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Corsen plays Corsen
Joseph Sickman CORSEN (1853-1911)
Simpatia - waltz [2:03]; Un Desco - waltz [2:13]; Amorosa - danza [2:20]; 2e Mazurka Nocturne - mazurka [5:44]; Wals No 6 [2:16]; Nelly - polka [1:36]; Meditacion [5:19]; Wals No 5 [3:02]; La Mariposa - danza [3:59]; Un Sueno - waltz [3:03]; Amicitia - serenade [2’36]; Mazurka [2:44]; Wals No 11 [3:03]; Nocturne [5:58]; El Lisonjero – waltz [1:33]; Denny - danza [3:52]; Tic-Tac - polka [1:21]; Wals No 12 [4:01]; Reverie (3:00]; El Venezolano - waltz [1:40]; La Elegante - mazurka [1:55]; 1893 – waltz [2:01]; 1888 - waltz [3:14]
Randal Corsen (piano)
rec. 4-5 December 2004, Studio Steurbaut, Gent, Belgium.
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Few aficionados of classical music will be aware of the name Joseph Sickman Corsen and none will have any of his recorded music because the review disc is the very first commercial recording ever made.

Corsen was born on the island of Curaçao, the Netherlands Antilles on 13 December 1853. Jo, as his friends knew him, grew up in a family where literature and music were a way of life. His early music tutelage included his father and uncle Chris Ulder (1843-1895) who was a music teacher, composer, conductor, pianist and organ player. 

It was however for his skills as a poet that Corsen became more appreciated on Curaçao. He was the first poet to write in the local language Papiamentu. While he also functioned as a conductor, bandmaster, organ player and editor of the ‘Notas i Letras’, the first weekly paper on Curaçao, he still found time to create an oeuvre of more than one hundred poems and by estimate the same number of musical compositions.

Corsen preferred to write in Spanish and his tenderness is reflected in the fact that many of his compositions have Spanish names.  In time people forgot that he had been a professional musician and music teacher, and that aside from the well-known poet, a meritorious composer. That no opportunity to record his music existed only accelerated this process. 

The music of J.S. Corsen is categorised as Antillean classical music; a blend of Antillean folk and European classical music, it personifies the salon-style which was popular in the latter part of the 19th century. Corsen was very original in his compositions and each has a different ‘vibe’ and is said to be distinctive from that of his local contemporaries; his attitudes as a poet permeated his music.

Of him the composer and pianist Wim Statius Muller said: ‘ One would listen in vain for poor voice leading; not a single parallel fifth will be heard. His writing is

pianistically clever and idiomatic; his harmonic structures interesting, his modulations smooth. All this is no mean feat for a partly autodidactic composer living far from the music capitals of the world in a small community.’

A strong initial impression of the review disc was immediate association with another solo piano programme by his contemporary, Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth (Naxos 8.557687 - see review). There are some interesting commonalities shared by these two composers: each was inspired by the folk music of his country and also strongly influenced by the great classical composers such as Chopin, Listz and Schubert. The influence of Gottschalk is particularly apparent in the music of Corsen. Nazareth wrote more than eighty Brazilian tangos and more than forty waltzes. Corsen’s cultural music influence included Caribbean dances like waltzes, danzas, mazurkas and tumba, but akin to Nazareth he was not happy to write only in the popular idiom.

Influence of European music and cultural tastes together with local prejudice inhibited  the growth of Brazilian classical music during Nazareth’s lifetime. For Corsen it was probably the combination of his status as a poet and the overshadowing of his musical identity by several other composers of salon-style music that deprived him of recognition as a worthwhile composer. 

On this occasion a great-grandson, Randal Corsen, performs J.S. Corsen’s works. Born in Curaçao in 1972 he is renowned as a jazz pianist, and in 2004 was honoured with the ‘Edison Jazz Awards’, the most prestigious music award in the Netherlands, for his album ‘Evolushon’.

One may harbour initial apprehensions about a jazz pianist undertaking a recording of Antillean classical music but these are quickly dispelled. If there is any truth in speculation that musicians have greater empathy for music composed by their fellow countrymen it is certainly exemplified in this recording. Here that conclusion may be partly clouded by the fact that Randal Corsen is playing the music of his great-grandfather and consequently any empathy factor is compounded; for whatever reasons the end result is excellent. While there are no recorded comparisons available, in absolute terms the playing is very free and reflects the improvisational skills of the player. I was always impressed with the renditions of Nazareth’s music by fellow Brazilian Iara Behs but Corsen’s playing is more fluid and particularly suited to the origin and roots of this music. 

J.S. Corsen was an undemanding man, modest in his dealings with others and gladly gave away his compositions, which is one of the reasons that a number have been lost. From an estimated oeuvre of one hundred works, twenty-three are presented on the review disc and there are some absolute treasures here. If you are someone who likes to read the last page of a book first try Wals No 12 [18] and 1893 [22].

In any musical odyssey, few new and previously unfrequented ports-of-call will bestow so many delights as this music by J.S. Corsen.  Having heard this unjustifiably obscure music played so well, one cannot help feeling inspired and musically enriched.

Zane Turner



Challenge Records




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