Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rachmaninoff's Corelli Variations

The theme of Corelli variations is familiar melody, and it seems I heard before somewhere. After doing some research on the piece, I remembered that Liszt used the melody in his Rhapsodie Espagnole. The original theme is a set of variations of the European musical theme, ‘La Folia,’ an early Portuguese dance. Several composers used the theme in their music, such as J.S. Bach, Scarlatti, and Liszt.
Rachmaninoff attributed it to Corelli, because of its use in one of his violin sonatas. The Corelli variations Op.42 was composed in 1931. It is a group of 20 variations. The first thirteen variations are all in D minor. They are followed by an Intermezzo that precedes two more variations in D-flat major. These D-flat major variations are the “heart of the work”. The last five variations and coda return to the original key of D minor.
The Corelli variations is as Rachmaninoff's later work, composed in a more emotionally detached style. Rachmaninoff sought a greater sense of compression and motivic development in his works at the expense of melody.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Faure's Nocturne and Barcarolle

I think Faure's music forming a link between Romantic and Impressionistic piano music.
He was influenced by Chopin's harmony and figuration. He likes unusual scales, ranging from mediaeval modes to the whole-tone scale. His music is “merely charming, discreet or reticent.”
For Faure, music's purpose was "to lift us as far as possible out of the mundane."

Faure composed thirteen Nocturnes. The first one was composed in 1875, and the last one Op.119 was composed 40 years later in 1921. His last Nocturne is his last piano composition as well. Faure's deafness afflicted his last twenty years and distorted his sense of pitch unevenly. Did he know how his music really sounded? He could hear only in his imagination. Faure's later works incorporate an increasing element of counterpoint. His famous arpeggio figure with melody between two hands, and syncopation flowing rhythm are showing in this piece as well.

Faure composed thirteen Barcarolles. The No. 5 Barcarolle was composed in 1894. From that time, Faure brought his genre to maturity. The Barcarolle provides a strong contrast to the nocturne through its rhythms and harmonies, its main melody strangely recalling Brahms's third symphony of 11 years earlier. Somehow, I think the Barcarolle No.5 sounds like carnival. It does have the triple meter rhythm, but most parts are loud and sound like playing in a festival.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Broad Russian Character and Music

Russia has a huge geography-total one-fifth of the earth's land mass. The people who live in the broad land has broad character and broad heart. When you listen to Russian music, you can see a big picture in front of you and you image you are the part of the picture. The Russian music was influenced by the Russian folk song, Russian literature and Russian epic ballade.
I did presentation on three Russian composers Balakirev, Tchaikovsky and Medtner and their piano music. The most famous composer among the three is Tchaikovsky. The most fun piece is Islamey by Balakirev, and the most challenging piece is Medtner's sonata.
Balakirev's Islamey: an Oriental Fantasy is written in 1869. The composer was inspired to write the piece after a trip to the Caucasus. There are two themes. The first theme is a folk tune from Caucasus, and the second lyrical theme is a folk song from the Crimean Tatars. Balakirev developed the two themes in an interesting manner and as far as possible, both symphonically and pianistically.
Tchaikovsky's Dumka Op.59 was composed in 1886. It is a Russian rustic scene. Dumka means a Slavic epic ballade, generally thoughtful or melancholic in character. There are three sections of the piece, and followed by slow sad melody -fast dance music - slow lyrical melody again.
Medtner is most challenging composer for me forever. I don't know when i will play his music again, maybe in 10 years. I had hard experience to play his one sonata and two character pieces, and I felt I was gonna die during practice them. His music demands repeated listening to penetrate. His music often has a psychologically intense, sometimes with demonic character. His Romantic style is like Rachmaninoff, and esoteric rhythmic devices and harmony is like Scriabin.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Brahms's Ballades Op.10

Dr. Williams played four Chopin’s ballades in the second half of her recital last week. This is my first time listen the four Chopin ballades together, it seems a little too much for the audience. Chopin’s four ballades are individual piece, and they were composed in different year. Brahms’ ballades are not famous as Chopin's, but they are as a whole set. They were composed in 1854, and had one Opus number. Brahms’ ballades Op.10 are arranged in two pairs of two, the member of each pair being in parallel keys—(d, D, b, B). The first ballade was inspired by a Scottish poem “Edward”. It has a ternary structure accompanied by Andante-Allegro-Andante. The second ballade is also in Andante with a major key. It sounds more pastoral. The third one is an intermezzo. It is the only contrast fast section within the four ballades. The last ballade is one of those mysterious and introspective pieces. It does not have the virtuosic flashiness as his third ballade. Brahms wrote the ballades when he was only 21. To see inside that young man’s mind… The mystery deepens!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Greig's sonata and lyric pieces

Edvard Grieg is renowned as a nationalist composer, drawing inspiration from Norwegian folk music. His music can be accepted for both professional and amateur musicians. So his music can be performed not only on the stage but also in the film as a background music or play for football game intermission. (I heard once in the football game, the band played Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King,’ the player may not know who the composer is, but the melody is quite popular for everyone.)
Grieg has one piano sonata Op.7 in E minor which was written in 1865 when he was only 22 years old. The piece has four movements in sonata form. (Generally, Greig’s music has not very difficult technique; it is quite good for learning purpose and most for intermediate students.) I like more about Grieg’s lyric pieces. He has a collection of 66 small to medium size pieces. These short pieces for piano built on Norwegian folk tunes and dances. Each piece has a subtitle to describe the meaning of music. I am trying to give subtitles to 25 variations of Brahms-Handel Variations because I want each variation has their own characters for better understanding (performer) and listening (listeners). Grieg’s lyric pieces give me some ideas for my 25 variations subtitle. Some of the lyric pieces are really like Chopin’s music, such as Op.12, No.5 (like Chopin’s prelude), No.7 (like Mazurka). Many famous pianists recorded the collection of Grieg’s lyric piece, so it looks like the music is quite attractive for performing.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Liszt's b minor sonata

Liszt’s B minor sonata was written in 1853. It was dedicated to R. Schumann, in return for Schumann’s dedication of his Fantasia Op.17 to Liszt. The B minor sonata dates from Liszt’s Weimar period, the years of his greatest productivity: 12 symphonic poems, the Faust and Dante symphonies, a number of piano works and numerous transcriptions. Unlike the symphonic poems, the sonata is not specifically literary or pictorial in inspiration, but Liszt used the same method-transformation of themes- to create the superficially thin melodic content into a big rich and dramatic depiction.
The whole of the one-movement sonata is constructed from four sections with a large sonata form structure. Allegro is exposition, Adagio and Fugue are in development section, and Allegro is recapitulation. In using this structure, Liszt was influenced by Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie, a work he greatly admired. The main theme that in one context sounds menacing and violent, and later transformed into a beautiful melody. This technique helps to bind the sonata’s spreading structure into a single unit. The sonata is almost 30 minutes long, and it is a real challenging for performer to develop and achieve the whole sonata into a cohesive unit.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

liszt's etudes

There are three versions of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes. When he was 15 years old, in 1826, he wrote the first version of these etudes. The style of the etudes is more like Moskowsky. In 1839, the second version was created and was called Grand Etudes. In 1842, Liszt based on his second version’s form wrote the third version which was the most difficult pieces for piano ever written.

The No.10 is F-minor etude. Beginning melody sounds dramatic and agitated. There are several portions that two hands alternated play descending chords are very difficult. Passage work for the left hand is fast and challenging, the right hand plays the melody mostly in octaves. The second section is in E-flat minor which is a sad song with more dolce.
No.12 has the programmatic title “Chasse-Neige”. The etude is a study in tremolos but contains many other difficulties like wide jumps and fast chromatic scales.

La Leggierezza is the second piece of Liszt’s Three Concert Etudes. The piece has beautiful haunting lyricism. It needs to be played with clean and seamless articulation. It is interesting how Liszt ends the piece with the inverted major sixths as rays of sunshine.
Lightness playing is most important for this piece.