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Sara Says - Sara Davis Buechner invites you to share in her reflections on music, matters artistic and non, and the creatively fun things in life. Be a part of the conversation!

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Hearing Philippa

Posted on: April 20th, 2014 by SDB 4 Comments


     

I have long been fascinated by the brave and sorely-neglected American pianist and composer Philippa Duke Schuyler (1931-1967). Her story is astoundingly told in the book “Composition in Black and White” by Kathryn Talalay — a volume I unhesitatingly place among my top ten ever written about the life and work of concert pianists. It is published by Oxford, and you must read it, for it tells Philippa’s courageous story with manifold colors, incisive research, and unparallelled sensitivity. I will not recapitulate that story here; it is too complex, too painful, too personal for me as well, in the sense that I feel close to many of the prejudices that Philippa experienced, though from a different lens. You may find out more about all of that elsewhere, on the internet.

Classical music has never existed on a spiritually pure level, and the lives of its creators and protagonists are inextricably bound with the political and social realities of their times. That Philippa made her way in a world of incomprehensible prejudice, speaks volumes about her brilliance and fortitude. Contemplating that, I see her story as no tragedy at all, but an inspirational miracle. She is, indeed, one of my idols.

And the music? The playing? For me, it has been one of the greatest musical frustrations of all, that Philippa Schuyler’s recordings are near-impossible to locate, and have never been re-issued on CD. You cannot find a single note of her playing on YouTube. Her many compositions exist primarily in manuscript form in libraries, a mere dollop of which have been edited and published in obscure collections. Will I live long enough to hear or perform her White Nile Suite for piano and orchestra? Will any American orchestra program her Manhattan Nocturne, written for and played by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Rudolf Ganz, when she was but 13 years of age? It has not been heard since 1946.

Through dint of years of perseverence and scouring of record collections, I found two pristine LPs of Philippa Schuyler, and recently sat down with my dear friend Mark Ainley (of the indispensible website The Piano Files) to listen to the recordings. Excepting a frustrating attempt to hear through headphones a reel-to-reel tape of Philippa’s amazing live performance (aged 14) of the Saint-Säens Piano Concerto no. 2 with the New York Philharmonic at Lewisohn Stadium — standing in a noisy hallway of the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library some five years ago — this was the first time I could really assess the extent of Philippa Schuyler’s pianistic artistry.

It is a widely mixed bag, attesting to the life of struggle, hard travel and personal crises she lived. International Favorites: Philippa Schuyler, pianist (Middle-Tone Records, New York), features a diverse recital program ranging from a poorly conceived and executed mini-rendition of themes from George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”; through a stolid, unexceptional performance of Franz Liszt’s Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody; to an astounding interpretation of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” with gorgeous array of colors, bold tempi and personal touches especially highlighting voicing and contrapuntal lines I have never heard any other pianist approach.

A second LP, which I assume to have been made a bit earlier (judging from the cover photo and liner notes), is called Pianologue: Philippa Duke Schuyler (Circe Records CLP 101, New York). It features one side of varied short compositions and arrangements by Schuyler utilizing native folk themes from countries where she concertized such as Japan, China, Uganda, Ethiopia, France, Haiti and Chile. To some degree the pieces reminded me of similar “souvenir” works by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and in the main I found them a trifle naïve and dated. But on the flip side of this LP is arguably Schuyler’s greatest recording of all, a traversal of the Bach-Liszt Prelude and Fugue in A minor that is simply jaw-dropping in terms of its rhythmic intensity, clarity of contrapuntal voicing, and dramatic power.

She was one of the great originals of her time, a trailblazing virtuosa and creative genius, and she needs to be heard. It is long past time for America, and the world, to recognize and celebrate the magnificent and proud artistry of Philippa Schuyler.

Philippa Schuyler on the cover of Sepia magazine, 1962.

“an artist of major stature…
a personable, graceful young woman possessed of fine pianistic technique,
ample tone power, and a subtle skill in etching pictures in sound.”
– The Musical Courier

Eye-popping

Posted on: March 26th, 2014 by SDB 3 Comments

 

I’ve been on the road a fair bit this winter, playing a program of American, Russian and Spanish music in such varied locales as Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Tucson, Arizona; as well as several Mozart Piano Concertos in Edmonton, Toledo and Tupelo, Mississippi — birthplace of Elvis Presley and home to the best biscuits and gravy I have eaten. But it was last weekend’s recital in Sechelt, British Columbia that brought me to the heights, literally and figuratively. First of all, the heights of non-instrument altitude, as I travelled to the concert by my favorite mode of transport, a four-seat float plane across the Georgia Strait to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Upon arrival, I was greeted by an eye-popping view of the Raven’s Cry Theatre marquee, where my name was linked to that of another pianist who sports large round glasses.

I believe that the proper appellation of “Sir” was omitted from Mr. John’s name, but then again they forgot to title me Madame Buechner, as well. And they would have had to buy a bigger sign for that, anyway.

I got a lovely review for my recital program from Joan Reinthaler in the March 10 edition of the Washington Post, which you can read here:

Sara Davis Buechner at the National Gallery

Hand to Hand

Posted on: March 20th, 2014 by SDB No Comments


The flying hands of Reah Sadowsky, 95 years young, in 2011.

 

San Francisco, California
19 March 2014

This past week, I received the great personal distinction of being admitted as an Honorary Member of the Berkeley Piano Club (possibly the first), an historic musical organization founded in 1893. Consequently I was invited to the Bay Area to give a recital and lecture at the BPC, during one of the loveliest early spring weeks in the East Bay that I can recall. The Club is housed in a landmarked building near UC-Berkeley, and has been host to some historic events including a lecture by Nicolas Slonimsky in 1971. It is claimed that a Manhattan Project scientist designed the triggering mechanism to the Atomic Bomb in an upstairs room of the Club, hopefully not while a concert was taking place in the downstairs recital hall.

My presentations in Berkeley were dedicated to the memory of legendary American pianist Reah Sadowsky (1915 – 2012), a dear personal friend whose eternally youthful style seemed to defy all sense of mortality. She was a longtime member and former President of the BPC, and a fervent supporter of its goals to provide support and scholarships to young musicians. On my program I included some South American works of Francisco Mignone and Fructuoso Vianna, taken from Reah’s repertoire. Here is Vianna’s stupendous “Corta-Jaca,” recorded by Reah Sadowsky in 1947:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9vzTEIQSps

The Berkeley Piano Club is an all-female organization, and as such I count this as the third “female” honor I have received in my lifetime. In 2010, I gave the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecture at Brandeis University, and the following year played a solo recital in Washington D.C. for my induction into the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I take particular pride in these personal achievements, feeling strongly that women climb a far harder ladder than men in all fields, including and perhaps even especially the arts. And I am even more proud to have known Reah Sadowsky as a special friend, honored to be a musician continuing in her path which was one of wholesale dedication to her art.

After last Sunday’s recital, some members of the Berkeley Piano Club mentioned to me that they wished Reah — who adored Russian music above all and played many American premières of works by Prokofieff and Shostakovich — could have heard that day’s performance of several Arensky salon pieces and Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka.” Feeling clearly the designs of Reah’s amazing hands (pictured above) upon my own, I simply responded, oh yes indeed, I was certain that she heard all of that.

 

Going Dutch

Posted on: October 2nd, 2013 by SDB 7 Comments

 

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Sara Davis Buechner opines on various things Dutch, musical and non.
Here is her own short list of important Dutch classical composers:

Louis Andriessen (b. 1939)
Henk Badings (1907 – 1987)
Marius Flothuis (1914 – 2001)
Cor de Groot (1914 – 1993)
Willem Pijper (1894 – 1947)
Juilius Röntgen (1855 – 1932)
Martinus Sieveking (1867 – 1950)
Leo Smit (1900 – 1943)
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621)
Wim Zwaag (b. 1960)

Vítezslava Kaprálová

Posted on: August 26th, 2013 by SDB No Comments

 

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Sara Davis Buechner introduces composer Vítezslava Kaprálová and performs Kapralova’s third April Prelude. Tragically, this remarkable composer died very young at the age of 25. She was the student and lover of composer Bohuslav Martinů . Kapralova dedicated her April Preludes to pianist Rudolf Firkušný who premiered these works in 1940.

New York Cubans

Posted on: July 10th, 2013 by SDB 5 Comments

 

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Sara Davis Buechner performs Cuban Danzas by Ignacio Cervantes and Cuban-Spanish composer Joaquin Nin-Culmell. Works include Cervantes’ Almendares and No llores Mas, followed by Joaquin Nin-Culmell’s version of the latter, from 12 Danzas Cubanas for piano. Buechner discusses New York Cuban pianists that have inspired her, and key biographical details of Cervantes’ life. Also included is a visual glimpse of historic New York City and Havana Harbor, Cuba during Cervantes’ time.

That’s Pathetic

Posted on: May 14th, 2013 by SDB No Comments

 

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Sara Davis Buechner performs parts of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata No. 8, Opus 13 in C minor, exploring the influences and origins of stile patetico in the Grave and Adagio Cantabile, the origins of the theme from the Adagio, and more.

Adventurous Haydn

Posted on: March 14th, 2013 by SDB 1 Comment

 

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Franz Joseph Haydn’s final sonata for the piano, in E-flat major (it is numbered either 52 or 62 according to various sources) is, in my own estimation, one of the most sweepingly complete artistic statements by any creative person possible. One hears in its audacious and virtuosic gestures the astonishingly virility and bold imagination of an old man eternally youthful. The scalar passagework is clearly influenced by the power of the new instruments that Haydn saw and played on, during trips to London; the harmonic adventures he takes his listeners on are sparked both by the new music of his own time and his own willingness to try new sonic combinations; and the innermost reflection of the second movement but a memento of a life spent largely in the quiet remove of Esterhazy, allowed and encouraged to ruminate musically with a heart and mind of incomparable genius. A man of humility, perception, humor and remarkable insight, Franz Joseph Haydn is a great composer whose sensitive humanity shines forth in every note of this unforgettable and brilliant work.

Zez Confrey – Three Little Oddities

Posted on: February 12th, 2013 by SDB 2 Comments

 

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Joseph Lamb and Ragtime

Posted on: January 12th, 2013 by SDB 3 Comments

 

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