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by Seth Colter Walls

August 5, 2013

Erwin Schulhoff's Swinging, Revolutionary Piano

by Seth Colter Walls  |  August 5, 2013

Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff was born into a family of Jewish German descent just before the dawn of the 20th century; as an adult, he loved the African American jazz tradition. Predictably, the Nazis banned his music, and in 1941 they sent Schulhoff to a concentration camp, where he died of tuberculosis. But his blazing, brilliant music lives on and is being championed by a growing number of modern players.

Pianist Caroline Weichert's excellent new recordings of Schulhoff's solo piano works give a sense of the rhythmic play of his various foxtrots and rags. Meantime, jazz (and classical) virtuoso Branford Marsalis says of the "Hot Sonata" for alto saxophone and piano: "The whole piece — it has little tricks. It's like some of those old blues guys used to do … they’d play a bassline and you'd think it's on one beat and it's on a completely different beat … and it works. It's very cool that way."

Though Schulhoff excelled in many styles of composition, the appended playlist features his greatest, jazziest riffs. Each pianist who tries them on — like Weichert, Tomáš Víšek or Margarete Babinsky — will have different strategies of attack. But the underlying exuberance of Schulhoff is never in doubt.

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