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Concert with four hand piano set at First Lutheran

BEMIDJI -- Maybe it was an anxious or anticipatory suitor who discovered the fun behind two people playing the keyboard at the same time.

Or maybe it was a composer who wanted to bring a fuller interpretation of a piece to the audience, for it requires two people playing their own 10 keys at the same time that produces a fuller, richer sound.

Whatever the reason, it was Johannes Brahms, who went to his publisher to ask that he enlist Anton Dvorak to compose a set of Slovakian dances. Brahms had already composed his popular 21 Hungarian Dances for four-hands and orchestrated three, Nos. 1, 3 and 10.  And composer Leos Janacek had composed his “12 National Dances of Moravia.”

Janacek, Brahms and Dvorak all had a keen understanding of the folk music of their origins, as they all came from small, neighboring countries in southern-central Europe.

And that music and understanding is now coming to Bemidji. A concert featuring national dances from Bohemia, a major fundraiser for the Global Mission Initiatives for Luther Seminary, will begin at 2 p.m. March 9 at First Lutheran Church.

Paul and Helen Baumgartner, retired professors emeriti from Gustavus Adolphus College, will perform sitting side-by-side playing pieces for four-hand piano.

“Paul and Helen were colleagues of mine at Gustavus, where I was head of the vocal music department,” said Jon Romer of Bemidji. “It takes a special skill because playing four-hand piano requires rhythmic precision and needs to be well-rehearsed because there are 20 fingers on the keys and hands often cross. We are lucky to have the Baumgarters here to play the same concert they will play at Gustavus in early March.”

The first composer on the program is Janacek and his miniature set of “12 National Dances of Moravia.” He immersed himself in the culture and folk music of his homeland before setting pen to paper and composing piano music or ensembles. In Moravian Dance No. 6, “Starodavyn,” there is instrumentation characteristic of the ever-mysterious central European gypsies.

The next composer, Brahms, completed “21 Hungarian Dances” for four hands and in “Hungarian Dance No. 4 in F minor,” we hear a hint of the gypsies’ hammered dulcimer. And the third composer to be enticed to record his culture musically was Dvorak, who completed his first group of “Slavonic Dances” for four hand piano at the same time as he reworked his project by orchestrating them during March and August of 1886. The popularity of his work moved the publisher to push for a second set of duets, which were finally done in a month in the summer of 1886, an amazing feat.

At the concert, a freewill offering that will be accepted in lieu of tickets. Part of Global Mission Initiatives is in providing scholarships for gifted international students who come to Luther Seminary in St. Paul to study and further their careers as teachers, pastors and other religious workers.