Kaplan Solomon plays with enormous facility and, most importantly, understanding. —Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine
There’s not a piece on this disc that won’t have your feet tapping, your head nodding, and your face smiling. It’s a delight from start to finish, and Solomon plays this music with happy fingers and a joyful heart that, even now, are making Mana-Zucca beam. — Jerry Dubins, Fanfare Magazine
Solomon plays with the kind of acuity that suggests long acquaintance with, rather than quick study of, the scores-and her commitment to Mana-Zucca is infectious. —Peter Rabinowitz, Fanfare Magazine
Colin Clarke Full Review from Fanfare Magazine:
This is fascinating. Born in 1885 as Gussie Zuckerman and known as Mana-Zucca, this composer’s philosophy was apparently one of cheerfulness (she even organized a group called “American Music Optimism” to discover treasures of Americana). That certainly comes through in her music for piano, music that is artfully and deliciously performed here by Nanette Kaplan Solomon. Mana-Zucca’s career runs like a film in itself: She began study as a pianist at the New York College of Music, aged a mere seven. She travelled in Europe for seven years beginning in 1906, experiencing Saint-Saëns and Moritz Lowenthal in concert; she also had master classes with Busoni and Godowsky. She met Lehár at a dinner party, an encounter that led to her singing a lead in The Count of Luxmbourg. Composition remained her first love, and there apparently remain Ampico piano rolls of her playing her own music. After her son was born in 1925, Mana-Zucca cut down on her public appearances, although notable outings include a concert with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and a 1929 performance of her own Piano Concerto with the Miami Symphony. (Is it too much to ask for a present-day recording of the Piano Concerto?)
Nanette Kaplan Solomon is a fine pianist. She is professor emerita of music at Slippery Rock University, where she taught from 1977 until 2014. Her disc of music by Lopatnikoff was warmly welcomed by Peter J. Rabinowitz in Fanfare 17:2, and I can only echo his appreciation of Solomon’s playing. While I would have welcomed a touch more warmth to the recording, the ear adjusts and this is by no means a bar to the enjoyment of the present disc.
Apparently, when she was young, Mana-Zucca used to interpolate and combine popular tunes with Bach fugues. Hence, perhaps, the Fugato-Humoresque on the Theme of “Dixie” featured here. Kaplan Solomon plays with great aplomb and also with great textural awareness. In fact, cleanliness is one of her key characteristics. The precise, almost Scarlatti-like decorations of Wisteria seem the perfect exemplar. Humor is key to Mana-Zucca’s art: The Zouaves’ Drill, inspired by the movements of a circus troupe, is a study in spiky, cartoon-like Staccato. (We are a long way from Stravinsky’s take on the circus here, and much closer to the real atmosphere of a big top.)
There are more serious pieces, here too: The Poème speaks beautifully and eloquently, with a depth that reminds us that Mana-Zucca was not a mere purveyor of froth. She was not one to shirk large projects, either. Mana-Zucca determined to write a piece for every day, and sometime in the late 1930s embarked on a project entitled My Musical Calendar (it contains multiple opus numbers): Resignation, Memories, and Nostalgia are all from that collection. Particularly noteworthy, perhaps, is the piece from June’s collection, Memories. As Solomon points out, there is a distinct Gershwin hue to this piece (June is subtitled “New York Impressions”); the dark skies of Chopin seem to underpin Nostalgia, while the actual pianistic techniques seem more reminiscent of Rachmaninoff. The long melodic line of La Poverina seems to have the capacity to extend forever; Polka Comique and Badinage both have terrific wit. Solomon’s lovely deft touch is perfect for the former; Badinage is a touch more cryptic in its humor, and all the better for that.
There are two larger-scale works included here, carefully placed in the playing order. The First Sonata (1951) has a lyrical-at-heart first movement. The free flow of melody reminds us that this aspect of expression is truly what is at the heart of Mana-Zucca. Kaplan Solomon plays with enormous facility and, most importantly, understanding. There is perhaps a parallel here with Rachmaninoff’s larger-scale works in that form becoming the coat-hanger for a multitude of felicities. The outpourings of the slow movement, an approachable Andantino, are given here with the utmost sensitivity. The strength of Solomon’s playing is that she knows when not to over-emote. The scherzo is quite surprising in its rapid-fire angularity. It shows distinct leanings towards Prokofiev (something also present in the op. 266 Scherzando); the finale is a slightly more muscular version of core Mana-Zucca. This finale is the finest movement. Mana-Zucca pares down textures, plays with fanfare-like motifs, and generally there is a feeling of expansion. The Second Sonata dates from 1968; its slow movement was published separately previously in 1957 as Morosity. This central panel is highly reflective, and comes across as a continuation and deepening of the thoughtful nature of the first movement. There, echoes of Rachmaninoff are audible in the descending melodic shapes; the central movement is perhaps more French-influenced in harmony and texture. The finale is a curious mix between the humorous and the serious, crossing the border between the two on numerous occasions within its four-minute time-span.
The excellent booklet notes remind us that Mana-Zucca was often referred to as “the Chaminade of America.” There are, indeed, many parallels, especially in the perfumed sophistication of expression in the form of the miniature. — Colin Clarke
Jerry Dubins Full Review from Fanfare Magazine:
The Fanfare Archive lists seven entries for Mana-Zucca, not one of them dedicated solely to her works, nor one of them saying a word about who she is or was, where she was from, or what she may have done or not done to rate such anonymity. You can easily look her up yourself on Wikipedia, but let me save you the trouble.
Mana-Zucca, as you may have surmised, is a non de plume assumed by Jewish-American actress, singer, pianist, and composer Gussie Zuckermann (1885–1981). A piano student of Ferruccio Busoni and Leopold Godowsky, Zuckermann performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the New York Philharmonic under Walter Damrosch in 1897. Then, in 1914, she landed a soprano role in Franz Lehár’s The Count of Luxembourg. A child prodigy and natural music talent, she began composing her own pieces at an early age, eventually amassing a catalog of over 1,000 works, including opera, ballet, chamber music, a violin concerto written for American violinist Joan Field, orchestral pieces, and a boatload of popular songs. While residing in Florida, Mana-Zucca hosted concerts in her Miami living room, featuring famous artists such as Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbalist, Jan Peerce, and José Iturbi.
Gussie married Irwin Cassel and in 1925 gave birth to her only child, Marwin, who became a prominent Miami lawyer. He was claimed by lung cancer in 1999, before he could establish a permanent home for his mother’s vast collection of music and memorabilia. Marwin’s efforts, however, were carried on by his widow, Leslie, who donated the Mana-Zucca collection to Florida’s International University. The collection contains handwritten and published scores, journals, manuscripts, recordings, and photos autographed by such legends as George Gershwin, Arthur Fiedler, Jan Peerce, Jascha Heifetz, and Robert Merrill. In all, there are some 38,000 items documenting eight decades of Mana-Zucca and her music.
This is my first encounter with Mana-Zucca, née Gussie Zuckermann, so I have to be careful about making assumptions, but in checking the usual sources, I did not find a single recording that was devoted exclusively to her works—just a few mixed programs, such as those reviewed in Fanfare, that contain a piece or two of hers here and there. If that is in fact the case, then this recital of Mana-Zucca piano pieces performed by Nanette Kaplan Solomon is a first. Incidentally, I did come across Mana-Zucca’s name in documentation for the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, but apparently none of her works was actually included in that collection.
On the present album, Solomon presents a comprehensive cross-section of Mana-Zucca’s music, ranging from some of her earliest pieces, such as the Valse brilliante composed at age 13, to the album’s title piece, Badinage, composed in 1976 at age 91. The selections also reveal Mana-Zucca’s many-sided musical propensities, from the two classically formal piano sonatas, to the playful popular tune genre of Fugato-Humoresque on the Theme of “Dixie,” to the Jewish-shtetl-tinged La poverina, with its possible reference to the “Sabbath Prayer” from Fiddler on the Roof.
Along with La poverina, there are a few other slow, sad, or wistful-sounding pieces—for example, Resignation, Poème, Memories, and Nostalgia—but on the whole, Mana-Zucca’s outlook on life, which is reflected in her music, seems to have been positive and upbeat. She is quoted as saying, “Joy is the keynote of my existence. I don’t like people around me who are not cheerful. To me, one happy person is worth a million gloomy ones.” I guess you could say that happiness, like misery, also loves company, and Mana-Zucca, always smiling and laughing, surrounded herself with a coterie of professional musicians and friends who shared her joy in life and in making music together.
Pianist Nanette Kaplan Solomon is a professor emerita of music at Pennsylvania’s Slippery Rock University and performs frequently as soloist and chamber musician. She takes a special interest in the music of women composers, which has led to invitations to lecture and perform at numerous conferences, forums, and festivals for female composers and women involved in the musical arts. Solomon’s album of works by Mana-Zucca is a testament to her efforts in this important area.
There’s not a piece on this disc that won’t have your feet tapping, your head nodding, and your face smiling. It’s a delight from start to finish, and Solomon plays this music with happy fingers and a joyful heart that, even now, are making Mana-Zucca beam. — Jerry Dubins
Peter J. Rabinowitz Full Review from Fanfare Magazine:
It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back and say that with the success of composers like Jennifer Higdon, Melinda Wagner, and Joan Tower in the mainstream, and Pauline Oliveros and Julia Wolfe in the avant-garde, we’ve reached the stage where sexism is no longer an issue for classical-music composers. But that’s hardly the case: There have always been women who have broken through (Farrenc and Holmès, to give just two examples); but they tend to get forgotten more quickly than their male counterparts. The only two 19th-century women composers who have a significant (barely) presence these days are Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann—and it’s probably no accident that they are closely tied to more prestigious men, who often buoy them up on CDs.
Gussie (Augusta) Zuckerman, known by her pseudonym Mana-Zucca, is another of those once-famous women whose reputation has been “eclipsed” (to quote Nanette Kaplan Solomon’s exceptionally informative notes) after her death. If you know her at all, it’s probably through Cherkassky (who was fond of a few of her bon-bons) or through memories of her once ubiquitous I Love Life (which is one of those rare works sung by both Paul Anka and Ben Heppner). But the problem is not simply a posthumous disappearance. Even when she was alive, her work was dismissed by people who could not hear through their preconceptions. Perhaps the most egregious case I’ve come across is Harold Schonberg’s flip New York Times commentary on the premiere of her 1952 First Sonata (its opus number mislabeled on the jacket as 27 rather than 217): “A salon piece, it is pianistically effective, graceful, and could have been written by one of the minor piano composers of the Eighteen Seventies.” In fact, it’s a bold piece, substantial both in its scope and in its idiom; and although it is hardly cutting edge (no trace of the Second Viennese School, for instance), it’s got plenty of harmonic surprises as well as a high level of rhythmic imagination (as Solomon says, there’s a clear Prokofievan spark to the third movement).
To be sure, much of this music does have a soufflé spirit: Anyone who changed her name from Zuckerman to Mana-Zucca has to have a strong dash of whimsicality. You can hear it best on the early Valse brillante (second cousin to the once-popular waltz from Arensky’s First Suite), Wistaria (written for Hunter College and infused with a light playfulness), the Polka comique (its odd harmonic jolts reminiscent of some of Shostakovich’s sassier pieces), and of course the whacky Fugato-Humoresque on the Theme of Dixie (one of the pieces championed by Cherkassky). But what really marks this music, which ranges from the late 19th century to 1976, is Mana-Zucca’s refined palette sense—her often sumptuous chords and ear-caressing modulations. Scriabin and especially Fauré are clear influences, but while she’s nourished by them, she’s not a pale imitator. I am especially taken with the more serious works here: not only the First Sonata, but also the dark, striving Poème she wrote for Levitzki, the powerful Resignation (far less introspective than you might expect from its title), and the surprisingly intense Nostalgia.
As for the performances and presentation: The program notes quote my review of Solomon’s Lopatnikoff CD: “The presentation could hardly be better: Solomon plays with authority and conviction, and she contributed detailed and informative notes that should serve as a model for others seeking to introduce unfamiliar music.” Precisely the same virtues are in evidence here: Solomon plays with the kind of acuity that suggests long acquaintance with, rather than quick study of, the scores—and her commitment to Mana-Zucca is infectious. The recording may not be state-of-the-art, but it never obscures the details of the music or the interpretations. Warmly welcomed. —Peter J. Rabinowitz
Alan Becker Review from American Record Guide:
I made a special request for this recording, as I encountered Mana-Zucca several times in South Florida. A sweet Jewish lady, she was born Gussie Zuckermann in New York on December 25, 1885 (or 1887), and passed from the scene in 1981. At the time I met her, all I knew of her music was the familiar song I Love Life. It was especially familiar to me because the tune sounded suspiciously like the one that closes Mahler’s Symphony 1. Be that as it may, the lady was a revered figure on the Miami music scene. Fame is often a fickle thing, and it has taken years for a recording of her piano music to be released commercially. She began as a child prodigy and, in addition to composing, appeared at the age of 8 as soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto 1 under Walter Damrosch. In 1914 she made her singing debut as the lead in Lehar’s Count of Luxembourg. While she studied piano with Ferruccio Busoni, Leopold Godowsky, Alexander Lambert, and composition with Herman Spielter, I joined planet Earth too late to hear her perform. For awhile she even ran a concert hall out of her Biscayne Boulevard Miami home with its 80-foot living room. Appearances by Efram Zimbalist, Jose Iturbi, William Kapell, Mischa Elman, and Jan Peerce, all friends, were not uncommon. Alas, her home has been torn down to accommodate parking and commercial space, but it might have pleased her to know that a Performing Arts Center has risen just one block away. Mana-Zucca, a name she created by reversing the two syllables of her last name, married well to Miami businessman Irwin Cassel. He indulged her musical desires, wrote the words for several of her songs, and gave her the treasure of her only child, who became 130 January/February 2016 a prominent Miami attorney and community activist. In addition to piano works, Mana-Zucca composed a ballet, violin concerto, two operas, and many songs. Her piano music consists mostly of short genre pieces not unlike Cecile Chaminade. With such titles as ‘Badinage’, ‘Wistaria’, ‘Nostalgia’, and ‘Southland Zephyrs’ we should either be charmed by this music or turned off by its sometimes slightly faded style. As it turns out, Mana- Zucca has both the skills and the cleverness to captivate us. (One prelude sounds a lot like Rachmaninoff.)
Rarely do we encounter the trite, unless you consider the Fugato-Humoresque on Dixie to be so. I hear it more as a humorous essay where the lady gets to play around with her compositional skills. There is charm aplenty in most of these pieces, usually a light touch, a sense of genuine enjoyment, and some piquant harmonies. It has to be admitted that she rarely reaches any depth of expression with these short pieces. All is unfashionably romantic and not to be indulged in more than a few at a time, lest a sweet tooth lead to an unwanted cavity. Resignation and Memories muse aboutwith a little more seriousness, but if we leave the drawing room for a moment it is only to linger awhile at the door. Two sonatas attest to her craftsmanship, and supply substantially more sustenance. The first of these from 1951 is in four movements and begins with an arresting harmonic palate that skirts tonality
without abandoning it. The Andantino returns us to a lyrically lovely world, but the short, percussive Presto that follows could easily be by Prokofieff. The last movement returns to the mood of the first, though Mana-Zucca does introduce one of those luscious tunes that sweep us along with it.
Sonata 2 from 1968 is in three movements and finds her continuing to work in her more advanced harmonic world. II, ‘Morose-andantino’, makes use of a previously published piece and employs a strangely dissonant remote sound world very effectively. The final Allegretto has a jazzy feel to it. The pianist said it “reminds me of the works of the African- American composer Nathaniel Dett”. While this recording of the piano works ofa remarkable woman is long overdue, listeners can discover more of her work on You Tube. Pianist Solomon, Professor Emerita of Music at Slippery Rock University. Pennsylvania from 1977 to 2014 has done yeoman service for women composers. Her technique cannot be faulted, and her playing is always interesting and fully committed. As a former student of Claude Frank and Leonard Shure, she has done them proud. Her recordings are especially attractive for the special niche she has pursued. This one would make a fine acquisition and is a worthy musical discovery. —Alan Becker
Lopatnikoff CD – “The presentation could hardly be better: Solomon plays with authority and conviction, and she contributes detailed and informative notes that should serve as a model for others seeking to introduce unfamiliar music.”- Peter J. Rabinowitz Fanfare Magazine/November 1993
Character Sketches – “a talented and persuasive pianist; well-done and interesting liner notes; well-recorded and produced disc … The music is enhanced by the formidable playing of Nanette Kaplan Solomon. She has excellent control of her technique and musically portrays the character of each piece, moving effortlessly from one to the other … Along with producer Marnie Hall of Leonarda Productions, she has co-authored the enlightening liner notes.”- Barbara Harbach Women of Note Quarterly/August, 1994
Sunbursts – “Nanette Kaplan Solomon presents each piece with nuance and indefatigable attention to detail coupled with a bravura technique that leaves the listener breathless.” Women of Note Quarterly, February 1999