Reviews of music which premiered or was published or was released in 1939.
1. Paul Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano (9/10)
Hindemith’s final viola sonata is exactly the kind of thing I like, and reminds me that, when Hindemith wanted to, he could be both radical and traditional at the same time. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about this music, but the work is aggressive, for lack of a better word, with an absolutely bonkers piano part. It’s a great work that manages to sound both forward thinking and reasonably romantic at the same time.
2. Karl Amadeus Hartmann: Concerto Funebre (9/10)
The Concerto funebre is like a string quartet writ large, where the lead violin’s role is exaggerated and the other three instruments assume lesser roles than normal, only their sound is trebled (or what have you). The first movement lulls you into thinking this is some pretty conventional music, but it soon stands that on its ear. A good mix of tradition and forward thinking. And, like so much of the music inspired by what the Nazis were up to, it is truly stirring.
Note: I have only heard the 1959 revision of this piece.
3. Earl Hines Orchestra: “The Father’s Getaway” (9/10)
This has a neat intro but appears to veer dangerously into ragtime but is saved by some typical Hines madness of selecting really odd chords for the bass parts (not a musicologist, sorry). Also, the break near the end is bonkers, just bonkers. As is the end.
4. Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit” (8/10)
It is an obvious classic, though it’s not jazz, as I understand jazz. (But back then, I guess it qualified.) And that’s fine. It’s still a landmark recording as perhaps the first popular hit about racism in the US. And you get a great example of how she played with tempo.
5. Billie Holiday: “Fine and Mellow” (7/10)
“Fine and Mellow” is closer to traditional big band jazz, but is still focused around her vocal performance more than anything else. This track really shows off the bluesiness of her voice and the uniqueness of it.
6. Benny Carter and His Orchestra: “Melancholy Lullaby”
I didn’t rate the individual tracks at the time so this is one to revisit.
6. Benny Carter and His Orchestra: “Riff Romp”
6. Benny Carter and His Orchestra: “Shufflebug Shuffle”
6. Benny Carter and His Orchestra: “When Lights Are Low”
10. Earl Hines: “Piano Man” (7/10)
The title track (of the “greatest hits” Hines compilation I’ve heard) appears to be the 1939 “Piano Man” (there are four, confusingly) and it’s more of a celebration of Hines’ legend than anything else. It’s basically the overture here.