Set Your Spirits Ahead One Season!

March 26, 2020
 

Just in time!  Their Christmas recording arrived in early March.

Yes, I know. That’s not exactly the kind of express service that most people expect these days. But it’s not as if we’d ordered it. I had requested the CD from one of our record distributors. Though it took it’s time getting here, they were offering a gratis radio station copy. Grateful for those, we let them arrive if and whenever they do.

And it all turned out just fine! One selection on the recording, which I looked forward to playing for Classic Mornings listeners, is the famous Skaters Waltz by Emile Waldteufel. The disc was here before the end of winter. So I could still play it “in season” on March 19th, when the program began during winter and ended during spring.

It’s not the standard orchestral version of the famous waltz. After all, it’s on the CD Christmas With The Five Browns (Steinway 30124). They’re the family ensemble of 5 pianists (Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae). And indeed, they all were in the musical rink to perform it, according to the program notes.

I hesitated because the notes also attribute the arrangement to a group of 4 known as the First Piano Quartet. The term “piano quartet” generally refers to an ensemble made up of a pianist, violinist, violist and cellist. Mozart wrote two famous piano quartets. Robert Schumann wrote one. And other composers have written them as well.

The ensemble that arranged the Skaters Waltz consisted of 4 pianists – a different kind of piano quartet. The First Piano Quartet formed back in 1941 to perform classical music on weekly radio broadcasts. The players didn’t perform for an audience in a concert hall until 1949. There were personnel changes over the years, but the group was active until the late 1950s. In 1962, it appeared with a new name: The Original Piano Quartet, performing until the early 1970s.

So how did the 5 pianists play the arrangement for 4 pianos? Did two of the siblings double up on one of the parts? Did one actually sit it out?

I contacted the group in an attempt to find out. I was excited to receive a reply from Melody who explained: “Yes! The arrangement of the Skater's Waltz was done by the First Piano Quartet, who indeed had 4 members. But we loved the arrangement so much that we had Gregory from our group look at all the parts and create a 5th part for himself based on where he thought melodies, passages etc. could use more sound. So the 5th part is sort of a collage of the other 4 parts.”

You’ll get to hear it again on the program. And that’ll be well before next winter!

March 19th turned out to be the earliest arrival of spring since 1896. I decided to look into whether any famous works were written in 1896. I was surprised to find 3!  American composer Edward MacDowell wrote his Woodland Sketches in 1896. The opening piece: “To a Wild Rose” is his most famous one. That same year, John Philip Sousa wrote his operetta El Capitan. The march that uses material from the operetta is among his better known. And later that year (in fact, on Christmas Day, 1896), Sousa wrote The Stars and Stripes Forever

I’m sure that Erich Kunzel, in all the pops concerts he conducted over the years, included a good bit of Sousa’s music. Kunzel, who died in 2009, would have been 85 on March  21st.

March 13th marked the 175th anniversary of the first performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s famous Violin Concerto in E minor. Mendelssohn wrote it for his long-time friend, violinist Ferdinand David. Due to illness, Mendelssohn wasn’t able to conduct the first performance, which took place in Leipzig. The Danish composer/conductor Niels Gade had the honors.

On March 17th, we celebrated not only St. Patrick’s Day, but a quincentennial – a 500th birthday anniversary.  It was for a Frenchman who had a little Will Shortz in him, you could say. Centuries before the NPR puzzlemaster, Jehan Tabourot was inspired to re-arrange the letters of his name to create an anagram/pen name: Thoinot Arbeau. He’s remembered for his study of late 16th century French social dancing, including a collection of dance tunes from the time. Some of those tunes were used in the 20th century by English composer Peter Warlock, which is a pen name for Philip Heseltine. Warlock’s most famous work is the Capriol Suite for string orchestra, which makes use of the tunes from Arbeau’s study.

We had just set our clocks one hour ahead back on March 8th. We’re always reminded to do so by the expression: “spring forward.”  When spring arrived on March 19th, the thought came to me and I suggested to listeners that we set our spirits ahead one season. I intend to assist with that. Join me for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9 to noon of FM 90.9 and online at will.illinois.edu.


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