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Leo Ornstein: The Sonata on the Edge and the Chaos Beyond.
September 3, 2008 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Leo Ornstein is generally considered to have been one of the greatest pianists of the early twentieth century. His performances of works by avant-garde composers and his own innovative and even shocking pieces made him a cause célèbre on both sides of the Atlantic. By the mid-1920s, he had walked away from his fame and soon disappeared from popular memory. And although he passed away in 2002, the internet still remembers him and his amazing legacy of work. At this website dedicated to the artist and his work, you can read all about him as well as listen to many of his scores and MP3s-on-demand. There's also readable sheet music here at the International Music Score Library Project . And there's a register of archived documents spanning Leo's career over at Yale University's website.

If all of that has grabbed your attention and you find yourself thinking "you know what? I really want to learn more about this Ornstein guy", here's some more links you might find of interest.

Leo Ornstein interviewed by Charles Amirkhanian on Leo's 100th Birthday.

Another interview, this time between Leo and his wife, conducted by Vivian Perlis.

Max Schubel and Jennifer Rinehart interview Leo.

Marc-André Hamelin's performance of Suicide in an Airplane from the Hyperion Leo Ornstein: Piano Music.

A video of a 2002 performance of Morning in the Woods for solo piano by Sarah Cahill.
posted by Effigy2000 (7 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love, love, love Ornstein's tonal stuff. It has to be performed well, though.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:07 PM on September 3, 2008


wow, not many people can say they've lived in *3* centuries.
posted by troy at 10:23 PM on September 3, 2008


Wow, this guy retired in 1953 and kept composing for almost fifty years after that!

My hat is off to him. And such fine, fine work. (Listening to some piano music now.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:26 PM on September 3, 2008


This is a truly excellent post, Effigy2000 and thanks for making my evening. I've been at this site for over an hour, and the sheer variety of Ornstein's compositional output is remarkable. As a pianist, I can't believe I've only "heard the name", until tonight. This is a treasure trove. Much of this music, (such as the flute-piano duets) is fresh and adventurous and simply wondrous.

Of course, as in similar web music resources (at least many classical ones) the challenge is to match an available audio file with it's corresponding available .PDF, so as to read the score while listening (such lists, of course, don't always match). But the effort here is rewarding.

For even non-classical fans, and those who may gravitate towards less avant-garde, may I heartily recommend Ornstein's masterful "Solitude". [link is to the MP3] One could possibly expect perhaps a brooding or more simplistic work or maybe an angry dirge from such a title, but not so. Ornstein's tonal and textural brilliance in composing for the piano is on full display here, and it's just highly accessible, modern music. I simply cannot stop listening to this evocative, mysterious and beautiful composition. (and this, after teaching and practicing all day). I must learn it at once. It is unique, yet I hear echoes of Erik Satie to be sure, but with touches of Ravel and even Brahms (in its rhapsodic middle part), and (melodically) Chopin. And all in 4 and 1/2 minutes.

And to think I'm only halfway through the list in this site and haven't even seen the other links yet. Forgive my effusiveness, but thank you again.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 11:03 PM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're most welcome, Seekerofsplendor! Your kind of comment is the reason I post anything around these parts. Enjoy the rest of the links!
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:17 PM on September 3, 2008


The site has a lot of downloads, after listening a bit I simply got all of them. I'm surprised he isn't better known, this is great stuff, both viscerally exciting and intellectually challenging. I assume he just wasn't in step with the styles of his day.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:14 AM on September 4, 2008


I just popped "Solitude" on, and it is indeed very beautiful. A tiny oasis of calm and breath in my high blood-pressure day, for which my thanks.
posted by Wolof at 7:56 PM on September 4, 2008


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