Classified as "salon music," these pieces were heard often in both parlors and concert halls in the early years of the last century and were popular with piano teachers when I was taking lessons back in the 1960s. I recall struggling (without much success, to be honest) through works like the Paderewski "Minuet" and trying to imagine what a real performance would sound like. Back then recordings of this repertoire were few and far between.
Bridge Records has released a delightful album of some gems from those old books. Recorded by legendary pianist (and pupil of the great Artur Schnabel) Frank Glazer back in 2005, "Music of a Bygone Era" is a thoroughly entertaining trip down memory lane and a reminder of why this music was so popular. These are pieces that are easy on the ear, filled with appealing melodies, virtuoso flourishes, and just enough musical imagination to keep things interesting.
The runs and grace notes of Grieg's "Papillon," for example, nicely capture a butterfly in flight while Christian Sinding's "Rustle of Spring" evokes the eruption of new life at the turn of the season. Liadov's "Musical Snuff-Box" remains a charming imitation of a tinkling music box. And Stephen Heller's "The Trout" provides a collection of interesting embellishments on the theme of Schubert's "Die Forelle."
Listening to the grace and facility of these performances, it would be easy to forget that Mr. Glazer (born in February 1915) was 90 when he made this recording. In his liner notes, Mr. Glazer relates that while he (and many other piano students) played these pieces in the early years of the 20th century, when he arrived in Berlin to study with the great Artur Schnabel "I soon became aware that he would not be listening to this genre of repertoire, so it lay dormant, unused until may years later, when I decided to revive some of this music in a performance of 'A Sentimental Musical Journey' for a Brown-Bag Lunch concert at the Saco River Festival in Cornish, Maine. The program was so appreciated by the audience, reacting as many did with smiles and tears, that in the following two years we reminisced with additional such programs."
I smiled quite a bit myself at hearing these old chestnuts played with such conviction. I expect you will as well.