Programme Notes

Earl Wild: 7 Virtuoso Etudes after G. Gershwin No. 1, Embraceable You

Often described as one of the greatest transcriber of his time, the American pianist Earl Wild is well known for his transcriptions of jazz charts and virtuosic transcriptions for solo piano. He was also a highly-respected pianist and holds several accolades such as being the first pianist to have a recital performance on the U.S. television as well as being the first pianist to have a performance streamed through the Internet in 1997. On top of these, he remains the only pianist to have played for six American presidents consecutively. Wild was a musician in the US Navy during World War II and toured the United States with Eleanor Roosevelt where he would perform the national anthem before she made speeches supporting the war effort. Despite being held on a high pedestal in his home country, Wild’s name in the UK was relatively unknown, ‘where a classical pianist with a name like a 1950s rock star was viewed with suspicion.’

Wild was no stranger to Gershwin’s music and had arranged several of his works. In the late 1950s, he transcribed some of his most famous transcriptions: Seven Virtuoso Etudes based on Gershwin’s popular songs: ‘I Got Rhythm’, ‘Somebody Loves Me’, ‘Liza’, ‘Embraceable You’, ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘Oh, Lady be Good’, all of which he revised in 1976.

The original version of ‘Embraceable You’ was a collaboration between the two brothers Ira Gershwin, who wrote the lyrics, and George Gershwin, who wrote the tune. The beauty in Wild’s arrangement of ‘Embraceable You’ is particularly seen through the running arpeggiated figures surrounding the melody that was once sung by singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, whose recording was taken in by the Grammy Hall of Fame, 61 years after it was recorded.

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111

  1. Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato

“What a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life - it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me. So I endured this wretched existence”

These are the words of a deeply tormented man suffering from his deafness which can be found in what would be known as The Heiligenstadt Testament, written in 1802.

The testament is a reflection of the deep pain Ludwig van Beethoven was experiencing mentally, physically and spiritually which sustained until the final period of his career where his music became much more introspective.

Beethoven’s final piano sonata is a medium of transcendence which transports the listener to a world beyond Earth, its exploration of a higher power and the spiritual world is most evident in the contrast of the unusual two-movement sonata. The first and second movements are the epitome of Earth and heaven, intense turmoil and spiritual serenity.

Written in Beethoven’s most significant key - C minor, the first movement is driven by an intense passion, although the tonic key isn’t firmly grounded until the Allegro. The grave introduction marked Maestoso starts with double-dotted octaves, preparing us for the turbulence in the Allegro. In 1821, when Beethoven was working on this sonata, he was suffering from rheumatism and jaundice alongside deafness which caused him to turn to his inner world and discover spiritual independence.

With the fate-like motif in his Fifth Symphony, the heroic three-note motif (C, Eb, B) can be found in every register from the lowest to the highest territory, depicting the vastness of the earth to a higher power. The first movement is filled with all human emotions from fist-shaking fury to an ethereal spirituality. Beethoven also explores a different structure by combining the sonata form with a fugue in the middle.

In his ultimate piano sonata, Beethoven writes the extremes of despair and the sublime. This enigma of a piece brings us away from Earth and a little closer to heaven.

Villanelle for Alexander Scriabin's Sonata Fantasy No. 2 Op. 19

Years of tears rolling into night

Silent tides rising at the crack of light

Seashore in the South, waves running free

Years of tears rolling into night -

An oasis of peace and shadows unite

Haunting melodies buried at sea

Vast tides rising at the crack of light -

Sky blue, shimmering colours of moonlight

Caressing the darkness, limitless fantasy

Years of tears rolling into night -

Pulsing, swelling, surging with might

Restless depths soaring with every

Raging tide rising at the crack of light -

Twinkling stars shining fearlessly bright

Howling wind sculpting the sea to life, lonely

Years of tears rolling into night -

The clash of waves, a burst of starlight

Scattering flashes flood into a memory

Roaring tides rising at the crack of light

Years of tears rolling into night.