AN 2 9973

Corigliano, Rota, Korngold: Works for Piano

Release date September 07, 2010
Album code AN 2 9973
Periods 20th century
Genres Piano

Album information

For his very first solo album, Canadian pianist Jimmy Brière presents a recording of original works for piano written by composers we usually associate with film music: Corigliano (The Red Violin), Rota (The Godfather) and Korngold (Much Ado About Nothing). They have all attained international fame thanks to their contributions to the seventh art. From late romanticism to music known as “contemporary”, calling to mind blues and classical music, this album in various styles addresses itself as much to the seasoned music lover as to the fan of popular instrumental music.

Beyond the Oscars

On December 28, 1895—a symbolic date in the history of human artistic endeavour—a captivated audience first encountered the cinematograph. At the event, a pianist improvised over the projected images, both to mask the sound of the Lumière brothers’ new projector but also to lift viewers out of their daily lives and immerse them in an entirely new experience. With the arrival of “talking pictures,” these improvisers were no longer needed, and the movie soundtrack eventually became a fixed and intrinsic part of cinematic storytelling. It is not surprising, then, that composers such as Nino Rota, John Corigliano and Erich Korngold—the latter considered a mentor by John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith—wished to try their hands at the genre at one point or another in their careers. But to confine them to this role would be needlessly reductionist, hence Jimmy Brière’s desire to record some of the piano works of these Oscar-winning composers, who drew their early inspiration from the fertile ground of their own musical families.

As Korngold himself said in a 1946 interview: “Music is music whether it is for the stage, rostrum or cinema. Form may change, the manner of writing may vary, but the composer needs to make no concessions whatever to what he conceives to be his own musical ideology…”

Before arriving in Hollywood in the early 1930s and writing soundtracks to the likes of Captain Blood, Anthony Adverse, The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957) had already composed much chamber music, opera and music for the stage. A child prodigy often compared to Mozart, he had composed his first works by 1905. The next year, on the recommendation of Gustav Mahler, Korngold’s father (a feared but respected music critic) convinced composer Alexander Zemlinsky to take the wunderkind under his wing. In 1910, the Viennese would discover his Der Schneemann (The Snowman), a two-act pantomime/ballet, and Munich audiences heard his Piano Trio Op. 1. “To learn that this music was composed by an eleven-year-old boy fills me with shock and fear and I do hope that even such a mature young genius will be able to develop normally, as one would wish him to. His confident style, his knowledge of form, his unusual expression, especially in the piano sonata [his first, written when he was 11]—it is really extraordinary,” wrote Richard Strauss.

On October 11, 1911, pianist Artur Schnabel did not hesitate to premiere Korngold’s Piano Sonata No. 2, a work that he defended throughout his prolific career. The four-movement work demands formidable technique from the performer—particularly in the tumultuous Scherzo—and demonstrates a remarkable depth. And while Korngold’s music tends to be imbued with the final emanations of Viennese romanticism, in terms of harmonic choices and melodic statements it does not lack a certain modernity.

Although the name of Nino Rota (1911-1979) will forever be linked to that of Federico Fellini, he had acquired a certain renown in his own right from a very young age; his first oratorio, L’infanzia di San Giovanni Battista, was performed in Milan and Paris while he was a mere 12 years old. A student of Alfredo Casella in Rome and later of Rosario Scalero and Fritz Reiner (in orchestral conducting) in Philadelphia, he began to write for the cinema in 1933. Yet he continued to write for other genres, composing operas, ballets and numerous orchestral works.

But his favourite medium was the piano. “When I’m creating at the piano, I tend to feel happy; but—the eternal dilemma—how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others? I’d do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That’s what’s at the heart of my music,” he explained. Rota offers up a kaleidoscope of sensations and emotions in a series of preludes composed in 1964. Alternately spiritual, romantic, impressionistic and melancholy—sometimes tinged with the sarcasm of Prokofiev or the frank neoclassicism of Stravinsky—these outwardly simple works often reveal themselves to be veritable gems.

Son of the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and an accomplished pianist, the young John Corigliano (b. 1938) dreamed more of becoming an animator for Disney Studios than a musician. This fanciful outlook and surrealist imagination, which he associated with the medium, are perhaps two factors that caused him to turn on several occasions to the genre of the fantasy.
Composed in 1976 for the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Bicentennial Piano Series, the Etude Fantasy aroused public and critical interest from its premiere. “The Etude Fantasy is a work of unusual strengths both in design and content. The composer has written a set of five etudes which proceed in an unbroken line from the first, for left hand alone, through a closing page of desolate beauty not unlike the end of Schubert’s Winterreise or Chopin’s Second Ballade,” wrote Paul Hume in The Washington Post. Corigliano demonstrates in the work both an exceptional knowledge of the piano and an ability to use its sound palette in highly imaginative ways. The six motifs, all derived from the opening theme, are built on intervals of the major seventh (and its inversions, the minor second and ninth), the minor third and the perfect fifth. Writing that is virtuosic but never gratuitously so, a surprising range of intention, and close thematic connections between the five sections turn what could easily have become a stylistic exercise into a centerpiece.

The first etude, for left hand alone, weaves a dense, multi-faceted fabric that incorporates abrupt uses of the piano’s extreme registers and dynamic levels, along with a superimposition of different types of articulation. Even though the work is divided into five clearly marked sections, it retains the spontaneous character of a fantasy. In contrast to the first section, the second focuses on shadings of musical colour. The third and central section is based on the theme of a fifth contracting to a third and is characterized by an intentionally teasing humour, agitated rhythms, sudden changes of texture, and occasionally acrobatic use of the sustain pedal. The fourth, devoted to ornaments, descends again into a certain darkness and highlights the percussive side of the instrument. The final section, calm and lyrical, features a clear differentiation between melody and accompaniment and is based on previously heard material, bringing this cyclical form to a natural conclusion.

© Lucie Renaud
Translation: Peter Christensen

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AN 2 9973
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