He is Arthur Vincent Lourié, one of those tempest-tossed twentieth-century composers. He was born in 1892 in Propoysk, Russia, which is now Slawharad, Belarus. He died in 1966 in Princeton, New Jersey. A lot happened in between. For the Wikipedia entry on Lourié, go here.
Lourié studied with Glazunov. The young man was twenty-five when the Bolsheviks seized power, and he took part in the new dictatorship: in the Commissariat of Popular Enlightenment. In 1921, he went to Berlin and found it convenient to stay in the West. He settled in Paris—into which the Germans marched in 1940. Lourié made it to America.
His music is included on a soon-to-be-released disc from the Steinway & Sons label. That disc is called mélancholie—people like small letters now—and the pianist is Zhenni Li. The Lourié offering is Préludes fragiles, an interesting title. They are his Op. 1.
You may know the popular song from 1943, which I associate with the Mills Brothers. (To hear them sing “Opus One,” go here.)
Lourié wrote his Op. 1 between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Préludes fragiles may not be on a par with Mendelssohn’s Octet in E flat (which the composer wrote when he was sixteen) or Bizet’s Symphony in C (seventeen), but they are fine little pieces.
There are five of them, and each lasts a couple of minutes, give or take. They can be somewhat Impressionistic, and at least one of them has the feeling of a folk song. Another one is markedly Scriabinesque. All of them are well sculpted and lovely. They ought to appear on recital programs.
Another disc from Steinway & Sons brings us piano music by American composers, including a living composer, Judith Lang Zaimont, born in 1945. For last year’s American Pianists Awards, she wrote a piece—a suite, really—called Attars. The competition was won by Drew Petersen. And he is the pianist on this new disc.
I went to a dictionary for a definition of “attar”: “a perfume or essential oil obtained from flowers or petals.” In her suite, Zaimont has five attars, or five movements, in any case: “Roses,” “Musk,” “Pink Lotus,” “Jasmine,” and “Frangipani” (what a wonderful name).
“Roses” is pleasantly sweeping, or nicely rippling. Perhaps the fragrance is moving through the air. This music strikes me as Debussyan. The next movement, “Musk,” is Debussyan too, and bluesy. How about “Frangipani”? A bold and delightful waltz, possibly tipsy.
I will say about Attars what I said about Préludes fragiles: they ought to be programmed (and this is especially true of the newer work).
Now, let’s turn to unfamiliar music by familiar composers. You will find the music I’m talking about on a third Steinway & Sons disc, soon to be released. The pianist here is Andrew Rangell. And one of the composers I’m talking about is Carl Nielsen. The symphonist, right? Yes, but he wrote a lot of other music too, including for the piano.
Rangell plays the Three Piano Pieces, Op. 59, which Nielsen wrote in 1928, toward the end of his life. (The composer lived from 1865 to 1931.) The first of the pieces has a modern bent. The second has some hymn-like qualities. The third is anxious and aggressive, but finishes with surprising affirmation. All of these pieces are interesting—intelligent, skillful—but whether they are lovable, I’m not sure.
Finally, Georges Enescu, the composer of the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1. Anything else? Oh, yes—the Romanian Rhapsody No. 2, for example. But seriously, Enescu wrote a ton of music, most of which stays under a bushel, unfortunately. Rangell brings a little piano music forth.
It comes from Enescu’s Piano Suite No. 3, which has another name as well: Pièces impromptues. The piece in question is “Carillon Nocturne” (an interesting combination of words). It is mystical and, as we might have said in the ’60s and ’70s, psychedelic. It is also carillon-y, to reach for technical musical language.
I would like to hear the rest of the Suite No. 3, and the other ones as well. You could probably not live long enough to hear all the music worth hearing, and these occasional unearthings are reason for gratitude.