Arbiter Records 155

Stravinsky: Music for Four Hands. Paul Jacobs & Ursula Oppens

Disc 1: Paul Jacobs and Ursula Oppens: The Nonesuch Recordings

The complete Stravinsky recordings made for Nonesuch by Jacobs and Oppens are coupled with a New York recital Jacobs gave to illustrate the influence of Jazz in 20th century classical music. With Aaron Copland present, Jacobs plays his Four Piano Blues and with the composer, both give his Danzon cubano. Original text by Jacobs and spoken commentary make this a unique view of how he witnessed up close many great influences on contemporary music.

  1. Stravinsky: Petrushka: Scene 1
  2. Stravinsky: Petrushka: Scene 2
  3. Stravinsky: Petrushka: Scene 3
  4. Stravinsky: Petrushka: Scene 4
  5. Stravinsky: 3 Pieces for string quartet: No. 1
  6. Stravinsky: 3 Pieces for string quartet: No. 2
  7. Stravinsky: 3 Pieces for string quartet: No. 3
  8. Stravinsky: Concerto for 2 solo pianos: Con moto
  9. Stravinsky: erto for 2 solo pianos: Notturno. Adagietto
  10. Stravinsky: Concerto for 2 solo pianos: Quattro variazioni
  11. Concerto for 2 solo pianos: Preludio e Fuga
  12. Stravinsky: Sonata for 2 pianos
  13. Stravinsky: Easy Pieces (5) for piano, 4 hands: Andante
  14. Stravinsky: Easy Pieces (5) for piano, 4 hands: Balalaika
  15. Stravinsky: Easy Pieces (5) for piano, 4 hands: Napolitana
  16. Stravinsky: Easy Pieces (5) for piano, 4 hands: Galop

Disc 2: Paul Jacobs live, with Aaron Copland

  1. Stravinsky: Easy Pieces (5) for piano, 4 hands: March
  2. Stravinsky: Easy Pieces (5) for piano, 4 hands: Waltz
  3. Stravinsky: Easy Pieces (5) for piano, 4 hands: Polka
  4. Stravinsky: Zvietochnoy Waltz
  5. Stravinsky: Etudes (4) for piano, Op. 7: Con moto
  6. Stravinsky: Etudes (4) for piano, Op. 7: Allegro brillante
  7. Stravinsky: Etudes (4) for piano, Op. 7: Andantino
  8. Stravinsky: Etudes (4) for piano, Op. 7: Vivo
  9. Paul Jacobs discusses Igor Stravinsky
  10. Stravinsky: Piano-Rag-Music
  11. Stravinsky: Tango
  12. Stravinsky: Ragtime, transcription for piano
  13. Debussy: Minstrels
  14. Debussy: General Lavine, eccentric
  15. Schönberg: Pieces (2) for piano, Op. 33: No. 1
  16. Schönberg: Pieces (2) for piano, Op. 33: No. 2
  17. Paul Jacobs speaks with Aaron Copland
  18. Copland: Piano Blues: Freely Poetic
  19. Copland: Piano Blues: Soft and Languid
  20. Copland: Piano Blues: Muted and sensuous
  21. Copland: Piano Blues: With bounce
  22. Copland: Danzon Cubano (Jacobs & Copland)
  23. Paul Jacobs discusses William Bolcom
  24. Bolcom: The Graceful Ghost Rag
  25. Bolcom: Poltergeist
  26. Bolcom: Dream Shadows
  27. Paul Jacobs discusses Frederic Rzewski
  28. Rzewski: North American Ballads (4) for piano: Down by the Riverside

First of all, why a recording of a work so indelibly imprinted on the public’s mind as a riot of orchestral color in a monochromatic piano transcription? There are many reasons.

Before the introduction of the phonograph, the dissemination of orchestral music was necessarily done by way of the piano transcription. Remember, for instance, Schumann’s long essay on Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique (1830) for which he used not the orchestral score, which by 1835 was still unavailable to him, but rather the Liszt piano version which had been published two years before. The Mahler symphonies may also be thought of as elaborate examples of orchestral writing that have been transcribed for piano. Arnold Schoenberg did not hesitate to program piano transcriptions of some of them, carefully rehearsed and supervised by Alban Berg for his Society for Private Performances, in the years immediately following World War I when both the economy and musical tastes ruled against performances by orchestra.

This transcription of Petrouchka was the sound that most people had in their ears when the work first made its appearance as a ballet. This was the version that served for the rehearsals, the version that Stravinsky took around with him and played with different musicians. We know that he and Debussy played through the four-hand Sacre du printemps: why not Petrouchka? But importantly, there is another argument. Although Stravinsky himself had said on several occasions that his initial ideas for a piece often came to him as instrumental sonorities, the radical modifications of instrumentation would seem to belie this.

Stravinsky composed at the piano, and it can be argued that to a large extent, all of his music is orchestrated piano music. The unusual spacings of chords fit under his large hands easily: his instrumental music so often imitates the piano ­ one instrument giving the attack and another the sustain. His preference for predominantly wind sonority is closer to the piano than the strings would be if one examines his transcriptions for piano of so many of his works ­ according to Robert Craft virtually everything exists in a version for piano two hands, four hands, or two pianos, since that is the way it was composed anyway ­ we can see how indigenously they work as keyboard music.

Stravinsky must have thought enough of this particular transcription to revise it at the same time he did a reorchestration of the ballet in 1946. The revisions are minor but numerous, showing the care with which Stravinsky re-examined the score.

Of course all arguments against performing a piano transcription of Petrouchka pale when we remember that Stravinsky made a version of theDanse russe, the second tableau, and most of the last part called Trois movements de Petrouchka for Artur Rubinstein in 1921. Rubinstein performed the piece many times during his long career and today the piece is almost a requirement for a young virtuoso’s repertory.

The performance heard on this record was done without any overdubbing, including Miss Oppens’ reaching over to play the triangle and dropping the tambourine. There are a few added lines in the score that we had originally thought to re-record afterwards, but the whole idea of playing a transcription is the fun of doing it with ten or twenty fingers, not with electronic trickery. Some of the small-type lines we incorporated into the performance. Naturally, the transcription carries with it some difficulties. Our score is literally sprinkled with arrows up and down when the partners are playing in the same register. Whole passages would have to be played with either the wrist way up with the fingers at right angles to the keyboard, or the wrist way down with the fingers crawling up from underneath. So much for piano teachers’ methods! We had great fun playing this transcription, after all, both Ursula Oppens and I had played orchestral piano in symphonic performances of the work. Now we could conjure up that sound with one piano.

Petrouchka is the second of the three ballets that established Stravinsky as one of the world’s most important contemporary composers by the time he was thirty years of age. He had finished Firebird (L’Oiseau de feu) in 1910, produced to great success by Diaghilev’s Ballets russes, when the idea for a work that was to become Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) came to him. Realizing the difficulty of the project, he decided to refresh himself beforehand with a short work for piano and orchestra. According to his 1935 autobiography, he wrote. . .”I had in mind the distinct picture of a puppet suddenly endowed with life, exasperating the patience of the orchestra with diabolical cascades of arpeggios. The orchestra, in turn, retaliates with menacing trumpet blasts. The outcome is a terrific noise that reaches a climax and ends in the sorrowful and querulous collapse of the poor puppet.” This scene was to become the second tableau of a scenario that Stravinsky developed with Alexandre Benois, who did the decor and costumes. The score was finished less than a year later and was presented for the first time in Paris, on June 13, 1911, with Pierre Monteux conducting. A fabulous trio dances the principal roles: Nijinsky was Petrouchka, Karsavina was the Ballerina, and Orlow was the Moor. The choreography, which is still done today, was by Fokine, and the whole production was an immediate success.

Three Pieces for String Quartet
As a lagniappe, we have included a performance of the string quartet pieces from 1914. What you hear may well be more original than the original, in that the so-called original version for strings was revised in 1918 and differs in some respects from the four-hand version. We played directly from a copy of the manuscript which has for a title page (in French): IStravinsky. 3 Pieces for String Quartet ­ reduction p. piano four-hands by me, IStr.”

When Stravinsky orchestrated these pieces (together with his pianola study from 1917 (recorded by Jacobs and Oppens) he gave them the following titles: 1. Danse 2. Eccentrique 3. Cantique. The first piece is an experiment in superposed cells of different lengths. When they realign themselves, the piece is over. The second piece was inspired by an English music-hall clown Little Tich, very much as Debussy had been inspired not long before by another, General Lavine, eccentric. The composer himself has written that “the jerky, spasmodic movement, the ups and downs, the rhythm ­ even the mood of the joke of the music ­ was suggested by the art of the great clown.” He retained a fondness for the last piece in which some listeners have discerned a vague reference to the Dies Irae. – Paul Jacobs, 1982

September 2007: Ursula Oppens recalls her collaboration with Paul Jacobs:
“He was a mentor to me. When I began to play ‘new music’, people would comment that there were too many playing it. Paul instead said ‘How wonderful.’ ” Both shared a passion for past composers: For Nonesuch they recorded Beethoven’s Grosse Fuga, Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica, and Mozart’s Fantasia. Jacobs and Oppens occasionally played in public together, especially the Carter Double Concerto (often), and Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Of the Petrouchka, Oppens mentioned how “we expected Stravinsky as an orchestral composer to be less colorful [on the piano] and we were both surprised at how colorful the four-hands and two piano works were.”

Although Stravinsky’s music for one or two pianos does not occupy a large place in his output quantitatively, the instrument itself always played a significant role in his composing. So strong was his belief in maintaining contact with the matière sonore during the creative act that he had a drawing board built over his piano to facilitate notating. The peculiarly spaced chords that Stravinsky’s unusually large hands were capable of playing at the keyboard are characteristic of his music for all mediums ­ piano solo, chamber ensemble, chorus, or orchestra. Think, for example, of the opening chord of the Symphony of Psalms, a simple E-minor chord with doubled third ­ a sound so distinctive that the one chord alone is sufficient for the listener to recognize the piece. Stravinsky’s daily contact with the piano also imparted a definite “physical” quality to his music that makes it enormous fun to play; the performer feels a sense of athletic participation that is vital to its energy.

This recording includes two premieres ­ Stravinsky pieces for the keyboard that are still unpublished [as of 1977]. The earlier is the Zvietochnoy Valse for piano four hands, listed in Eric Walter White’s Stravinsky (1966) as “Valse des fleurs. For two pianos (sic), manuscript. . .lost. . .or mislaid. . . .” A tiny piece, admittedly a bonbon, it is the prototype of the Three Easy Pieces and the Five Easy Pieces also recorded here. While the lower part maintains an unchanging ostinato on a C-major chord, little melodic cells in the upper part hint obliquely at Tchaikovsky. The manuscript, inscribed “August 30, 1914, Clarens (Switzerland),” is carefully drawn and may be a fair copy; evidently Stravinsky considered the piece to be more than a mere jotting.

The second work given its first recording here, the Etude for Pianola, has an interesting history. In 1914 the Aeolian Company of London (makers of player pianos) demonstrated a new patent for a mechanical piano that was capable of dynamic shadings. This was the year Stravinsky started the composition of Les Noces; three years later, with the music completed but the instrumentation still not fixed, he accepted a commission from the Aeolian Company for a work for player piano. He then wrote the Etude for Pianola and drafted a tentative scoring forLes Noces that included mechanical piano (a scoring later considered impractical). The Etude, which will be recognized from its transcription as the last of the Four Etudes for Orchestra of 1928 (where it is entitled Madrid), is an exuberant polytonal romp, a cubistic collage of pseudo-Spanish melismatic cantilenas and popular music, all conceived for the jittery musical machine. Stravinsky had journeyed to Spain in 1916 to be with Diaghilev and the Ballets russes, and, in an old tradition, wrote a work in a “Spanish” idiom. As he explained later, “This piece was inspired by the surprising results of the mixture of strains from the mechanical pianos and orchestrinas in the streets and little night taverns of Madrid.” The beautiful manuscript for the Etude for Pianola is written on six staves per brace, and the present arrangement for two pianos includes practically everything in the original. Stravinsky felt that three players would be necessary for a “live” performance, but two can play it with a little ingenuity. Thanks are due to Soulima Stravinsky for invaluable suggestions for the redistribution of parts via his own reduction for two pianos of the orchestral Madrid, which differs in some respects from the original.

“The Concerto is perhaps my ‘favorite’ among my purely instrumental pieces,” Stravinsky stated about his Concerto for Two Solo Pianos in conversation with Robert Craft in Dialogues and a Diary (1963). Certainly its grand design, complex writing, and serious tone provide good reasoning for concurring with the composer’s high estimation of this imposing work. Having already, during the 1920s, composed two pieces for himself to play with orchestra ­ the Concerto for Piano and Winds (1924) and the Capriccio (1929) ­ Stravinsky set to work shortly thereafter on a piece that he and his son Soulima could perform in situations where an orchestra could not be used. He composed the first movement in 1931, two years after completing the Capriccio, a work with which it shares some ideas, although the light-hearted character of the earlier piece is metamorphosed here into something more dramatic. The Concerto was then interrupted for several years, not reaching its finished form until 1935. One cause of the delay was the composer’s lack of a second piano with which he could “test” the new material; to remedy this problem he ordered from the Pleyel Company a double piano with a keyboard at each end, the two frames set over a single soundboard. These machines had been in existence since the early part of the century and were used principally in theater pits with limited space. (For the first performance of Les Noces in 1923 the four piano parts had been played on two of these “boxes.”) One peculiarity of the double piano was a lack of spatial differentiation resulting from the shared soundboard. The Concerto, which employs an interweaving of musical lines between the two instruments rather than the antiphonal effects characteristic of the two-keyboard music of Bach and Mozart, is more in the nature of a grand amplification of a solo piano played by twenty instead of ten fingers.

The first movement, although unorthodox in its formal structure, resembles sonata-allegro in its defined tonal regions and recapitulation. It is striking in its sheer energy and momentum ­ even sustained lines are marked by incessant repeated notes ­ and the cumulative effect is of great power and athletic drive. In the central portion of this movement the fast 16th notes, grouped six to the beat instead of the initial four, seem to slow down the tempo, but the energy is maintained. This device, an early and convincing example of “metrical modulation,” was later refined and developed by Elliott Carter as an element in his new rhythmic language. Stravinsky described the second movement in various ways: in one early talk he called it a “cassation,” an 18th-century title used by Haydn and Mozart, later he characterized the Notturno as “not so much night music as after-dinner music, in fact, a digestive to the largest movements.” To me, in his inimitable deep voice, he once described the first-piano part as “une ballerine representée par un harrrpseechorrd.” In any event, the Notturno is a 20th-century notion of an 18th century that never was. The third movement is called simply Four Variations – implying that the theme is presented first in variation form (the theme proper will be stated later as the subject of the concluding fugue). The notes of this theme are so ingeniously manipulated into different octaves, or different speeds. as melodic fragments, and in various keys ­ that the contour is not immediately perceptible. Instead, there seems to be four striking pieces of varied character, the last of which is based on a Stravinsky “signature,” a pounding ostinato on G and B flat ­ a figuration based on a minor third that appears in many of his other works. The variations lead directly to a Preludio and Fuga. “I had steeped myself in the variations of Beethoven and Brahms while composing the Concerto, and in Beethoven’s fugues. I am very fond of my fugue, and especially of the after-fugue consequent [where the notes of the theme are presented in inversion]. . .” Hard-driving and tense, this four-voiced fugue is accompanied by a relentless undercurrent of sextuplets, mainly repeated notes, a strong feature of the first movement as well. Before a performance of this work in 1957, the composer asked me not to resolve the final dissonance ­ a request honored in this recording.

The Sonata for Two Pianos was written in 1943-44 in Hollywood ­ at that time a buzzing intellectual hive. Surprisingly, Stravinsky’s works stemming from that period are largely neglected, possibly because the music from the 1940s generally seems a “regression” from the more complex, dissonant style of the years preceding and following World War II. Conceived first as a solo piano piece and later reworked for two pianos in order to clarify the contrapuntal writing, the Sonata for Two Pianos is a model example of the neo-Classical style. The first movement in particular is true to the textbook requirements of the sonata-allegro form, with an exposition, development, and recapitulation, and even the traditional key relationships; the second movement is a stately theme ­ incorporating a canon in inversion around an arpeggiated G major triad ­ with four variations; the last movement is in simple ABA form, with opening and closing material in a modal F major (the key center of the first movement) surrounding a middle section un peu à la russe in G ­ the key of the second movement. At the first performance of this work, Nadia Boulanger was one of the pianists, and she later teamed up with the composer in a performance at Mills College, California.

The Three Easy Pieces of 1915 and the Five Easy Pieces of 1917 are early examples of 20th-century Gebrauchsmusik ­ music for use ­ designed for amateurs at home or for pedagogical purposes. They are very easy (if one is playing the lower part in the early set or the upper part in the later one), or not so easy if one is playing the other parts. The easy parts consist, in the first set, of simple ostinatos repeated for the length of the piece; in the second set, where they are on top, the easy parts are mainly melodic, played frequently in octaves. The two sets are not entirely similar. The first, simpler in writing and organization, is more overtly satirical. The second is more subtle; certain pieces, such as theEspañola, provide an insight into Stravinsky’s technique of expanding and contracting musical cells. Although Stravinsky once referred to theEasy Pieces as “popcorn,” they have witty, even instructive qualities, and they display a kind of satirical but good-humored flippancy that was to become the stock-in-trade of so much French music of the ’20s. Stravinsky’s own favorite was the Balalaika, with its strumming accompaniments, and there are other charmers, such as the Napolitana, with its hilarious misquotation of Faniculi-Fanicula. The first concert of the Easy Pieces was presented by the composer and José Iturbi; Stravinsky later grouped the two sets in a new order and rescored them as the Two Suites for Small Orchestra. – Paul Jacobs, 1977

The following remarks were made by Jacobs at his concert of 16 December 1979, an evening illustrating how Jazz influenced 20th century piano music.

Debussy’s Preludes:
The first two pieces of Debussy go back to 1910, 1913, before the First World War, before Ragtime made its way on the other shores, and what Debussy knew was something that we called Cakewalk which came to him via the Black Minstrel shows which were quite popular in Paris at the time and he liked them very much. It’s another side of Debussy. We tend to think of him as a hazy Impressionist. Well, I’d like to change that a bit: First of all, I don’t think of him as a hazy Impressionist, but then, this music is not there at all, so let’s listen to Minstrels from 1910 and General Lavine from 1913. General ‘Lavine’ or General ‘La-vine’, depending on which Nichols & May routine you’ve been listening to, was an American clown who is described as wearing headlights on his shoulders, doing pirouettes and [falling?] on his face. Anyway, you’ll see that they’re not ‘serious’ pieces, or at least I hope you won’t think of them that way.

Schönberg: Op. 33 a & b
Let’s leave Paris for a minute and go to Berlin, [to] Arnold Schönberg and two pieces that I think are Jazz pieces ­ nobody else agrees with me ­ I think that [they are]. He had just around that time written an opera called Von Heute auf Morgen, From Today to Tomorrow, which was supposed to be about modern people doing modern things and it uses saxophone and is a kind of jazzy score. I think these are jazzy pieces and if I can clinch the argument in any way, I can just say that I’m going to follow these with some Gershwin [preludes, not included on this recording], and when Schönberg went to live in Hollywood, they got to know each other and played tennis together. Apparently Gershwin had to lose, or Schönberg wouldn’t have liked that, and they painted each others’ pictures. I’ve seen them as a matter of fact, and they’re very good. They certainly didn’t dislike each other on musical grounds, so who knows, maybe these are Jazz pieces.