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The Smile of Maud Lewis

from The Smile of Maud Lewis by Nikolai Korndorf

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The Smile of Maud Lewis (1998), a commission from the CBC, was a defining moment not only in the composer’s career but also in Canadian music. With The Smile of Maud Lewis Korndorf achieves a remarkable musical and cultural synthesis, a thematic transformation from works of distinctly Russian origin to one firmly rooted in Canadian soil. The work is unique in capturing the invisible, yet present, the artistic spirit of two different worlds – the composer’s native Russia and his newly adopted country – Canada. The musical ideas, the opening ostinato, the F major key, the tonal plan and overall structure can be traced back to his Lullaby and Con Sordino.

His musical tribute to Maud Lewis takes the form of a Cape Breton fiddle tune. The composer succeeds in evoking the aural landscape of Lewis’ native Nova Scotia and the folksy quality reflected in her paintings. With its mood of dance-like exuberance, the material takes on a distinctly Canadian identity. It exudes an effervescent energy and life, capturing the light and joy he saw in her face and her spirit, despite her physical condition and the abject poverty and hardship in which she spent her life.
The Smile of Maud Lewis opens with a lively interplay of two comple- mentary themes by two violin soloists set in a call-and-response dialogue, overtop of the string ostinato, played mezzo piano. The first theme recalls the Lullaby motif. With each successive overlapping entry of these themes Korndorf intensifies the energy, exploiting the spatiality created by this use of antiphonal effects.

The increasing layering of textures and rising dynamics recalls techniques Korndorf pioneered in earlier pieces such as his 1981 piano work Yarilo. A brilliantly transparent orchestration sparkles with its scoring for strings, woodwinds, horn, celesta, glockenspiel, and Indian sleigh bells. He appropriates the thematic material and orches- tration from the expansive coda of his 1989 Symphony No.3, including the recorder solo that enters toward the end. Korndorf succeeds in capturing the joy, and childlike innocence and naivete reflected in Lewis’ paintings. Indeed, The Smile of Maud Lewis is a fitting musical portrait of not only Maud Lewis the artist, but also of Korndorf himself.


from The Smile of Maud Lewis, released May 20, 2022
Conductor: Leslie Dala

Flute/Piccolo/Recorder: Chris James
Oboe: Emma Ringrose
Clarinet/Bass Clarinet: AK Coope
Bassoon: Julia Lockhart,
French horn: Andrew Clark, Kristin Ranshaw
Percussion: Vern Griffiths
Celesta: Jane Hayes

Solo Violin: Nicholas Wright, Timothy Steeves
Violin 1: Jennie Press, Jae-Won Bang, Angela Cavadas, Carina Vincenti, Mary Sokol Brown, Evelyn Creaser
Violin 2: Mark Ferris, Ann Okagaito, Jenny Lim, Xiaoxue Sunny She, Peter Krysa, Domagoj Ivanovic
Viola: Andrew Brown, Katrina Chitty, Isabelle Roland, Reg Quiring
Cello: Janet Steinberg, Charles Inkman, Peggy Lee, Isidora Nojkovic
Bass: Noah Reitman, David Brown
Contractor: Jim Littleford

The Smile of Maud Lewis was recorded on Oct 24, 2021 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, UBC.


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