This album originated when Gary D. Belshaw invited me to record several of his solo piano works. As we discussed the project, we both felt strongly that his works would partner very well with particular pieces by other American composers, and that we could create a compilation of piano music that would celebrate the variety and vitality of American art music.
Edward MacDowell performed his First Modern Suite at the 1882 Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein in Zürich, after Franz Liszt personally interceded with the festival organizers to include the young American on the program. Liszt also ensured that the Suite was subsequently published by Breitkopf & Härtel, helping to establish MacDowell as one of the first American composers to gain an international reputation. The Suite showcases MacDowell’s command of lyricism, jocularity, and virtuosity in its six movements, including a beautiful nostalgic “Andantino,” an impressively dark “Rhapsodie” prefaced with Dante’s famous words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” and a perpetual-motion fugue that brings the work to a triumphant conclusion.
Several pieces are in direct conversation with each other. Belshaw’s impressionistic nocturne beautifully balances the Chopinesque qualities of Samuel Barber’s, and Copland’s early passacaglia alternately marches and dances alongside Belshaw’s, with its expert blending of serial and Romantic techniques.
Belshaw’s other works include the nostalgic Camp Springs—written “as if Hollywood came calling”—the lyrical Gratitude, and the whimsical Guide to Holiday Shopping. The final two scenes from Copland’s own transcription of his ballet Rodeo provide a folk element to the album, which concludes with a reflective Meditation on William Howard Doane’s hymn tune Savior, More Than Life to Me. — Richard Fountain
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