|written by Junko Ohtsu|
I formed a piano trio group called Ecco Trio in 1983 with two American musicians. We developed our repertoire to reflect the wide interests of our members, starting from the traditional European sources along with American works and works by Asian and Asian-American composers. As a group, we researched the era called "Good Old Days", and found lesser-known American composers in that period, such as John Knowles Paine (1839~1906), who studied in Germany and later became a leader of the New England School and the founder of the music department at Harvard University. The music of this era offers such wonderful lyricism. It is clearly different from any European sound though you may almost hear an echo of late-Romanticism. We were attracted by its freshness and decided to include these lesser-known compositions in our CD "America" along with better-known works by George Gershwin, Scott Joplin and others, which were released under Japan's Fontec label in 1994. This recording caught Japanese music critics' ears and was chosen as one of the most recommended recordings by the Record Geijutsu Magazine in 1998. The research I did with the Ecco Trio was my first serious musical introduction to this era, and that eventually grew into the project herewith presented.
Through my program, I would like to present educational opportunities for Japanese people, both young and old, to look into the foundation of American culture today by introducing music and other forms of arts of this specific period, for a better understanding of how America was built. I believe that such understanding could create a better relationship between the people of the U.S.A. and of Japan for the future.
Before the mid-19th century, American culture seemed just to follow European tradition. It was more than one half century after the Declaration of Independence was published (1776), when Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803~82) wrote "Self-Reliance" in 1841 and proclaimed transcendentalism, declaring the cultural independence of America. Emerson was followed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Edger Allan Poe, Mark Twain and others, the writers who eventually established America's originality and independence in literature and culture. This golden era named American Renaissance, became the basis of the prosperity of American literature today, by way of the "Lost Generation" writers of the first half of the 20th century, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
How did America rise so quickly to become culturally influential to the world?
We may find the answer in the era of "Good old days", by exploring the music and other forms of arts of those days, and revealing the power and freshness of the New World, that attracted many masters of European music.
Part I of the series: Good Old Days: from American Renaissance to the Jazz age, was given in March, 2002, in Tokyo with the generous support of a JUSFC grant. It won strong attention from music critics, journalists, and the audience for its unique and fresh approach introducing the American cultural background to Japanese people. The concert included musical selections with American or European roots, and some of the repertoire showed the audience how fresh and fascinating it was for European masters to visit and experience the new world for the first time.It was quite evident in their works: Dvorak's lovely Sonatine for Violin and Piano, was influenced by his fascination with native American Indian folk tunes. British composer Frederick Delius spent much of his youth in Florida. In his biographical note, he wrote; "...In Florida, through sitting and gazing at Nature, I gradually learnt the way in which I should eventually find myself...(and) hearing (the Afro-Americans') singing in such romantic surroundings, it was then and there that I first felt the urge to express myself in music." Also, French composer Maurice Ravel was so taken by Jazz that he applied "Blues" style in the second movement of his Violin Sonata, composed during the years of 1923 through 1927.
This first concert acted as a preview of the whole concept of the series and three more concerts will complete the series.
There will be a slide projection on screen and some discussions during the concert to help audience feel and understand the background and atmosphere of the era and evolution of American culture.