Pianist Jeanne Golan Surveys the Complete Piano Sonatas of Viktor Ullmann
“Golan has the gift to clarify the core of the music." — The Philadelphia Inquirer
For her Steinway & Sons label debut, pianist Jeanne Golan surveys the complete piano sonatas of Czech composer Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944), whose restlessly, valiantly creative career culminated in the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt/Terezín before he was sent to his death in Auschwitz. Golan’s double-CD set – the first to put all seven of Ullmann’s piano sonatas together in more than two decades – will be released by Steinway & Sons/Arkiv Music on August 28, 2012 (with digital release August 7). The set also includes a premiere recording of the Totentanz (Dance of Death), a minuet from his opera The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death’s Refusal – which is one of the more famous examples of “entartete Musik,” “degenerate music”), the label placed by the Nazis on works they deemed out of step with their policies. Ullmann was a student of Arnold Schoenberg, as well as a protégé of Alexander Zemlinsky. Active in Prague before he was incarcerated in the “model” camp of Theresienstadt, Ullmann explored a wide range of influences in his piano sonatas, from Mahler to Mozart, Bartók to Gershwin. He wrote his final three sonatas in the camp.
In a testimonial by James Conlon for Golan’s recording, the conductor – long a champion of music by composers persecuted and displaced by the Nazis – says: “Viktor Ullmann and others of his generation are less known to us today not because of any lack of musical quality, but because their voices were stifled by a regime and then pushed aside once again in the clamor of post-war cultural advancement. This excellent and important recording by Jeanne Golan will do much to generate greater appreciation for Ullmann’s music among musicians and music lovers everywhere. I hope other musicians will follow her example by immersing themselves in the music of Ullmann and, in so doing, discover the work of a true 20th-century master.”
The Massachusetts-bred, New York-based Golan fully immersed herself in Ullmann’s music and life for this ambitious project, her total engagement paying off in unexpected ways. She says: “This project became personal very quickly – I’m used to that when working with living composers, but I hadn’t expected to feel the presence of another person with Ullmann’s music. It was almost like having a ghost in the room with me. Learning all the sonatas at once and doing so much research on Ullmann’s life, it felt like I was living with him at all the various stages of his life – like this is the young man’s sonata or this is when he was interested in Gershwin, and so on. Also, when you play the music of a composer who was a pianist, you get a sense of their physicality – not just the way their mind worked or their ear, but the way their body worked at the keyboard. You feel the hand span, the muscle memory, certain kinds of figurations. In a way, their body becomes your body – it’s the only way to really bring the music alive.”
Golan points out that Ullmann’s range as a composer was extraordinary: “He had this capacity to tap into all these different styles yet still sound like himself,” she says. “Ullmann was such a curious musician. Each sonata is a sort of experiment in a certain sound world, as he explores what’s suggested in folk songs or Mahler and Bartók. But it’s never derivative – the music comes out as Ullmann. He had a real sense of play. His is a very sad story, and that was a horrific time, obviously. But along with distressed emotion in his music, there is humor and often a real exuberance, a reveling in creativity.”
After following Schoenberg and experimenting with micro-tonality, Ullmann ultimately came to embrace the traditionalism of his forebears. In her extensive, multidimensional liner notes to the album, Golan quotes the composer from an essay he wrote titled “Goethe and Ghetto,” in which he lays out an ethos that animates his piano sonatas: “The ‘Greats’ whom we take as examples, influence the ‘habitus’ [the body] by reaching into the very life-ducts of subsequent generations. And it seems to me that the cultivated European has had his behavior and thoughts, world-view, language, relationship to life and art, determined by Goethe... Goethe’s maxim, ‘Live in the moment, live in eternity’ always seemed to me to reveal the puzzling nature of art.”
About Jeanne Golan
Jeanne Golan has been described by The New York Times as a pianist who is “technically polished and superbly expressive,” while The Philadelphia Inquirer declared that she has “the gift and ability to clarify the core of music.” Golan’s programming reflects her active involvement in the fostering of works by new composers and discovering relatively unknown musical treasures. She has performed throughout the U.S. and across Europe. Her extensive work with singers includes the album Innocence Lost: The Berg-Debussy Project, as well as Einstein on the Beach with the Philip Glass Ensemble. With an impressive assortment of pieces written for her and that she has premiered, Golan has been featured by the contemporary music organizations MATA, Theodore Wiprud/New Music Productions and the Friends & Enemies of New Music. She has released previous solo and collaborative recordings on the Albany, Arsis, Capstone and Newport Classic labels. In addition to her Steinway & Sons/Arkiv recording of Viktor Ullmann’s complete piano sonatas, Golan is bringing Ullmann’s repertoire to concert and educational venues across the country for specially designed programs that balance performance and discussion. Such appearances have already taken place at the Spertus Institute in Chicago, WFMT Radio, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and with her debut at the Ravinia Festival in a program hosted by James Conlon. Golan earned her Masters and Doctorate of Musical Arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music. Her Bachelor of Arts degree is from Yale University. She is a Professor of Music at the State University of New York/Nassau, where she has received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award on multiple occasions. Her blog, “Ullmann at Hand: A Pianist’s Journey,” is at www.jeannegolan.com. Jeanne Golan is a Steinway Artist.
About Steinway & Sons
Since its founding in New York in 1853, Steinway & Sons has been considered the world's premier piano manufacturer. Known for their exceptional craftsmanship, Steinway & Sons pianos are built in one of two company-owned and operated factories: Astoria, New York and Hamburg, Germany. Steinway & Sons pianos are still constructed primarily by hand, using many of the techniques developed over 160 years ago. Today, Steinway & Sons also offers the Boston and Essex piano lines, Listen, a magazine for music and culture lovers, and the Steinway & Sons record label. For more information, visit www.steinway.com.
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