This album from the Music & Arts label titled “Exil” (Exile) is subtitled “Piano Music by Composers with Roots in Two Continents”. Each of the five composers represented fled Europe for the United States during the 1930s, among an exodus of some 30,000 artists and intelligentsia who, for fear of persecution if not their lives, were abruptly forced to make new homes half a world away from their motherland. Pianist Eric Le Van, who is also the author of the concept behind this album, asserts that the loss, displacement and heartache which were common between them were somehow a shaping force in their music. After listening to these beautiful, often mystical and other-worldly piano pieces, I have to agree.
As part of the creative process, inspiration springs from “our rare moments of non-rational perception” states Mr. Le Van in the excellent album notes. All of these pieces are somehow marked by feelings of innocence, yearning and a childlike enchantment. They are dreamlike. Some of these dreams are sunny and blissful while others are dark and chilling. But it’s a sense of longing that is the common thread running through all the music here; and the music is wonderful! Much of it too is appearing for the first time on CD. The Schoenberg Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke, Op.19 is well represented in the catalog and Korngold’s Four Waltes for Piano is available in other versions, but only a couple. The other pieces by Ernst Toch, Erich Zeisl and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco are largely appearing on disc for the first time.
The Four Waltzes for Piano by Erich Korngold evokes a heady yearning for “an irretrievably lost Vienna,” (Le Van). Erich Zeisl’s Klavierstücke ‘November’, is imbued with melancholy nostalgia, momentarily lapsing into a guileless bliss for brief periods. The sample provided in the sidebar is one of three pieces by Ernst Toch (1887-1964), his Scherzo, op. 11. You can also sample Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s I Naviganti (1919) by playing the video below. If you want to hear more, you can listen to many brief samples on the HBDirect website. Congratulations to Mr. Le Van for this very thoughtful project and for his eloquently musical performances.
In this survey of these long neglected works, Eric Le Van introduces listeners to unusual music that has rarely seen the light of day and which deserves far greater attention. All but the Schoenberg piece are world premiere recordings.
Undaunted by their difficult fates and journeys, five Jewish refugee composers in Los Angeles – Castelnuovo-Tedesco from Italy, and Korngold , Schoenberg, Toch and Zeisl from Austria – produced a wealth of piano repertoire. In this survey of these long neglected works, Eric Le Van introduces listeners to unusual music that has rarely if ever seen the light of day and deserves far greater attention. All but the Schoenberg piece are world premiere recordings.
Erich Korngold, composer
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 – 1957) was an American composer of Austro-Hungarian birth. While his late Romantic compositional style was considered well out of vogue at the time he died, his music has more recently undergone a reevaluation and a gradual reawakening of interest.
Erich Zeisl, composer
Eric Zeisl was born in Vienna on May 18, 1905. From childhood, he demonstrated an unshakable resolve to compose. Against strong family resistance, he entered the Vienna State Academy at age fourteen. Two years later, his first publication appeared, a set of songs.
Ernst Toch, composer
Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna, Ernst Toch was initially self-taught as a composer, learning from the works of earlier composers. In 1909 he was awarded the Mozart Prize and abandoned his Vienna medical studies to study music in Frankfurt.
Arnold Schoenberg, composer
Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951) was an Austrian composer and painter, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School. Schoenberg’s approach, both in terms of harmony and development, has been one of the most influential of 20th-century musical thought.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, composer
A composer and pianist, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born in Florence into an Italian Jewish family. In 1939 he moved to the United States, where, in common with other European composers in exile, he turned his hand to film music, providing scores for some 250 films. He died in Los Angeles in 1968.
Eric Le Van, piano
“Eric Le Van’s pianism is mesmerizing. It has everything: sensitivity, expressive tone, shading, superb finish, and faultless taste and style.” With those words, the American Record Guide‘s David Mulbury echoed the sentiments of many of his colleagues who have likewise found in Eric Le Van a musician of exemplary depth and power.