P1283. WILLIAM MASSELOS: MIKROKOSMOS (Bartok), recorded 1982. (Canada) 3-St Laurent Studio YSL 33-655. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"If there was ever a volume of piano music that could offer material for every student, at every age and every stage of their learning, from virtual beginner to Grade 8+; this is it. The MIKROKOSMOS were composed between 1926 and 1939.
Bartok composed the pieces for his son, Peter Bartok, to learn the piano. With pieces inspired by Hungarian folk music and song; a new generation of pianists was given the 153 Progressive Pieces for the Piano.
Volume 1 begins with simple eight-bar pieces in unison; hands in a five finger position but not with thumbs on Middle C. The pieces are well thought out and teach rhythm, pitch and technique through musically expressive and versatile pieces. Each one will introduce something new, perhaps a new five finger position giving a minor pentachord, dotted notes, repetition, inversion, open and closed phrases, canons, etc. - the list really is endless.
The music encourages the student to examine not just what the music says, but how it says it and what the musical effect is. There are no dynamics written in the first 21 pieces but you can explore different expressive ideas. Alternatively you can leave this aspect of playing for the later pieces. Each piece also offers the opportunity to use new elements creatively in your own compositions or improvisation.
Continuing through the Volumes, students will learn about different modes and scales, different touches and sounds, simple and compound time signatures, as well as irregular ones such as 5/4, and intervals and chords, leading to the final group of pieces, Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm. These are an exciting group of pieces, the first of which was dedicated to the English pianist, Harriet Cohen. As a group they serve as an excellent finale to the six volumes.
There are so many imaginative and good pieces in MIKROKOSMOS that it is impossible to single out just a few. The Hungarian influence can lead to some unusual sounds, strange ways of writing key signatures and odd phrase lengths. However, these can be embraced and made talking points."
- Angela Fogg
"Masselos was born in 1920 and died in 1992. His main teacher was Carl Friedburg, a pupil of Clara Schumann, and he thus was steeped in the German tradition, but advocacy for new music was a huge part of his artistry and careerâ€¦.Yves St. Laurent is a company dedicated to finding performances that really merit public exposure and preservation, and to doing it with the highest possible audio quality. They accomplish this successfully."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"In musical circles, Mr. Masselos was one of the most respected pianists of his time. He played the premiere performances of Charles Ives' Piano Sonata #1 (in 1949, 40 years after it was written) and of Aaron Copland's most ambitious work for keyboard, Piano Fantasy (1957). He commissioned and played the premiere performance of Ben Weber's Piano Concerto (1961). He was a pianist admired for his incisive, individual performances of contemporary and American music.
Mr. Masselos also played, penetratingly, music by composers as divergent as Brahms, Schumann, Griffes and Satie. Because he felt that concertgoing had become ritualized, he experimented with programs of unusual length and scope. In 1969, for example, he offered a three-and-a-half-hour concert at Carnegie Hall [above] that included works by Dane Rudhyar, Ives, Webern, Copland, Ben Weber, Schumann, Satie and Chopin, punctuated with four intermissions. The audience was invited to come and go as it pleased, to enjoy or avoid the musical schools of their choice.
'He always was one of the better American pianists', Harold C. Schonberg wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES after Mr. Masselos' marathon concert. 'Now he has developed into a great one. He plays in a rather unostentatious manner, and that may count against him on the circuit, where pianists put on a big show. But he has everything. To look over some of the virtues: tone, technique, musicianship, style, imagination, sensitivity. That will do for a start'.
William Masselos was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on 11 Aug., 1920. He studied at the Juilliard School, where his principal teacher was Carl Friedberg. He made his debut in 1939.
He was a regular participant in the WNYC American Music Festivals from 1946 through the mid-50's. He made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1952, playing the Brahms Concerto in d minor under the direction of Dimitri Mitropoulos. He worked with many conductors, among them Pierre Monteux and Leonard Bernstein. Although many thought of Mr. Masselos as a new-music specialist, he never eschewed the classics; 'I approach modern music in exactly the same way I approach Brahms or Schumann or Chopin', he said in 1971. 'Of course, new music is always a discovery, a new journey. When I prepare a new score by, say, Copland or Ben Weber or William Mayer, I begin by sight-reading it. It's like taking your first walk in a forest path, and you're very aware and alert, because it's a first, and it's a fresh experience. Then, little by little, things fall into place, and suddenly you know where you are; things become familiar'."
- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 Oct., 1992