The American Sound
20th Century American Masters at the Keyboard

Music by George Gershwin, Aaron Jay Kernis, Philip Glass, Irving Fine, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland
Gideon Rubin, piano
© 2001 GBR Recordings


GBR Recordings GR2117


1. Allegro Ben Ritmato E Deciso
2. Andante Con Moto E Poco Rubato
3. Allegro Ben Ritmato E Deciso

4. Before Sleep And Dreams: Lullaby

5. Mad Rush

6. Prelude
7. Waltz-Gavotte
8. Variations
9. Interlude-Finale

10. For Shirley Gabis Rhoads Perele
11. For Stephan Sondheim
12. For Aaron Stern
13. For Felicia Montealegre

14. The Young Pioneers

15. Molto Moderato
16. Vivace
17. Andante Sostenuto

18. In Evening Air


There are two groups of composers represented in this recording. The first is made up of friends and colleagues who lived in Boston and New York in the middle of the 20th Century. Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Irving Fine were all influenced by American popular music, especially jazz, and helped to create a sound in their art music that was uniquely American. They were indebted to George Gershwin, their predecessor, who was the first to straddle the two worlds of popular and classical music in a way that made Europeans sit up and listen to American composers.

Copland’s music became widely recognized as quintessentially American, especially the so-called “populist” works like Appalachian Spring and Billy the Kid. In the 1930s and 1940s, he had consciously set out to use simple harmonies, folk melodies, and pop-rhythms to create a nationalistic music for America. This took a lot of courage at a time when the general trend among most serious American composers was toward cerebral complexity and dissonant harmonic language. The Young Pioneers, with its jaunty rhythms and folk-song sound, is just such an evocation of the American frontier. In Evening Air shows the nostalgic lyricism which made Copeland so beloved. The Sonata also contains jaunty pop-rhythms and yearning melodies, but within a more dissonant and austere harmonic landscape.

The Sonata was written during the Second World War, and it seems that Copland was trying to make peace with the way the world was changing as a result of industry and technology The piece presents a musical representation of the conflict between the forces of Man and the natural landscape of the frontier. The many crashing vertical sonorities that begin the piece represent for me the huge vertical skyscrapers of New York City (where Copland lived for many years). The second theme area is a complete contrast, representing the ‘Appalachian’ lyricism. The second movement starts with what sounds to me like a young boy selling newspapers in the big city crying out, “Extra! Read all about it!” The last movement is again crashing vertically versus gentle melody. The mood at the end is both sad and hopeful. There is an appreciation of Man’s virtue and an understanding of his destructive power in the pursuit of ‘progress.’

Leonard Bernstein was acclaimed both as a great conductor and as a composer of a kind of Classical- Broadwav hybrid style. Like Copland, he faced harsh criticism from the members of the Classical music elite for selling out’ to the taste of the masses. While he was a fine pianist, he did not write very much for the instrument. He was, however, able to snatch moments out of his busy schedule to sit at the piano and compose small character pieces as presents for friends or in memory of them which he called ‘Anniversaries.’

Irving Fine’s style is also a kind of well-crafted Classical-Broadway mixture. This suite of movements, which he called Music for Piano, is full of the frenetic energy of a bustling city. In the outer movements short melodic ideas run into each other, as if in a witty conversation. The variation movement is the spiritual core of the piece. Its earnest and simple expressiveness is very touching.

The second group of composers represented in this recording comes out of contemporary America, where most mainstream audiences dread new music for fear that it will be overly cerebral and atonal. Fighting against this trend (like Copland did in his time) for the last 25 years has been a group of composers dedicated to writing great music that can be appreciated by a wider audience. Aaron Jay Kernis and Phillip Glass represent such composers. While their styles are very different, both use traditional Western harmony. Mad Rush is an example of Minimalist style, wherein simple rhythmic patterns which evolve slowly are combined with simple harmonic progressions to create a hypnotizing mood. The piece is structured around the contrast between the tranquil A-section and the fiery B-section. The B-section is where we feel the mad rush. The Kernis Lullaby is a neo-Romantic Nocturne with lush harmonies and a singing melodic line. The unpredictable, asymmetrical figuration in the top line gives the impression of a transcribed improvisation. Pieces like these, which can be embraced by a wider audience, help to ensure the future vitality of American Classical music.

Gideon Rubin gave his first performance as soloist with an orchestra at age 12. He attended the Marines School of Music, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude from Harvard, and then earned a Masters in Music from Boston University. He is presently working toward a doctorate at the University of Southern California. As soloist, he has performed twice with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston’s Symphony Hall, with the Boston Classical Orchestra, with the Mannes Orchestra, twice with the New World Symphony (once conducting from the keyboard), on tour of Israel with the New England Conservatory Youth Orchestra, with the Longy School Orchestra, and at the Eastern Music Festival where he teaches and performs in the summers.

His main teachers have been Edward Aldwell, Russell Sherman, Benjamin Pasternack, and Norman Krieger. He has performed solo and chamber music recitals throughout the United States and in Europe, and has just left his position as resident pianist for the New World Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. He has participated in many summer festivals including Aspen, the Academy of the West, Bowdoin, and Tanglewood.

Mr. Rubin is an active supporter of new music. He has performed with new music ensembles in New York, at Harvard University, at Boston University, and with the New World Symphony, and has performed many new works in premieres, including some of his own compositions. His own works include compositions for voice, string orchestra, piano, and electronic media. He has recorded the orchestra music of Steven Mackey on the RCA-BMG label as a member of the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thorn Thomas.

Mr. Rubin also studies the martial arts of Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Chi Gung under Master Curl lotion in Los Angeles.


Recording Editor: Evan Sanchez.
Recording Engineer: Peter McGrath
Photos by Roy Llera.



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Piano Music on Pianovox
Minimal Piano Works, Volume 1 on Piano Productions

Mad Rush