Program 8
"The Next Gershwin?"

MUSIC: Schoenfield: Café Music [Innova Recordings MN-108, track 1] [UP THEN UNDER]

Paul Schoenfield's music mixes Broadway with Jewish folk music, jazz, blues, Dixieland, contemporary, classical, romantic and circus styles. Could he possibly be the long-awaited successor to George Gershwin? You can answer that question for yourself during this edition of Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and I call this program "The Next Gershwin?" That's with a question mark at the end, in case you didn't hear it.

MUSIC: [fades out]

Have you ever heard of Paul Schoenfield? Well, neither had I until a few years ago when I received a new CD from Argo recordings packed full of his exciting, melodious, highly rhythmic music.

Comparing him to George Gershwin may be stretching it a bit. After all, Schoenfield hasn't come out with any Broadway hits or popular tunes as yet, but there are some similarities. Schoenfield also mixes classical forms with jazz and popular music. Schoenfield can write very good tunes. And like Gershwin, Schoenfield is Jewish and is influenced by Jewish folk music.

I'll tell you more about Paul Schoenfield later in the program, but first I'd like to introduce you to some of his music. I think you'll find it a real compact discovery.

Here, from that Argo CD that arrived in my mail box several years ago, is Vaudeville, which is a concerto for piccolo trumpet and orchestra. I'll bet you've never heard a piccolo trumpet before, never mind an entire concerto written for the instrument. The work was written for the soloist in this recording: Wolfgang Basch.

Within a single composition Schoenfield can go from jazz to vaudeville to klezmer to a Strauss waltz to blues to Dixieland, and he does just that in this never-boring piece. It consists of five movements which follow the form of a vaudeville show: Overture, Bear dance, Klezmers, Sketches, and Carmen Rivera. In between some of the acts is the master of ceremonies, represented by the piano. The last movement is a set of variations loosely based on the Brazilian song, Tico-Tico no fubá. The New World Symphony is conducted by John Nelson. [2:14]

MUSIC: Schoenfield: Vaudeville [Argo 440 212-2, tracks 5-9][21:29]

Vaudeville by Paul Schoenfield. Wolfgang Basch was the soloist on the piccolo trumpet. The New World Symphony was conducted by John Nelson.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. Today's program is devoted entirely to the music of the contemporary American composer, Paul Schoenfield.

Schoenfield, who was born in 1947, is a native of Detroit. He began studying piano at age six and waited a whole year before writing his first composition. Regrettably, we won't be listening to that piece today. He studied with three teachers, the most famous of them being Rudolf Serkin. He holds a degree from Carnegie-Mellon University, where he studied mathematics, as well as a Doctor of Music Arts from the University of Arizona, where he studied composition with Robert Muczynski.

Schoenfield is one of an increasing number of composers whose music is inspired by a wide range of musical experience. In a single piece he frequently mixes ideas that grew up in entirely different worlds, making them talk to each other, so to speak. The results are often delightful and surprising, and are always interesting.

A good example of this is another work that is found on the same Argo CD as the first piece that I played for you. It is called Four Parables. I don't have time to play this whole piece for you now, but I'll let you hear two short excerpts from the second movement, which is entitled "Senility's Ride."

While living in Vermont Schoenfield met a man who was slowly going senile. In his sounder moments he would reflect on his present condition and his youth. He would speak of his past vigor, his love of dancing, his life in South America, and how now this had all been taken away. During one of Schoenfield's last conversations with the old man, he said, "Life is tantamount to a burlesque show."

Schoenfield's music mirrors this description, "riding" from a pretty, Gershwin-like blues tune in the beginning, through some dissonant contemporary measures, to a big-band, flashy Broadway musical finish. The brief excerpts I've chosen are of the blues tune in the beginning and the flashy Broadway finish. I've spared you the dissonant measures in between.

MUSIC: Schoenfield: two excerpts from Four Parables, second movement, "Senility's Ride" performed by Jeffrey Kahane, pianist, with the New World Symphony conducted by John Nelson [Argo 440 212-2, excerpts from track 2]

Two brief excerpts from the "Senility's Ride" section of Four Parables by Paul Schoenfield. Jeffrey Kahane was the piano soloist with the New World Symphony conducted by John Nelson. You can find the entire work on an Argo compact disc.

The finale of Four Parables is called "Dog Heaven." It was inspired by an encounter with two children whose mother had gotten rid of the family pet as a punishment. To help relieve their suffering, Schoenfield made up a fanciful story about a jazz club in "Dog Heaven," a place where the streets are lined with bones and there is a fire hydrant on every corner.

MUSIC: Schoenfield: excerpt from "Dog Heaven" movement of Four Parables [Argo 440 212-2, excerpt from track 4] [under the following paragraph]

[over the last music from the "Dog Heaven" excerpt]: Well, we're going to leave "Dog Heaven" now. I'm sorry I don't have time to play the entire movement for you. "Dog Heaven" is the fourth of the Four Parables by Paul Schoenfield. Jeffrey Kahane is the piano soloist. John Nelson, the conductor of the New World Symphony on this Argo compact disc.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries, and I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute cutaway]

This Compact Discoveries program is devoted to the music of Paul Schoenfield. Next we are going to listen to all three movements of his 1986 composition, Café Music.

Schoenfield writes that the idea for this piece first came to him after sitting in one night for the pianist at Murray's Restaurant in Minneapolis. Murray's employed a house trio which played dinner music in a wide variety of styles. Schoenfield says his intention was to write a kind of high-class dinner music - music which could be played at the restaurant, but might also (just barely) find its way into a concert hall. The work draws on many of the types of music played by the trio at Murray's. For example, early 20th Century American, Viennese, light classical, gypsy, and Broadway styles are all represented. A paraphrase of a beautiful Hasidic melody is incorporated in the second movement.

MUSIC: Schoenfield Café Music with Paul Schoenfield, piano; Young-Nam Kim, violin; Peter Howard, cello. [Innova Recordings MN-108, tracks 1-3] [14:32]

Paul Schoenfield was the pianist in this recording of his Café Music. Young-Nam Kim was the violinist and Peter Howard, the cellist. This is from an Innova release called "Open Boundaries."

By now, mixing jazzy rhythms with classical forms is nothing new. But what about combining classical and country music? Now that's something I hadn't heard before receiving a New World Records release which included Paul Schoenfield's Three Country Fiddle Pieces.

The first of those three pieces is called "Who Let the Cat Out Last Night?"

MUSIC: Schoenfield: Who Let the Cat Out Last Night? from Three Country Fiddle Pieces [New World Records NW 334-2, correctly listed on the CD label as track 13; incorrectly listed on the CD jewel box liner and booklet as track 12,] [3:24]

Who Let the Cat Out Last Night? from Three Country Fiddle Pieces by Paul Schoenfield. Which gives me an idea for Schoenfield's next composition. Handle wrote a very famous Water Music Suite. Schoenfield could compose a Watergate Suite, and the first movement could be called "Who Let the Cat Out of the Bag?"

The violinist in that recording was Robert Davidovici [pronounced Davidovitch]. Paul Schoenfield was the pianist as well as the composer.

I'll conclude this Compact Discoveries program with a more serious and very beautiful little piece for flute and piano by Paul Schoenfield called Achat Sha´alti [pronounced Ashat Shaltee]. It is from another New World Records release called "Flutes," which features three fabulous flutists: Paula Robison, Ransom Wilson and Carol Wincenc [pronounced Wincents]. Carol Wincenc is the flutist in this piece; Paul Schoenfield himself is at the piano.

MUSIC: Schoenfield: Achat Sha´alti [New World 80403-2, track 5] [3:22]

Carol Wincenc was the flutist, and Paul Schoenfield the pianist in Schoenfield's Achat Sha´alti. This was arranged by the composer from his Six Improvisations on Hasidic Melodies for piano, which were derived in turn from music Schoenfield improvised at Hasidic gatherings in the mid-1980s. The texts of the original songs came from the Bible.

Paul Schoenfield may not be George Gershwin reincarnated, but I hope there's lots more of these long-form, jazz-influenced "classical" compositions where these came from. When it comes to 20th Century music, I sure prefer Schoenfield to Schoenberg, and would like to hear more of him. I hope you would too.

MUSIC: Schoenfield: Ufaratsta [New World 80403-2, track 4] [2:02] [under the following]

Let me know how you feel about the music you just heard and about the Compact Discoveries series in general. You can send your comments to me in care of this station. Or e-mail me at That's all one word with no spaces, capitals, hyphens or dashes:

Compact Discoveries is made possible by the members of WXEL-FM and the financial support of Barry and Florence Friedberg, Maurice and Thelma Steingold and an anonymous donor. The program was written, produced, recorded, and edited by your guide, Fred Flaxman, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.


  ©2009 Compact Discoveries