Update: Sadly, Mr. Haynes passed away in 2007. This is the only recording that he ever made. We will continue to present it here to keep his wonderful gift alive in the world. Don Gale, January, 2009
The Eugene Haynes Collection, Volume 1 Album Notes
It is not uncommon for the artist to turn his attention to an assessment of his life and work in the latter days of his achievement. By now the restless energy of youth has dissipated and its flurry of activity has given way to a calmer introspection. What has it all been about?, he may ask. And what of value has he to leave to the younger ones who will follow?
This disc, The Eugene Haynes Collection, Volume 1, is the initial offering of the recorded legacy of this distinguished concert pianist, writer, musician, teacher and friend. You will find here sufficient examples of technical facility of a very high order. But of greater significance is the discovery of a rare musical intellect that shuns empty gestures and shallow effects. Eugene is a classicist at heart for whom clarity and balance are paramount. This uncompromising approach earned for him a steadily growing following over the years of admiring fans, prominent among them the late Miles Davis, Clifford Curzon and Shura Cherkasky.
When he made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1958, New York Times critic John Bridge called him a "gifted and well disciplined technician with a keen sense of detail." Having first studied at The Juilliard School in New York with Katherine Bacon, then with Nadia Boulanger and Isador Philipp in Paris and, finally, with Isabell Venegerova in New York, Haynes learned his way around the keyboard very well. But technical prowess is only one of his gifts. Eugene is a sensitive musician who uses sound as a draftsman puts his pen to paper. Listen, for example, to the bell like clarity of the Prelude in the Prelude, Fugue and Variation of César Franck, which opens this collection. Notice the clean lines of the fugue, unmuddled by any use of the peddle. His refusal to rely on the pedal has become a signature trademark of his playing. You might marvel also at the approach he takes to the two Scriabin works, particularly the Sonata No. 4 with its intricate dialogue in the interior of the piece. Or you might examine closely the Debussy selections on the program. What composer is more likely to seduce the unwary pianist into nebulous coloristic effects than the great French impressionist? But not Eugene. A critic with the San Francisco Chronicle once wrote: "Juilliard-trained Haynes plays a modern, fully masculine kind of Debussy, leaning toward the conducting approach of Pierre Boulez." He went on to say that Haynes "plays an assertive, into-the-bottom of the keys style, with very sparse use of the pedal. It is his fingers which produce the musical colors, not the sustaining pedal."
Eugene loves singers above all; for him all music is about singing. I recall that on the occasion of one of his recitals at Lincoln University in Missouri where he taught for many years, I told him how much I had enjoyed his playing of Chopin’s Sonata in Bb minor with the famous Funeral March in the third movement. In the middle of the movement comes a beautiful melody, a cantilena, which Eugene played just as a singer would sing it, breathing to support each phrase and aiming carefully for each pitch. He knew that the octave stretch is a greater distance in the upper reaches of the voice than the eight keys on the piano would indicate. No bel canto singer would approach such a distance so softly with indifference.
Eugene’s own Gospel Fantasy concludes the program and provides a fitting close to this first volume. With it Eugene returns to his roots. In his highly readable memoir, To Soar With Eagles, the young Eugene bounds happily about Europe with his circle of friends, including the colorful baroness, Karen Blixen, a.k.a. Isak Dinesen. But clearly he never forgets where he came from. French wine and paté never dulled his palate to the heady flavors of the soul food that sustained him back home. In short, Eugene never really left the church. The Fantasy opens with a statement of the meter hymn, "Father I stretch my hands to thee, no other help I know." This theme, in minor, becomes the spine of the piece as it expands to include such melodies from the black worship tradition as This lil’ light o’ mine, Old ship of Zion, Hold to God’s unchanging hand, Amazing Grace, O Fix Me and others that will be familiar and well known to those of us who have "been there and done that."
I am delighted and privileged to have traveled with Eugene this leg of the journey. I enthusiastically invite you, the listener, to get on board.
Charles S. Brown New York City November 11, 2002