Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2012 by Fred Flaxman

Program 194
"Dancing Pianos"

MUSIC: Albéniz: opening of Tango, Op. 165, No. 2 performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos, CHAN 10493, Track 16] [under the following and then up until the end of the piece] [2:12]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, and the theme for the next hour is “Dancing Pianos.” We’ll hear music by Shostakovich, Ginastera, Bartok, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos, Brahms, Satie, Chopin, and the rest of this Tango by Albéniz. All performed by the British pianist Kathryn Stott on a Chandos compact disc.

MUSIC: ends

Last time I counted, Kathryn Stott’s discography included 34 recordings for Chandos, Sony BMG, BIS, Virgin, Helios, Decca, Argo, Albany, Hyperion, Conifer Classics, Regis, and RCA Red Seal. So I guess it’s safe to call her an international recording star. As a concert artist she has performed throughout Europe, Asia, America, and Australia with a repertoire that includes concertos, solo piano music, and chamber music.

All the music in this hour will be from her 2008 Chandos digital recording called “Dance.” It begins, as we shall as well, with Three Fantastic Dances, Opus 5, by Dmitri Shostakovich.

MUSIC: Shostakovich: Three Fantastic Dances, Op. 5 performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Tracks 1, 2, and 3] [4:11]

Three Fantastic Dances, Opus 5, by Dmitri Shostakovich as performed by pianist Kathryn Stott.

George Bernard Shaw is often credited with defining dance as “the perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.” In any case, dance is probably music’s most ancient practical application. So I’m devoting this hour to “Dancing Pianos.”

As you know, some dance music is very lively and some is very slow. We’ll have examples of both in this program, starting with the beautiful, melancholy Dance of the Sad Girl by Alberto Ginastera.

MUSIC: Ginastera: Danza de la moza donosa / Dance of the Sad Girl performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Track 4] [4:21]

Alberto Ginastera’s Dance of the Sad Girl. The pianist was Kathryn Stott.

The Hungarian composer, Bela Bartok, heard a single peasant girl singing in 1904, and quickly wrote down the notes of the song. That was the start of his interest in the folk music of his native country. He realized that urban composers of the 19th Century were entirely unaware of this music of the countryside, and that started him on a program of ethnomusicological fieldwork, often in collaboration with his friend Zoltan Kodaly.

The great collections of folk melodies that he amassed became a lifelong passion and had a profound effect on his own musical language.

He produced many more or less straightforward settings of the melodies themselves for concert use. One of the most popular of these settings is the short suite of Romanian Folk Dances. You may know these as performed by an orchestra. But these pieces were originally composed as a suite for solo piano in 1915. The suite is based entirely on fiddle tunes to which Bartok added his own harmonies. It was first published as Romanian Folk Dances (from Hungary), emphasizing that these tunes are the result of cultural assimilation between Romanians and Hungarians. Bartok felt that such cross-pollination of culture produced a richer music than cultural isolation.

The tiny movements come from different regions of Hungary. They are played without a break.

MUSIC: Bartok: Romanian Folk Dances, performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Tracks 5 - 10] [4:17]

Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances as performed by Kathryn Stott.

Peter Il’yich Tchaikovsky is more famous for his orchestral, chamber, and vocal music than he is for his modest output of piano music, but he wrote some beautiful pieces for piano. The sprightly Polka peu dansante comes from his set of Six Morceaux he composed in 1882 to fulfill a commission from his publisher.

MUSIC: Tchaikovsky: Polka peu dansante performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Track 12] [4:10]

Tchaikovsky’s Polka peu dansante as played by Kathryn Stott.

Jean Sibelius wrote a great deal of incidental music for the stage, including Kuolema -- an old Finnish name for Death. The play was written by his brother-in-law, who explained the action of the play as Sibelius sat at the piano. Then and there Sibelius improvised the first number of the music. In 1904, after the play had been produced, Sibelius expanded this particular tune, with its hypnotic dragging rhythm and sense of sadness, and it was published as Valse triste (melancholy waltz). It has become one of Sibelius’s most-loved works.

MUSIC: Sibelius: Valse triste performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Track 13] [5:11]

Valse triste by Sibelius, performed by Kathryn Stott.

You are listening to “Dancing Pianos” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timings]

Our next composer, Astor Piazzolla, was a bandoneón virtuoso and band-leader from Argentina, who became one of the most original exponents of the tango. But at the same time, he longed to write symphonic and chamber works. He studied with Alberto Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger and eventually, despite much opposition, created a fusion of classical concert forms with the sinuous rhythm and passion of the tango. Piazzolla was to the tango what Johann Strauss was to the waltz.

The haunting Milonga del ángel was composed in 1965 for a film about the life of the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The milonga is an indigenous Argentinean dance, related to the tango. In Piazzolla’s hands it attains a sense of the tragic aspects of human existence.

MUSIC: Piazzolla: Milonga del ángel performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Track 18] [6:36]

Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga del ángel as performed by pianist Kathryn Stott on her Chandos CD titled “Dance.”

Kathryn Stott loves South American music and demonstrates that affection in many tracks on this CD, including Valsa da dor (Waltz of Pain) by the Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos. Composed in 1932, the piece reflects a somber mood that seems to sum up all the bitterly passionate waltzes popular with Brazilian pianists and street musicians at the beginning of the 20th Century.

MUSIC: Villa-Lobos: Valsa da dor performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Track 19] [4:54]

Valsa da dor (Waltz of Pain) by Villa-Lobos.

For composers such as Brahms and Liszt, the only Hungarian folk music that was generally known to them was that of the urbanized gypsy culture. Brahms was making his own arrangements of Hungarian gypsy tunes by the mid-1850s. But his first set of Hungarian Dances, for piano duet, did not appear in print until 1869. Brahms also issued a solo piano version in 1872 and then orchestrated three of these pieces.

Brahms did not consider his Hungarian Dances as original compositions, but as arrangements, and though a few of the melodies may in fact be his own, the bulk of them derive from popular gypsy tunes. Here’s his sonorous, soulful Hungarian Dance No. 1.

MUSIC: Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 1 performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Track 20] [3:04]

Hungarian Dance No. 1 by Johannes Brahms played by Kathryn Stott.

Eric Satie’s Je te veux (I want you) was originally a waltz song for voice and piano, written to a mildly salacious text by Henry Pacory. It was written around 1897 and became popular in Paris as sung by the music-hall artiste, Paulette Darty. It was later arranged as a solo piano piece.

MUSIC: Satie: Je te veux performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Track 21] [5:39]

Eric Satie’s Je te veux (I want you).

The mazurka is a stylized folk dance in lively triple time with a heavy accent on the second or third beat. It is strongly identified with Poland, where it takes its name from the Mazurs -- the inhabitants of the province of Mazovia, near Warsaw.

Chopin never forgot his homeland or the farmhands singing mazurkas during the harvest. He composed nearly sixty mazurkas for piano and many of his other works are infused by the mazurka rhythm. They are refined, extremely expressive transmutations of the form.

The Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4 alternates between an outer section of deeply melancholic nostalgia and a faster middle section.

MUSIC: Chopin: Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4 performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos CHAN 10493, Track 23] [5:09]

Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4 performed by pianist Kathryn Stott.

MUSIC: Albéniz: opening of Tango, Op. 165, No. 2 performed by pianist Kathryn Stott [Chandos, CHAN 10493, Track 16] [under the following]

And that concludes “Dancing Pianos” on this edition of Compact Discoveries. If you missed any of this hour or would like to hear it again, go to compactdiscoveries.com on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream most Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. At the website you’ll also find scripts for every Compact Discoveries program with complete information on every selection.

This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening. Please join me again next time for more Compact Discoveries!

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” Information and ordering at sixtyslices.com. And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you.

Total Program Timing: 58:00