The closest thing I’ve ever got to a dwarf is by looking at its definition in a dictionary:
In folklore, one of the types of diminutive creatures that are usually described as shrunken little old ones that inhabit the earth and act as custodians of its treasures; troll.
The plastic subspecies of garden gnomes is not mentioned even in the extensive Naxos catalog! But what catches your eye when flipping through albums is the variety of musical interpretations that composers have given to these shrunken little old men. I would like to share with you some of these contrasting auditory images.
Let’s start with a short piece for solo piano by Edward McDowell, who was born in 1860 in New York City. He continued his studies in Paris and Germany, and in 1879 gave his first concert at the Frankfurt Goch Conservatory on the occasion of Franz Liszt’s visit. The following year Liszt also heard him play in two concerts; McDowell dedicated his first piano concerto to him. In 1890 he wrote his Twelve Etudes, Op. 39, before each of which contains a title, creating a romantic mood, scene or image. No. 6 in the set – a vile miniature called Dance of the Dwarves: very fast with fire.
Dance of the Dwarves (8.559030)
Compiled about thirty years earlier, in 1862, his own Letter Gnomenreigen (Dance of the Dwarves) evokes a similar characteristic of the creature, but the technical requirements of the work require a much greater variety of strokes in the dazzling scherzo.
Spanish composer Manuel de Falla had a much more refined vision of the little guys depicted in it courtship of gnomes (Procession of Dwarves), which he wrote at the turn of the twentieth century, when he was twenty years old and he was studying at the Madrid Conservatory.
courtship of gnomes (8.555066)
Time for a gnome sandwich by English composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900). In the late 19th century, London’s Covent Garden pursued a policy of inserting ballet into any opera in which it did not exist, either using an existing work or ordering a new one. This led to a young ballet score by Sullivan called Enchanted island that he made his debut in May 1864 as a divertissement at the end of Bellini’s opera The sonnabula.
The history of ballet is short. The shipwrecked shipwreck was thrown ashore on an enchanted island where only gnomes and fairies live. The fairy queen is so fascinated by him that she carries him to her charming gazebo, where most other fairies also fall in love with him. Here is the section of the score marked “Storm – Entrance of the Dwarves – Entrance of the Queen of Fairies.” Perhaps you will agree that, as with de Falla, Sullivan’s musical images sound faster than awful.
Enchanted island (8,555180)
The following passage becomes a little sharper on this subject, as seen through biblical allusion. Dwarves – the second part of the string quartet № 4 by the Chinese composer Ge Gang-ru, Angel’s Suite. The composer writes:
“Of all my works, this work is the closest to the Western classical music tradition and differs from other of my music. The name comes from my interest in Christianity, although I myself am not a Christian. For years, religion was banned in China. In this paper, I try to express my curiosity and observation of various aspects of Christianity. The names of the movements refer to the subjects I wanted to musically represent. For example, in the first part the harmonious glissanda represents the cherubim; second movement (Dwarves) focuses on the dance rhythm that comes from the steady bass notes on the cello. The initial motif on the violin gradually grows into a full dance.
A similar sinister rhythmic persistence can be heard in Grieg’s short piano solo. Tusselåt (Procession of the Dwarves), written in 1898. Grieg’s encounter with Norwegian folk music and folklore, as well as the assimilation of his essential features, soon led to the fact that many people largely identified his works with this genre, and it remains so today. His works have helped establish the national identity and international profile of Norwegian music. For example, there are few music lovers who would not immediately know Grieg In the Hall of the Mountain King. But for now, here are his annoying gnomes.
We end, perhaps, the most famous of all musical gnomes: Dwarf from Mussorgsky Pictures at the exhibition. Originally written for piano solo, it was orchestrated by Maurice Ravel to be often included in orchestral programs. But there are many other orchestras of the work, and I’m going to finish with what was prepared by Sergei Gorchakov (1905-1976), who retains dark colors but plays relatively soberly compared to some of Ravel’s horrible embroidery. The whole set of “paintings” was inspired by the paintings of Victor Hartmann, architect, artist and friend of Mussorgsky. I will sign with a description of Hartmann’s image: “A sketch depicting a dwarf running awkwardly with crooked legs.”