- Louisiana: A Pianist's Journey
The nineteenth-century French author Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Louisiana was "the most magnificent dwelling place prepared by God for man's abode." Louisiana: A Pianist's Journey is indeed a magnificent collection of piano works that explores and celebrates the "natural beauty and inimitable character" of the Bayou State. Recorded by Seattle-born pianist Kenneth Boulton, who is currently professor of piano at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana, this recording was made possible after receiving a grant from the Awards to Louisiana Artists and Scholars Program. Boulton's recording received this generous support because it showed "potential to have a broad impact on a national level," carrying Louisiana's name beyond its borders.
Cambria Master Recordings's two-disc set presents eight "reflections" of Louisiana, composed between 1847 and 1949, by classical composers from diverse musical traditions. Five of these pieces are recorded here for the first time. Ironically, only Gottschalk and Beach lived in Louisiana, and many of them never actually visited the state. The engaging and well-researched liner notes by Boulton and his team of contributors are enhanced with numerous historical photos, an extended essay on Louisiana's history and extensive information on the composers, all handsomely packaged in a thirty-two-page hardcover booklet. Each musical "reflection" is "more of a product of the composer's origins, training, and view-point [End Page 517] rather than a literal representation" of Louisiana's mystique, atmosphere, natural landscape, and cultural traditions.
The first disc opens with Louisiana Suite, op. 97, by Walter Niemann (1876–1953), a German pianist, composer, author, and teacher who edited the Neue Zeitschrift für Music and wrote biographies of Brahms, Grieg, and Sibelius. This set of five character pieces was inspired by the composer's travels on the Mississippi River and to New Orleans in the 1920s and is based on American songs by Stephen Foster, including the "Glendy Burke," "Old Folks at Home," and "Dixie's Land." According to Niemann, Foster's songs were "born of and permeated with the national spirit," which the suite emulates through its simple melodic writing, rhythmic accompaniments, subtle chromatic harmonies, and clear textures. "My Old Kentucky Home" (no. 2) is a nostalgic rendition that begins with an extended, sorrowful introduction based on fragments drawn from the tune. Boulton conjures a bittersweet and contemplative aura that echoes the wishful yearning of the original melody. "The Interrupted Serenade" (no. 3) is based on four minstrel tunes: "Old Black Joe," "Massa's in the Cold Ground," "Oh! Boys Carry Me 'Long," and "Gentle Nettie Moore." Niemann's music shows his interest in the exotic harmonies and colorful timbres of French impressionism, with its whole-tone, banjo-style interjections between the songs that are reminiscent of both the title and sound of Debussy's La sérénade interrompue (Préludes, Book 1).
Louisiana Nights, Valse Creole by Roy Spaulding Stoughton (1884–1953) shows this Massachusetts-born composer's interest in things foreign, legendary, and mystical. Stoughton was a church organist and silent-film pianist active in Boston. He earned praise for stage productions and organ pieces with such titles as Persian Suite, Tales from Arabian Nights, and Within a Chinese Garden. Boulton's choice is an extended waltz that alternates between dreamlike passages, with their chromatic "sighs" that capture the sultry warmth and humidity of a Louisiana night, and whirling, rhapsodic sections in the style of Ravel's La Valse that cast the tuneful melody in a dense chordal texture.
A native of Gloversville, New York, John Parsons Beach (1877–1953) was a piano student...