Arthur FARWELL (1872-1952)
Piano Music Vol. 1
The Vale of Enitharmon, Op. 91* (1930) [9:16]
Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas, Op. 21**
Polytonal Studies, Op. 109* (1940-1952) Series 1 [37:54]
Lisa Cheryl Thomas (piano)
rec. 24-25 July 2011, Old Granary Studio, Suffolk. DDD
*First recordings/**First complete recording
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0126 [60:53]
Arthur Farwell was one of the foremost advocates for American music
in the early years of the 20th century. In addition to his composing,
writing, lecturing, conducting and organizing, he established and
ran the Wa-Wan Press, which, from 1901 to 1912, published scores of
new works by American composers, usually with an American Indian emphasis.
BY the way, Wa-Wan means “to sing to somebody”. As a composer Farwell
is best remembered for his own Indianist pieces, but, as this disc
demonstrates, such works were only a small part of his overall output.
Lisa Cheryl Thomas has chosen three works for this new disc and they
neatly demonstrate the three major tendencies of Farwell’s output:
Indianist, Impressionist, and Experimental. Impressions of
the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas is an eight part suite
describing a several-day ceremony in which individuals and tribes
establish close ties with one another. The individual sections are
based on the actual Omaha themes as used in various parts of the Wa-Wan
ceremony as members of the first tribe approach the camp of the second,
perform various musical and other rites, and join with the second
tribe in a final affirmation of peace. Farwell’s treatment of the
original themes varies in interest, but the strongest sections (3,
5, 8, and 9) are quite beautiful.
The titles of the sections of Wa-Wan Impressions are:-
No. 1 Receiving the Messenger [2:17]
No. 2 Nearing the Village [1:58]
No. 3 Song of Approach [2:01]
No. 4 Laying Down the Pipes [1:11]
No. 5 Raising the Pipes [1:00]
No. 6 Invocation [2:13]
No. 7 Song of Peace [1:47]
No. 8 Choral [1:36]
The Vale of Enitharmon dates from twenty-five years
later than the Wa-Wan Impressions. Enitharmon is
a character in several of the works of William Blake and personifies
spiritual beauty. Farwell’s piece is Impressionistic and reminds one
of the music of Griffes, although there are also moments of Scriabin.
Farwell develops his material with great intensity and the broadening
of both harmony and mood in the far-away central section is especially
impressive. This is a work that deserves to be better known.
In the late 1930s Farwell’s music became more experimental and around
1940 he began a series of what he called Polytonal Studies.
They are actually bi-tonal and only twenty-three out of the proposed
forty-six were completed, many without dates or consecutive numbering.
Of the twelve recorded here, some are little more than pedagogical
studies while others are works of great beauty. All of them show greater
imagination in the use of bi-tonality than most similar exercises.
Especially interesting are No. 3, with its key-signatures of C major/A
major (and a lovely middle section); the unquiet No. 9 (G major/D-flat
major), and the jaunty No. 10, which belies its tonalities of D major
and B-flat major. The last study on this disc, No. 34, is also impressive.
Lisa Cheryl Thomas is of Native American descent and while this might
help explain her facility with the Wa-Wan Impressions she
shows equal skill with Farwell’s other idioms. Her playing is precise
but also full of intensity and she wisely glides over Farwell’s occasional
sentimentalities. She also provides an excellent full-length essay
on Farwell and other Indianist composers. The acoustic of this disc’s
venue blurs some of the softer moments of The Vale of Enitharmon,
but is effective in highlighting the bi-tonalities of the Studies.
At present Farwell is represented on disc only by some songs (Albany),
his excellent incidental music to Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of the
and a few isolated piano solos (Pristine).
This will make Ms. Thomas’ present recording and its promised successor
most welcome to devotees of American and early 20th century music.