were very active in the 1920s and 1930s in their investigation
of hot and dance music and Zez Confey-inspired novelty piano.
Naturally they called it Jazz – the umbrella name to take in
the wide diversity of peppy music they liked and absorbed –
but of course it wasn’t jazz in the sense that we understand
it. Rhythmic zest and unbridled vigour were two of the names
of the game but like Hába and Ježek – to take two composers
from very differing backgrounds and traditions – they also looked
further toward other modifying influences.
In Schulhoff’s case
the theory was Dada. The Dadaist Funf Pittoresken includes
a proto-Cage prank of a movement full solely of rests. Some
recordings dutifully include 3:03 of silence. Supraphon opts
instead for ten seconds. The point is well made, however one
approaches the matter.
Tomáš Víšek proves
an estimable and agile guide. His rhythm is dynamic but he certainly
doesn’t stint textual clarity. His is a wholly different kind
of performance of these Dadaist statements from the MD&G
performance on their Czech Avant-Garde Piano Music: 1918-1938
disc where pianist Steffen Schleiermacher proves no match for
the more idiomatic incision of the Czech player. Accents are
sharper, textures breathe newer and more potent life, and tempi
are more bracing.
The 1922 Partita
carries on the Dadaist strain – one of the Funf Pittoresken
had been dedicated to George Grosz – in its daring modernity.
But the harmonies are a touch more adventurous and sophisticated.
And when Schulhoff turns his dab hand to a Tango-Rag it actually
comes out sounding more like a habanera. The linguistically
cosmopolitan (if ill spelled) Tempo di Fox ŕ la Hawai
is more like it, a bumptious piece of work, but elsewhere a
certain harmonic elusiveness hangs over the Boston.
Ragtime as much as he does contemporary, popular dance forms
in his Etudes de Jazz. His especially enlivening take on Zez
Confrey’s Kitten on the Keys – which he titles Toccata
sur le Shimmy – rather sums up these naughty games. The
Hot Music etudes are more overtly responsive to jazz
strains and their brevity, some lasting barely three quarters
of a minute, allows Schulhoff to pack a considerable punch.
The Harlem Stride patterns of No. IX are vaguely reminiscent
of James P Johnson, so maybe Schulhoff’s range of listening
did actually go wider than one might have imagined. He was an
exceptionally able pianist himself and indeed recorded some
of his own pieces so one shouldn’t be surprised to hear he’d
made a study of Johnson’s highly articulate recordings.
To finish with the
witty and occasionally boisterous 1931 Suite dansante en
jazz pour piano is a particularly good move – their waltz
and fox trot vivacity leaves us on a real high.
Kathryn Stott has
made her own contribution to the Schulhoff discography duplicating
several of these sets of pieces but also including the First
Sonata on BIS 1249. She’s an excellent guide, sometimes even
peppier and faster than Víšek, and he’s certainly no slouch.
Where she scores in speed Víšek more than adequately makes up
in digital clarity and precision; every note is superbly placed
and detonated and coloured. This disc forms part of his larger
multi-volume retrospective of the complete piano music on Supraphon
and is worth your closest attention.