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Arthur FOOTE (1853-1937)
Complete Piano Music
Full track-listing below review
Kirsten Johnson (piano)
rec. 29-30 May 2012, 15-16 October 2012, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK. DDD
DELOS DE 3442 [3 CDs: 74.48 + 70.38 + 74.52] 

The piano music of Arthur Foote comprises perhaps the least known branch of his output. We are indebted to the enterprising Kirsten Johnson for recording it complete for the first time. Naturally many of these pieces are world premieres. Foote is best known today for his orchestral and chamber music (review ~~ review), but the tonal shifts, fondness for Baroque forms, and restrained emotionalism found in those works are also evident in the piano music. At the same time the piano music also evidences other aspects of Foote’s personality: a sense of drama and a love of pastoral simplicity.
 
Like many composers of his time Foote was compelled to supply the large demand for both salon pieces and for pedagogical works. The majority of the teaching pieces are contained in the Nine Pieces for Piano Op.27 and the 20 Preludes Op. 52. The former show the composer trying to add some interest to the usual drudgery of practice exercises and several of them have individualistic elements. No.2 is a Romantic etude satirized by being played too slowly and No. 7 mixes genuine pathos with the pedagogy. The Op. 52 pieces are all too short to demonstrate anything out of the ordinary.
 
The majority of Foote’s more substantial piano music is contained in the half dozen or so suites he wrote for the instrument. These show him to have been aware of new musical developments at the turn of the twentieth century, even if they only occasionally appear in his own work. They also show a vein of Yankee humour that one might not suspect from acquaintance with the orchestral and chamber works. They portray him as a man of great simplicity of spirit but not of intellect. Here was someone whose thoughts were frequently of the countryside even as he worked in busy Boston.
 
The first two of Foote’s suites for piano - and so named - were written in the composer’s thirties when he was already a pillar of Boston’s musical life. This was at about the same time that he wrote the Violin Sonata and Francesca da Rimini (review). The outer movements of the first suite are both very dynamic: the Prelude mixes Baroque and Romantic elements and the final Capriccio could come from a ballet if Foote had ever written one. The Fugue is a slightly sly homage to Bach while the Romance is sincere but less distinctive than its fellows.
 
The Suite No. 2 is through-composed and all three movements are big music. The Prelude is stormy and somewhat reminiscent of its counterpart in the first Suite but with more advanced harmony. On the surface the Romance is song-like but its underpinning of the Suite's basic material gives it an element of sternness. The Toccata goes in a different direction with Foote again satirizing salon style. The Suite as a whole demonstrates the composer’s ability to extract a wide emotional range from modest basic material.
 
Not long after the Suite No. 2 Foote showed his humorous side in the 5 Bagatelles Op. 34.The Pierrot and Pierrette are both genial, but in a style more New England than commedia dell’arte. In the third, Goethe’s personal motto does duty as a tempo marking while the use of dissonance in the Valse peu dansante lives up to the title, dispelling any inclination to view the piece as dance music.
 
In 1898 Foote wrote one of his best-known works, the Five Poems After Omar Khayyam (four of which he later orchestrated). Each of these pieces brilliantly evokes the poem from the Rubaiyat that inspired it. Yet none of these pieces is overtly programmatic. The first poem “Iram indeed is gone” plunges us immediately into the world of Omar but without any of the sense of triteness common in works intended to evoke the Orient. The second poem “They say the Lion and the Lizard …” is even more evocative and exciting - one of Foote’s most dramatic creations. The third poem provides contrast with its pensiveness while Foote’s evocation of “A Book of Verses …” starts as a musical picture of felicity but grows more fragmented and ends as a picture of the sense of transitoriness for which the words of the poem are so famous. The last poem, “Yon rising moon …” is the most beautiful of the five but leaves the listener with a profound sense of sadness.
 
One of the major discoveries of this set is the Serenade Op. 45. Though seemingly slight, the five pieces of this suite show the composer at his most genial and even endearing. In some ways it is a musical counterpart to Foote’s charming autobiography (Plimpton Press, 1946). The much later 5 Silhouettes is more dramatic - with a Prelude reminiscent of those of Op. 15 and Op. 30. This is followed by Dusk - a variation on the Prelude’s musical material with a notable conclusion. The Valse triste makes little impression, but the last two pieces are more substantial, although the Oriental Dance doesn’t live up to its title.
 
Foote composed little after the famous Night Piece of 1918. However he did not totally give up piano music: this set includes an exuberant Rondo from 1921 and his last suite for piano, From Rest Harrow, from the following year. This suite is another of Foote’s out-of-doors works and perhaps the most winning of all.
 
Having recorded all of the piano music of Foote’ colleague Amy Beach (see links) Kirsten Johnson is eminently qualified to provide us with idiomatic accounts of Foote’s music. She shows special sensitivity to the composer’s brand of restrained emotion - moderately expressing the underlying feeling as the composer himself would have wanted. Ms. Johnson has a bright tone which is ideal for Foote’s out-of-doors works and enough sense of fantasy for Omar Khayyam. The one drawback is a certain lack of variety between the different pieces, but this may be partially due to the exigencies of recording a composer’s complete output for the piano. This caveat aside Ms. Johnson’s discs are highly to be commended both for bringing us some wonderful music and as another milestone in the rediscovery of America’s early musical heritage.
 
William Kreindler 


Full track-listing 
CD 1 [74.48]
Trois Morceaux, Op. 3 [11:24]
1. No. 1 Impromptu [4:02]
2. No. 2 Gavotte [3:37]
3. No. 3 Mazurka [3:44]
Cinq Pièces, Op. 6 [19:09]
4. No. 1 Prélude [2:39]
5. No. 2 Nocturne [5:28]
6. No. 3 Sarabande [2:57]
7. No. 4 Petite Valse pour la main gauche [2:49]
8. No. 5 Polonaise [5:14]
9. A Pedal Study in F Major [1885] [1:16]
10. Gavotte, Op. 8, No. 1 [4:07]
11. Eclogue, Op. 8, No. 2 [2:40]
Suite No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 [13:33]
12. No. 1 Prelude [3:01]
13. No. 2 Fugue [2:44]
14. No. 3 Romance [4:31]
15. No. 4 Capriccio [3:15]
Piano Pieces, Op. 18 [6:52]
16. No. 1 Serenade [4:13]
17. No. 2 Humoresque [2:38]
Suite No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 30 [15:45]
18. No. 1 Prelude [3:50]
19. No. 2 Romance [7:41]
20. No. 3 Toccata [4:13] 

CD 2 [70.38]
Nine Studies for the Piano, Op. 27 [22:41]
1. No. 1 Moderato grazioso [2:15]
2. No. 2 Andante espressivo [2:05]
3. No. 3 Allegro non troppo [2:41]
4. No. 4 Andante con moto [3:29]
5. No. 5 Allegretto grazioso [1:36]
6. No. 6 Allegro [2:03]
7. No. 7 Andante espressivo [2:48]
8. No. 8 A Pedal Study [4:08]
9. No. 9 Non troppo allegro [1:36]
Five Bagatelles, Op. 34 [13:17]
10. No. 1 Pierrot [2:11]
11. No. 2 Pierrette [3:21]
12. No. 3 Without Haste, Without Rest (Étude Mignonne) [2:18]
13. No. 4 Idyl [3:11]
14. No. 5 Valse peu dansante [2:16]
Three Piano Pieces for the Left-hand, Op. 37 [8:28]
15. No. 1 Prélude-étude [2:45]
16. No. 2 Polka [1:36]
17. No. 3 Romanze [4:07]
Five Poems After Omar Khayyam, Op. 41 [17:45]
18. No. 1 “Iram indeed is gone ...” [2:30]
19. No. 2 “They say the Lion and the Lizard ...” [4:03]
20. No. 3 “Think, in this battered Caravanserai ...” “Yet Ah, that Spring ...” [3:58]
21. No. 4 “A Book of Verses ...” [2:49]
22. No. 5 “Yon rising Moon ...” [4:25]
Two Pieces for the Piano, Op. 42 [6:50]
23. No. 1 Scherzino [3:39]
24. No. 2 Étude Arabesque [3:11]
25. Little Etude in A Minor: Grazioso (1901) [1:28] 

CD 3 [74.52]
20 Preludes for the Pianoforte (In the Form of Short Technical Studies),
Op. 52 (1903) [16:54]
1. No. 1 Non troppo Allegro [0:52]
2. No. 2 Moderato [Right hand alone] [0:57]
3. No. 3 Allegro [0:33]
4. No. 4 Allegretto [Left hand alone] [1:04]
5. No. 5 Andante espressivo [1:09]
6. No. 6 Moderato [0:46]
7. No. 7 Moderato [1:00]
8. No. 8 Espressivo [0:55]
9. No. 9 Allegro brillante [0:44]
10. No. 10 Allegro molto [0:40]
11. No. 11 Allegretto [0:41]
12. No. 12 Sostenuto [1:16]
13. No. 13 Andante espressivo [1:05]
14. No. 14 Allegro [0:53]
15. No. 15 Molto Allegro [0:55]
16. No. 16 Allegro Moderato [0:48]
17. No. 17 Moderato [0:48]
18. No. 18 Allegro [0:48]
19. No. 19 Moderato [1:12]
20. No. 20 Senza tempo [0:48]
Serenade, Op. 45 [11:03]
21. No. 1 Aubade [2:37]
22. No. 2 Air [3:32]
23. No. 3 A Dance [2:38]
24. No. 4 Finale [0:44]
25. No. 5 Toccatina [1:32]
26. An Irish Folk-Song (1906) [2:58]
Two Compositions for Piano, Op. 60 [8:38]
27. No. 1 Revery [5:10]
28. No. 2 A May Song [3:28]
29. Meditation, Op. 61 [4:11]
Two Pieces, Op. 62 [1907] [6:18]
30. No. 1 Whims [2:27]
31. No. 2 Exaltation [3:51]
Five Silhouettes, Op. 73 [13:14]
32. No. 1 Prelude [2:13]
33. No. 2 Dusk [4:07]
34. No. 3 Valse Triste [2:28]
35. No. 4 Flying Cloud [1:50]
36. No. 5 Oriental Dance [2:36]
37. Octave Study in G minor: Allegro Moderato [1917] [1:09]
38. Rondo in G major [1921] [2:41]
From Rest Harrow (A Little Suite for the Pianoforte) [6:28]
39. No. 1 Morning Glories [1:50]
40. No. 2 Rain on the Garret Roof [1:09]
41. No. 3 A Country Song [1:32]
42. No. 4 Country Dance [1:03]
43. No. 5 Alla Turca [0:54] 


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