There’s nothing more inspiring to me than the merging of academia and folklore, that magical moment when classical composers open themselves to “Folk Themes” that had called out to their soul.
My friend, the renowned WQXR host Terrance McKnight, after hearing a bit of my recording of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Three-Fours, remarked “this music sounds like being in Love. Here is a composer who has given himself permission to love himself and be at peace with who he is.” McKnight was referring to the life-transforming moment of reconnection the Afro-English composer experienced during his U.S. visits. His English family had been encouraging of his gifts, and young Samuel became immersed in the U.K. classical circles, attending the Royal College of Music. However, all through this early stage, a part of his identity — his African heritage — had remained an untapped resource; he had never met his Sierra Leonese father. And so, when Coleridge-Taylor arrived in the United States, he not only became a heroic figure for the African-American community because of all the success he had already achieved, but he also rediscovered and reconnected to his African roots through the great riches of African-American music he heard. It was as if this long-dormant part of his soul came to life!
Grieg admitted once that unlike Bach and Beethoven, who constructed grand cathedrals with their masterpieces, he only wanted to build humble “dwellings for people in which they might feel happy and at home.” The Lyric Pieces certainly serve this noble purpose, with their serene melodies in the style of his native Norwegian folk tunes and dance-like rhythms in open-fifth drones in the bass.
The Armenian master Komitas was one the first ethnomusicologists, devoting his life to gathering, cataloging, and arranging folk material. His Six Dances for Piano are indeed dances from particular Armenian cities, and carry distinct folk-like rhythmic elements and ornamentations. The two dances I have selected have been my particular favorites ever since my teenage years in Yerevan.
Liszt was a master of so many genres but none are as deeply expressive and interwoven with Folk Themes as his Rhapsodies. Hence, I selected three of my most beloved Hungarian Rhapsodies, as well as the iconic Rhapsodie Espagnole, as the grand finale of my recording.
One of my biggest inspirations for this recording is a quote by Komitas I had seen years ago, which said “the greatest creators are the people, go and learn from them.” And thus in a way, my entire recording is constructed as one big rhapsodic journey of us, the people. It begins with us all listening in to the gentle folk-like musings of a story teller, and escalates to us coming together in a grand and passionate celebration.
— Kariné Poghosyan