What compels the composer of songs like “Can’t We Be Friends?” and “Fine and Dandy” to write Furlana, a complex, dissonant, time-shifting piano piece?
First, a bit about Kay Swift’s musical background:
- At the age of 1, Kay impresses her grandmother enough for her to predict that Kay would become a remarkable musician one day.
- At the age of 4, the only thing that matters to Kay is opera. Her father was a music critic, so Kay heard her parents playing and singing opera at home on the piano and attended numerous performances, memorizing the songs beforehand.
- At the age of 8, Kay is taking piano lessons at Juilliard (then called the Institute of Musical Art [IMA]). She later enrolls there, and in 1918 she graduates as a Level VII composer, the highest composition degree bestowed at the IMA.
Swift was married on June 1, 1918, and one her most common musical pursuits in the years that followed was writing nursery songs for her daughters who were 7, 4 and 1 in September 1926 when Furlana was written. In addition to the demands of raising children, Kay and her husband Paul Warburg had an active social life and had been working on enlarging their home “Bydale” in Greenwich, Connecticut. Also on her mind during that time was a composer whose work she had been intrigued by and whom she had finally run into at parties. That man, who was often found at the piano at these parties, was George Gershwin. By late ’26, Swift had heard Gershwin’s Rhapsody and Concerto and her Furlana composition may have been her wanting to demonstrate, at least to her circle of friends, her own sterling credentials as a composer and pianist. The Furlana is no nursery song; it thrives on its own unpredictability while simultaneously having wonderfully melodic passages.
Here is where I would like to provide some historical context for this work which would detail the musical currents at the time and the influences on Swift’s Furlana. Unfortunately, that is not my area of expertise, so I will ask anyone out there who can contribute such information to please do so, and I will post it here.
Though written only for piano, I feel like it should be orchestrated to bring out all his has to offer. I’ll let you know if I ever get around to that. Or feel free to beat me to it!
Download a PDF of Furlana here: Furlana
Thanks to the Kay Swift Memorial Trust and the Kay Swift Archive in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut.
“Photograph of Kay Swift and George Gershwin at Swift and Warburg’s country home, Greenwich, Connecticut,” Online Exhibits@Yale, accessed March 7, 2018, http://exhibits.library.yale.edu/document/10320.