Lecture/Recital: 'The Piano Music of Robert Helps'

Wednesday 5 December 2012, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Dharshini Tambiah (Research Student, University of York)

Robert Helps was an American composer and pianist of great renown: as a composer, Helps wrote with an innate sense of colour and with the performer’s sense of the expressivity and sensuality of a phrase; as a pianist, he played everything – both standard repertoire and twentieth century works – with the composer’s sense of structure and line. In 1996, Milton Babbitt summed him up thus: “not only the pianist’s pianist and the composer’s composer, but he is also the composer’s pianist and the pianist’s composer...”.

Difficult to classify, Helps’ music cannot adequately be described as ‘Neo-Romantic’, ‘Serial’, ‘Minimalist’, or any other of the prevailing schools of American music, and yet it is recognisably romantic, abstract, expressionist and even sometimes pointillistic. This case study will consist of an examination of Helps’ unique compositional voice within the context of his profound solo piano work, ‘Shall We Dance’: this is a one movement, stand-alone work in the tradition of the Chopin Ballades or the Berg Sonata, and is often considered to be Helps’ great masterwork for the piano. From the innocuous opening to the shattering climax and its muted aftermath, the seemingly free narrative journey of ‘Shall We Dance’ is actually tightly organised and the work as a whole is highly unified. Alongside analyses of the melodic, harmonic and formal characteristics of the work, the influence on this piece of other composers, in particular Roger Sessions (Helps’ composition teacher and life-long friend) and Ravel, will be considered, as will Helps’ twentieth century interpretation of the waltz aesthetic.

Dharshini Tambiah holds a first class music degree from Lancaster University and graduated with Distinction from her postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music. Her recent performances have included a solo recital at the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt as part of the International Haydn Festival, two solo recitals at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall, and chamber recitals at the Kaufman Centre and at Weill Recital Hall in New York.   

Location: Rymer Auditorium