Few if any of these works were designated as nocturnes when they were first composed; the title was given to 24 of the 26 pieces when they were published as a set in Nor were they part of any category applied by Brubeck himself. They span a period from about "Lullaby," which Brubeck wrote for his future wife Iola when both were students at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, CA to the early s. And while many of them are slow and lyrical enough to fall under the nocturne label, all kinds of moods and programs are represented: there are Mexican- and Japanese-flavored pieces, works written for personal and familial uses, works dedicated to other musicians, and so on.
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Many of them have a special significance to me, as I almost always write from personal experience. For example, when I first saw Lake Tahoe as a child, the pristine blue waters surrounded by pine forest seemed like Shangri-la. When I was twenty years old, I spent one wonderful summer at Tahoe with my jazz band playing our very first engagement. When I was married, I had one day on Army leave for a honeymoon, and Lake Tahoe was the place we chose.
Blue Lake Tahoe is filled with youthful memories. Growing up on a ranch in Northern California, I often heard the call of the meadowlark as I walked through the grassy fields.
The melody of Strange Meadowlark is based on the actual notes of that call. It is one of my favourite songs, with beautiful lyrics by my wife, Iola. Sometimes my pieces are like postcards. Looking at a Rainbow was written after a rainstorm in Tokyo on my first trip to Japan, when I watched a rainbow arch across the city.
I was so impressed with the delicate sounds I heard emanating from a koto concert in a fine Japanese restaurant that I wrote Koto Song, based on the scale of that Japanese stringed instrument. Koto Song is slightly tinged with the blues. Perhaps I was getting a bit homesick at this point. In earlier years I performed in Mexico frequently and always enjoyed excursions to many parts of that fascinating country. The title Nostalgia de Mexico is self-explanatory. Recalling the people and the scenery of Mexico, I composed Recuerdo especially for a Mexican tour and played it for the first time to an audience in Belles Artes, Mexico City.
After the concert, I realised I had captured something of Mexico when I heard people singing the refrain "recuerdo" as they walked down the street. In some of the pieces, if you were to look at the notation, you would notice a visual pun, if that is the right term. For instance, on the printed music of I See, Satie you would see the notes forming a pear shape in the last three measures.
This is in reference to a musical precedent. When the music of the great French composer Erik Satie was criticized for its lack of form, his response was to write a piece that was visually formed in the shape of a pear. In the music for Looking at a Rainbow the ties over notes form an arch. In A Misty Morning, picturing the earth shrouded in fog, the melody is hidden in the middle notes for the first twelve bars, instead of the usual placement in the top line.
Other pieces reflect domestic life. There was a period when Iola had gone to California to attend to her mother, who was ill. That is when I wrote Home Without Iola. Undoubtedly those two pieces evoke the same emotions. We are blessed with grandchildren. He could hear my piano from his bedroom, and I would entice him to lie still and listen to me play, softly, very, very softly, and soon he would be sound asleep. Five for Ten Small Fingers was composed for a pianist friend after she complained that some of the chords in my music were too difficult for her small fingers to execute.
Quiet As the Moon was first written for voices, then adapted as background music for a Peanuts television special about the NASA space programme.
Softly, William, Softly was to be an aria in an opera that I never completed. Sometimes a composition comes out of interest in a certain musical sound or style. Study in Fourths has the harmonization of the melody in chords built on the interval of a fourth. Fats, a tribute to early jazz pianist Fats Waller, is based on boogie-woogie, the popular piano style recorded by Fats and many other pianists of the era. The first record I ever purchased in my life was a Fats Waller recording.
When I play Mr. Fats I think of him and of Cleo Brown, who was the first internationally recognized artist I knew. I played intermission piano for her in a nightclub in Stockton, California when I was in college. So, as you can see, all of these pieces rise out of my personal life, and it is gratifying to hear them so splendidly recreated by the artistry of John Salmon. The musical score to Nocturnes was published by Warner Bros.
Fats and I Still Am in Love With a Girl Named Oli, happy, swinging tunes, are not nocturnes, but included here precisely for their change of character. Audrey is none other than Audrey Hepburn, wistful and delicate. Lullaby was written during their courtship, when both were students at College of the Pacific, Stockton, California. It is as ingenuous and heartfelt as a character piece by MacDowell.
Home Without Iola expresses how Dave Brubeck feels when she is not around. One thinks of Schubert, who composed both massive works like the three last Sonatas, D. Short pieces can carry their own kind of truth. John Salmon.
Dave Brubeck: Nocturnes