Anthology of American Piano Music, Vol. 2 Music of the Night American Nocturnes (DACOCD 784-783)
Anthology of American Piano Music Vol. 2 by Cecile Licad is now out. It follows her well-received, 5-star rated (by UK’s Pianist magazine) 2016 recording of four piano sonatas by American composers: Anthology of American Piano Music Vol. 1: American First Sonatas under the Danish record label Danacord.
Seductively entitled American Nocturnes (Music of the Night), it makes the American equivalent of an all-Chopin nocturne album (consists of 19 pieces, 21 if posthumous works were included, approximately 2 hrs) – at least as how I see it. As such the case is, it completely departs, program-wise, from her American First Sonatas (2016). So we hear in here a very varied repertoire.
It features 25 compositions by 16 different composers – unlike a typical recording of Chopin nocturnes limited only to Chopin. Most are not even the composer’s entire opus, but sketches that conceive an evening atmosphere taken out from their birth context to recreate another, which is this program that is American Nocturnes – like a Beethoven collection of his piano sonata adagios pulled out from their parent sonatas, pooled together, and reordered to arouse a fully different context.
Some of the pieces are straightforwardly named “Nocturnes.” Some have names associated of night. Some plainly have tunes evocative of nighttime. Yet a number of listeners might find themselves surprised by these nocturnes.
While plenty of pieces in the album are evident of European traces, there are more that sound stranger than the commonly conceived idiom of classical music. This is a serious departure from her Vol. 1, which sees American classical music still heavily dependent in the European style hardly can it be called American.
The Vol. 2 is a huge success that all of a sudden (1 hr 58 min) – when compared to generations American spirit of classical music endured to evolve to its distinctively Americanized sense – the listener is offered a diversified perspective of the genre (although constrained within “American night music”) and provided a run-through of some of the most significant American composers of classical music who dignify that their country’s piano music isn’t only rich and capable. It’s unique as well. Hence, a listener might find himself initially uncomfortable to get through the album at once. One can add to his estimates an endemic cultural flavor and/or an avant-garde ahead that to his taste may appeal or dismay.
Before listening, I suggest the listener to avoid just looking at the cover. Stare at it instead and reflect to collect – without overthinking – his personalized overview of the rendezvous ahead.
(Eschew pretentious apprehensions if nothing comes naturally. It’s supposed to be an experience for the majority; not a study (though everybody is welcome and invited to).)
A CD album is a complete piece of art. Everything in it is meant to be intellectually and fastidiously conceptualized. Above all, everything in it must be coherent with each other – they must be able to communicate as one with the audience. American Nocturnes completes its first-rate craft with this particular regard.
The cover lays aside the artist without diminishing her importance and lends itself to the imagery of the music that it speaks for. Put before us is the music and highly-esteemed Cecile Licad is its Muse.
It takes a great musical maturity and integrity for an artist to pull an album that consists unknown piano works without surrendering to his tendency of showboating, which prolly is the surest way to sell the music and summon patrons.
Cecile Licad has pretty much veered away from this total-loss-of-control play loud, play fast for most of her recordings especially in her Cecile Licad Performs Chopin and Gaspard de la Nuit invoking only the vital overtones and gracefulness of Chopin and Ravel that to some may be read boring and to some is immaculate and music singing at its best. (I find myself belonging in the latter.) Her latest recording American Nocturnes (Anthology of American Piano Music, Vol. 2) exudes – once again – not only her maturity and integrity or her mastery of the piano, but also the divide between the ranks of skillful and talented pianists, with her belonging in the latter.
Disclaimer: This isn’t a ranking. But a guide to ease a listener into the album.
Classical music isn’t an outright and immediate pleasant experience for a great number of people. Since I reckon that American Nocturnes will be more difficult to be liked – not, at least, instantly – because these works are less heard, less popular, and more unusual than their European contemporaries, I’m providing track orders that an interested listener may want to follow or warm himself up with and smoothly sail from those pieces that are intuitive and tonal to those dissonant-laden and atonal.
But of course, it’s best to listen to the recording as it is. The playlists (Spotify) below are only alternatives for quick, convenient trysts. So if you want to delve into the genuine spirituality that permeates American Nocturnes, sign in for the default itinerary. It begins with the esoterically haunting George Crumb’s Nocturne Theme (Eine kleine Mitternachtsmusik No. 1) and gradually gets more varied and gripping until reaches its end with another George Crumb: Midnight Transformation (Eine kleine Mitternachtsmusik No. 9).
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 1, Nocturne Theme (George Crumb)
- Hermit Thrush, Op. 92, No. 1: The Hermit Thrush at Eve (Amy Beach)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 2: Charade (George Crumb)
- Notturno for Orchestra, A. 94 (Charles Griffes)
- La Chute des Feuilles (Louis Moreau Gottschalk)
- Night Wind (Daniel Gregory Mason)
- Night (Ernest Bloch)
- 3-Tone Pictures, Op. 5, No. 3: The Night Winds (Charles Griffes)
- Premonition (George Crumb)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 3: Cobweb; Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 4: Peaseblossom (Scherzo) (George Crumb)
- Nocturne, Op. 33 (Samuel Barber)
- Night Thoughts (Homeage to Ives) (Aaron Copland)
- Nocturne No. 2 “SO 4” (Leo Ornstein)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 5: Incantation (George Crumb)
- Little Nocturne (Marc-André Hamelin)
- 2 Songs, F.270: No. 1, Nocturne (George Whitefield Chadwick)
- 4 Sketches, Op. 15, No. 3: Dreaming (Amy Beach)
- Nocturne (Arthur Foote)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 7: Blues in the Night (George Crumb)
- Deep Nocturne (Ferde Grofé)
- Nightingale Rag (Joseph Francis Lamb)
- Dawn, Op. 12 (Arthur Farwell)
- Hermit Thrush, Op. 92 No. 2: A Hermit Thrush at Morn (Amy Beach)
- Nocturne “Ragusa” (Ernest Schelling)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 9: Midnight Transformation (George Crumb)
(Note: Click on the playlist names to be redirected.)
Easy Listening (Playlist No. 1)
Out of my fervent excitement, I started with the ones I’m familiar with: the Nightingale Rag, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Amy Beach, and Marc-André Hamelin.
While I know most of the composers, I haven’t been tuned yet to their inherent musical voices. It was intrinsic to start back from the first entry and crack the sense behind the arrangement. (Because I was only listening on Spotify, I didn’t know what the blurb of the CD says about it.) Then I let each of them resonate naturally and leave an imprint in my whole world, which is a lifelong dive into music with solitude plus no more else.
The list below contains the first ones to have sung to me. Being that they are akin or closer to the European idioms of classical music, it’s not a curious case they are easily relatable.
Cecile Licad makes them all glittering, lush, and sexy. (Possibly the best versions recorded one can hear; definitely one if not). Her pristine sensitivity, tender touch, and virtuosic competence are all over in place drawing out nothing but exalting nuances and picturesque landscapes of sound. She particularly excels in executing those delicate keyboard runs naturally without the cheap and unnecessary sentimentality most of the famous pianists today heavily rely on.
- Nightingale Rag (CD 2 No. 7)
- La Chute des Feuilles (CD 1 No. 5)
- Hermit Thrush, Op. 92, No. 1: The Hermit Thrush at Eve (CD 1 No. 2)
- Hermit Thrush, Op. 92 No. 2: A Hermit Thrush at Morn (CD 2 No. 9)
- 4 Sketches, Op. 15, No. 3: Dreaming (CD 2 No. 3)
- 2 Songs, F.270: No. 1, Nocturne (CD 2 No. 2)
- Nocturne (CD 2 No. 4)
- Dawn, Op. 12 (CD 2 No. 8)
- Deep Nocturne (CD 2 No. 6)
- Nocturne “Ragusa” (CD 2 No. 10)
- 3-Tone Pictures, Op. 5, No. 3: The Night Winds (CD 1 No. 8)
Dissonant-laden and Atonal (Playlist No. 2)
For my second playlist, the entries are more dissonant-laden. While I like them and consider full blast atonal music rapturously otherworldly, I must admit they’re not for everybody’s palate. If a listener is a sheer listener and sucker for tonal music and traditionalist classical music, hitting on the track unsuitable for what he expects – or for his taste – might get him to deride this recording as weird, foolish and nonsense.
In the previous, if Licad is a painter in the personification of a pianist, in the following (including the George Crumb playlist), she becomes a sorceress performing a ritual with a majestic Steinway piano and reciting spells through music. The listener is forced to keep silent so as not to interrupt the sanctity.
- Night Wind (CD 1 No. 6)
- Nocturne, Op. 33 (CD 1 No. 11)
- Night (CD 1 No. 7)
- Notturno for Orchestra, A. 94 (CD 1 No. 4)
- Little Nocturne (CD 2 No. 1)
- Night Thoughts (Homeage to Ives) (CD 1 No. 12)
- Nocturne No. 2 “SO 4” (CD 1 No. 13)
George Crumb (Playlist No. 3)
If the listener is enjoying himself so far, he may want to cap his rare American Nocturne rewarding journey with a completely disparate league: an all-George Crumb, for a new, fresh perspective of another possibility piano can be used in making music.
These Crumb inclusions are in my reading the best treats of American Nocturnes because listeners (and musicians) are introduced to extended techniques of piano music and performance. Second, it’s a rare circumstance to have a first rank pianist tackle such works and drift away from the mainstream that we are able to hear a truly class A and authoritative musical understanding of these avant-garde music fearless of any criticism.
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 1, Nocturne Theme (CD 1 No. 1)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 2: Charade (CD 1 No. 3)
- Premonition (CD 1 No. 9)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 3: Cobweb; Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 4: Peaseblossom (Scherzo) (CD 1 No. 10)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 5: Incantation (CD 1 No. 14)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 7: Blues in the Night (CD 2 No. 5)
- Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 9: Midnight Transformation (CD 2 No. 11)
Ah, oh, needless to say, but Cecile Licad personally met with George Crumb for the recording.
The composers, in their birth chronological order, and their works that are featured in the Anthology of American Piano Music Vol. 2 (2017):
Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869)
Gottschalk was a piano virtuoso and composer who according to Frédéric Chopin was set to become one of the foremost pianists of the century.
- CD 1: 5. La chûte des feuilles, Nocturne, Op. 42
Arthur Foote (1853-1937)
Arthur Foote was said to be the first American classical composer who was trained entirely in the US. A graduate of Harvard, he was one of the Boston Six, a group of classical music composers in the New England during the late 19th and early 20th centuries who were pivotal in the development of distinctive American sound of classical music.
- CD 2: 4. Nocturne Op. 6 No. 2
George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931)
George Whitefield Chadwick was also one of the Boston Six. His works, in addition to being considered particularly American, were inspired by the American Realism movement in the arts, which depicts the daily life of the lower classes of the society.
- CD 2: 2. Songs, F.270: No. 1, Nocturne
Amy Beach (1867-1944)
Amy Beach as a composer was the first female American to have a success in the discipline. As a child prodigy, she began composing waltzes at the age of five. Although part of the Boston Six, a group of composers pivotal to the American sense of classical music, her compositions were essentially in Romantic idiom and could compare to the works of Rachmaninoff and Brahms. Apart from being a composer, she was also a successful concert pianist.
- CD 1: 2. Hermit Thrush Op. 92 No. 1: A Hermit Thrush at Eve
- CD 2: 3. 4 Sketches, Op. 15 No. 3: Dreaming
- CD 2: 9. Hermit Thrush Op. 92 No. 2: A Hermit Thrush at Morn
Arthur Farwell was one of the America’s most influential composers who was once educated as electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before pursuing studies in music. His initial interests were directed to different areas including astrology, numerology and photography.
- CD 2: 8. Dawn, Op. 12
Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953)
Daniel Gregory Mason was an American composer who came from a family of notable musicians. He was educated at Harvard and in Paris later on with Vincent d’Indy. He admired Brahms, disliked Impressionism and ignored Modernism. As a result, most of his compositions mirrored the Romanticism.
- CD 1: 6. Night Wind From Country Pictures, Op. 9 No. 6
Ernest Schelling (1876-1939)
Ernest Schelling was, at 7, the youngest to have ever been admitted to Paris Conservatoire where he studied with the leading performers and pedagogues at the time. Upon hearing Schelling, piano virtuoso, composer and once the Prime minister of Poland Ignaz Jan Paderewski took him as his only student for three years, from 1898 to 1902.
- CD 2: 10. Nocturne “Ragusa”
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Ernest Block was originally from Switzerland. As a violinist, he was educated at Brussels Conservatory. As a composer, he was educated in Frankfurt’s Hoch Conservatory.
- CD 1: 7. In the Night – A Love Poem
Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)
Charles Tomlinson Griffes was considered the most famous representative of America to European Impressionism movement. He held great fascination to the French Impressionism which was reflected in his Tone Pictures, Op. 5.
- CD 1: 4. Notturno for Orchestra, A.94
- CD 1: 8. 3 Tone Pictures, Op. 5 No. 3: The Night Winds
Joseph Francis Lamb (1887-1960)
For ragtime music lovers (I am one), Joseph Lamb is a household name. Along with Scott Joplin and James Scott, he’s the most important ragtime composer. All three of them were collectively classified as America’s Big Three.
- CD 2: 7. Nightingale Rag
Ferde Grofé (1892-1972)
Ferde Grofé was a multi-instrumentalist composer who came from a family of musicians. He was hailed in 1932 by The New York Times as the “Prime Minister of Jazz.”
- CD 2: 6. Deep Nocturne
Leo Ornstein (1895-2002)
Leo Ornstein wasn’t a US native. He was born in Ukraine and studied composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory before expatriating in US to escape pogroms. He studied in New York’s Institute of Musical Arts, now the Juilliard. Due to his shocking compositions that employed techniques that hadn’t been known yet such as tone clusters and polyrhythm, he was a frequent cause célèbre.
- CD 1: 13. Nocturne No. 2 “SO 4”
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Aaron Copland was respected as the Dean of American Composer. He was one of the most important composers of American classical music. He innovated classical music and turned it into what considered today American by combining both the jazz and folk music.
- CD 1: 12. Night Thoughts (Homage to Ives)
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Samuel Barber was the most celebrated American composer of his time. At the Curtis Institute of Music, he studied singing and conducting in addition to piano and composition. After his graduation, he devoted himself to composing and went on to be regarded as the frontrunner of 20th century lyricism and romanticism.
- CD 1: Nocturne, Op. 33 (Homeage to John Field)
George Crumb (1929)
George Crumb is an avant-garde, award-winning composer. He is a known explorer of unusual timbers who according to Ross Lee Finney, Jr. – his teacher at the University of Michigan – is an “American tinkerer” for experimenting with the combinations of various instruments and sound. Two years after receiving his master’s degree from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1953, he headed to Berlin Hochschule für Music as a Fulbright scholar.
- CD 1: 1. Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 1: Nocturnal Theme ()
- CD 1: 3. Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 2: Charade
- CD 1: 9. Premonition
- CD 1: 10. Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 3: Cobweb; Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 4: Peaseblossom (Scherzo)
- CD 1: 14. Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 5: Incantation
- CD 2: 5. Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 7: Blues in the Night
- CD 2: 11. Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik No. 9: Midnight Transformation
Marc-André Hamelin (1961)
Okay, Marc-André Hamelin based on: how I know him as a contemporary of Cecile Licad, being a classical pianist who also has a perfect pitch; his recording of the complete demonically difficult Chopin-Godowsky études; and as another diabolical composer of piano études is Canadian.
- CD 2: 1. Little Nocturne
Cecile Licad (1961)
Cecile Licad is a Curtis-trained classical pianist who in 1981 was awarded a gold medal by the Leventritt Competition. In 1985, her recording of Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 with André Previn conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra was awarded Grand Prix du Disque Frédéric Chopin. As a Steinway artist, she performed six Rachmaninoff Songs with tenor Ben Heppner in the Steinway Piano Sesquicentennial Celebration at Carnegie Hall. She has recorded for CBS Masterworks (now Sony Classical), EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, MusicMasters, Naxos, Hyperion and Danacord.
The record label
Danacord is a Danish record label that caters for the recordings of less-often-heard music.