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John Knowles PAINE (1839-1906)
Romance, Op. 39 (pub.1883) [3:45]
Romance, Op. 12 (c.1868) [7:18]
Nocturne, Op. 45 (pub. 1889) [4:33]
Ten Sketches for the Piano, Op. 26 (1876) [18:37]
Prelude in F-sharp Minor, Op. 15, No. 2 [3:04]
A Christmas Gift, Op. 7 (1862) [2:07]
Funeral March in Memory of President Lincoln, Op. 9 (1865) [5:26]
Three Piano Pieces, Op. 41 (pub.1884) [5:36]
Four Characteristic Pieces, Op. 25 (pub. 1876) [14:10]
Christopher Atzinger (piano)
rec. 2017, Urness Recital Hall, St Olaf College, Northfield
DELOS DE3551 [65:18]

Now that John Knowles Paine’s First Symphony has been recorded by Naxos let’s hope that the shackles of the ‘the Father of the Boston Six’ might loosen somewhat to admit a greater breadth of his compositions to disc. Seeing him as an august pillar of the establishment is never guaranteed to result in a flood of discs – see the worthwhile but patchy attention paid, for example, to Knowles’ fellow ‘Bostonian’, Horatio Parker.

Paine’s piano music hasn’t really been explored in much depth. There’s a recording of In the Country that omits four of the ten ‘sketches’, for example, something that stimulates curiosity that is ultimately dashed by incompleteness. So all thanks are due to Christopher Atzinger for getting to grips with a body of Paine’s piano repertoire. It shows Paine’s rootedness in the German romantic literature of his time; the Romance, Op.39 is both gentle and contrastingly rapid, the much earlier Romance Op.12 being a more Sturm und Drang affair, afflicted with nervous intensity, its stalking figures and March themes neatly meeting a B section full of insouciant, carefree elegance. To show that he could absorb other influences, the Nocturne offers limpid Chopinesque attractiveness. If there is too much of the ‘prentice about the Bach infiltrations of the Prelude in F sharp minor, it does offer one of Paine’s most appealing qualities in his solo piano music which is a strong quotient of untroubled lyricism. A Christmas Gift and the funeral music he dedicated to the memory of Lincoln reveal the Janus face of the American Civil War pieces; the former, from 1862, is wholly untroubled, the latter necessarily grieving, patterned after the relevant sonata movement in Chopin.

However, the main focus falls not on these somewhat occasional or stylised pieces but on the ‘MacDowell’ element in Paine’s piano writing, his powers of descriptiveness and characterisation. This can be found best in the ‘ten sketches for the piano’ In the Country, written in 1876. This cycle includes sparkling birdsong, Schumannesque refinement, pert dances, genteel rainfall, quiet tristesse - Elysian miniatures cast in a prelapsarian idyll. The Four Characteristic Pieces amplify the dance and bucolic elements at work in Paine’s portraiture but add a further influence, the tangible one of Brahms in the Impromptu. The more clotted nature of this piece – in effect a kind of homage, even if not thus stated – might also suggest the knottier textual and harmonic roads largely unexplored in his piano writing. The Three Piano Pieces, Op.41 offers a jolly triptych, the finale of which – a Fuga Giocosa – is based on a baseball song called ‘Over the fence is out, boys’, cleverly embraced by a Bachian fugue. The result is clever as well as witty.

Atzinger locates the essentially relaxed and good humoured element in Paine’s writing and he has been attractively recorded. Lindsay Koob wrote the thoughtful and engaging booklet essay.

Jonathan Woolf



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