Monday, November 2, 2009

Jazz. But not Jazz

I'm really trying to keep this one on the straight and narrow. No biographical guff, no name-dropping, and absolutely no bottoms whatsoever. It was supposed to be serious-bearded music : Jazz and Classical. And how, like paleolithic man and neanderthal, they may have mated but never produced offspring. But bigre! et bougre! - a woman pissing on a potty has managed to creep in. It is part of Erwin Schulhoff's 1917 Sonata Erotica written for solo woman's voice.

Schulhoff, a German-speaking Czech Jew, was born in Prague in 1894. He was a child prodigy: Dvorak heard him perform on the piano in 1901 and predicted a great musical future for the seven-year-old - and gave him two bars of chocolate. Schulhoff went on to study in Prague, followed by the conservatories in Leipzig and Cologne. Among his teachers were the composers Max Reger and Claude Debussy. As he entered his 20s, he displayed enormous talent in both performance and composition. A Prague critic said he was “a distinguished virtuoso pianist, especially bred for new music, with a splendid technique, unequalled memory and radical interpretational will; a revolutionary composer, with both feet firmly planted on the ground.”

But Schulhoff, embittered by his experiences during WW1, left off mainstream classical composition and embraced the Dada movement. During this phase he composed a number of pieces with absurdist elements - like "In futurum" (from the Fünf Pittoresken for piano) -- a completely silent piece made up entirely of rests, that anticipates John Cage's 4′33″ by over thirty years. Schulhoff's composition is notated in great rhythmic detail, and employs bizarre time signatures and intricate, though silent, rhythmic patterns.

Now this is the Dada piece, with the potty, that you've been patient enough to wait for:

Sonata Erotica for female voice solo (1917) Here is Helena Remeijers Moloek performing it at ILLUSEUM 2007
For the culture vulture with a busy agenda, or the culture butterfly with a short attention-span - here are some hints: things start heating up at 1 min.40 - then at 3.33 you may start wondering if the end will come into view . . . and soon after there is relief.

Unlike other composers - Stravinsky and Ravel, for example - Schulhoff did not approach jazz as an outsider looking in. He worked as a jazz pianist through the 30s to make ends meet - unable as a Jew, to get published or get a job. His jazz-influenced classical compositions predated those of his near-contemporary Kurt Weill. [cf Cinq Etudes de Jazz (1926], Esquisses de Jazz (1927), Hot Music, 1928, Suite dansante en jazz,1931 ]
His Concertos alla jazz was completed several months before the premiere in New York, in February 1924, of another “jazz concerto” that was to become much more famous—George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The two composers knew nothing of each other’s work at the time, and the works, despite their common jazz influences, are very different. Gershwin’s, lyrical and tinged with romanticism, has deservedly remained one of the most popular works of its kind. Schulhoff’s concerto is far more raucous, provocative and experimental.

I have three CDs - one in his pre-WW1 style : Sonatas for Piano and Violin - the others from the 20'sand 30's. The Concertos alla jazz that I bought first, features Schulhoff himself playing the last five pieces, on a Berlin recording from 1928. But my favourite is the Hot Sonata, fur Altsaxophon und Klavier, commissioned for Berlin Radio in 1930. Schulhoff played it himself, with an American saxophonist. The recording I have is on Kammermusik mit Blasern from Koch Schwann. Here's how I have been hearing it, with Detlef Bensmann on reeds and Michael Rische on keys, playing Part 3.
There are various versions of Hot Sonata on YouTube - but if you like wine women and sax, then I recommend that you fill your glass and jump to Part 3 : Matilde blows a mean alto.

Hot Sonata - Part 1 [Claude Delangle and Marco Ciccone]

Hot Sonata Part 2 J.Silguero, sax

Hot Sonata Part 3 Mathilde Leemhuis

"This is George Gershwin on absinthe. The saxophone plays a languorous legato as well as a wailing arpeggio in masterful syncopation to the piano riffs. Schulhoff once boasted to his publisher that he was the inventor of "classical jazz." With this piece, he may be the first classical-jazz fusionist, skillfully blending an upbeat expressionist tempo with neo-classical precision." Schulhoff's marks for Part 3 say: to be played lamentuoso, mi molto grotesco, giving the musicians the latitude jazz players enjoy.

Hot Sonata part 4 Mathilde Leemhuis .

But Schulhoff's work fell foul of the Nazi regime - and he along with Beckmann, Chagall, Dix, Ernst, Grosz, Kandinsky, Klee and Mondrian amongst scores of other musicians and artists were deemed Degenerate [Entartete]. Along with homosexuals, communists, gypsies, Black American music, and jazz.
First the art was exhibited, in 1937, for derision and then banning

- then in 1938, the year the music stopped

In June 1941, Schulhoff was deported to the Wülzburg concentration camp, near Weißenburg, Bavaria. He died on August 18, 1942 from tuberculosis.


nilpferd said...

The Hot Sonatas have their moments, but on the whole I find the music a bit distant- reminds me of some of Wynton Marsalis' ensemble work, I can appreciate the skill but it doesn't really speak to me, I'm afraid. Certainly another life tragically wasted, who knows what might have become of him in the States or post-war Europe.
Though hearing the Sonata Erotica does clear up one thing, as we have a neighbour who rehearses this piece quite often in the afternoon.

Japanther said...

that's an incredible story BP and another great post.

The Sonata Erotica left me speechless!! and the music was definitely interesting you say, jazz, but not quite jazz

BloodyP said...

What might have got lost in all the words and images - was my curiousity about other attempts to fuse classical with jazz.
They do seem such opposite ends of the music spectrum, that it is almost inevitable that fans of each will be left cold by the other.
There is no shortage of 'academic' jazz composers, and I might go back to my Mingus LPs for example, to see what might be happening there.

nilpferd said...

I'm by no means against any fusion of classical and jazz, perhaps I've got something of Japanther's dilemma with some of this material though, in that I like for example the ideas behind the Sonata Erotica, but it isn't a piece I can actually imagine wanting to listen to or see particularly often, equally the hot sonatas are just a little too cooled off for my taste. But I have a lot of stuff I'd class as a mix of the two genres- some of it is from ECM, such as Marc Sinan's recent Fasil album, which was inspired by text fragments out of the Koran and includes a jazz pianist-composer, a classical cellist, and a violinist, as well as a guitarist and vocalist, and elements from western and arabic classical music next to jazz.
I'd also class Astor Piazolla's music as a successful classical/jazz fusion, we have one fine album of his called 57 Minutos con la Realidad.
Then there are jazz albums with arrangements or orchestration more commonly associated with classical music, such as John Scofield's brilliant Quiet.

nilpferd said...

By JP's dilemma I meant the part of the podcast where he explains having an expectation of Ornette Coleman's music which then isn't met by the performance, though he did go on to say that he eventually liked what he heard- my ideas of what Schulhoff's music ought to sound like from the descriptions aren't delivered by the actual performances.

BleepParadise said...

I think we're all agreed that this is at the Very Far End of the easy listening line. There's difficulty and danger scattered throughout. And there was definitely an element of 'let's scare the horses' or epater les bourgeois' about the Dada movement.
And that this was shared by both 'classical' and 'jazz' composers.
My Mary can't understand why I would want to put myself through it [It being variously Modern Jazz, or Contemporary classical music.] She does appreciate that I at least shut myself away in the Big House, so that I can play whatever it is in all its magnificent strangeness, at concert volume.
It is music from the outer edge - it and other musics like it - are the only sounds, sometimes, that seem to correspond to my life.
Most of the rest of the time I'm perfectly happy to sing along with Captain Sensible.