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OSCAR LEVANT
American pianist (1906 - 1972)



Oscar Levant studied piano with Sigismond Stojowski and composition with Arnold Schoenberg.  He performed under the batons of Toscanini, Beecham, Mitropoulos, Reiner, Monteux, and Ormandy, the leading conductors of his day.  He was a supremely accomplished pianist and a first rate musician.  In the 1940s he was the top earning concert pianist in America and one of the top sellers of Columbia Records roster. Yet today, aside from a few Gershwin records - works of genius in my opinion - he is almost exclusively known as a comedic actor and broadcast personality. 

Oscar Levant's Gershwin is second to none. The performance of the Three Preludes is simply amazing.  Those of you who know this site will appreciate how unusual it is for me to say this, but aside from the pure joy of playing this music oneself on the piano, tere is really no earthly reason for anyone else to record it.  Levant gave the first concert performance of the Rhapsody.  His 1927 and 1945 recordings are both splendid.

He knew Gershwin well and, like Gershwin, was very successful as a writer of songs and music for theatrical productions.  But unlike Gershwin, he did ot take himself seriously as a composer of serious music, inspite of praise from the likes of Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Irving Kolodin, Gershwin himself, and Schoenberg. Oscar Levant composed string quartets, Orchestral works, with and without piano, and even an opera. And though very little of this output is available to be heard, I include him as one of the great pianist composers because I believe he belongs to that august fraternity.

There are some wonderful surprises here.  His Chopin, Brahms and Liszt are exquisite.  The recording of the original version of the Albeniz Tango has made all others redundant.  His Debussy is wonderful, as are the two dances from de Falla.

At the very end is a gem of a recording of the Oscar Levant transcription of Khachaturian's Sabre Dance as played by Moiseiwitsch.



Chopin  Études,  Op 10

recorded in 1946


4 in C minor



5 in G major




Chopin  Nocturne in F major, Op 15~2

recorded in 1946




Chopin  Berceuse, Op 57

recorded in 1946




Liszt  Sonetto del Petrarca 104

Recorded ca1954




Brahms  Waltz in A major, Op 39~15

1946 live radio broadcast




Brahms  Intermezzo in A major, Op 118~2

recorded in 1947




Tchaikovsky   Piano Concerto 1 in B flat minor, Op 23
Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra

recorded in one take in 1947

ia Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso. Allegro con spirito (beginning)



ib Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso. Allegro con spirito (conclusion)



ii Andantino semplice. Prestissimo



iv Allegro con fuoco




Grieg  Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 16
Efrem Kurtz conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra

i Allegro molto moderato
12:21ii Adagio
17:53iii Allegro moderato molto e marcato

recorded in 1947




Albéniz  Tango in D major

recorded ca1958




Debussy  "La fille aux cheveux de lin"

recorded in 1945




Debussy  "Clair de Lune"

1946 live radio broadcast




Debussy

10 La cathédrale engloutie from Préludes, Book I

recorded ca 1950




Debussy

Reflets dans l'eau
La soirée dans Grenade
6 Général Lavine – eccentric from Préludes, Book II
12 Minstrels from Préludes, Book I

recorded ca 1950




Debussy

6 "Golliwog's Cakewalk" from Children's Corner Suite
02:24 8 "La fille aux cheveux de lin" from Préludes, Book I
04:47 1 "Reflets dans l'eau" from Images, Book I
09:17
3 "Clair de lune" from Suite bergamasque
13:50
"La plus que lent"
18:09
5 "The little shepherd: from Children's Corner Suite

recorded ca1958




de Falla

Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo
03:50 ➢ Miller's Dance from The Three-Cornered Hat

recorded ca1958




Ernesto Lecuona y Casado (1895-1963)  6 "Malagueña" from Suite Andalucia

recorded ca1958




Gershwin  Three Preludes

1 Allegro ben ritmato e deciso 
2 Andante con moto e poco rubato
3 Allegro ben ritmato e deciso

recorded in 1950




Gershwin  Rhapsody in Blue
Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra

recorded in 1945




Gershwin  Rhapsody in Blue
with Frank Black and his orchestra

recorded in 1927




Gershwin  I Got Rhytm Variations for piano and orchestra
Morton Gould conducting his orchestra




Gershwin  Concerto in F
Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra

1944 live broadcast


i Allegro



ii Adagio. Andante con moto



iii Allegro Agitato




Khachaturian  Piano Concerto in D major, Op 38 (1936)
Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra

i Allegro ma non troppo e maestoso
14:59ii Andante con anima
25:49iii Allegro brillante

recorded in 1950




Oscar Levant  Piano Concerto (1942)
Alfred Wallenstein conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra

Live world premier recording on Feb 17, 1942




Khachaturian-Levant  Sabre Dance from the ballet Gayne
Benno Moiseiwitsch, piano

recorded in 1948










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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