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Program Notes by James Pegolotti

Today's program, with the music of six distinctive composers, confirms why the piano remains such a favorite in the concert hall. The composers range from a Spanish monk of the 18th Century to a Cuban-born prolific composer/musician, currently a resident of Miami, Florida. And their compositions? Fandango, Carnaval, Ballade, L'isle Joyeuse, Danzas Cubanas, Petroushka? All exotic names that provide the listener with a program of intensely human experiences - the emotions of love (L'Isle Joyeuse) and longing (Ballade), the spirited abandon of dance (Fandango, Danzas) and two carnivals: the musical "masquerade" of Schumann and the Russian festival world of the puppet Petroushka. Today, your imagination should soar.

Fandango, M.1Soler

Carnaval, Op. 9Schumann
1. Preambule11. Chiarina
2. Pierrot12. Chopin
3. Arlequin13. Estrella
4. Valse noble14. Reconnaissance
5. Eusebius15. Pantalon et Colombine
6. Florestan16.Valse allemande Intermezzo: Paganini
7. Coquette17. Aveu
8. Replique, Sphinxes18. Promenade
9. Papillons19. Pause
10. A.S.C.H.-S.C.H.A. (lettres dansantes)20. Marche des "Davidsbundler" contre les Philistins


Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23Chopin

L'isle joyeuseDebussy

Four Cuban DanzasTouzet

Three Movements from "Petroushka"Stravinsky
Russian Dance
In Petroushka's Room
The Shrovetide Fair

Antonio Soler (1729-1783)Fandango

Antonio Soler, a composer/organist of the Catalan district of Spain, displayed his talents to the rich and famous, then decided to enter a monastery to become Padre Soler. Taught by Antonio Scarlatti, he emulated his teacher in composing over 100 sonatas for the harpsichord. In Soler's early years, the fandango, danced by a couple with castanets and guitar, became popular. In Soler's Fandango, the repetitive nature of the bass and the tension of the ascending and descending chromatic runs subtly mimic the two dancers in their ever-increasing closeness.
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Robert Schumann (1810-1856)Carnaval, Op. 9

What other composer could provide twenty short pieces so different, yet each so appealing all in one suite? Schumann, as "romantic" a person as ever existed, had the gift for the short melodic gem. In his early twenties, taken up with love for music, women, and all things literary, he initiated Neue Zeitschift für Musik, a music journal that would have immense influence. At the same time, he completed Carnaval, a "masquerade" of people and ideas.

Each of the twenty pieces in the suite provides a musical picture of persons (real or fictional) or of a sentiment. The first and last pieces, "Preambule" and "Marche," are heroically elegant and act as bookends to the others. The fictional creatures honored are the essential "commedia dell' arte" French pantomime characters "Pierrot," "Arlequin," and "Pantalon et Colombine." The first real person in the suite is Schumann himself as both "Eusebius" and "Florestan," two pseudonyms he used in his journal writing, emphasizing distinctive sides of his personality. He names other males outright, "Chopin" and "Paganini," but masks his two females: an early sweetheart, Ernestine von Fricken, ("Estrella"), and his future wife, Clara Wieck, ("Chiarina"). That Schumann places his two alter egos, Florestan and Eusebius, musically distant from the two women, but instead have them flanking Chopin - well, this might provide a 19th century National Enquirer with front-page speculation. Immediately after the Chopin trio comes "Reconnaissance," this writer's favorite, a melody and accompaniment that seems to be the very essence of a hurdy-gurdy, a carousel, the joy inherent in all of Carnaval.

The march that ends Carnaval exhibits Schumann's imagination at its peak. In his mind, he had put together a group of individuals, some real, some not, under the name of "Davidsbündler" (The League of David), and saw them as the warriors against the "philistines," contemporaries opposed to the advancement of music in his time. Carnaval's concluding notes finds his fantasy group battling, then victorious over those musical enemies.

There is musical connective tissue in Carnaval. Every piece begins with or somehow utilizes four notes: A, E flat, C, B natural. In German, these letters are equatable to ASCH. For Schumann, ASCH had almost mystical symbolism, being Asch, the name of the town of his first sweetheart, Ernestine, while also being letters essential to his own name - SCHumAnn. He was clever, that man.

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Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23

This, the first of the four Chopin Ballades, presents what Schumann referred to as "the most spirited, most daring work" of Chopin's early compositions. Chopin also told Schumann, that he had been "incited to the creation of the Ballades" by the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz. Mickiewicz, like Chopin, was an émigré in Paris from Poland. It doesn't take too much imagination to find a nostalgic sense of longing in this Ballade. After all, a ballad often is a musical tale of the past. For this Ballade, the pensive, slow beginning leads to one of Chopin's most beautiful melodies, a central lyrical theme quietly presented only to return later in heroic fashion. After agitated portions and thematic review, the Ballade appears to end reflectively, only to start-up again and conclude in robust chords.
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Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

L'Isle Joyeuse

"Love" is the subject of Jean-Antoine Watteau's painting, "L'Embarquement de Cythere" (1717), the inspiration for Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse. In the painting, elegant French men and women in colorful dress are posed on a small hill overlooking water. They are in the process of arriving (or are they leaving?) this island of Cythere, the birthplace of Venus, whose statue on the pinnacle of the hill is enshrouded in flowers. In the French Rococo tradition, cherubs fly about, trying to decide which of the couples need help. A listener never having seen the painting might hear in L'Isle Joyeuse leftover portions of La Mer, the composer's depiction of the moods of the sea. The shimmering treble notes and rolling chords give a watery effect, but there are also horn calls, perhaps summoning the cherubs to their duties. Whatever Debussy's musical impression provides to the listener, there's love in the air.
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René Touzet (b. 1916)

Four Cuban Danzas

Four Cuban Danzas: Siempre en clave; Alegre; Cubanasa; Alterada. Rene Touzet ("too-zett") lived his early musical life in his native Cuba, then moved to the United States in the mid-1940s and helped link the Cuban rhythms of his homeland to jazz elements. An exceptional pianist, he was briefly with the Desi Arnaz Orchestra. Moving to Hollywood, he organized his own orchestra, wrote over 500 songs (many sung by major popular singers such as Crosby and Sinatra), and arranged hundreds of standards with a Cuban pulse, playing through the years of the "cha-cha-cha" and "salsa." On one Stan Kenton recording, he's the shaker of the maracas! His talents as composer, pianist, orchestra leader, and arranger have been part of our listening lives whether we've realized it or not.

He began the study of piano early in Cuba, and then entered a music conservatory. He composed the first of his Cuban Danzas, Siempre en clave, at fourteen years of age. The Danzas on today's program are part of forty Danzas written over more than sixty years and published in one volume. The Cuban rhythms, a blending of the many cultures that populated the island, have in Touzet their modern day troubador. Here are his descriptions of the four Danzas:

Siempre en clave (1930). "This was my first attempt to write the genre. I played it to Maestro Ernesto Lecuona and he said to me, 'Senor Touzet, continue composing,' and I followed his suggestion."
Alegre (1940). 'The first theme was inspired by my first born, Olivia, when she, at the age of two, would run to me in response to my call. The second theme is a typical Cuban melody. By the time I wrote this danza, I had written many songs, music and lyrics.'
Cubanasa (1980). "In this dance, the spice of Cuban womanhood is the inspiration: it is a lyrical piece. The second part contains rhythmic material taken directly from the 'guajeo' rhythm pattern played on the 'tres' (typical guitar) and later on the piano in dance music."
Alterada (1945). "Back in La Habana from my first visit to New York, the city's electric feeling left an impression and 'Alterada' magically came to my fingers. The first part is entirely around the interval of an augmented fifth, an interval of 'restlessness,' thus the use of the Spanish term 'alterada.' The middle part is unbashfully romantic, which is my first manner of music."
(NOTE: Maestro Touzet attended Santiago Rodriguez's concert in Hartford last month when the pianist programmed the Danzas for the first time. This writer had the wonderful experience of meeting this extraordinary musician, tall and elegant of stature. When Touzet saw the position his Danzas were placed on the program, he spoke quite simply: "Between Debussy and Stravinsky. Not bad!")
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Igor Stravinsky (1882-1917)Three Movements from "Petroushka"

In 1910, Stravinsky's first great success, The Firebird, composed for Diaghileff's Ballets Russes, brought him early fame. Diaghileff came to Stravinsky for a second ballet at a time when the composer contemplated a concert piece for piano and orchestra. Stravinsky wanted the piano to be mischievous, poking sly fun in a variety of ways at the orchestra. In an imaginative leap, the impish piano became the puppet Petroushka. The ballet takes place in the early 1800s at a carnival in St. Petersburg. A magician introduces three puppets to the crowd: a brutish Moor, a beautiful ballerina, and the sad, dispirited Petroushka. In a fantasy of the Commedia dell' Arte tradition, the puppets exhibit human emotions and Petroushka falls in love with the ballerina. The destruction of Petroushka by the jealous Moor leaves the magician with a crumpled puppet, while on the roof of the puppet theater the ghost of Petroushka appears in spirited activity.

Stravinsky himself made the piano transcription of three scenes from the ballet.

In the short Russian Dance, the repetitive theme provides a sense of the swirling energy of the carnival crowd, as well as the mechanical aspects of the puppets. In Petroushka's Room depicts the poor puppet, thrown into his "cell," dreaming of the arrival of the ballerina. He alternates between joy and despair. The Shrovetide Fair, the longest of the scenes, begins with a marvelous pianistic depiction of hurdy-gurdy sounds, and the comings and goings at the festival - a man with a ponderous dancing bear; a rich merchant amusing himself by throwing money to the crowd; heavy-footed men dancing vigorously to a Russian tune. In this colorful depiction of the carnival scene, Stravinsky has written a score that seems to demand that the pianist have more than two hands! Perhaps Petroushka is helping.

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Program notes by James Pegolotti October 15, 2000

Santiago Rodriguez Biography

Santiago Rodriguez, who has been called "among the finest pianists in the world" by The Baltimore Sun, won the silver medal in the 1981 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

His performing career has included appearances with many of the world's leading orchestras and chamber groups, including the London Symphony, the Berlin Symphoniker, and the orchestras of Philadelphia, Chicago, St Louis, Baltimore, Seattle, Indianapolis, and Houston. He has given recitals at Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the prestigious Ravenna Festival in Italy where critics wrote that "he conquered the audience."

Rodriguez's repertoire is broad, spanning the music of Bach, Ginastera, Prokofiev and others, but he is particularly known as one of the foremost interpreters of the works of Sergei Rachmaninov. He has performed each of the great Russian's major piano compositions in concert and has recorded three critically-acclaimed volumes of The Rachmaninov Edition which, when completed, will encompass the entire catalogue of the composer's solo piano compositions.

Santiago Rodriguez was born in Cardenas, Cuba, and began his piano studies at the age of four. He was sent to the United States by his parents after Castro came to power, and lived, with a younger brother, under the care of Catholic Charities in a New Orleans orphanage. Fortunately his mother had concealed money and a note begging the nuns to continue her son's musical education, and two years after his arrival, the young musician made his concert debut, at age ten, with the New Orleans Philharmonic. He went on to study at the Juilliard School and his unique life and artistry have been the subject of numerous profiles.

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