A Review of Christopher Schlegel's Piano Waltzes

G. Stolyarov II
Issue XXVI - September 4, 2004
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A sample imageAny thorough connoisseur of classical music will recall the contemplative elegance of piano waltzes from the Romantic era, notably the works of Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, and Liszt. How often has such a listener found himself disappointed that the era in which these works were created had been but a brief stretch of a bygone past? How often has he thought that new developments in this genre have not occurred for over a century? Nevertheless, the mindset that created these works still survives today, and has been used to create a series of compositions which provide a benevolent listening atmosfere, and wonderfully expressive logical patterns for the listener to follow. Objectivist composer Christopher Aaron Schlegel has crafted twenty-four piano waltzes, one in every key, major and minor. Combined, these waltzes constitute a two-CD collection and provide over eighty minutes of esthetic pleasure and originality.

            Overall, the waltzes provide an excellent setting for deliberation; they interest the listener, and they challenge him to discover their inner logic, but they do not pressure him into a frenzy nor impose a strain on his ear or his faculties. They are thus the perfect fit for the gentleman listener, who thrives in an environment of serious comfort, which allows for productivity, contemplation, and leisure without compromising either quality.

            One of Mr. Schlegel’s remarkable qualities as a composer, employed throughout the waltzes, is his ability to infuse movement into his melodies. Seldom are two measures repeated consecutively, but rather several measures constitute a larger-scale development; the melody either rises toward a culmination, or is directed toward the lower notes, where it either undergoes a pause in preparation for a new development, or enters swift passages of shorter (eighth or sixteenth) notes. And, just as the melody must always be headed in some purposeful direction, so must the thoughts of the listener experiencing it.

            Mr. Schlegel has also created masterful transitions between passages, which cause them to logically flow into one another. If a passage ends on a high note, and the next passage is intended to begin on a substantially lower one, Mr. Schlegel will take care to gradually descend in the transition to the place where it is appropriate to initiate the next passage.  There is nothing abrupt, shocking, or disjoint in the structure of Mr. Schlegel’s waltzes, which is a vast relief for one living in a time whose mainstream esthetic filosofy worships “spontaneity and surprise” at the expense of system and substance.

            Of course, a well-integrated structure permits Mr. Schlegel to employ a far greater variety of techniques and ornamentation to comprise the substance of his melodies, than would otherwise have been possible. For example the Waltz in B Flat Major employs multiple trills, while the Waltz in B Flat Minor contains rapid up-and-down passages which span several octaves. Because they are fused into the macroscopic arc of the composition, they do not appear superfluous or whimsical. Moreover, in considering the collection as a whole, the juxtaposition of major and minor waltzes allows for an interesting glimpse into the vastness of possibility rendered available by the systematic approach to composition. The low, quiet Waltz in B Minor, composed in a particularly deep minor key, is followed by the dynamic and energetic Waltz in C Major. Major-minor transitions also feature prominently in the Waltz in D Flat Minor, whose culmination of large, powerful chords begins in major, and transitions seamlessly into minor as the melody descends.

            For an Objectivist thinker, waltzes such as these confirm a crucial discovery made by Ayn Rand. Emotions are not detached from reason; they do not have an origin independent of it, but rather are derived from reason and explicable in objective terms. Mr. Schlegel’s waltzes are capable of expressing a broad variety of emotions and impressions, from joy to melancholy, from grandeur to calm, through their rational structure. Any emotion that is conceivably proper to man can be thus expressed in a universally accessible manner, be it in a melody or in words. Any emotion that has potential value to man can find its manifestation in a great work of art. It is interesting to note that the emotion of humility has no place here; none of the waltzes holds a trace of it, because humility involves the suppression of man’s creativity and potential, the holding back of self-respect and opportunity under the credo, “I am not worthy!” The bland simplicity of the humble man would implore the latter to reject objects of “too great a beauty.” After all, he is “only a man, after all.” On the other hand, the dynamic and colorful work of Mr. Schlegel affirms within the listener the profound efficacy or rational thought and individual initiative. These waltzes are a product of man, and meant to be appreciated by man, after all!

            Of all the waltzes, my personal favorite is the Waltz in D Flat Major, with its steady rhythm, firm chords, and extensive ornamentation. Its melody is reminiscent of the joyous spirit of the Belle Epoque, the “beautiful epoch” of the late nineteenth century, when the Western world was infused with notions of a glorious, prosperous, peaceful, and heroic future. In developing classical music as it would have progressed absent the lapse into modernism, an esthetic paradigm such as this is the logical place to begin.

            The majority of the twentieth century had been an Age of Envy, Humility, and Scorn, and it is no surprise that few works worthy of building upon the legacy of the great Romantic Classics had emerged then. However, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, Mr. Schlegel’s Objectivist convictions of individual efficacy, rationality, and benevolence have given rise to the style of Futuristic Romanticism, in which the Piano Waltzes are composed. Those who seek a return to serious, life-affirming values in art will enjoy listening to and analyzing this next step in the evolution of true classical music.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.