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Sunday, November 18 , 2018, 1:54 pm | Fair with Haze 66º


Santa Barbara Music Club to Go Piano Crazy With Works by Milhaud and Brahms

The Santa Barbara Music Club offers their last free concert of the year — though not, by any means, the season — at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, at First United Methodist Church, located at the corner of Garden and Anapamu.

The program will consist of two works for two pianos: first, pianists Bridget Hough and Christopher Davis will play Darius Milhaud's Scaramouche, Suite for 2 Pianos, Op. 165b (1937); then pianists Betty Oberacker and Eric Valinsky will perform the rarely-heard but strangely familiar Sonata in F Minor for Two Pianos, Op. 34b (1863) by Brahms.

It is all but obligatory, when writing about this Milhaud piece, to point out that the title is not a reference to the eponymous character in the 1921 adventure novel by Rafael Sabatini but to the name of a Paris theater company specializing in productions for children.

Milhaud had written the incidental music for one of their productions, Molière's The Flying Doctor, and Scaramouche is drawn from that score. (Wouldn’t it have made more sense, then, to call it The Flying Doctor Suite, being not only more clear, but also a very Milhaud kind of title?)

Two friends of his, anyway, a duo-piano team, asked him to write something for two pianos, and Scaramouche is the result. He made arrangements for many different ensembles, and they were all hits. It has become one of his most popular works.​

The thing is, nobody reads Sabatini anymore, not even me (and I've been pecking away at The Snare (1917) for ten years or more and have gotten to page 26).

He's a fluent writer, and a wizard with plots, but I find the gleaming surface of his characters impenetrable.

Quite a few of his novels, including Scaramouche, have been made into movies. Two, The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood had the benefit not only of having Errol Flynn in the title roles but also having lushly beautiful scores by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Most people, if they connect with Milhaud's title, remember Freddie Mercury singing  "Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?" in the Queen song, "Bohemian Rhapsody" (which, now I think of it, may have been influenced by Milhaud). 

Sabatini did not coin the name. It belongs to a stock character, a roguish clown in the Italian commedia dell'arte tradition. When the hero of the novel, a young lawyer in the time of the French Revolution, goes underground, he joins a commedia dell'arte troupe and assumes the character and name "Scaramouche."

The Brahms, conceived as a string quartet, was written as a two-piano sonata and later rearranged into the famous Quintet in F Minor for Piano and Strings.

Though the sonata was the earlier work, the quintet was given the Op. 34 number, the sonata Op. 34b. Nevertheless, you may wind up preferring the two-piano version; I do.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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