Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Wanted - an audience of innocent ears


That is Cecil Lytle in the photo above. In any discussion of the piano music composed jointly by Georges I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann, the focus invariably falls on the mercurial Gurdjieff, with de Hartmann consigned to the role of amanuensis. But in Cecil Lytle's essays that accompany his recordings of the complete piano music of Georges I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann made in the late 1980s while he was on the music faculty at University of California, San Diego, Lytle turns the spotlight on Thomas de Hartmann.

Born in Khoruzhivka, now part of Ukraine, Thomas de Hartmann was a graduate of the Russian Imperial Conservatory of Music, and studied conducting under Felix Mottl in Munich. In 1906 his four-act ballet La Fleurette Rouge [The Pink Flower] was performed in Moscow and St. Petersburg, with Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, and Michel Fokine dancing principal roles. A close friend of Alexander Scriabin, Thomas de Hartmann was also close to Wassily Kandinsky, who he met while studying in Munich. He shared the artist's interest in anthroposophy - other musicians attracted by Rudolf Steiner's teachings included Bruno Walter ando Jonathan Harvey - and synesthesia, and collaborated with Kandinsky on the 'color-tone drama' The Yellow Sound [Der gelbe Klang]. This experimental work was never performed in the lifetime of its creators, but was given a belated premiere in New York in 1982 using a score reconstructed by Gunther Schuller.

Because of the involvement of Gurdjieff - who is bracketed with Osho and Aleister Crowley in a thoughtful book titled Three Dangerous Magi - the piano music of de Hartmann and Gurdjieff is too often consigned to the spiritual freak show pigeonhole. But Cecil Lytle points out parallels between it and the compositions of Ravel, Busoni and Scriabin. As his compelling pianistic advocacy proves, among the voluminous de Hartmann/Gurdjieff oeuvre there is some estimable music that deserves to find an audience of innocent ears.

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