Elliott Schwartz studied composition with Otto Luening, Jack Beeson, and Paul Creston. Much of his music takes the form of collage in which he takes snippets of other composers’ works and weaves them into a well-made musical fabric by means of various mathematical or serial techniques. His music may be one way that we unify the musical past with our own time. Although some of his works are reminiscent of difficult 20th-century composers, Schwartz’s compositions are surprisingly accessible. His textures are rich, his harmonies inventive, and every once in a while, he includes a bit of humor. His Second String Quartet is dedicated to Louise Nevelson and Aaron Copland, two very different artists who have some aspects in common. They were born one year apart and they have similar ethnic backgrounds. Both made creative use of found objects. Nevelson used discarded items in her art works and Copland incorporated folk tunes into his compositions. What Schwartz used in this work was a 12-tone row that Copland had assembled but never used. With his talent for harmonic invention, Schwartz made it into a thoroughly charming and accessible piece. His Memorial in Two Parts is really two pieces. The first is dedicated to pianist Andrew Wolf who often accompanied violinist Isaac Stern. Since Wolf often played the Schumann Piano Quintet and Gershwin’s Preludes, they are remembered here. Finding them is not easy, however, because Schwartz has done a great deal of very fine piecework here, even using some of the memorial fragments in a 12 tone row. Part II remembers Bowdoin College Professor of Romance Languages Gabor Brogyanyi, who had once been a Vienna choirboy. Passages from Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen , (The Shepherd on the Rock), Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), and the Mozart Requiem make up some of the patches Schwartz uses in the design of his 20th-century musical quilt.
In 1996, Schwartz wrote Tapestry, a trio for violin, cello, and piano, for comedian Victor Borge’s foundation, Thanks to Scandinavia . It incorporates bits of the work of composer Gideon Klein who was interned at Theresienstadt. Other snippets used are from Vaughn Williams’s Fifth Symphony and a Danish children’s song. Schwartz then adds the tones that correspond to letters in Borge’s name. All of this music is molded into a well-organized single movement trio that recalls the work of Scandinavians who saved prospective victims from the Holocaust. As in his previous works, the composer breaks his materials into tiny fragments and then reassembles them in a quasi-Schoenbergian style. The work begins with short phrases from each instrument, after which violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved holds his note while Aaron Shorr’s piano decorates it. Nicole Johnson’s cello provides a balance for the high violin tones and it provides a strong bass voice to which the piano adds texture. These three musicians have a great rapport and play wonderfully well together. Water Music was written in 2002 when Schwartz was in residence at the London College of Music and Media. He adds a motif on the letters LCMM and the sound of water flowing at various speeds to slices of works by Smetana, Wagner, Handel, and especially Chopin. With that combination of forces, this piece has a sunnier ambience than the earlier works heard here. The artistry of the British virtuoso string ensemble Longbow helps make this composition a fitting finale for this well-put-together disc.
Although the recording was made in various venues, the sound is clear and pleasant. Solo instruments are always heard to good advantage. I recommend this compact disc for anyone interested in 20th- and 21st-century music.