About this Recording
8.559366 - HERSCH, F.: Concert Music (2001-06)

Fred Hersch (b. 1955)
Concert Music 2001–2006
Three Character Studies • 24 Variations on a Bach Chorale
Lyric Piece for Trio • Tango Bittersweet • Saloon Songs


I have always preferred the term 'concert music' to 'contemporary classical' or any other such designation. Though I have been fortunate to collaborate with a wide range of remarkable 'classical' musicians through the years, I am known more widely as a jazz pianist/composer. For that reason, I use the concert music designation to signify that a work is completely notated – no improvising involved.

Both written and improvised music have been my primary languages of expression for as long as I have been writing and reading words. Much of the first music I heard in my home was traditional European classical music. Since childhood, I have always been fascinated by music that worked in four parts (string quartets) or less (much of Bach) – so it may be no surprise that many of the pieces on this disc are based on the use of four moving voices. I have applied my life-long love of these moving independent voices to my jazz piano playing and this technique continues to fascinate me – as do the other very important musical elements of rhythm and tone colour.

Three Character Studies are my first set of fully notated piano pieces. They are studies in that each piece emphasizes a technical or pianistic element; they are 'character' studies because someone who is (or was) close to me inspires each one. The Nocturne for the Left Hand Alone is for my longtime piano teacher, Sophia Rosoff; she has a special fondness for Rachmaninov and Scriabin. The Little Spinning Song is for Kentucky fabric artist Penny Sisto, always in motion. The Study in Thirds and Sixths is for my cat Spike; though he is now in the 'great litter-box in the sky', this recalls his spirited and very sneaky personality. A chorinho is a Brazilian tango form that is akin to American ragtime.

The famous melody used by Bach in his St Matthew Passion ('O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden') is by Hans Leo Hassler (1562-1612); Bach re-harmonized it several times in this work alone. I first became familiar with it as a teenager from a secular English version known as 'Because All Men Are Brothers' (lyrics by Tom Glazer) that was recorded by The Weavers and Peter, Paul and Mary. After the events of 11 September 2001, the powerful, timeless melody and its universal spiritual quality inspired this set of 24 variations and coda. It was composed during a five-day period in February of 2002 at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire and is dedicated to the pianist Jeffrey Kahane and his family. Mr Kahane gave the world première in November 2002 at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

When I started as a freshman studying liberal arts at Grinnell College in Iowa in 1973, I immediately became involved in their chamber music programme. I had played many varieties of music through high school, but had never had the eye-opening experience of collaborating in a piano/violin/cello trio setting. The literature for this combination of instruments is deep – almost all of the great composers composed works for piano trio – and I was especially moved by all of the trios of Brahms. One of the pieces our trio performed was the Trio in D Minor Op. 120, a late work by Gabriel Fauré. His influence (and that of Brahms) can be heard in Lyric Piece for Trio, a single-movement work in loose rondo form. It was commissioned by violinist Sharan Leventhal for the Gramercy Trio.

Tango Bittersweet was composed in 1989 when I was leading a jazz quintet that included the cellist Erik Friedlander. We played it often as a duet and both of us improvised our solo sections. Through the years, I have had requests for a completely notated version of this piece. In 2003, when I played a benefit concert in New York City with violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, I created a violin and piano arrangement with a notated violin solo. I finished the cello and piano version heard on this recording – adding the completely composed piano part – in 2006.

The inspiration for Saloon Songs comes from my colourful mental images of Lower Manhattan (my residence for thirty years) in the early part of the 20th Century. All three pieces use dance forms that were popular at that time – the slow drag, the waltz and ragtime. The piano writing is largely in four parts with updated harmonic language. Four-Part Slow Drag is sweet and somewhat melancholy. The 'Last Call' Waltz is a darkly comic evocation of the last, slightly desperate moments of an inebriated patron's evening at a downtown saloon. The Bowery Rag is in classic ragtime form. Saloon Songs were composed for Anthony de Mare and were commissioned by Luba Byman Staller and Dr. Ralph Yalkovsky through Premiere Commission, Inc.

Fred Hersch
June 2007


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