Sunday, January 23 at 4:00 pm
playing Rags, Tangos, Preludes & Fugues
Club Helsinki Hudson
405 Columbia Street, Hudson, NY
Rags, Tangos, Preludes, Fugues
Some years ago, my friend Josef Lanz, musical director of Radio Bolzano and patron saint of the Academy for Early Music that the Bach Ensemble and I held for six summers in the Dolomite town of Brixen/Bressanone, Italy, came to me with a surprising request: Would I give a piano recital at the Toblach Mahler Week, a small festival held every year in the village where Mahler spent his final summers? And would I include both Scott Joplin and Johann Sebastian Bach on the program? For all my devotion to both composers, I had never thought to put them together in this fashion—and probably never would have done so if I didn’t so completely trust Josef’s judgment and taste.
In fact, the idea quickly made sense. I recalled that Mahler had arrived in New York the same year as Scott Joplin, and recalled, too, his habit of playing preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier in his little “composing hut” when not actively working—in Toblach, on the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde. What if some of Joplin’s rags found their way into his pile of music? And perhaps some of the Ernesto Nazareth’s equally elegant and elegiac tangos? My producer in England, Paul Myers, had persuaded me to record them not long before; they came to captivate me no less than they had many another musician born far from the composer’s native Brazil. So what if Mahler played them, too—played all of this music, now Bach, then Nazareth or Joplin, then more Bach … rag, tango, prelude, fugue, all flowing seamlessly into one another?
I admit that the image has no historical reality. But especially in a year that marks the centenary of Mahler’s death, I like to think that it has an artistic reality.
More about Joplin and Nazareth
The emergence of ragtime in the United States coincided with the rise of a similar kind of piano music in Latin America—but while ragtime owed its distinctive character to syncopated derivatives of march rhythms, its Latin cousins took their cue from the syncopations of the habanera and its offspring, the tango. Latin composers, too, wove their repeated sixteen-bar strains into patterns different from those commonly used north of the border. Yet north or south, the music shows the same feeling for pianistic effect, the same fondness for “Romantic” turns of harmony; north or south, it occupies the same expressive world—a world poised delicately between exuberance and melancholy. In the last three decades, ragtime, long forgotten in its native country, has again become familiar throughout the United States and Europe. Beyond South America, however, we know little of the early keyboard tango; so it seemed irresistible to bring the hemispheres together in a program that interlaces the music of the greatest ragtime master, Scott Joplin, with that of his great Brazilian counterpart Ernesto Nazareth.
Nazareth lived a long life, rooted firmly in his native Rio de Janeiro and marked almost until its end by fame and success. Joplin, whose restless existence took him throughout the mid-West and to New York, saw his fortunes decline after relatively early fame. Both men died, institutionalized, under tragic circumstances—Joplin’s spirit unhinged by the failure of his opera Treemonisha, Nazareth’s by mounting depression over deaths in his family.
Did they know each other’s music? Nazareth shows no real trace of North American influences until the 1920s. Joplin’s Solace—A Mexican Serenade lilts to habanera rhythms, but not, by testimony of its subtitle, those of Brazil. Still, both composers drew on closely related sources: each distilled African and European influences into a potent mixture that seems to capture the special genius of his native land. Heitor Villa-Lobos, who played cello with Nazareth in Rio’s Odeon Cinema, called him “the true incarnation of the Brazilian soul”; with only a change of national adjective, the same words could apply to Joplin as well.
Joshua Rifkin’s life in music has spanned Renaissance motets and ragtime masters, Bach cantatas and Baroque Beatles. He has conducted leading orchestras from Australia to Israel in music ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to Stravinsky, Copland, and the most recent moderns. The Bach Ensemble, which he founded in 1978, won England’s Gramophone Award for its Nonesuch recording of the Mass in B Minor and has performed this and many others of Bach’s works at festivals in the United States, Europe, and beyond; recently it joined La Petite Bande under Sigiswald Kuijken and the Taverner Consort and Players under Andrew Parrott for a “one to a part” Bach Christmas celebration in Leuven, Belgium. The University of Dortmund, Germany, has awarded Joshua Rifkin an honorary doctorate for his contributions to Bach interpretation; the spring he receives a second honorary doctorate, from the Academy of Music in Kraków, Poland. Highlights of his work with modern orchestras include the Australian premiere of Weill’s Die sieben Todsünden; the European and Canadian premieres of Gunther Schuller’s And They All Played Ragtime; Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the 1911 version of Ivor Atkins and Edward Elgar; and the posthumous premiere and first recording of Silvestre Revueltas’s theater music Este era un rey with the Camerata de las Américas of Mexico.
In the 1970s, Joshua Rifkin’s Nonesuch recordings of Scott Joplin spearheaded the rediscovery of this fundamental American composer, and he has since played Joplin’s music in major concert halls throughout the world, in London’s Hyde Park, and at the White House. In 1990, his Decca/London CD Rags and Tangos introduced many listeners to the works of Joplin’s great Brazilian contemporary Ernesto Nazareth; in subsequent years, broadcast performances in Europe have counterpointed Joplin with Bach and, in 2010, Chopin. His latest CD, Vivat Leo! Music for a Medici Pope with the Dutch vocal ensemble Cappella Pratensis (Challenge Classics), returns him for the first time in many years to the music of the Renaissance.
Don’t miss this special opportunity to hear a masterful pianist and musicologist who is in high international demand such that he has rarely performed in the US over the past few years.
Yamaha piano provided by
Vincitore’s Hudson Valley Piano Center