand at quite unattractive prices. It would be nice if the nth Decca repressing and repackaging would be this one, even if no original liner notes and librettos were included, as it's the major's custom when releasing budget priced boxsets... but it looks like they rather enjoy repressing once and again the same old stuff of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Ok ok, I stop moaning right now.

theblueamos said...

Very interesting write up .Now I have to listen to the music,and see if I can make sense of it.If not I'll just have to enjoy (or not).I was sorry to read about your situation.I hope some solution is found.Im amazed that with everything that is going on,you still find the time to contribute all these wonderful post.Im forever grateful,and hope thing do work out for the better.

Tzadik said...

Halo Toon you're very welcome! TZ

Tzadik said...

Hi there David, Zshare is consistent-98% of the time. And when it is not, as you discovered, one only needs to try again later. And you are welcome! TZ

Tzadik said...

Paul Terry.... I have to thank you sir, your comments mean the world to me, and I have said this before to others but it is true and so very important to me-visitors are the reason I bother, to share my passion and hopefully open up new musical avenues for some- and those who stop in and express their appreciation only compels me to post for another 100 years ;) I throw my heart and soul into this blog (to a mostly greater but unfortunately sometimes lesser degree I suppose, as things are often difficult here) and I feel that for many visitors this has become evident. Kind regards, TZ

Tzadik said...

Clare I take it you have remedied the problem w the file?

Tzadik said...

Hello Johannes. The Supraphon discs are actually all digital (this it not always the case for many other composers, esp the lesser knowns..even a nice percentage of their Martinu discs are rather old AAD recordings, although still entirely worthwhile given the performers) including all symphonies, and the fantastic chamber cds they released. My main quibble is that all of the discs have a very short duration. Most are between 40-50 minutes (!) I'm happy to hear you are enjoying the writing; things get rather hectic here and thus I don't always finish my thoughts on all works on a disc. As far as the Decca discs...well I will post many of them in the future, so that should help quench your thirst even though it's not the same joy associated w owning the physical copy.. TZ

Tzadik said...

Hi there t.b.a. (should I call ya "Blue" for short?), it's always very nice to hear from you. Yes, I hope you find things to enjoy on this Schulhoff disc, not to mention all the others. Thank you for your concern, I am trying to stay sane and strong-I have been through very difficult times in my life here and there, so I am relying on these past hells (learning experiences?) and the memories of them in order to convince myself that things will get better. I hope you are well my friend. -TZ

Scotch said...

Hi Tzadik. I'm a newcomer here. Any chance of a reup of this album?

Love the blog!