Fazil Say: Violin Sonata, Op. 7
I. “Melancholy” Andante Misterioso
II. “Grotesque” Moderato Scherzando
III. “Perpetuum Mobile” Presto (Horon)
IV. “Anonym” Andante (Odam Kireçtir)
V. “Melancholy (Da Capo)” Andante Misterioso
Fazil Say (b. 1970) is a Turkish pianist and composer. He was a child prodigy who started taking piano lessons when he was three and started composing when he wrote a piano sonata at the age of 14. His music is strongly influenced by Turkish culture, as, for example, his “Istanbul” Symphony and the Violin Concerto “1001 Nights in the Harem.”
The Violin Sonata Op. 7 is a wonderful example of how Say weaves Turkish melodies and rhythms into his work. By turns languid and exciting, the sonata is perfumed with Eastern melodies. The third movement, “Perpetual Mobile,” is a horon, a Turkish dance, and is an invigorating workout for the violinist.
Maurice Ravel: Tzigane
Like so many French composers, Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) had a taste for the exotic. He was born in the French Basque Country to a French father and a Basque mother. The Basques themselves are rather exotic among Europeans, with a language unrelated to any other European language. Perhaps being born in such an exotic background is why Ravel had an open-minded attitude about other cultures.
Tzigane (Gypsy) is Ravel’s fond evocation of Romany violinists, known as some of the finest in Europe. Ravel originally wrote the work for violin and piano with an optional luthéal attachment. The luthéal gave the piano a cimbalom sound, adding to the Romany flavor. The work is a showpiece for the violinist, and is an example of Ravel’s ability to write in a flashy, romantic style.
George Gershwin: Selections from Porgy and Bess
The music of George Gershwin (1916-1937) perfectly captures the spirit of Jazz Age America. Born to immigrant parents, Gershwin grew up in the tenements of New York, roller skating and frequenting Yiddish theaters with his brother, Ira. George didn’t show any interest in music until he was 11 years old, when he heard his friend, Maxie Rosenzweig, give a violin recital. From then on, Gershwin was obsessed. When his parents bought a piano for Ira, George monopolized the instrument.
Gershwin studied with several different teachers until he met his true musical mentor, Charles Hambitzer, a pianist with the Beethoven Symphony Orchestra. Although Gershwin was immersed in the popular music of his time, it was Hambitzer who introduced the young composer to the classical tradition, to which Gershwin would make great contributions in the years to come.
Gershwin’s rise in the world of music was meteoric. He first worked as a “song plugger,” playing the latest sheet music in the window of a Tin Pan Alley publisher. Soon, he was recording piano rolls for the Aeolian Company, and he wrote his first big hit, Swanee, in 1920. Al Jolson’s recording of the song was number one on the charts for 18 weeks.
Throughout the 1920s, Gershwin wrote hit Broadway musicals like Oh, Kay! (1926) and Strike Up the Band (1927). But Gershwin’s genius went beyond popular music, as he clearly demonstrated with Rhapsody in Blue, composed in 1924. Gershwin would go on to write Three Piano Preludes, a Piano Concerto, a Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra and the opera Porgy and Bess, before his untimely death at the age of 38.
Porgy and Bess is filled with songs that are now classics of the American Songbook, like Summertime, A Woman is a Sometimes Thing and It Ain’t Necessarily So. Tempo di Blues is an arrangement of those three songs by George Gershwin and the great violinist Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz was good friends with Gershwin and would often play arrangements of Gershwin tunes as encores.
William Grant Still: Suite for Violin and Piano, II. Mother and Child
Known as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” William Grant Still (1895-1978) was a pioneer. Born to two teachers in Mississippi, Still would achieve a number of firsts, including being the first African American to compose a symphony performed by a major orchestra and an opera performed by a major opera company.
Still wrote five symphonies and nine operas, as well as a number of ballets, art songs, chamber and solo works. His music is informed by the classical tradition imparted to him at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and by his private teachers, George Whitefield Chadwick and Edgar Varèse. But Still also kept a deep personal connection to the music of Black America. He played piano with W.C. Handy’s band and Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra and was a part of the cultural ferment known as the Harlem Renaissance. The European classical traditional and African-America music can both be heard in most of his music.
Still wrote his Suite for Violin and Piano in 1943. It was inspired by three artists of the Harlem Renaissance and their sculptures: Richmond Barthé’s African Dancer, Sargent Johnson’s Mother and Child, and Augusta Savage’s Gamin. Mother and Child is a sweet lullaby befitting Johnson’s tender art.
Frédéric Chopin: Mazurkas, Op. 24, no. 2, 3, 4
Although Frédéric Chopin (1810-1839) was born in Poland and was a Polish nationalist, it would be wrong to think of his Mazurkas as an expression of authentic Polish folk music. The mazurka is a Polish folk dance, but Chopin transformed it into something entirely his own, something that transcends national boundaries.
Although Chopin never expected anyone to dance to his mazurkas, he nevertheless kept the original dance form in his mind. His mazurkas employ the rhythms and repetition of the Polish dance while adding a whole new level of refinement. Chopin applied every classical technique in the book in his mazurkas, including counterpoint, chromaticism and harmony.
Chopin composed his Mazurkas, Op. 24 when he was 26 years old. He would go on to compose a total of 59 mazurkas. It was obviously a form in which Chopin found a deep source of inspiration.
Dolores White: Blues Dialogues
I. Blues Feeling
III. Fast and Funky
IV. Moderately Fast
The trailblazing composer Dolores White (b. 1932) passed away on March 24, 2023 at the age of 90. White attended the historically Black Howard University in Washington, D.C. for two years before transferring to Oberlin College Conservatory of Music for her bachelor’s degree in piano performance. She received her master’s degree in piano performance from the Cleveland Institute.
Besides being a superb pianist, White was also a prolific composer. The Cleveland Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony are among the many orchestras who have performed her works.
Blues Dialogues is an improvisatory work that celebrates blues, jazz and country all in the tradition of classical music. About her music, White wrote, “I take risks, I dream big and I use humor in my works in different ways which helps to keep my optimistic views.”
Maria Ioudenitch and Evren Ozel perform at 6:30 p.m. April 5 at Guarneri Hall, 11 E Adams St. Ste 350A, Chicago. $10-$40. 847-780-6720 or guarnerihall.org.