Sunday, December 27, 2015

Charles Pettaway Performs Music by Composers of African Descent: Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Howard Swanson, George Walker & John D. Cooper

Charles Pettaway Performs Music by Composers of African Descent

On December 12, 2015 AfriClassical posted:

We received the recording shortly before the birthday of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, so we made this post on December 24, 2015:

AfriClassical listed the complete contents of the CD:

Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Sonata No. 1 in C major (8:21)
Adagio in F minor (3:52)

Howard Swanson
Sonata (10:17)

George Walker
Piano Sonata No. 1 (16:13)

John Dangerfield Cooper
Sonata Fantasie in D minor (20:13)
The Unicorn (4:24)

The liner notes are by Charles Pettaway:

Joseph Bologne, Le Chevalier de Saint-George, his music, and life have only come to the fore of music history within the past 12 years.  However, mid-eighteenth century he enjoyed an obsequious following.  The French viewed him as "exotic."  He was a virtuoso violinist, conductor, composer, France's greatest fencer, fashion trend-setter, ladies man, and a colonel.  In short, he was a "pop star."  But in that society he was still a mulatto.
The first movement of his Sonata in C major utilizes classic sonata-allegro form. The right hand executes a sunny melody that is full of triadic and scale passages accompanied by an Alberti bass used throughout the entire composition.  The second movement is a sad lament.  The third movement is a Rondo seemingly full of personal resolve.  This work is reminiscent of Mozart's Piano Sonata K. 545.
Saint-George's Adagio in F minor is a reflective piano vocalise, replete with the emotions that he must have experienced as a black man.

Howard Swanson was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 18, 1907.  He worked in the Post Office while he attended Cleveland Institute of Music.  Swanson won a Rosenwald Fellowship which enabled him to study composition with Nadia Boulanger.
Swanson's piano sonata was composed in 1950.  The work is written in three movements which include: Allegro risoluto, Andante cantabile, and Allegro vivo. This sonata is basically a contrapuntal work, with a bitonal two-voice texture.
The first movement introduces four themes at varying pitch levels.  The andante cantabile is in song form (ABA).  The allegro vivo is written in the style of a rondo.  The rhythm of the piece is the most outstanding feature of the work. Admittedly, the sonata is not "easy listening," but this music of a high information content has a unique character - thus my recording of the work.

George Walker's first piano sonata is a composition created by a master craftsman.  The first movement utilizes sonata-allegro form.  The opening motif focuses on quartel harmonies, which form the bulk of the first two movements. There is a restless quality portrayed by myriad pianistic coloring through the use of clever compositional devices.
The second movement states a gentle theme with six variations predicated on a Kentucky folk song "Oh Bury Me Beneath The Willow."  
The exciting third movement is a toccata in arch form.  Here Walker inserts another folk song, this one titled "Lisa In The Summertime," which occurs twice in this virtuoso showpiece.
Walker is an acknowledged American Master with the dual distinction of being a superb concert pianist in addition to being a composer whose orchestral works have been performed by every American Orchestra.

Dr. John Dangerfield Cooper (1923-2006) was a Renaissance man.  As an alumnus of Lincoln University, he served briefly as a college professor teaching ear training.  In addition to composing in nearly every musical genre, he served as a minister at several churches in the Philadelphia area and was a community activist.
Cooper's Sonata Fantasie in D minor is written in three movements.  The first movement, written in sonata-allegro form, is reminiscent of the 19th century virtuoso style utilizing sturm and drang.  The two contrasting themes provide an intense musical balance to the turgidity of this restless movement.
The second movement reminds me of a Chopin Waltz, not made for dancing but for listening.  This movement is full of musical profundity.
Movement three is entitled March Elan.  It utilizes two themes and provides a musical relief from the first two movements.
The Unicorn, a movement from Dr. Cooper's Wissahickon Suite is a lyrical work of insidious technical difficulty.

Pianist Charles Pettaway has been hailed by music critics here and abroad.  Of his playing, Le Figaro (Paris newspaper) commented, "One cannot imagine a finer performance."  Nadia Boulanger  proclaimed, "Pettaway has a god-given talent."  Earl Calloway of the Chicago Daily Defender stated after a Chicago debut recital, "One was completely astonished at Charles Pettaway's technique and smoldering musicality."

Mr. Pettaway received music degrees from University of the Arts (formerly Philadelphia Musical Academy) and Temple University.  He was awarded fellowships for study at the prestigious Tanglewood Music Center, The American Conservatory at Fontainbleu, France, and the International Ravel Music Academy in Southern France.
Charles Pettaway made his European orchestral debut appearing as soloist with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, with Michel Plasson conducting.

In competition, Mr. Pettaway was awarded the grand prize at the Robert Casadesus Internationalk Piano Concours and was awarded first at the Bartok-Kabalevsky International Piano Competition.  He has performed in concert at many European capitals and throughout the United states.
Charlwes Pettaway is a Full Professor of Music at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and continues presenting concerts and master classes at colleges and other venues throughout the United States.

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