american still life
4 Music Videos (2000)
Roots II: Stylized Portraits for a Musical Form from the African-American Tradition (1992)
Dance in Congo Square
Tunes from My Home (2007)
Piano Trio (1911)
TSIAJ ("This scherzo is a joke"). Presto
Moderato con moto
about this program
"American Still Life" captures American life through four distinct perspectives. Each composer featured hails from a unique cultural background, and has a different compositional style and syntax to match. Nevertheless, one finds the same American sounds echoing through all four works — including folk music, jazz, and rock and roll.
Paul Schoenfield was born in Detroit in 1947, and is known as a pianist and composer who enjoys trampling over the line separating seriousness from fun. A critic called his piano concerto Four Parables "some of the most life-affirming new music I've heard in a long time." He described it slightly differently: "wild silliness in the face of existential dread."
Schoenfield's most famous trio is his Café Music, inspired by his time as a house pianist at Murray's steakhouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 4 Music Videos, written 13 years later, demonstrates the same playfulness, but even more curiosity and experimentation. While Café Music finds inspiration mainly from old American jazz, Schoenfield spends 4 Music Videos playing around in four very different sandboxes — rock and roll, bossa nova, film music, and samba.
David Baker was an American jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist. After a facial injury in his early 20s, he gave up the trombone and switched to cello, teaching, and composition. For more than 50 years, he taught at Indiana University (where he founded the jazz department) and composed for his colleagues on faculty: a violin concerto for Josef Gingold, a cello concerto for János Starker, and for the Beaux Arts Trio, the trio featured on this program. Subtitled a "Stylized Portraits for a Musical Form from the African-American Tradition," it finds its inspiration from the same sources that informed Baker's jazz. The trio is full of jazz and other African-American music.
Chen Yi, a Cantonese-American composer who currently teaches at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, wrote Tunes From My Home in 2008 and dedicated it to her long time friend, pianist Pan Xun, also of Cantonese origin. Inspired by their shared heritage, Chen Yi incorporates three well-known Cantonese tunes into this trio and imitates Cantonese instrumental techniques and sonorities, as well as elements of the shifan luogu, a wind and percussion ensemble often used in traditional Cantonese music.
Like Chen Yi, Charles Ives is well-known for including nostalgic sonorities of his childhood in his compositions. American folk tunes, jazz, and marching band music are everywhere throughout his oeuvre––sometimes buried, sometimes glaringly obvious. His piano trio is at once radically sophisticated and a total joke.
The first movement is the same 27 measures repeated three times: the violin is silent for the first, the cello sits out for the second, and all three instruments join for the third. The second movement, TSIAJ (an acronym for "this scherzo is a joke") intertwines folk songs such as "My Old Kentucky Home", "Sailor's Hornpipe", "The Campbells Are Coming", "Long, Long Ago", "Hold the Fort". and "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood", among many others. He also quotes fraternity songs from his days at Yale. The third movement, with its sweeping lyricism, may seem like a return to earnest intentions, but Ives still finds a way to quote music he originally wrote for the Yale Glee Club, as well as Thomas Hastings' "Rock of Ages." The trio is a monument of early 20th-century chamber music. (And interestingly, it's probably the most "modern" trio on the program, despite being the oldest by 81 years.)
Photograph: Helen Levitt, 1987