ARTUR SCHNABEL (1882-1951): 3 Fantasy Pieces, 3 Pieces, Op. 15, Dance Suite, Piano Sonata, Piece in 7 Movements, 7 Piano Pieces, JOSEF STRAUSS (1827-1870): 4 Waltzes from Old Vienna (arr. Schnabel]).
Catalogue Number: 06U054
Label: Steinway & Sons
Description: Schnabel composed throughout his career and produced a sizable body of works, of which those for piano form a perhaps surprisingly small proportion, though as presented in chronological order in this useful and enjoyable set which any pianophile worthy of the name will want to own, they chart his evolution as composer from beginning to end. He composed exactly what he wanted to compose, and when his muse led him away from idioms that were guaranteed to please audiences and critics of his highly acclaimed performances of the classical repertoire, his dismissal of the relevance of other people’s tastes in relation to his music was of Sorabjian vehemence. The Fantasy Pieces were written when he was sixteen and given their picturesque titles by their publisher. They are charming and characterful, and well crafted, and could easily have been written by Ethelbert Nevin. Eight years later, the next set of Three Pieces continue in this vein of high class salon music meets the standard classics, though the pieces are more sophisticated, their most obvious model being Brahms. The third 'piece' is actually a sequence of four delightful waltzes, music that reflects Schnabel's Viennese youth (as a bonus, this set also includes his composite transcriptions of four Waltzes by Josef Strauss, exquisitely rendered for piano around 1907). Fifteen years later, the Dance Suite, charting the course of a couple's relationship, is still tonal, but begins to draw near to Schnabel's mature style. The middle movement is an extravagant 'waltz fantasy', three times as long as the next movement in the set, and freely whirling between keys. Married bliss appears to be grounded in atonality, as the final two numbers mark a definite shift in that direction (though by no means reaching that destination). In both 'Floating' and the exuberant 'Towards Tomorrow' the tonality is decidedly ambiguous, in a very Busonian manner, and 'Floating' was Schnabel’s first piece composed without barlines. The Sonata was written only a few years later, but it is far less tonal, and elicited protests at its first performance, about which Schnabel cared not a jot. What is especially interesting is the way in which the composer strives for expressive character in his five movements, from monumental through tender to contemplative and fiery, as though in a traditional Romantic sonata, within his new vocabulary, much of which derives its material from note rows (though the work is never strictly dodecaphonic). Fourteen years later, he wrote the Piece in Seven Movements, a title that fits it better than what he called it, '7 Pieces', as it forms such a logical, cohesive set. This is the composer in full maturity, and the work is larger, more characterful and more approachable than the Sonata, while being equally as advanced harmonically. Especially noteworthy are the fast Waltz - an atonal waltz!, but sparkling and effervescent as one might wish - and the stately, powerful variations that follow. The final Seven Pieces are in an even more rarefied, economical vocabulary, stripped of any extraneous padding and yet remaining approachable and pleasing to the ear, never dry and austere. This distillation of the essence of musical expression, remaining human and warm but eschewing sentimentality and excess, was plainly the goal that Schnabel the composer had been heading toward all along. 2 CDs. Jenny Lin (piano).