Pianist Jeffrey Siegel concludes the 20th anniversary season of his Keyboard Conversations series with "Listen to the Dance," a program of music by great composers who were inspired by dance. The popular series is his unique way of connecting with audiences by sharing back stories of his musical choices. The evening of works set to dance time covers the waltz, Spanish dances, polkas and marches, all sure to set hearts afire and feet tapping to the infectious rhythms.
"I'll open with 'Invitation to the Dance' by German romantic composer Carl [Maria] von Weber," Siegel said. "The promise is in the title. The composer dedicated the piece to his young wife. It tells the story of a couple at a ball, beginning with the young man asking a girl for a dance. During the next few bars, their exchanges take place, after which she agrees to accept his invitation, and the dance begins. When the waltz ends, he must escort the lady back to her seat."
This piano piece by von Weber was written for the concert stage rather than the dance, and inspired other composers to follow suit. Chopin wrote a number of waltzes, but some of them had unusual fates. During his lifetime, he published only eight. After his death, 12 more were published. However, six others are believed to have been destroyed, three are considered lost, and two went to private parties. Five others are known to exist, although their locations are unknown.
"When Chopin first went to Vienna, audiences became waltz crazy," Siegel said. "The two Chopin waltzes I will play are contrasting. One is vibrant and brilliant, while the other is meditative and self-communing. I'll follow the waltzes with marches, which go back many years.
|Jeffrey Siegel's Keyboard Conversations|
|» Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax|
|» When: 7 p.m. Sunday|
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"I will play two of the best-known. The first is Beethoven's 'Funeral March,' the third movement of his Sonata No. 12. It is very solemn, in contrast to the wedding march I will play, Mendelssohn's 'Wedding March,' which was transcribed by Horowitz as a showpiece for the piano."
Polkas are dances attributed to Bohemia, where they were popular with the ordinary folk until they caught on with the nobles and quickly spread to the ballroom. It was not long before classical composers discovered them. Siegel has chosen works by Smetana, Shostakovich and Stravinsky, whose polkas bring smiles to the faces of everyone within earshot.
"Smetana's polka from 'The Bartered Bride' is one of the most popular," Siegel said. "I will play it and his Polka Opus No. 7. Then there is Shostakovich's 'Golden Age' polka and his two pieces for a string quartet. The 'Golden Age' polka is satirical and biting in tone. It shows how a composer expresses himself through music.
"One of the funniest stories about polkas is behind Stravinsky's 'Circus Polka.' Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey commissioned him to write a polka to be danced by a herd of elephants. He thought about it and finally agreed to write it if they promised it would be done by young elephants. Of course, he managed to turn it into one of his most humorous pieces. No matter how impossible the concept might have seemed, that polka has been performed 425 times in Madison Square Garden -- by a herd of elephants."
The final category Siegel has chosen is the Spanish dance. Isaac Albeniz, the pianist and composer, wrote music based on Spanish folk music. Although many of these piano pieces have been transcribed for the guitar, he will play several spirited dances as the composer originally penned them, for the piano.
To conclude the program, Siegel turns to the modern tango, made popular by composer Astor Piazzolla. Born in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents, Piazzolla played the bandoneon, an accordionlike instrument integral to the tango. Although his compositions were inspired by the traditional tango, his journeys around the world and collaborations with noted jazz artists soon inspired him to utilize elements of classical and popular music in his compositions that became known as nuevo tango.
"Audiences love this program for its variety, energy, melodies and rhythm," Siegel said. "It's a wonderful way to end the season."