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Arthur FARWELL (1872-1952)
Piano Music Vol. 1
The Vale of Enitharmon, Op. 91* (1930) [9:16]
Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas, Op. 21** (1905) [14:03]
Polytonal Studies, Op. 109* (1940-1952) Series 1 [37:54]
Lisa Cheryl Thomas (piano)
rec. 24-25 July 2011, Old Granary Studio, Suffolk. DDD
Text Included
*First recordings/**First complete recording
Arthur Farwell was one of the foremost advocates for American music in the early years of the 20th century. In addition to his composing, writing, lecturing, conducting and organizing, he established and ran the Wa-Wan Press, which, from 1901 to 1912, published scores of new works by American composers, usually with an American Indian emphasis. BY the way, Wa-Wan means “to sing to somebody”. As a composer Farwell is best remembered for his own Indianist pieces, but, as this disc demonstrates, such works were only a small part of his overall output.
Lisa Cheryl Thomas has chosen three works for this new disc and they neatly demonstrate the three major tendencies of Farwell’s output: Indianist, Impressionist, and Experimental. Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas is an eight part suite describing a several-day ceremony in which individuals and tribes establish close ties with one another. The individual sections are based on the actual Omaha themes as used in various parts of the Wa-Wan ceremony as members of the first tribe approach the camp of the second, perform various musical and other rites, and join with the second tribe in a final affirmation of peace. Farwell’s treatment of the original themes varies in interest, but the strongest sections (3, 5, 8, and 9) are quite beautiful.
The titles of the sections of Wa-Wan Impressions are:-
No. 1 Receiving the Messenger [2:17]
No. 2 Nearing the Village [1:58]
No. 3 Song of Approach [2:01]
No. 4 Laying Down the Pipes [1:11]
No. 5 Raising the Pipes [1:00]
No. 6 Invocation [2:13]
No. 7 Song of Peace [1:47]
No. 8 Choral [1:36]
The Vale of Enitharmon dates from twenty-five years later than the Wa-Wan Impressions. Enitharmon is a character in several of the works of William Blake and personifies spiritual beauty. Farwell’s piece is Impressionistic and reminds one of the music of Griffes, although there are also moments of Scriabin. Farwell develops his material with great intensity and the broadening of both harmony and mood in the far-away central section is especially impressive. This is a work that deserves to be better known.
In the late 1930s Farwell’s music became more experimental and around 1940 he began a series of what he called Polytonal Studies. They are actually bi-tonal and only twenty-three out of the proposed forty-six were completed, many without dates or consecutive numbering. Of the twelve recorded here, some are little more than pedagogical studies while others are works of great beauty. All of them show greater imagination in the use of bi-tonality than most similar exercises. Especially interesting are No. 3, with its key-signatures of C major/A major (and a lovely middle section); the unquiet No. 9 (G major/D-flat major), and the jaunty No. 10, which belies its tonalities of D major and B-flat major. The last study on this disc, No. 34, is also impressive.
Lisa Cheryl Thomas is of Native American descent and while this might help explain her facility with the Wa-Wan Impressions she shows equal skill with Farwell’s other idioms. Her playing is precise but also full of intensity and she wisely glides over Farwell’s occasional sentimentalities. She also provides an excellent full-length essay on Farwell and other Indianist composers. The acoustic of this disc’s venue blurs some of the softer moments of The Vale of Enitharmon, but is effective in highlighting the bi-tonalities of the Studies. At present Farwell is represented on disc only by some songs (Albany), his excellent incidental music to Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of the Mountain (Bridge) and a few isolated piano solos (Pristine). This will make Ms. Thomas’ present recording and its promised successor most welcome to devotees of American and early 20th century music.

William Kreindler