1905 was a year of tremendous innovation and upheaval in the world. Amongst his many discoveries during 1905, the physicist Albert Einstein revealed how time and space are both variables relative to each other (general relativity), and he also devised his famous mathematical equation “e=mc2”. The Russian revolution of 1905, sparked by the infamous “Bloody Sunday” of January 22, set the stage for the Bolshevik revolution twelve years later. The events of “Bloody Sunday” and the uprising that followed made their mark on the composer Dmitri Shostakovich who subtitled his Symphony No. 11 “The Year 1905”, commemorating its 50th anniversary. Music-related events of 1905 included the births of such diverse composers as Michael Tippett and Jule Styne. This recording, however, celebrates the “births” of equally diverse piano compositions, all of which were published in 1905 (Maurice Ravel had begun to write his Miroirs in the previous year). At first glance, the composer that doesn’t seem to belong in this group is the American Charles Ives, whose Three-Page Sonata is markedly more dissonant than the other works on this disc. Its unconventional use of American popular music includes march and ragtime idioms, both of which Ives skillfully blends with keyboard textures derived from European models. The first book of Images revealed Claude Debussy to be in a transition stage in 1905, as the first two pieces are heavily indebted to Liszt and Rameau respectively. However, Mouvement anticipates Debussy’s mature keyboard writing in its use of pentatonic and whole-tone harmonies. Maurice Ravel, like Debussy, was in the ascent of his compositional career in 1905. Both composers were inspired by concrete images in nature to write abstract, “impressionistic” music. Insects, birds and tumultuous waters lend specificity to the first three works of Ravel’s cycle. Following them is a spirited homage to Spain in Alborada del gracioso (A Morning Jester’s Serenade), perhaps inspired by the Oscar Wilde poem The Birthday of the Infanta. Ravel also used poems as starting points for some of his later piano music, notably Gaspard de la nuit. And finally, La vallée des cloches depicts Parisian church bells whose deep, resonant chords fade into the distance at the cycle’s conclusion. Alexander Scriabin had discovered Helena Blavatsky’s theosophical teachings in 1905, and while under their mystical influence was in a transition stage towards writing music entirely derived from a “mystic chord” (based on fourths instead of traditional thirds). He had not broken entirely from traditional harmony in his Three Pieces, Op. 49, but the Prélude is very close to atonality. Leoš Janáček’s Sonata X.1.1905 is the most personal, autobiographical work on this disc. It reeks of a dark, musty stench filtered from an event Janáček witnessed on October 1, 1905: the killing of a Czech worker during a violent feud between German and Czech residents in Brno over the proposal to build a national university there. Janáček wrote this work as an immediate response to the murder and as a manifesto for Czech nationalism, at that time still in its infancy. The sonata is an unusual work in the piano literature not only because of the specificity of the date in its title, but also its raw violence stemming from the work’s dark key of E-flat minor and its understandably abrupt, unpolished phrases.
A native of Colorado, John Wickelgren has been described as a pianist who “wonderfully…mingled the sounds of gentle breezes with the clamor of racing horses.” Dr. Wickelgren has appeared in solo and chamber concerts in cities throughout Colorado, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. He has also performed in several summer festivals, including Bowdoin and Interlochen. As a resident artist of the La Gesse Foundation in 1997, he presented an all-Schubert concert in honor of the composer’s bicentenary, at the Chateau de la Gesse near Toulouse, France. Dr. Wickelgren currently serves as keyboardist with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, and in 2008 he will make his concerto debut with the orchestra in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia.
John Wickelgren received his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in piano performance at the Peabody Conservatory, where he studied with Yoheved Kaplinsky, Dominique Weber and Zitta Zohar. At Oberlin College, where he received undergraduate degrees in English and Piano Performance, he was a finalist in the annual Conservatory concerto competition, and also received a Piano Faculty Accompanying Prize upon graduation. One of Dr. Wickelgren’s specialties is the piano music of Henry Cowell, of which he has given several lecture-recitals and performances including Cowell’s Little Concerto for piano and orchestra at Oberlin’s Cowell centenary festival in 1997. During his two-year tenure as assistant coach for Peabody Opera, Dr. Wickelgren was music director for its production of Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, and he also coached and performed in several premieres. Dr. Wickelgren has also medalled in the Kawai America Piano Competition and the Russell Wonderlic Competition in Baltimore.
Currently, Dr. Wickelgren is on the music faculties of Frederick Community College and Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. In 2004, he was a recipient of an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council, the funds of which were used to help make this recording possible.