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In the 1920s Jazz Age, ‘jazz’ – like ‘ragtime’ before, and ‘rock’ after – became a general term for the most popular music of its time, viz. commercial dance-band music often with a minimal jazz influence. Classical composers, notably Stravinsky and Weill, were intrigued by what they understood as jazz. Berlin- based pianist Gottlieb Wallisch has released an album of shimmies, foxtrots, tangos and Charlestons by fine composers Eisler, Krenek, Martin˚u and Schulhoff, plus lesser figures. He’s researched enough material to make this Austrian and Czech edition the first of a series. (‘Czechia’ is the official name of the Czech Republic, anachronistic for this period – maybe Wallisch intends a Slovak edition too?)

The jazz craze was epitomised by Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf, an overnight sensation in 1927. The album opens with Jen˝o Takács’s arrangement of a potpourri from the opera, including an affecting ‘Blues’. Krenek later admitted that when writing the opera, he ‘had only very vague conceptions about real jazz ... primarily influenced by ... Paul Whiteman and other groups.’ (There are enduring issues about the portrayal of Johnny, who was originally a performer in blackface.) My favourite is the very entertaining ‘Thannhauser-Foxtrot’ by Leopold Kraus-Elka (c1921), a nice example of jazzing the classics. But the whole album is very entertaining.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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