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RAGTIME CLASSICS : Southwest Chamber Group's 1920s Program Reflects Effect of Flapper Fever in Europe

June 17, 1993|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition.

American classical composers once looked to Europe for their models. But Europeans began returning the compliment in the 1920s.

"We think of (the '20s) as the jazz era, the flapper era, Americans going to Paris, that sort of thing," says pianist Leonard Stein.

"But, on the other hand, the Europeans were very much influenced by American models."

The American models were ragtime and jazz.

Schoenberg's Suite, Opus 25, and Hindemith's Suite, Opus 22, are two works that show these influences, if on a rather sophisticated level. Stein will play both works in a 1920s program by the Southwest Chamber Music Society today at Chapman University.

The American influences were "in the air at that time," Stein said. "But let's say the art composer uses these means in a different context.

"What you find in both pieces," he said, is an "emphasis on rhythm and accenting--which you would find naturally in danced movements--sort of brought up to date, as Stravinsky did too.

"The excitement is in the accentuation and the cross-rhythms, the syncopations, accents off the beat--the non-adherence to metrical values, which is more a modern idea."

Schoenberg was "aware of the aesthetic around him, although he wrote the Suite in Vienna and you might say it has a Viennese flavor to it."

But he had a practical purpose, too.

"I think that in his own way he was using these more popular, accessible forms as a kind of hook to bring in new (12-tone compositional) methods--something that would be understood with its form."

For this reason, he shaped each movement after dance forms of the early 18th Century--the gavotte, minuet and gigue.

But "despite the non-tonal method," Stein said, "Schoenberg's Suite is still very light music, although it is not usually played that way.

"One thinks only of the difficulties of making sense of a new kind of method of composition. But in essence it's rather light music."

Hindemith went a step further, calling movements in his Suite "Shimmy," "Boston" and "Ragtime."

"He even writes a direction in the 'Ragtime' that one should play it like a machine," Stein said. "So you can see a kind of modernism at work there, to imitate the machine."

Schoenberg's gigue, too, has "some aspects of almost mechanical playing. But Schoenberg's aesthetic is still attached to the period before, so one would interpret this music in a more Romantic, more personal way. I find that its most interesting aspect," said Stein.

But the pop influence didn't last, at least in Hindemith's case. He later avowed "a complete rejection of this period of his writing," Stein said.

"As he became more 'serious,' he rejected these earlier influences of jazz and so-called 'vulgar' vocabulary."

But the American-influenced works retain their vitality. Works by Varese, Poulenc and Milhaud will complete today's program at Chapman.

* What: Southwest Chamber Music Society plays music by Schoenberg, Poulenc and others.

* When: Thursday, June 17, at 8 p.m.

* Where: Bertea Hall (Music Building), Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange.

* Whereabouts: Take the Garden Grove (22) Freeway to the Glassell Street exit; head north and go three blocks past Chapman Avenue to the college.

* Wherewithal: $7 and $14.

* Where to call: (800) 726-7147.

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