Friday, May 15, 2015

Dominique-René de Lerma: The Piano's New Vista

Fred Onovwerosuoke (b. 1960)

Twenty-Four Studies in African Rhythms, Volumes I & II 
African Music Publishers 2011

PETER HENDERSON: Twenty-Four Studies in African Rhythms,
works for piano by Fred Onovwerosuoke

AMP Records AGCD 2504 (2015)

Dominique-René de Lerma:


            African pianism is the concept of employing African rhythm and scales in piano composition.  The idea seems to have been introduced by Akin Euba (1935-) in "Traditional elements as the basis of new African art music," issued in 1970 in African urban notes, v5n4 and has since been adopted by most contemporary African composers and been of influence in the creations of others.  A valuable discussion, with an intensive analysis of Dr. Euba's 1970 Scenes from traditional life (printed in 1975 by the University of Ife Press, an LP recording by pianist Peter Schmallfuss is the only identified recording[!]) appears at, originally issued by the Institute Français de Recherche en Afrique.  A two-volume consideration, Toward an African pianism, edited by Euba and Cynthia Tse Kimberlin, contains relevant articles by Kofi Agawu, Paul Konye, Halim El-Dabh, Ed  Bland, Mike Wright, Justinian Tamusuza, Joshua Uzoigwe, and Bode Omojola and others.  The second volume of this set offers music by El-Dabh, Tamusuza, Eric Moe, Konye, as well as two CDs of works by Euba, J. H. Kwabena Nketia, Uzoige, Andres Wheatley, Mark Boozer, Nkeiru Okoye, Amy Rubin, Wallace Cheatham, Gary Nash, and Robert Kwami in performances by Darryl Hollister (but for shipping, this is available for $85 from MRI Press, P. O. Box 70362, Point Richmond CA 94807-0362). 
            Now we have a new item, both in print and on CD.  The work of Fred Onovwerosuoke, conductor, administrator, and composer has become quite well known and warmly respected in recent decades.  While working his way through college, among his piano students were  those who wanted less worn-our repertoire.  This was the stimulus for the little gems, written between 1988 and 2009.  These were gathered together as Twenty-four studies in African rhythms and published in two handsome volumes in 2011 by African Music Publishers (3547 Olive Street, Suite 110, St. Louis MO 63103), enhanced by the composer's informative preface (in either volume, he explains the generating idea for each work) with introductory notes by Mark Boozer, Darryl Hollister, William C. Nyaho, Grace Christus, and Wendy Hymes -- all very recognized performers.
            One might begin with "Edo," the second etude in the first volume.  The challenge here is to create three levels, almost like different instruments: the bass as ostinato, the upper voice a variant ostinato, with the legato melody in the middle voice. Or "Tunis," (I/IV) with the bass ostinato (3+3+2) and a rhythmically uncomplicated upper voice. Theorists will enjoy identifying the various scales/modes and speculating on the blues-flavored "Iroro" (I/6).  Virtuosic articulation is required (and provided!) in II/13 ("Exhortation").
            The publication is dedicated to Peter Henderson (Maryville University), the masterful musician who has recorded the entire set June 20-21, 2011 (AMP Records, AGCD 2504, already announced last month to Africlassical fans).  He is a remarkable artist, not only managing the intricate polyrhythms, but giving musical life to every nuance and dynamic.  Even without considering the impetus for these two dozen miniatures, this recording should be high on the acquisition agenda of all music libraries, pianists, and record collectors.  He offer proof than this music can be performed by one who is neither Ghanian nor Nigerian.
            But the astonishment cannot be fully realized without reference to the printed music, and both should be acquired.  If Dr. Onovwerusuoke wrote these for his pupils, they must have been exceptionally advanced.  If that were not the case, their efforts to become comfortable with the technical and rhythmic challenges must have been the source of great pride -- the works are all reasonably brief and each gives focus to specific factors, so the time invested pays off once the pianist's hands fingers have been acculturated. 
All of the pieces have been printed in traditional notation, wonderfully disguising the complexities.  One, which could have been set in 14/16 meter is offered in 2/4; the pianist is only obligated to be at ease with the septuplets ("Raging river," II/24).  A 9/8 meter hides the additive rhythm-meter of 3+6 ("Mother Earth," II/15).  There remains the simultaneous juxtaposition of dissimilar beat divisions, but this has already been encountered in the hemiolas of Brahms, but never as in the "Herero wedding dance" (I/7).
            And Henderson's cadences are musicianly marvels!  We must have more from him!
            In the end, a pianist would be liberated from Western traditions, and the audience would become alert to new visions of musical creativity.  Zukunftsmusik?  Might well be.  

Dominique-René de Lerma

Comments by email:

1) Maestro Dominique!  I'm without words in gratitude for your in depth review of Peter's cd. I'll forward it to him and may repost the review in various sources including CD Baby. Much gratitude to Bill for his illustrious medium, AfriClassical Blog. Gentlemen, THANKS. Fredo.  [Fred Onovwerosuoke] 

2) All my honor!  This music, so wonderfully played, could only have been written by one who knows the piano very well, but that's only part of the story -- an essential but only initial start.  I'd be out of my mind to attempt any of these, even my favorite, Manding meditation (II/XXI), which continues to haunt me!  And true, we can all be so thankful that Bill has this door for more information than any book provides.  Dominique-René de Lerma

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