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Ebony Band


  • Type CD
  • Label Channel Classics
  • UPC 0723385306115
  • Catalog number CCS 30611
  • Release date 25 July 2011
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About the album

Every epoch has had its group dances, and they have always been a source of inspiration to composers. In the interwar period, the Blues and Charleston meant as much to composers as the Sarabande and Gigue did to Johann Sebastian Bach and the Polonaise and Mazurka to Frédéric Chopin. The advent of American jazz and dance music in Europe was a gift from the gods for young composers hungry to find new paths and means of expression. Even though the word jazz meant little more than syncopated march and dance music based on ragtime, there was no stopping the rage. Jazz represented a radical break with the traditional, old-fashioned way of life of the nineteenth century, and made a wonderful match with the elated expectations that had replaced wartime suffering. Within just a few years, jazz fever swept across Europe. This CD bears witness. STEFAN WOLPE (1902-1972), born and bred in Berlin, entered the Hochschule für Musik at the age of seventeen and studied with Juon and Schreker. Disappointed in the course within a year, he decided to go his own way. He joined the young dada movement and was often to be found in the company of Klee and Schlemmer in the Bauhaus in Weimar ("we travelled there like pilgrims to Jerusalem or Mecca"). Wolpe fell under the spell of that great musical personality Feruccio Busoni, who taught composition from 1920 until his death in 1924 at the Akademie der Künste, where Kurt Weill was among the students. In the following years Wolpe joined the Novembergruppe, originally a society of visual artists and architects, but later including musicians, filmmakers and writers. He became politically active in 1925 and joined the communist party. He began to write songs for major workers' demonstrations, but also supported himself by playing the piano in cabaret and silent movies, and in cafes and bars. Performances of Wolpe's 'serious' compositions not uncommonly gave rise to public scandals. In 1931 he became musical director of Die Truppe 31, a highly successful agitprop group banned in 1933 shortly after the change of power. Wolpe managed to flee at the last minute, ending up via Switzerland and Russia in Vienna, where an old dream came true: studies with Anton Webern. Although circumstances forced him to move on after four months, this was a period of profound musical importance. Wolpe subsequently emigrated to Palestine and developed a most individual, contrary idiom based on 12-note technique. In 1939 he settled in the USA, where, though his music met with little response, he became a teacher of renown. His pupils included many important American composers (including Morton Feldman) and jazz musicians. He died in 1972 in New York. In the early works of Stefan Wolpe from the 1920s, atonality and jazz influences are clearly heard alongside one another. No other composer of the period succeeded in combining these two divergent musical worlds in such a refined and inventive manner. Geert van Keulen (composer and former bass clarinettist in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) orchestrated a number of piano pieces from this period on the request of the Wolpe Society (Canada). Under the title Suite from the Twenties they were first performed in New York in 2002 by the Capriccio Players directed by Werner Herbers. EMIL FRANTISEK BURIAN (1904-1959) had talents in many directions, going far beyond music. He was active as a stage director, actor, theatre director, writer, publisher, filmmaker and concert organiser. In 1924, as a pupil of Josef Suk and J.B. Foerster, Burian founded the ‘Přítomnost’ (Presence) Society, propagating not only the music of the Second Viennese School and the French avant-garde, but also the symphonic jazz of Paul Whiteman. In 1923-29 he worked for various Praag cabaret theatres and avant-garde groups, but also wrote three operas, one of which, the jazz opera Bubu de Montparnasse, received its first performance only in 1999. At the ISCM festival in the Italian Siena (1928), his jazzy Voiceband for chorus readers and instruments caused a sensation. In 1933, Burian established his own theater in Prague. Called the D-34, it provided a stage for explicitly political and anti-fascist theatre. It remained open until he was arrested by the Nazis in 1941 and taken to Theresienstadt, from where he was deported to Dachau and Neuengamme. Much of his work, including Voiceband, was seized and destroyed. Burian survived the war and promptly reopened his theatre; but despite his communist sympathies, he felt increasingly paralysed under the Stalinist regime, and more or less withdrew from public life. He died in Prague in 1959. Burian's work is strongly influenced by dada, futurism and jazz. The Suite Americaine op.15 was originally written for two pianos, but within a month of its completion in December 1926 he had made an alternative version for a mixed instrumental ensemble, with a main role for the violophone, which gave an extra accent to the stubborn character of the music. The violophone (also known as Stroh-Geige or Violine à defaut) was invented in England in the late nineteenth century for the first gramophone recordings. The sound of the strings is amplified by a membrane rather than a resonance chamber, and projected in a certain direction by a trumpet-like metal bell. From the 1920s the violophone was popular in street and jazz bands. The example used by the Ebony Band was made in Italy and belongs to the collection of Hubert Mathijsen. BOHUSLAV MARTINU (1890-1959) was taught the violin from the age of seven by the local tailor in his birthplace Policka. He entered the conservatory of Prague in 1906, but with little success, being sent away several times and expelled for ‘incorrigible negligence’. In 1911, moreover, he failed to pass his first state exam. From 1915, Martinu played in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, first as a substitute, and from 1920 as a regular second violinist. He moved to Paris in 1923 to study composition with Albert Roussel, remaining there until his emigration to the USA in 1940. After successful performances of his work (by the Boston Symphony Orchestra among others) and appointments as a teacher at prestigious institutions, Martinu gained American citizenship in 1952. Shortly afterwards, however, he returned to Europe (1953), living mainly in France, Italy and Switzerland. He died in Liestal near Basel, his last place of residence. Inseparably connected with Martinu's Parisian years is his fascination for jazz, elements of which he employed in various works written between 1923-30. The first two movements of the Jazz Suite were composed in June 1928 and performed in Baden-Baden, the other two movements following later in the same year; the complete suite was first performed in Frankfurt. Publication remained forthcoming: Universal Edition (1928) and Schott (1930) showed no interest, and only in 1966 did the composer's widow reach agreement with Panton. Unfortunately, the cello part was accidentally omitted in the 1970 edition, and the Jazz Suite - now as a Schott edition - has been performed and recorded ever since in this mutilated version. The present performance by the Ebony Band is therefore a CD world premiere. Although the ‘roots’ of the Budapest-born MÁTYÁS SEIBER (1905-1960), like his teacher Kodaly, lay in Hungarian (folk) music, he also had a wide interest in other types of music. As a student he had devoted himself to Arnold Schönberg, and he became acquainted with blues, rumba and tango on his travels in North, Central and South America as a cellist in a ship's orchestra. In 1927 Seiber moved to Frankfurt, where his fondness for jazz resulted in his appointment as head of the first jazz department in a German conservatory, much to the annoyance of the Nazis, from whom he had to put up repeatedly with defamation in the press. The Two Jazzolettes betray the unmistakable influence of the Second Viennese School, and in the second Jazzolette the trumpet even begins with a strict 12-note series. This system is not applied consistently, however, and both middle movements feature a (quasi) blues with all sorts of jazz elements such as glissandos, blue notes and wa-wa mutes. After Hitler came to power, a composer of dodecaphonic jazz was no longer certain of his life. Seiber emigrated to England and rose to a prominent place in musical life. He composed not only for the concert hall, but wrote several brilliant film scores, including one for Orwell’s Animal Farm. He was also highly respected as a teacher. DARIUS MILHAUD (1892-1974) travelled across several continents at an early age. In 1917-19, as secretary to the writer Paul Claudel, who had been appointed French ambassador in Brazil, he became acquainted with Latin America. He subsequently made several trips to the United States, where he was enchanted by the authentic jazz he heard in countless Harlem clubs, bars and cafés. He returned to Europe with records issued by Black Swan (the only label to feature black bands). In London shortly afterwards, Milhaud heard Billy Arnold’s (white) American Novelty Jazz Band. He assimilated all these impressions in his music, culminating in La Création du Monde. After his opera Christoph Colomb had been severely criticised by the Nazi press after the premiere in Germany in 1930, Milhaud was a warned man. Shortly after the Germans occupied Paris, he left his fatherland and was fortunate enough to flee to the USA via Lisbon. His house in Paris was ransacked, and all his personal possessions taken away or destroyed. Fortunately, most of his manuscripts were already in safekeeping. Many of the composer's Jewish family and friends did not survive the war. La Création du Monde In 1923, when Milhaud was commissioned by the Ballet Suédois to write music to a script by Blaise Cendrars telling a story of creation from African mythology, he seized the opportunity to demonstrate his fondness for jazz. This authentic (and for many people of the time primitive) art form in a black culture, was the ideal music for Milhaud's setting of this African story. With an instrumentation derived from the black operettas which he had seen in New York, the dansers wore animal costumes and masks (designed by Fernand Legér) in the style of African ceremonial dansers. La Création was first performed on 25 October 1923 in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, in a double bill with Cole Porter's Within the Quota.

  • 1
    Suite From The Twenties I. Tango Für Irma
  • 1
    Suite From The Twenties II. Marsch nr. I
  • 1
    Suite From The Twenties III. Tanz (Charleston)
  • 1
    Suite From The Twenties IV. Tango
  • 1
    Suite From The Twenties V. Blues
  • 1
    Suite From The Twenties VI. Rag-Caprice
  • 1
    Suite Americaine (Americká Suita), Op. 15 I. Charlestonette (Foxtrott)
  • 1
    Suite Americaine (Americká Suita), Op. 15 II. Blues
  • 1
    Suite Americaine (Americká Suita), Op. 15 III. Valse Boston
  • 1
    Suite Americaine (Americká Suita), Op. 15 IV. Tango Argentino
  • 1
    Suite Americaine (Americká Suita), Op. 15 V. Fuga-Fox (Sur Le Thème E.F.B.)
  • 1
    Jazz Suite Prelude
  • 1
    Jazz Suite Musique D'Entre-acte, Blues
  • 1
    Jazz Suite Musique D'Entre-acte, Boston
  • 1
    Jazz Suite Finale
  • 1
    Jazzolette No. 1
  • 1
    Jazzolette No. 2
  • 1
    La Création Du Monde, Op. 81

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