Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Piano Works - Vol.2
Fünf Pittoresken, op.31, WV 51 (1919) [13:25]
Piano Sonata No.2, WV 81 (1926) [16:07]
Zwei Klavierstücke, WV 119 (1936) [7:01]
Musik für Klavier in vier teilen, op.35, WV 56 (1920)
Esquisses de Jazz - Six pièces faciles pour piano, WV 90 (1927)
Caroline Weichert (piano)
rec. Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Hamburg, Germany, March,
GRAND PIANO GP631 [66:05]
Schulhoff was one of many composers who took up
the challenge to embrace jazz and to incorporate it into their music.
He was one of the most successful at writing works that were no mere
pastiches but genuinely jazz-inspired - ones that could just as easily
have come from the pens of people like Scott Joplin or Billy Mayerl.
Fünf Pittoresken (Five Pictures) date from as far back as
1919 and are remarkable for their wit and experimental nature. The first
two entitled Foxtrott and Ragtime ‘do exactly what
it says on the tin’ and are clearly influenced by Scott Joplin
whose Maple Leaf Rag had been such a hit in the early years of
the twentieth century. That they were penned by a white Jewish Central
European is surprising enough but they are convincing in their recreation
of true jazz rhythms that one would normally ascribe solely to a black
composer such as Joplin.
One must surely conclude that Schulhoff had his tongue firmly in his
cheek when he ‘created’ the third of these pictures since
it is entitled In futurum. It consists of 85 seconds of total
silence which anticipates John Cage’s notorious 4'33" (by
33 years) in which a pianist sits at the piano with orchestra and no-one
does anything for that precise length of time. Cage, a pioneer in indeterminacy
in music, claimed that its motivation was an attempt to demonstrate
that there are sounds to be heard in a concert hall full of audience
even when no music is played. It will be different each time the ‘work’
is ‘performed’ with different ambient sounds occurring as
well as audience breathing and the odd cough and even, perhaps, extraneous
sounds from outside the building. Schulhoff’s ‘work’
may also ‘benefit’ from the same effect in a similar venue
but with the technical expertise that comes into play in the recording
studio such possibilities are lost. Before I read the booklet I thought
I had received a rogue copy and contacted the distributors who tried
6 copies themselves before contacting the manufacturer and label owner
who told them that it was not a fault. Note to self: when in doubt read
the booklet first! ‘Normal service was resumed’ for Pictures
4 and 5 which were just as refreshingly jazzy as the first two.
The Piano Sonata No.2 is in a different league owing more to
the French school of Ravel than to the jazzmen of the USA. A wonderfully
restrained and understated first movement gives way to a mercurial second
in scherzo form. The third is beautifully appealing and gentle “exuding
an air of calm contentment” as the booklet notes so aptly put
it. The sonata closes with a fourth movement that once again recalls
Ravel and shows that Schulhoff was someone whose writing is of equal
interest to that of the great French composer.
The two piano pieces that follow were composed in 1936 when the threat
of Nazism was clear. The first is entitled Optimistic Composition
while the second is entitled The Czech Workers and presents a
militant stance that must surely be read as a challenge to the threat
from the West. Schulhoff, as a communist, hoped that this threat would
be defeated by the combined might of working people everywhere.
Schulhoff’s Musik für Klavier in vier teilen dating
from 1920 takes us back to the days when the influence of jazz in his
music was at its strongest. While this work is not overtly as jazzy
as the Five Pictures that opened the disc its influence can be
detected nevertheless. The second movement which is in the form of a
lengthy set of ten variations is particularly affecting.
The last work on the disc is Esquisses de Jazz which was written
in 1927. It is Schulhoff’s most well known work and though its
subtitle is Six pièces faciles pour piano the word facile
translates as easy since there is nothing ‘facile’
about it. These are piano pieces heavily influenced by jazz though they
do not attempt to be jazz pieces per se; they are seen through
a jazz prism while retaining a distinctly Schulhoff stamp of innovation.
The one entitled Charleston is a particular case in point.
In recent years a lot more of Schulhoff’s works have been appearing
on disc and about time too for they increasingly reveal a huge talent
across a wide range of compositions that includes six completed symphonies.
It is all the more sad to realise what could have been created subsequently
had he not been cruelly arrested and sent to a concentration camp in
Bavaria. There he is believed to have died from TB at the early age
This is the second disc of Schulhoff’s piano works to appear on
the Grand Piano label both played by Caroline Weichert. Her deft touch
and sympathetic approach enables the music to weave its spell. She has
also released another disc of Grainger’s piano music for the label
and previous releases on the Koch Schwann label show that she prefers
to concentrate on lesser-known composers. I find this refreshing since
there remains so much wonderful music to be discovered. We need people
like her to help in that process.
This is a fascinating disc of music that is rarely heard and when as
lovingly played as it is here deserves a wide listenership.