Historical Discography of the Eastward Piano

The main ambition of the whole enterprise is the elevation of a particular, historically influential and embryonic, investigation wise, aspect of the piano: its participation in musical idioms different from the so-called ‘classical’ music of the West. The research project focuses on the discographical repertoire of a variety of musical worlds covering a wide geographical span. Modeness is the common denominator that characterizes the musical idioms in question. Research up to the present indicates that the instrument is not only present in places of live performance but also in discography of the repertoire in question. Its diverse presence is intrinsically connected to the industrial revolution, technological progress and the cosmopolitan nature of large urban centres, which have developed a remarkable amount of recorded material. The status of the piano in classical studies, to today, depends exclusively on its emblematic role in the history of western chamber music and concertos. An alternative rapprochement serving both interthematically and interdisciplinarilly with modal musical styles as its axis opens up new paths not only in music and musicology but also in all pertinent academic areas, highlighting points of convergence in diversity.

The choice of the piano as a vehicle for research ‘eastwardly’, seems at first glance a paradox: this instrument is identified with western music, what we usually call ‘classical’ and is as such ‘established’ geographically and culturally.

The eastward heterotopias of the piano are for this exact reason especially challenging for the researcher. They are connected in a ‘confined’ arrangement whose role as an instrument through idioms which we have been accustomed to defining as dependent on a conservative tradition, with strict ‘anti-western’ orientation. This role of the piano is barely known, to the point of it being considered non-existent. A careful examination of discography from the beginning of the 20th century features a plethora of recordings, which astound with their variety and ingenuity in the induction of the piano in the examined idioms. Even more surprising is the emergence of another instrumental behaviour of a mainly tempered instrument, which succumbs to syncretism and expressive flexibility. This is supported by the multiple forms of tradition which are illustrated in the examined locations, obliging the scholar to recruit a plethora of theoretical bedrock and models for a holistic methodology. In this way, the heterotopias of the piano serve alongside the cartography of the potential manner with which modal musical styles are unified through both place and time.

Pianistic discographical repertoire is detected with certainty in the following countries: Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Iran. It is relatively safe to assume that their neighbours have at their disposal similar material. A common characteristic of this geographical area, despite the large diaspora, is the major role played by musical modeness, which emerges as a link for the aforementioned traditions. When the piano infiltrates these traditions, either participating in an orchestra or solo, not only does it oblige us to re-evaluate the boundaries between ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ music, but also their supposed opposition within an especially charged polarizability. It also allows us to deconstruct all kinds of exoticisms (orientalism – occidentalism), revealing evidence of a creative coexistence, which transcends conventional borders and cultural stereotypes.

One of the fundamental stereotypes which is put to the test by the heterotopias of the piano is the opposition between scholarly and popular musicians. Even in traditions where the piano is relatively inaccessible, the artists do not hesitate to borrow practices and ‘dialects’ phenomenally unfamiliar in order to express themselves creatively. Indeed, in many cases these same artists record repertoires which originate from both categories.

A broad spectrum of piano pieces recorded ‘eastwards’ could be considered as an extensive network, which brings geographically and culturally isolated places closer together. The way in which music that is borrowed and lent circulates in this form is not always a direct neighbouring route, but rather its roundabout nature of travel and immigration, and especially the new means, the radio, cinema and of course discography (see for example the recordings of rembetiko in America and those of Jewish musicians in Tunisia). This circumlocutory motion gives birth to revolution, since it transcends geographical borders and ‘de-territorialises’ repertoires, affording the piano new roles in new places.

Many thanks to Kostas Vlisidis, Babis Papadimitriou, Charles Howard, Tony Klein, George Kokkonis, Dimitris Sfingos, Tasos Theodorakis, Panos Ioannidis, Eleni Liaskou, Alexandros Ioannou, Zoi Mertika, Thanasis Gioglou, Stavros Kromidas, Nikoletta Fragoulidou, George Moysidis, Dinos Boutsioulis, Maria Dintsi, Nikos Dionysopoulos and Kostas Tsitsanis for their help regarding the gathering of the material.