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Lazar Weiner’s set of short piano pieces known as Three Piano Preludes, dates from 1931. Only one of the pieces is actually a “prelude,” from the standpoint of conventional musical nomenclature. It is followed by two character pieces, which bear the Yiddish titles A maysele (A Little Story) and Tants (Dance). These artfully fashioned compositions are obviously informed by an overall aura of traditional eastern European Jewish folk melos, but, as is the general rule in Weiner’s music, no actual known preexisting tunes are quoted.
The prelude itself unfolds as an elaboration of a single musical idea. It proceeds toward a massive climax and then recedes to a calm, quiet conclusion. But the steady, unrelenting pace gives the piece a kind of massive power.
A maysele does indeed have the feeling of relating or reflecting a story, though it has no specific program. The character and tempo vary and fluctuate, as if in response to an imaginary narrative—in which the listener can use his own imagination as well. Tants comes off as a brilliant, animated show vehicle, taxing the skills of the virtuoso pianist, especially with its conclusion of soaring, mercurial octave passages.
The composer’s son, acclaimed pianist and Pulitzer Prizewinning composer Yehudi Wyner, has observed astutely that these pieces suggest a synthesis of elements, “deriving from Liszt, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy—and even Gershwin (!)” He feels that their uniqueness “stems from the convincing way in which Jewish folk material is integrated into the familiar technique of an international style.”