Ragtime Lullabies: Gershwin Joplin Debussy Billy J
With 'The Real American Folk Song is a Rag' the Gershwin brothers began their history making song writing collaboration. How appropriate that their very first song together not only makes the case for ragtime, but the piano accompaniment is filled with self-propelling rhythms, unique syncopations and Gershwin's trademark harmonic surprises. Although not written for solo piano, Gershwin's original solo piano accompaniment to this song is quite suitable as a solo piano piece. Ragtime is perhaps the first uniquely American contribution to world music. In 1994 I was the first person to record a CD containing all Gershwin's solo piano music. ('Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin's Complete Solo Piano Music') In 1995 Warner Brothers published a new volume of sheet music containing previously unavailable 'new' Preludes by Gershwin, which made me want to go back to the recording studio immediately. It just so happened that these Preludes all seemed to fit into the category of ragtime and lullabies. At the same time, the solo piano version of Gershwin's 'Lullaby' finally appeared in print and I felt that the combination of rags and lullabies would compliment each other nicely. Hence this new CD which is both an addendum to my first Gershwin CD and a rather subjective and personal investigation of ragtime and lullabies from the end of the nineteenth century to the present. 'Rialto Ripples Rag' was published in 1917 and written the previous year. It is George Gershwin's first published instrumental. It has all the hallmarks of Gershwin's tricky piano style merging ragtime with the piano novelty number. Gershwin was hoping for a hit with the publication of this piece. It didn't happen. Ragtime's heyday was really at the turn of the century, and by 1917 the ragtime era had ended with the death that year of Scott Joplin. Gershwin's 'Lullaby' is a true ragtime lullaby, sweet, full now of faded memories, and filled with slow motion ragtime syncopations, comparable in many ways to Scott Joplin's 'Solace'. It seems to have been written first as a piano piece around 1919, then transcribed by Gershwin for a string quartet. A portion of the original piano version still survives. Using that and the string quartet version, Alicia Zizzo reconstructed the original solo piano version. Gershwin had the idea of writing 24 Preludes - not unlike Chopin - and calling his series 'The Melting Pot'. He never completed the series, but several charming Preludes from the series still exist. The original 3 Preludes which I have recorded on my previous Gershwin CD are well known, loved by all pianists, and certainly have been a staple of the piano repertoire for decades. The 'new' preludes recorded here, were performed by Gershwin himself in a concert on December 4, 1926. Richard Stokes reviewing Gershwin's performance in the Evening World, called them 'brief and glowing little vignettes of New York life.' The 'Prelude January 1925' was clearly used as the basis for the finale of his piano concerto. 'Rubato' and 'Sleepless Night' are both wistful jazz studies and the 'Novelette in Fourths' is a charming raggy period piece. This Gershwin set ends with 'Summertime' from 'Porgy and Bess' - surely Gershwin's most well know Lullaby. Scott Joplin was the central and prime creative spirit of ragtime. A large segment of twentieth century American music including jazz, bebop, and the American popular song received it's shape and spirit from him. 'Maple Leaf Rag' (1899) is Joplin's keystone work. To play it gives a feeling of irresistible exhilaration and joy. It contrasts wonderfully with 'Solace,' a slow sweet ragtime lullaby. I mentioned earlier the comparison to Gershwin's 'Lullaby.' It is important to be aware of tempo in Joplin's music. In many of his scores he wrote that ragtime is never to be played fast. He wrote this as a horrified reaction to many musicians who would mindlessly bang this music out as fast as they could. Joplin's admonition however, resulted in much confusion since the music actually needs to find it's own tempo. The ragtime in this album has a variety of tempi and texture. Accorsing to Robert Haven Schauffler in 'The Unknown Brahms,' just before his death Brahms invisioned a ragtime project. Sadly we don't have that music, but we do have from Brahm what is probably the best know lullaby in the world - a tune that has been used for everything from quaint music boxes to Bugs Bunny cartoons. At the turn of the century American's cakewalked to ragtime. So did the French, thought they called it 'le temp du chiffon.' Every concert pianist knows 'Golliwog's Cakewalk' from Debussy's 'Children's Corner.' Gershwin certainly knew this music too, since he made a point of obtaining all the music of Debussy while visiting Paris. But even more striking is the similarity that 'Golliwog' has to Gershwin's third Prelude including the same chords in the opening bars. It's a wonderful example of the cross pollination of ragtime from America to Europe and back again via Gershwin to America. Debussy's Jimbo's Lullaby also from 'Children's Corner' is actually a reflection of his own rather individual brand of English. He insisted thst his daughter Chouchou's toy elephant was Jimbo - not Jumbo. The elephant is being told a bedtime story, and surely this is the most gravity defying of all elephantine music. 'Spaghetti Rag' is a favorite of mine. Written in 1910, I can't help but think of Charlie Chaplin twirling his cane to the circular tune of this music. From there we move to the other end of the twentieth century and what may strike some as a surprising choice of music to be recorded by a concert pianist. 'Root Beer Rag' was written at the beginning of Billy Joel's career and I can only guess was used by him as his own virtuoso showpiece which allowed him to stand out from the crowd. 'Good Night My Angel' written in 1993, is a touching gift by Joel (as is Debussy's Lullaby) to his daughter. I decided to end this album with a piece I occassionally use as an encore at my own concerts - 'Send in the Clowns' by Stephen Sondheim. It's a wonderful way to end a concert and say goodnight and pleasant dreams! Paul Bisaccia Provincetown MA pianowithpaul.com Portions of Mr. Bisaccia's film and television work can be viewed on youtube.com Critical acclaim for Bisaccia: 'A magical evening which just got better and better... completely passionate in his performance.' The Barrie Examiner Ontario 'Delivered with power, poignancy, authority and aplomb' Worcester Telegram Gazette 'His fabulous encore with plenty of scintillating, puckish fingerwork on the ivories.' The Straits Times, Singapore 'Bisaccia brought the audience to their feet with genuine spontaneous cheers erupting out of sheer joy.' Steinway Society of the Bay Area (CA) 'Bisaccia is a serious artist with a compelling presence at the piano.' Connecticut Life 'For Gershwin interpretations Bisaccia wins hands down.' American Record Guide 'You really must hear him!' Brasilia Super Radio FM Brazil 'Earnest vivacity and sparkling virtuosity... infectious excitement.' Union-News Springfield (MA) 'George Gershwin would have joined the audience in the standing ovation at the conclusion of 'Rhapsody in Blue'. ' The Hartford Courant (CT) 'Prepare to be dazzled!' OnCenter Arts Quarterly, Hilton Head SC 'It just proves that talent always prevails in these times of mediocrity.Consummate musicianship. ' Michael Feinstein.