Notes re Bortkiewicz CD

Amemptos Music Ltd.

Supplementary notes to “The Forgotten Romantic”.


It was not possible to reproduce these notes within the accompanying CD booklet. We hope that listeners will find them informative and useful.


Lamentations and Consolations

TheLamentations and Consolations were published in 1914 in two books, each containing four pieces. Each lamentation is followed by a consolation in which the lamentation is in the minor key and the consolation is in the major.


TRACK1                  The first Lamentation is in D minor, and contrasts a recitative idea which opens the piece with a rather brooding andantino. Nonetheless, a typical Bortkiewicz melodic line is evident for a while until the work ends quietly, back again in pensive mood.

TRACK 2                 The first Consolation opens very quietly with the tonality in doubt following a series of modulations. Following a rising chromatic passage and a pause, the work immediately slips into D major with a simple melody over arpeggios in the left hand. The movement builds to a climax and dies away again with the melody in octaves, then Bortliewicz inserts to a whole tone scale, most reminiscent of Debussy. The opening idea then returns, rising chromatically, and the music ends on a chord of D major with an added seventh.

TRACK 3                 The first of the more violent of the Lamentations, the third section again starts with its tonality uncertain. Although it is ostensibly in C# minor, it takes 27 bars before the key is properly established; before this the work starts almost spookily, - quietly, with descending chromatics. This then gives way to a series of violent outbursts and sighs, almost crying out in pain. A typical Bortkiewicz melody then rises up, getting ever louder. This is followed by a cycle of rising suspensions, a device frequently used by the composer – indeed in the first concerto this figure occurs after only a few bars! Following a return to the opening gloom, the piece ends with a series of four thunderous chords, which then melt into the next section without a definite break. (Music editor’s note: we took the decision to break the tracks slightly later than the MS indicates, for obvious reasons!)

TRACK 4                 The C# minor chord of the previous movement becomes a chord of Db minor, neatly setting up the second Consolation in Db major. After opening with a recitative-like passage, one of Bortkiewicz's great melodies begins in the middle of the piano. This grows into octaves higher up the instrument accompanied with a sweeping left hand. Following some exotic harmony, the melody is taken into the left hand whilst the right accompanies with a series of parallel fourths in the extreme treble of the piano. Following a re-establishment of the previous section the music dies away to nothing.

TRACK 5                 Subtitled 'Le mal du pays' (homesickness), the third Lamentation is a deeply tragic work in A minor. One of the simpler movements, its melody is soon taken up by the left hand. The middle section seems less troubled, but builds to a section of repeated bars in Bb major which then, through a diminished chord, modulate back to A minor. The opening section returns, rounding off the movement.

TRACK 6                 Probably the simplest piece in the set, the third Consolation follows the same format as the previous piece.  A melody is accompanied by a series of arpeggios, leading to a modulation from A to Ab major. The left hand takes a new melody for the middle section before it returns to the first theme. Through a series of dominant seventh chords, the piece seems to be heading for a conclusion in the wrong key, but another whole tone scale takes us back to A major for a simple ending.

TRACK 7                 The fourth Lamentation, the most violent of the set, is essentially one big crescendo - and in the key of Eb minor paints about as black a picture as can be. The movement starts with an ominous figuration of quintuplets against semiquavers, very quietly. The next section, through a series of colourful rising chords moves into a Scriabin-like passage of repeated chords, with the melody in octaves. As the piece works up its fury, it modulates from Eb minor through F# minor to E minor and eventually reaches D minor, punctuated by violent accented bass notes. Through a sequence of rising chromatics the piece heads back towards its home key, which is re-established following a dramatic rest, and a truly thunderous final section. The three final chords, marked sfff conclude a terrifying work.

TRACK 8                 Following the explosive Lamentation, the fourth Consolation, In Eb major, opens with a relaxed, improvised feel, most reminiscent of Liszt. The time signature shifts between 4/4 and 6/4, with a melody fleshed out by chordal harmony. The middle section sees the left hand playing arpeggios, whilst the right plays a rising melody. The key constantly moves around, but eventually finishes in B major at the climax, with repeated chords. The music drifts into peace and the key only returns to Eb three bars from the end and fades gently to stillness.


Lyrica Nova

TRACK 9                 The first piece, in F sharp major sees a lush and lyrical melody played above sweeping arpeggios The opening melody is repeated in octaves before the piece modulates to B flat minor, with left hand imitating the right. The piece builds to a climax where it is marked agitato, in which the opening introductory theme becomes again important. This then dies away to nothing, with a repeat of the first section followed by a short coda.

TRACK 10               The second section is technically in B flat minor, but starts ambiguously – it is only in the very last bars that the key settles. Again the lyrical romantic melody sings out above a chromatic descending arpeggio feature, with the music perhaps bringing to mind a cold Russian winter.

TRACK 11               The third piece, again in F sharp major is characterised by a sustained melody, around which the exotic harmony constantly shifts. It has a central section around the relative minor but which is full of suspensions most characteristic of Bortkiewicz. The opening of the work returns, followed by a short coda.

TRACK 12               The final section, in D flat major, is marked most unusually con slancio. This immediately creates a dilemma; if con slancio is taken to mean moving forwards, or “thrusting”, then the movement is over in around a minute. However, at the end of each movement in the Lyrica Nova there is a performance time, which is correct for the others and which says 2 minutes for this one. In order to achieve this over the short 22 bars of the piece it is necessary to play it very slowly indeed, practically contradicting the con slancio direction. After much discussion and experimentation, we finally decided to take the piece at what Lloyd felt instinctively to fit with the other three sections. The movement is in effect a long crescendo, building in passion until its conclusion with a big spread chord.


Preludes Op. 66, Nos 1 & 3

TRACKS 13 & 14   The two surviving preludes from this last set of six preludes, dated 1947, are perfect little miniatures. No 1, in F sharp major, has a real lilt to it. It modulates to D major for a middle section before the original theme concludes the piece. It is rather playful and full of expression, as is No 3, in E flat minor. This one features a Scriabin-like repeated chordal accompaniment, over which Bortkiewicz writes a beautiful melody. The music never strays far from its home key, but with the suspensions and idiomatic writing it is a typical example of Bortkiewicz's finest music, with the ever-present hint of darkness.


Sonata No 2

This work, dated 1942, is possibly the greatest largely unknown romantic piano sonata ever written. In C sharp minor and completely different to the first sonata (written in 1909), it is full of sweeping melodies, passion, expression and romantic gestures.


TRACK 15               The first movement opens with a very Russian feel to it - and some later phrases in particular could be from nowhere else! - and makes an impact straight away. The music builds towards a rush of descending chromatics in double octaves which gives way to a much more simple section with lots of imitation between hands. This moves into a più allegro which modulates to F minor and involves a passage of mysterious dark rumbling in the bass. Then another broad melody appears, accompanied again by sweeping arpeggios and full of chromatic harmony. An allegro section full of dominant sevenths leads to another rush of double octaves followed by a repeat of the earlier simple section. The music then builds to a recapitulation of the opening subject and a set of majestic chords conclude the movement.

TRACK 16               The second movement is a form of caprice, with a trio section in the middle. Its opening theme is later decorated and accompanied by arpeggios, before its development concludes the first section. The trio is a rather light-hearted moment, but this gives way to a più vivace in which the right hand has a devilish feel to it. The trio ends with a melody rising above a pedal point before it tumbles down the keyboard for the da capo.

TRACK 17               The third movement is really in D flat major, though curiously the first seven bars and the last eight are written in C sharp major. Another wonderful, languorous melody is found here, with rich accompaniment, before an unexpected section marked religioso, which is almost a chorale with a recitative thrown in for good measure. A repeat of the opening section concludes the movement.

TRACK 18               The fourth movement is almost over before it has started. It has an extremely agitated feel with its syncopated melody which builds itself up until stopped by a section of chordal melody and harmony. The agitated theme soon makes its return, until it is shattered by a finale of blazing glory in C sharp major. Again containing the typical cycle of suspensions, one perhaps feels that this is where Bortkiewicz would have made it had he ever got to Hollywood! A big romantic allargando and final chord sequence concludes the work.


Lloyd Buck / Jon Bell

October 2008

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