Video Pick of the Week: Marion Schaap Plays Koshkin’s Unsettling ‘Usher Waltz’

Russian composer-guitarist Nikita Koshkin’s Usher Waltz (Usher-valze, 1984) has become a contemporary favorite of both guitarists and audiences; it seems as though it’s turning up in more and more concert programs, and there are many versions on YouTube, as well. (No doubt the fact that John Williams recorded it on his 1993 live album called Seville helped cement its reputation among guitarists.) As most of you probably know, Koshkin (b. 1956) based his piece on a twisted horror short story by Edgar Allen Poe called The Fall of the House of Usher (published in 1839). Though a waltz does weave it’s way in and out of the Koshkin piece, there is also much other drama to be found—snapping strings, dissonant and menacing passages, eerie harmonics; quite a range of strange, demanding of both guitarist and audience.

I was quite taken with this 2015 version by Dutch guitarist Marion Schaap, who is best-known internationally for being one-half of the Z.o.o Guitar Duo with Australian Peter Constant. In the beautifully shot video, Schaap explains a bit about the piece (intercut with examples from the performance), and then plays it straight through. (If you don’t care about the background, you can jump directly to 1:45 and skip it.) I found that the intro helped me appreciate the piece more than I had previously, and made it easier to link Koshkin’s dark and unsettling piece with the Poe story. Schaap plays a Paul Sheridan guitar.