Two keeping tempo

‘One Piano, Four Hands with Molly Sturges and Lisa Weiss’ at the Edgartown library.

Pianists Lisa Weiss, left, and Molly Sturges will perform at the Edgartown library. —Courtesy Lisa Weiss

Pianists Molly Sturges and Lisa Weiss will perform — very closely — at their Feb. 24 concert, “One Piano, Four Hands” at the Edgartown library.

As the term suggests, in four-hand piano compositions, the two musicians will play side by side. “It’s a very intimate art, comparatively speaking, as opposed to watching a violin-piano recital or string quartet recital,” Weiss says. “They are intimate, too, but there’s something even more intimate in four-hand music, with two people sitting next to one another, touching, reaching over each other. One person is leaning forward, the other leaning back.”

During rehearsals, the pair worked a lot on the maneuvering they needed to perform seamlessly. “It’s kind of a dance, and there’s definitely some choreography involved,” Sturges says. However, even though two people are playing different parts, one is not less important than the other. They are equal, and both necessary.

“When playing any kind of chamber music, where you are only playing your part, and somebody else is playing theirs, you feel this tremendous need to hear their part, so yours makes more sense,” Weiss shares. “I’m really finding that to be the case in all four of the pieces we’re playing.” When practicing alone, she explains, “Sometimes it just sounds very peculiar because it’s only half. It’s incredible the craft and skill of these composers that they knew how to do this.”

Four-hand piano music concerts are not new. “Historically, they were a lot more usual, because the piano was the center of the living room, and the piano was the TV,” Weiss says. “A lot of composers wrote four-hand music so you could have the intimacy and connection with classical music, without having to leave home if you couldn’t go out and do those things.

“It used to have a romantic quality to it, with a husband and wife or two lovers playing. People were intrigued by that, and would try to study the performers’ faces and see how they were getting along.”

Sturges and Weiss will begin with Mozart’s “Sonata in D Major,” K. 381. The composer was a major pioneer of the four-hand genre, motivated by touring with his sister Nannerl in the 1760s, when the two young prodigies would frequently perform as a duo. Weiss writes in her program notes, “The dearth of dynamic markings in the manuscript of K. 381 … indicate it was probably intended for harpsichord, as opposed to fortepiano. Nevertheless, dramatic contrasts in texture and color abound — full chords combined with a strong bass line create ‘louds,’ [and] single melodic lines with minimal accompaniment evoke ‘softs.’”

Sturges is responsible for their selecting “Five Images,” by Norman Dello Joio. She had the music in a book, but had never heard it. “We played them, and we both really liked all of them, so we decided to add the music to the concert,” she explains. Dello Joio was a prolific American composer who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his “Meditations on Ecclesiastes” for string orchestra. He studied with Paul Hindemith in the 1940s, but followed a lyrical rather than atonal compositional path. “Five Images” is a second set of four-hand pieces Dello Joio wrote for his children.

Sturges chose Gabriel Fauré’s “Dolly Suite,” Op. 56. She played it for fun years ago with her boyfriend: “I really enjoyed it, and had a nostalgic, sentimental association with the music. So I always wanted to learn it to the point that I could perform it.” The “Dolly Suite” is a collection of six piano duets written over a three-year period that reflect on childhood experiences. Fauré dedicated it to Helene Bardac, the stepdaughter of Debussy, who was said to have been so tiny at birth that she was nicknamed “Dolly.”

The concert will end with “Eight Variations in E minor on a French Song,” Op. 10, D.624 by Franz Schubert. Inspired by Mozart, Schubert wrote 54 works for four-hand piano. Weiss writes, “Opus 10 is one of four in variation form. It was dedicated to Beethoven ‘from his worshiper and admirer, Franz Schubert.’ Beethoven’s acquaintance, Josef Huttenbrenner, said that for months the elder composer played it almost every day with his nephew. It is based on the French song “Le Bon Chevalier” (The Good Knight), a character with whom Schubert identified.”

Sturges hopes that those who did not know about four-hand piano music will be drawn to the event because it’s an unusual kind of performance. “There is a level of complexity and intimacy to have so much happening on one keyboard at the same time. It’s really fun to play, and I hope that will come across to the audience,” she says.

Weiss adds, “There’s a loveliness to this artform. It’s a gentle kind of antidote to all the things out there that there are to worry about. You come into this space where there are two people sitting next to each other with different personalities, but doing something beautiful together.”

“One Piano, Four Hands with Molly Sturges and Lisa Weiss,” at the Edgartown library, Saturday, Feb. 24, 6:30 pm. Free and open to the public.