With a doctorate in music from Stanford University in 1964 and varying musical employment in America and Europe, the very prolific and widely performed American composer William Bolcom reached a pivotal point in his career in 1984 with his setting of poet William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience for soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Of that work, premiered at the Stuttgart Opera, Bolcom said, “I realized that the texts were eclectic in style and in turn required diverse musical approaches. It was Blake that allowed me to advance my multifarious types of style. And it’s colored everything I have done since.”
Recuerdos (Reminiscences), one of Bolcom’s several works for two pianos, is a prime example of composition in which a synthesis is made of different types of music. It also demonstrates that the composer writes for two keyboards in masterly fashion. Latin American dance and American ragtime join their rhythmic energy in Chôro, the first piece of the suite. Written in homage to the Brazilian composer and pianist Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), praised by his younger and more famous countryman Heitor Villa-Lobos as “the true incarnation of the Brazilian soul,” the music embodies the dance spirit of Nazareth’s very popular tangos.
Paseo, the second piece, explores the union of Latin and American musics of the 19th century by evoking the style of the first hugely successful American piano virtuoso/composer, New Orleans-born Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Gottschalk’s Creole roots here have a distinctly Latin flavor.
The Venezuelan composer Pedro Palacios (1739-1799) is nominally the source of the Valse Venezolano. In spite of Palacios’s 18th-century pedigree, Bolcom spices the Valse with some distinctly updated harmony and the suite’s most brilliant duo-pianism.
Orrin Howard, who served the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association for many years as Director of Publications and Archives, continues to contribute to the program book.