In this series of History through the Piano John Drummond looks at famous pieces of piano music as windows into the world in which they were created. A composer cannot help but reflect the world he lives in, his understanding of life, his values and his beliefs.
This episode enters the world of Imperial Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. Our first piece is by the French composer Claude Debussy. He wasn’t an imperialist, and he didn’t become a French settler in Algeria or Gabon or Madagascar or Martinique or New Caledonia. Instead he stayed in France, and the music of a far-off country conquered by Europeans came to him.
But if Western culture has come to be influenced by the music of its more distant colonial cultures, it has also been affected by musical cultures closer to home. The early decades of the nineteenth century saw a growing interest in collecting folk music in Europe.
Zoltán Kodály travelled around his native Hungary notating the songs he heard being sung in villages he passed through. He was joined by Béla Bartók, who expanded his folk-song researches to include Carpathian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Slovak folk tunes. This music wasn’t based on the tonal system of Western Classical Music nor on its staid and regular rhythms. It had its own modes and dance patterns, played on folk instruments like bagpipes and fiddles and cimbaloms.
TRAD Javanese: Ldr. Balabak - Javanese Gamelan (sourced from iTunes)
DEBUSSY: Pagodes (Estampes) - Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano) Chandos CHAN 10443
TRAD Hungarian: Polka - Cimbalom ensemble (sourced from iTunes)
BARTOK: Allegro barbaro - Jeno Jando (piano) NAXOS 8.555329