Philip Amalong


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Storia
cd coverJDT 3119

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Johann Sebastian Bach
Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Minor, BWV 867 from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I

1. Prelude
2. Fugue

Johannes Brahms
Ballades, Op. 10
3. No. 1 in D minor
4. No. 2 in D major

Alberto Ginastera
Sonata No. 1, Op. 22 (1952)
5. I. Allegro marcato
6. II. Presto misterioso
7. III. Adagio molto appassionato
8. IV. Ruvido ed ostinato

Sergey Prokofiev
9. Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell from Ten Pieces for Piano from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75

Enrique Granados
10. Quejas ó La Maja y el Ruiseñor (Laments or The Maiden and The Nightingale) from Goyescas

Angelo della Picca (b. 1923)
11. Rondo Capriccioso

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About This CD

The Idea of Storia

"Storia, which means 'history' or 'story' in Italian, is an idea that fascinates me and permeates the content and concepts of the recording", says pianist Philip Amalong. In one sense, the music ranging from Bach to the present time is the story of the piano. The pianistic tradition is passed along and evolves through the various eras and styles of the composers. Additionally, many of the pieces have "extra-musical" stories or ideas associated with them.

The program of Storia ranges from the B-flat minor Prelude and Fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I of J.S. Bach composed around 1725, to a piece composed for Philip Amalong two years ago by Angelo della Picca, Rondo Capriccioso. Other works include two of the Ballades, Op. 10 of Brahms, Sonata No. 1 by Alberto Ginastera, Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell, from Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev, and The Maiden and the Nightingale by Enrique Granados.

In performance, Mr. Amalong enjoys speaking to the audience about the music and composers. "I was determined that this CD be more than a collection of pieces, but that I share further some of my discoveries about the works and the background for my interpretations." Thus came about the idea for an Enhanced CD. When placed in your computer drive, an interactive window opens with a menu that offers extended program notes about the pieces and composers that can be read while listening, as well as various web links and additional credits. The CD also plays normally in any CD player. Mr. Amalong plans to expand upon the Enhanced CD aspect in future productions.

Storia was masterfully produced by Damon Sink. Nevin Essex, a brilliant piano technician, prepared the pianos. The Bach, Ginastera, and Prokofiev were recorded on a Steinway D at the University of Dayton Sears Recital Hall. The other pieces were recorded on a Baldwin at The Corbett Studio of WGUC in Cincinnati.

The Pieces of Storia

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Minor, BWV 867 from "The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I"

Completed in 1722, The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I was the first half of Johann Sebastian Bach's great collection of preludes and fugues for the keyboard. In 1744, he completed Book II and together these forty-eight preludes and fugues twice venture through every major and minor key, exploring a rich world of contrapuntal creativity, harmonic adventure, and human expression.

The exploration of all the major and minor keys is fascinating, since we know that the common keyboard tuning system used in Bach's circle was not our modern day "equal temperament," but most likely a meantone tuning. The meantone system, however, allowed only certain keys on the instrument to be in tune, while others were remote and quite alien sounding. The mystery is then, what did Bach mean by "Well Tempered Clavier" and what did these pieces sound like in the 1720's? Most likely, Bach was not referring to an actual tuning system known as "well temperament," but using the term descriptively. We find references in his obituary to Bach's ability to tune a harpsichord such that "he achieved so correct and pure a temperament that all the keys sounded pure and agreeable."

The Prelude reveals lush warm harmonies, made all the more so by the chosen key of B-flat minor. This was not a key compatible with the meantone tuning system and not a common key to use in Bach's time. Does this richly textured piece not reveal that Bach must have tuned his harpsichord in a way similar to our equal temperament? In the five-voice Fugue that follows, lines cascade and interweave with similarly rich harmonic implications to the Prelude. Together the two pieces are a set that rewards repeated listening (and performing!) with new discoveries and meditative beauty.

The Well-Tempered Clavier has remained for centuries a source of inspiration. It has been studied and analyzed in thousands of essays, dissertations, books, and lectures. It has been performed on both harpsichord and piano, and recorded dozens of times to reveal an interesting array of interpretations. For the student, the professional, or the music enthusiast, The Well-Tempered Clavier is a monument of musical craft and beauty.

"In fact, to my mind, Bach is unapproachable-he is unfathomable." - Robert Schumann


Johannes Brahms
(1833-1897)
Ballades, Op. 10; No. 1 in D minor, No. 2 in D major

The 'Edward' Ballade, the first of the set of four in Op. 10, is perhaps best known as Brahms' "programmatic" piece. Composed in 1854, Brahms inscribed the manuscript 'after the old Scottish ballad "Edward", in Herder's Stimmen der Volker.'

Much speculation has been made about why the young Brahms composed a work with such a literal extra-musical element, an idea that he generally eschewed. His friend and mentor Robert Schumann, in a tragic state of delirium, had only months before attempted suicide and been placed in an asylum. Brahms, we know from his letters, struggled greatly with this reality and felt a great sense of responsibility toward Clara Schumann, who was soon to become a widow. The young Brahms had found such support, inspiration and guidance in the Schumann family. Yet we can imagine that he had a sense that this family would never be whole again; that the warmth and completeness he felt would give way to the loneliness that stirred through much of the rest of his life.

It is a bleak composition, that takes its own ABA form yet has very distinct references to the text; in fact it even serves as a direct melodic setting of the German translation for the first two stanzas, and other elements of the text pattern can be traced throughout. Most notable is the falling fifth in the third and fourth measure, indicating the mother's imploring "Edward, Edward?" This two-note motive permeates the piece as a whole. The horrific revelation that the mother has instigated Edward's patricide seems to be revealed after a long climax in the B section. The ending returns to the opening melody, underscored by the sobbing two-note motive. Edward acknowledges his lonely haunted life, and curses his mother.

In these early works, Brahms is already showing his mature compositional style. His orchestral pianism, although much indebted to Schumann, shows a developing personal musical voice, and subtleties such as his request that the pedal hold through the falling fifth motives, show a desire to create textures that challenge the sonorous capabilities of the piano.

The other three Ballades of Op. 10 have no known extra-musical connections, however, they do each show a narrative musical form that gives them their own musical "story." Number 2 in D major is a warm contrast to the grim D minor Ballade, and it shares the ABA form of the first. The A section is an endearing lullaby, and the B section very orchestral in nature, with the piano exploring powerful wide-ranging sonorities and rhythmic motives.


Alberto Ginastera
(1916-1983)
Sonata No. 1, Op. 22 (1950)

"A work without form is a work deformed. Music is architecture in movement, and the form must always be born with the music. It is not a different thing; it is the same thing." -Alberto Ginastera

Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera was the son of Catalonian and Italian immigrants. He began his musical studies at an early age and entered the Williams Conservatory at age twelve. He was a composer and teacher of great influence, and his piano compositions continue to be enjoyed throughout the world.

Ginastera's piano compositions span the years from 1937 (Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2) to 1982 (Sonata No. 3). His compositions can be grouped loosely into three periods. The first period is characterized by literal use of Argentine folk music; melodies enlivened with the Latin American dance rhythms, the sounds of the "pampas" and music of lament. The second period fuses Twentieth century compositional techniques with rhythms and melodies of his native Argentine music. The third period, which might be termed Neo-Expressionist in style, is objective and modern, with no direct idiomatic representations. However, it is still infused with characteristics found in the Argentine music-strong, relentless rhythms and mysterious and meditative musical landscapes.

Sonata No. 1, Op. 22 belongs to the Ginastera's "middle" period, in which he was casting his Argentine folk elements in a distinctly modern pianistic style. It is Ginastera's best-known and most frequently performed piano work.

The first movement is concise and structured in traditional sonata form. The rhythms and textures allude to the folk idiom. Melodically, the movement is simple and direct, with clear delineation between the themes. In movement two, Presto misterioso, Ginastera makes use of a twelve-tone series as a motivic and formal element, alternating with dance-like sections of the Argentine character. The Adagio molto Appasionato is both stark and passionate, and perhaps the most "modern" sounding in the Sonata. The final movement, Ruvido ed ostinato is based on an infectious rhythmic ostinato which pervades the whole movement. The same rhythm is the basis of Leonard Bernstein's "America" from West Side Story, and this movement is a popular favorite with both pianists and audiences.


"In aesthetics, as in nature, there exists the law of contrasts: day and night, the sun and the moon, black and white, allegro and adagio. We must return to contrasts within music." - Alberto Ginastera

Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1937)
Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell from "Ten Pieces for Piano from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 7"

Ten Pieces for Piano, Op. 75 is a piano suite based on the music of Prokofiev's ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Not merely a transcription or arrangement, Prokofiev wrote the suite to be a distinct solo piano work. The history of the ballet and its various forms, revisions, premieres is rather complex; the piano suite was completed in 1935, while the first production of the ballet was not until 1938 in the Moravian provincial capital of Brno.

In Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev's palette of musical character shines. Warring families, wry characters, poignant love, and bitter tragedy are all reflected with great sensitivity in his musical language. Steely textures meet sweet, aching melodies and pesty rhythms underlie witty tunes. The beautiful piece, Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell, is a narrative odyssey in which we can hear not only the story of the moment unfolding, but also periods of wistful reflection and reliving of the story. The ending is pure tragedy.

Having conceived the music as an orchestral ballet, it is not surprising that Prokofiev's piano writing here is very orchestral in character-with clearly delineated textures and melodies that dictate specific instrumental voices. Of note is the final section, in which the pianist is challenged to play a detached "pizzicato" in middle-voice chords, while sustaining a legato line above and using the sostenuto pedal to make the low cello/bass melody sustain cleanly and richly below.

Prokofiev was a formidable pianist and prolific composer, completing seven symphonies, a large body of piano music, operas, songs, chamber music, piano concerti, and film scores. He traveled throughout the world, living for a while in the U.S. and Paris, but always returning to his native Russia. His relationship with the Soviet authorities was tenuous; his travels abroad were with official permission, and for the most part he avoided charges of "formalism" until in 1948 his opera War and Peace was condemned by the government. Prokofiev died in 1953 on March 5, the same day as Stalin.

Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Quejas ó La Maja y el Ruiseñor (Laments or The Maiden and The Nightingale) from "Goyescas"

"I have a world of ideas. I am filled with enthusiasm to work more and more." So spoke Enrique Granados shortly after completing his marvelous piano suite "Goyescas," inspired by his affinity for the paintings of Francisco Goya. The suite was later adapted into an opera of the same name. Granados and his wife left their six children in Spain while they ventured to the United States to attend the premiere of the Goyescas opera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and extended their stay so that Granados could perform for the president. Upon their return, their ship was torpedoed in the English Channel by a German submarine. Both Granados and his wife drowned.

Like Chopin, Granados composed almost exclusively for the piano. His passionate and lyrical works have great musical depth and a distinctly Spanish romantic character. "Quejas o la Maya y el Ruiseñor" is perhaps Granados' best known work. Although not based on a specific painting of Goya, this beautiful lyrical piece is nonetheless a musical portrait of two of Goya's most common subjects-nature and the human form. The melody is a Spanish folk tune, set in the lush harmonic texture characteristic of much of Granados' music. The nightingale appears surprisingly at the end, offering its comments to the woeful tale that has been told.

Angelo della Picca (b. 1923)
Rondo Capriccioso

"This Rondo, based on the theme of the Easter Scene (7th) of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, is called "capriccioso" because it never appears as firstly stated, but always varied as do the intervening episodes. It appealed to me as the possible theme for my Rondo when performing Vaughan Williams' Hodie, A Christmas Cantata in which this theme is suggested in the Epilogue." - Angelo A. della Picca

The remarkable life of Angelo della Picca began in 1923 in Udine, Italy. Fr. della Picca was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in 1945. His education includes three degrees from the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome (DSMus., MSMus., BSMus.), ThM from Seminario Maggiore Udine, MA in Classical Languages from Villanova University (USA), and PhD studies in Musicology from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Fr. della Picca arrived in the United States in 1956, where he has gained renown as a teacher, composer and conductor. He is Professor Emeritus of Music and Theology at The College of Mount St. Joseph where he has been in residence since 1965.

A beloved friend and teacher, many of his compositions have been written for those who have been fortunate to know and work with him. His music is rich in melody, and reflects his Italian heritage and passion for life. His works include instrumental solo and chamber music, solo and choral vocal works, and a chamber symphony and violin concerto. He is currently working on an opera based on the life of Edith Stein.

Fr. della Picca was also instrumental in creating new liturgical music for the Catholic Church beginning in the 1960's following Vatican II. He composed for Cincinnati-based World Library Publications, and many of his works are staples of the Catholic liturgical repertoire. So prolific was his work in this area, he eventually began to write under various pseudonyms to give name variety to his publisher's catalogue.

Rondo Capriccioso offers exciting challenges to the performer, notable among these the extreme character changes that occur as the rhapsodic piece unfolds. The four-note Cavalleria Rusticana motive weaves through the various textures and intensities in the work. The piece is part of a trilogy of piano rondos by Fr. della Picca, which includes Christmas Rondo, and Easter Rondo, works based on plainchant melodies from the Gregorian Masses.


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