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!
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)
4)Allegro con brio (10:12)
5)Finale. Allegro con brio (14:49)