I was recently asked to perform in a concert on 4th July - what could be more natural than to play some American piano music?
Here is what I played, together with my spoken introductions:
George Gershwin - The Man I Love Scott Joplin - The Chrysanthemum Nathaniel Dett - Juba Dance
Perhaps we forget, now that Gershwin and Joplin are mainstream, that they were black.
Gershwin’s The Man I Love is his own arrangement of his famous song.
Joplin – The Chrysanthemum, which I originally learnt to play at a Garden Party, where all the music was based on flower names.
Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), is less well-known now. That is a pity: he is one of the greatest musicians of African descent: a composer, choir leader, pianist, teacher, poet, and writer; and the first American composer to fuse Negro folk music with the European art music in a sophisticated way.
The Juba Dance is the final movement of his piano suite: In the bottoms, which I have always wanted to play in a concert, if only for its title. It dates from 1913.
Bluette Op 7 No 5 To a Wild Rose Op 51 No 1 Bach elaborated MacDowell (from Six Little Pieces on Sketches by J S Bach) • Menuet in G • Marche
Edward Macdowell comes from what we might call the German school of American music. Indeed, MacDowell actually trained in Germany. He writes in a late 19th century, romantic idiom. There are songs, and some orchestral pieces, but he is known for his piano music. The back page of the book I have of his music lists very many piano works.
MacDowell wrote two piano pieces called Bluette: the word can mean “a short, brilliant piece of music”. In 1894, he published 12 Virtuoso Etudes, of which the 8th is called Bluette – I’m not playing that one! Mine is from the set of Six Fancies, written a few years later. Perhaps he knew the French meaning of Bluette: a trifle (an unimportant thing).
To A Wild Rose (from the Woodland Sketches) also dates from the 1890s, and is possibly MacDowell’s most famous piece, familiar to almost everyone.
I’m then going to play two of the 6 Little Pieces after J.S. Bach – you will know these, too. If you like your Bach pure, and unadulterated, then you should probably step outside for a few minutes. Macdowell, thickens the chords, adds extra chromatic inflexions, and generally pimps them up. They are great fun to play.