About this Recording
8.559212 - BRUBECK: Chromatic Fantasy Sonata / Rising Sun
English  German 

Dave Brubeck (b

Dave Brubeck (b. 1920)

Chromatic Fantasy Sonata • Five Pieces from Two Part Adventures • Tritonis

The Salmon Strikes • Rising Sun

Notes from the Composer


A question I am repeatedly asked is “What is the difference between your composed pieces and your piano improvisations?” My approach to writing for the piano is basically the same as my approach to improvisation, the difference being the gift of time and opportunity to edit, rewrite and refine what is written. I would venture to say that the best of my compositions were probably never notated or recorded, but were created at the moment for the moment. That is the nature of improvisation. There is a story about a meeting between Mozart and Beethoven in which the young Beethoven played his compositions for Mozart, who left the room unimpressed. However, the story goes, Beethoven remained at the piano and began to improvise. It is said, that upon overhearing these improvisations, Mozart exclaimed, “This young man will make a great noise in the world”. He had caught a glimpse of the workings of a composer’s mind. I hope to capture in my composed pieces some of the fresh spirit of improvisation.


My association with pianist John Salmon began over thirty years ago. It came in the form of a letter from a young man, who played both jazz and classical piano, seeking advice about pursuing a professional career in music. There was such obvious sincerity in the tone of the letter that I answered, telling him about my own sons near his age, who were just entering the professional world. Bestowing a modicum of fatherly advice, I wished him success. Seven years later he showed up in my dressing room at the University of Maryland, where I was performing with my Quartet. He was there to participate in a piano competition taking place on the campus (a competition at which he won a prize, by the way!). Throughout the following decades we exchanged holiday greetings and John would show up at our concerts whenever we were in his area. In 1992 John interviewed me for an article he was writing for the magazine American Music Teacher. The article was entitled “What Brubeck Got From Milhaud”, and upon reading it, I knew that John was a serious scholar as well as an accomplished pianist. One day I received a telephone call from John in which he told me that by changing the fingering, he had finally figured out a way to play some parts of the fugue in my composition, Points on Jazz. I had considered it almost impossible for any soloist, since it was a reduction of a piece originally written for two pianos. The following year I received in the mail a tape of a John Salmon piano recital at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. His performance of Points on Jazz and the difficult Fugue amazed me. It began an exchange of letters, followed by more articles for music journals, and eventually my asking him to edit my piano music for publication by Warner Bros. Publications. I really became aware of John Salmon’s dedication to my music in 1994 when he came to Germany to deliver a presentation (both in German and in English) for the ceremonies at University of Duisburg, in which I received an honorary degree. For the past decade I have relied upon John’s expertise in preparing my new works for publication.


The major work on this recording is the Chromatic Fantasy Sonata, a composition that emerged from a commission by the chamber music group, An die Musik (violin, viola, cello, oboe, piano). The original commission stipulated that I open the work with a few bars from my favourite composer. I chose Johann Sebastian Bach, and the exciting, dramatic rising scales of Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor (BWV 903) as an opening for my own Chromatic Fantasy. Various allusions to B-A-C-H (the German note names for B-flat, A, C, and B natural) are heard throughout, most obviously in the Allegro molto movement and appear in various disguises in other movements as well. The influence of Bach carries over into the titles of the movements. Chorale starts out in a four-voice format that suggests the SATB choral texture of Bach’s own chorales. Fugue is actually a triple fugue in four voices whose three subjects are woven throughout the four movements. Two of these subjects are tone rows, one of which starts out with a kind of inversion of the B-A-C-H motif. Chaconne uses a left-hand ostinato and a right-hand melody, similar to a piece I had written for jazz ensemble, called Jazzanians. With its lively triplet feel and blues riffs Chaconne is the jazziest of the four movements. A string quartet version of Chromatic Fantasy Sonata was recorded by the Brodsky Quartet of England. John Salmon subsequently transcribed the fugue movement written for the string quartet to the present solo piano version.


Bach’s influence is again reflected in selections from Two-Part Adventures, inspired by the Two-Part Inventions, BWV 772-86. Bach Again resembles Bach’s C Minor Prelude from Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and is dedicated to John Salmon, who sometimes combines the two in recital. Brotherly Love was first recorded in 1998 by my Quartet for the Telarc CD So What’s New?. Winter Ballad, from my album Jazz Impressions of New York, was originally played with Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone on the upper line. The Eleven Disciples is taken from my cantata Voice of the Holy Spirit and was originally written for chorus. Chasin’ Yourself is in canonic imitation, swinging and light.


Tritonis, like so many of my more extended, written-out compositions, has a varied history. Originally written on commission as a piece for guitar and flute (1978), it then became part of my jazz quartet repertoire using the theme as the basis for improvisation. (This jazz quartet version can be heard on the Columbia/Legacy CD box set Time Signatures: A Career Retrospective.) In the piano solo version I retain the central harmonic device, namely two chords a tritone apart, as in the opening where an E major arpeggio is followed by one in B flat. The tritone has played a prominent rôle in my own improvising, since it consists of two very important blues notes, the key note and flattened fifth. My composition teacher, Darius Milhaud, frequently placed two chords together whose roots were a tritone away, creating a polytonal texture that resembled the extended harmonies of the bebop era in jazz. Since the piece originated as a guitar and flute piece, guitar sounds, especially those of the open strings (E-A-D-G-B-E), permeate the work, occasionally evoking the sound of flamenco music.


The Salmon Strikes was written as a tribute to John. The title refers to his strong piano attack, as well as my personal remembrance of a fishing expedition in the Alaskan wilderness when an actual salmon did strike, fight, and eventually win its freedom.


The Rising Sun is from my 1965 album Jazz Impressions of Japan. It recalls my first dawn in Tokyo after a long flight across the Pacific. A Basho haiku expresses the poetic intent of the ballad.


A lovely morn! The summer night is gone,

How hushed and still is all the world

In wonder at the dawn.


The pieces on this recording vary in mood and style, and I am extremely grateful to John Salmon for his artistry in interpreting this music in the way I conceived it.


Dave Brubeck

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