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.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chopin's Barcarolle Op.60 and B minor Sonata Op.58

Barcarolle was originally the name of a kind of boat-song that had become popular in the 18th century, specifically a song of a Venetian boatman. The songs were usually moderate in tempo and had gently rocking, repetitive rhythmic accompaniments that suggested the motion of a small boat in the water.
Chopin’s Barcarolle Op.60 in F-sharp major was written in 1845. It is one of the great works of his last years, composed just as he reached the mature mastery. The piece’s brief introduction sets a calm mood for the gently boat-song accompaniment which, in two measures establishes the rhythmic scheme for the singing, flowing main theme. The theme is with its 12/8 meter and ornamental melody in thirds. It sounds like moving on waves and boy and girl singing the duet love song. Trills, double trills, chromatic passages and other Chopin’s features all show up in the piece.
Other composers wrote barcarolles: Mendelssohn, Offenbach.

Chopin’s Sonata in B minor Op.58 was composed in 1844. The sonata reveals a great variety and wealth imagination. The first subject with its fragmented mobility is linked to second subject which is a long lyrical line. Beautiful themes, bold figuration and rich modulations prevail throughout the first movement. The two middle movements are less complex formally. The short scherzo is a delicious caprice, the striking contrast sounds like Chopin’s independent scherzos. The Largo movement opens with a poetically deep theme which is like human voice singing the cantabile melody. The last movement is a rondo, in which every return of the theme is marked by an increase in the rhythmic density of the accompaniment and an energy that demands great virtuosity in the player.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

David Garrett, a very Cool Violinst!

I like his casual style on the stage. He can lead the conductor and orchestra going with him. All public enjoyed his music.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Website of Franz Liszt on Religion

Liszt's The Fountains of the Villa d'Este and religion

Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este (The Fountains of the Villa d'Este) is Liszt’s late work from the third year of Pilgrimage, and is written in 1877. This piece was inspired to describe musically the dazzling play of water. Fountain, spraying arpeggios and glistening tremolandos dominate the first half of the piece. In the quieter middle section, the water takes on a mystical meaning, and Liszt has here inserted a quotation from St. John 4:14: “the water that I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into eternal life.” The piece ends in a spiritual mood, with the chords of a plagal cadence.
This work must have inspired the young Maurice Ravel, who some 24 years later, broke new impressionistic ground in a piece with a similar title, Jeux d’eau.

Liszt's Mephisto Waltz and Années de Pèlerinage

It's good to know that the Mephisto Waltzes are four waltzes composed by F. Liszt in different years. Nos.1& 2 were composed for orchestra, later arranged for piano, and Nos.3-4 were written for piano duets. The first waltz is the most popular and has been frequently performed in concert. The Waltz is a typical example of program music, taking for its program an episode from Faust, not by Goethe, but by Lenau. The first Waltz is named Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (The Dance in the Village Inn).
The beginning depicts Mephisto's arrival, accompanied by Faust, at a country wedding feast. While Faust courts the innkeeper's daughter, Mephisto appropriates a violin, and he tunes it and then plays a frantic devil dance. The second theme reminds of Faust's wooing and goes into the woods with the young girl. Mephisto Waltz is a virtuosic piece, and in orchestral writing.

Années de Pèlerinage (years of Pilgrimage) is a set of three suites by Liszt. "Vallée d'Obermann "(Obermann's Valley) is from the first set Première Année: Suisse. It is the largest of set. Around the time, Liszt was apparently very moved by the letters contained in the epistolary novel Oberman by Senancour. The work opens in an elegiac mood, and a stepwise falling theme. The piece follows by an ethereal passage, using the high range of the piano, and soon gives way to a stormy cadenza-like section. The finale combines the second theme and cadenza material to create a triumphant finish. The whole piece is more emotional than structural.

The one movement sonata 'Dante sonata' was composed in 1849, from second set of Années de Pèlerinage. This work of program music was inspired by the reading of Dante Alighieri's most famous epic poem-"The Divine Comedy". The piece is divided into two main subjects. The first, a chromatic theme in D minor with a tritone motive, typifies the wailing of souls in Hell. D minor is a common key for music relating to death. The second subject is a beatific chorale in F-sharp major, representing the joy of those in heaven.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chopin's Mazurkas Op.59 and Polonaise Op.44

There are five national dances of Poland: Mazur, Krakowiak, Oberek, Kujawiak and Polonez. The most famous folk dances are Mazur (Mazurka) and Polonez (Polonaise). Chopin wrote 57 Mazurkas and 7 Polonaises. Both dances are in triple meter with lively tempo. Mazurka is contained a heavy accent on the third or second beat. The dance became popular at Ballroom dances in the rest of Europe during the 19th century. Actually, the Mazurka was a creation of the province of Mazovia, in which Chopin was born. Mazurka is only for Chopin, for Poland. "Only Chopin can catch the haughty, yet tender and alluring, character of the Mazurka; and in order to understand to the full how perfectly Chopin's setting suited the varying emotions that he succeeded in displaying in all the magic of their rainbow lines."(F.Liszt)
The three Mazurkas Op.59 were composed in 1846, three years from death.
No.1 in A minor, the whole piece is like telling a old story. It should be played with nostalgia. The middle section key changes to A major and it sounds like Chopin remembering those lovely memories in his home countury.
No.2 in A-flat major, has been called "perhaps the most beautiful of all Mazurkas. The melody is showing by single note in frist time (a girl is dancing alone), and in the second time, shows by double notes(one more person join in dancing). Later, the left hand plays the melody with a different sound range (the guy leads dancing with girl).
No.3 in f-sharp minor. Triple meter and notes are important here. Within triple meter, there are triple eighth notes, and within triple eighth notes, there are 16th triple notes. This piece is the fastest comparing with other two of Op.59. It sounds more dancing. Even though the left hand accompaniment texture is like f-p-p, but the right hand melody takes the phrase going from the third beat.
Polonaise is usually in moderate tempo, based on the rhythm 8-16-16, 8-8-8-8. Chopin's Polonaises are in dance of attitude. In the music, you can see the picture of military march with entrance of King and Queen.
Op.44 in f-sharp minor is one of Chopin's largest efforts and most certainly a 'battle hymn', with its insistent rhythms and series of mouting octaves. The rool of drums is unmistakable in the A-major section, and the contrasting trio sounds like a nostalgic mazurka. Chopin called the work "a kind of fantasia in the form of a Polonaise".

Friday, February 8, 2008

Recordings of Chopin's Ballade Op.23

The Ballade in G minor, OP.23 is the first of Chopin’s four ballades. It was composed in 1835-36 during the composer’s early days in Paris. Chopin cited the poet Adam Mickiewicz as an influence for his ballades.
The music is built from two main themes, the first being introduced in bar 7 after the short introduction, and the second in bar 68. The whole piece is in a narrative form: A-B-C-B-A, and the keys of the sections are V (intro)-i (A section mm.9-67)-VI (B section mm.68-93)-VI (C section mm.138-165)-VI (B section mm.166-194)-i (A section mm.195-208), and Coda in G minor.
The Moderato (mm.9-208) is framed on both sides by the Largo introduction (mm.1-8) and the Presto con fuoco coda (mm.209-64). In the introduction, Chopin articulated by brief rests, as if the speaker were short of breath or, still turning in his mind the subject of the about to open the story. The coda is more open than the introduction, and this is a discourse in search of an aim. Once the aim is reached, it is repeatedly stressed. After the Presto absolutely nothing remains to be said.

A ballade is a narrative poem, usually set to music, and it often is a story told in song.
The performance is an oral culture, and it is like to storytelling or folksinging. In a narrative model the performer is like a storyteller, and their works are for certain emotional effects and aesthetic. Different performer presents different versions of a single work. It is largely defined by the performer’s interpretation and listener’s reception.
In a musical performance the participants include the performer as well as the listener.
Every performer tries to communicate with composers, and also communicate with listener though the music. In fact, performance is defined as a dynamic engagement with the score. "A poetic text taken along is open to a wide range of possible interpretations, to set the text to music is to narrow the range, to perform the composed setting is to narrow the range still further." (By Kramer) So basically, it is like this shape:
Poetic textScorePerformance (Many possible interpretationssingle interpretation)
The score is a dynamic reaction to the text, and performance is a dynamic reaction to the score.

There are three recordings in Course library, and each one has different interpretation, but there are not my favorite recording.
First one is very swing fast playing. Since I discussed above that pianist needs to communicate with listener, me, as a listener, it is difficult to understand what is going on in the piece. It sounds the pianist hurry up to finish playing it and then do something else. It is not telling a story to public.
In the second recording, the pianist didn’t hurry up. His playing technique is not very good. He made every phrase rubato, it is unnecessary. Chopin is a Romantic composer, his music should be played romantically, but pianist is also a storyteller, if you did too much expressive, you just play for yourself, not for other listeners. We should remember that pianist needs listener’s reception.
The third recording is the best performance comparing with other two. The pianist played romanticlly and dramaticly. My personal thought for this pianist is he or she is a little wild playing for Chopin's forte.
There are two pianists’ interpretations which are my favorite: Rubinstein and Zimerman. Both are they as storyteller, and through their performance, I can hear they are just "telling" a real story to public.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chopin's Nocturnes, Preludes, and recordings

Chopin’s Nocturnes are in turn dreamy, stormy, languid, lush and touching. Chopin’s early nocturnes had influence of Field. It is often cited that Chopin’s nocturne style was affected by Italian opera, the melodies of his nocturnes display qualities of the Bel canto style of Italian opera. Contrapuntal practices, the influence of J. S. Bach, are a component of the texture in Chopin’s later nocturnes.

Many pianists recorded Chopin’s Nocturnes, listening to the Rubinstein’s recording is like going home, because he has the best sense of the phrase, ‘simply exquisite’. Rubinstein’s sense of rubato is perfect; affective and full of rhythm within rhythm, totally natural. Like Liszt said of Chopin’s rubato, “See the tree? See how the leaves move yet the shape stays the same?”

Arthur Rubinstein said the following about Chopin's music and its universality:
“ Chopin was a genius of universal appeal. His music conquers the most diverse audiences. All over the world men and women know his music. They love it. They are moved by it. It does not tell stories or paint pictures. It is expressive and personal, but still a pure art. His music is the universal language of human communication. When I play Chopin I know I speak directly to the hearts of people!

Chopin’s Preludes Op.28 had been compared to J. S. Bach’s preludes in WTC. Bach’s pieces were arranged chromatically, while Chopin’s were arranged in a circle of fifths.
The longest prelude is No.17 which has 90 measures, and the shortest is No.7, has 16 measures. These preludes are collected by small fragments and Chopin’s thoughts. Some preludes were written in the style of Mazurka (No.7), or choral like (No.13), or march like (No.20) etc.
I still prefer A. Rubinstein’s recording. Some other pianists are very good as well, such as M. Argerich, Sergio tiempo (Argerich’s students). Comparing with Rubinstein, Argerich’s Chopin is too dramatic sometime (specially in slow movements). She is good for fast technique fragments.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mendelssohn's Prel.and Fugue Op.35, No.1 and Rondo Capriccioso Op.14

Mendelssohn wrote six Preludes and Fugues, Op.35. Obviously, he followed Bach’s path. The Op.35, No.1 in E minor, generally considered the best of the set. In prelude, a kind of etude figuring a melody framed by arpeggios in both hands. The dramatic, Bachian Fugue, where the subject is heard in original form and in inversion, follows, becoming increasingly agitated, climaxing, and ending with a powerful chorale over a moving bass. The piece sounds overwrite to me. There are too many extra notes, and sounds unnecessary for the music.

Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso in E-minor, Op.14, is freely constructed in two parts: a Weber-like andate leads to a brilliant staccato presto in 6/8. The piece as a whole is fresh sounding. It is a very good recital piece for intermediate students.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Variations of Clara Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn

It is my first time to listen both pieces Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann Op.20 and Felix Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses Op.54. I am glad to write some of my thoughts here.

Clara Schumann was a great pianist, and less known as a composer. She was very talented musician, and could be a great composer, but her role was as a wife and a mother of eight children, her compositions just got little attention comparing to those of her husband. Clara’s music has clarity of texture, lyricism, tonal color, and elegance of feminized style. Her Variations on Theme of Robert Schumann is a late piece of her works. It seems there was sadness around her during composing the music. The twenty-four measure theme is in F sharp minor within a ternary form, and it is based on Robert Schumann’s Bunte Blatter, Op.99, no.4. The melody is almost like a descending 5 notes-Clara’s theme. The seven variations are based upon increasing rhythmic motion, dynamic force, textural density and harmonic complexity. Generally, I think Clara, as a composer, she doesn’t have any special dazzling musical ideas comparing to other famous composers in 19th century. Even though the Variations Op.20 has more difficult technique, but there are no much interesting things to play. Let is just what I think.

Comparing to Clara Schumann’s Variations, Felix Mendelssohn’s Variations Op.54 in D minor is more interesting and more like a master piece. Mendelssohn was known for his easy and nice style, like ‘Songs without Words’. But the piece Variation Serieuses Op.54 is a surprise to me, because it is very serious and difficult to perform. It is traditionally ranked with the principal variations of Beethoven and Brahms. The first time I listen to the piece, I am truly amazed by the level of energy imagination that each variations contains and how from a simple theme the composer manages to explore totally different universes.
The religious gravity of the theme is remarkable for its hymn-like clarity and the four-part writing is close to the spirit of the chorale. Following the theme, there are 17 variations. Some of the variations display almost baroque contrapuntal writing style, and others are more purely romantic, coming close to Robert Schumann’s variation style.
Many textural ideas recur through the variations, such as repeated triads syncopated between hands, but each time given distinctive expression. (Var.2) Over the variations, the theme’s melody sometimes loses its rhythmic identity and its original pitches gradually show up with freedom. (Var.8) Bach’s music was first found by Mendelssohn, so he used Bach’s fugue writing style often, it happened in Var.10. This piece is a very fascinating piano composition which is worth to play by any pianists who are interested in.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weber's "Invitation to the Dance"

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) was a German composer. His music has colorful harmonies and orchestration. He used popular themes from central European folk music. His is famous for his operatic music.
Weber wrote the ‘Invitation to the Dance’ as a tender gift to his wife, and presented it with a “program” that is so musically self evident that it needs no detailed explanation. A young lady receives a courtly invitation to a ball from a gentleman who asks for the honor of the first dance.
Related in the biography of Weber, by his son, that while the composer was playing the piano version of the piece to his wife, he gave her the following program of the piece:
“Bars 1-5, first appearance of the dances. Bars 5-9, the lady’s evasive reply. Bars 9-13, his pressing invitation. Bars 13-16, her consent. Bars 17-19, he begins conversation. Bars 19-21, her reply. Bars 21-23, speaks with greater warmth. Bars 23-25, the sympathetic agreement. Bars 25-27, addresses her with regard to the dance. Bars 27-29, her answer. Bars 29-31, they take their places. Bars 31-35, waiting for the commencement of the dance. The conclusion of the dance, his thanks, her reply, and their retirement.”

Weber was the founder of the dance music expression of deep feeling, and of a school of which Richard Strauss afterwards was a follower.

Hummel's Rondo and Sonata

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), an Austrian composer. He studied with Mozart and Haydn, so his music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era. His music style was slowly going out of fashion at that time because his classical ideas were seen as old-fashioned. Hummel wrote twenty-four preludes set for piano which was written in each key and mode. He wrote two piano concertos, almost 25 sonatas and other staffs.
Rondo in E flat major, Op.11, when I first time listen to it, I thought the composer must be a clown, because the music sounds like for acrobatic troupe. From the other side, I think the piece is also brilliant and playful because of the staccatos, the fast 16th notes passages, the ornamentation, long trills, and dotted notes.
Hummel’s Sonata Op.81 in F sharp minor, is the peak of his writing for the piano. The sonata has drama, brilliance and pathos. It is a quite challenge for the player. The composer makes the player running the span of the keyboard in a single measure. There are dramatic passage of rapid playing and introspective moments of reflection, particularly in the beautiful Largo. I personally like the beginning of the third movement. It is really playful. From the music score, you can see there are a lot of notes on there. I think Hummel liked writing more notes than Haydn and Mozart, and that is the differences comparing with classical composers.
Hummel philosophy on which he based his actions was to “enjoy the world by giving joy to the world”. I like it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mendelssohn's Song Without Words

First, I would tell my student some important points about Mendelssohn’s life and his music. The German composer Mendelssohn was from a notable Jewish family. The social life of his parents brought him widespread recognition, and provided much experience. Mendelssohn toured Europe visiting a number of countries where he sketched musical fragments later to be turned into concert works, which is why a number of his works have titles suggestion these countries. He visited Scotland, writing the Scottish Symphony; he sketched his Italian Symphony while visiting Rome and Naples, and note that three of his Song Without Words are Venetian Boat Songs.

I need to point out that Mendelssohn revived Bach’s music. Mendelssohn’s own works show his study of Baroque and early classical music. His fugues and chorales especially reflect a tonal clarity and use of counterpoint.

Mendelssohn’s music is firmly classical in form and romantic in nature. His music is largely pleasant and evocative, without the strong passions. If you listen to any of the Song without words and without knowing the piece title, you might confuse Mendelssohn and Field or Chopin. Field was essentially the grandfather of the nocturnes for piano and Chopin the most expressive and intimate explorer of the human soul, Mendelssohn had all those variables in mind and decided to create an album- Song without words.

Mendelssohn’s Song without words, eight cycles each containing six lyric pieces, remained his most famous solo piano compositions. It is a great stylistic and conceptual unity.
Let’s choose Op.19, No.1 in E major as an example. Most of Mendelssohn’s Song without words has inner and outer voices. I think the first important thing to make the piece sounds better is to know the different level sound of different voices. Top voice is the melody, and it should be heard above all else. The lower voice sometimes has the dialogue with the top voice, so it should be the second important thing. The middle voice is like accompaniment and makes changing the harmonies. It should be very quiet.

Second step is to make even sound between two hands. Most time, the middle voice is shared to play by two hands. It is difficult to play equally.

Last thing to tell is the phrasing. If the student got all technique well done, he has to play long phrase, think horizontal line, or not vertical line. Remember--Virtuosity always serves music singing!
The piece is good for varied kind of students. If you have good technique, you need to work on the phrasing. If you have good musical feeling, and bad for technique, you need to work on the evenness and play it quietly.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Field's Nocturnes and Moschele's Etude

John Field (1782-1837), an Irish composer. He is best remembered for his eighteen nocturnes which are single movement impromptu compositions for piano that maintain a single mood throughout. He is also the founder of the piano nocturne. Field’s nocturnes are further notable for their influence on Chopin.

Field’s Nocturnes are still not as popular as they should be, they may not be as musically complex as the more famous Romantic piano composers, but they are always beautiful.
His Nocturnes are dreamy pieces for the piano with original and charming melodic content, soft, singing lines, and rippling passagework.

Nocturne No.4 in A major, is perhaps the finest of all Field’s nocturnes. It shows a clear, definite idea of a new romantic style. The first theme is lyrical, with four perfectly balanced phrases above a simple accompaniment. The middle section becomes agitated and works up to a dramatic climax. The return of the first theme has the details elaborated. This is, for Field, an untypical composition.
Nocturne No. 5 in B-flat major, is an easy piece for performing, it has very beautiful singing tone. From this piece, you can see the thinner texture and easy left hand accompanying comparing with Chopin’s.

It is a good music to listen to it at dinnertime. Most people heard Chopin’s Nocturnes, but not Field’s. If some classical restaurant managers ask my opinion for the background music during the dinner time, I would suggest Field’ Nocturnes rather than Chopin’s.

Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870), is a Bohemian composer.
I have never played his music. Today I seriously listened to his music and found out that He is a really good composer. In his etude Op.95, there are 12 pieces, and each one is like miniatures, has a title with different characteristics. Moscheles’ etudes are not Hanon or Czerny finger exercises, he follows Chopin’s example with technically advanced conceptions combined with equally significant music content.
Moscheles’ Op.95, No. 9, the title of it is ‘Terpsichore’. It sounds really like Fairy Tale. The beautiful melody on the top voice with staccato is like little jewels. He liked using the repeated notes, far range, and big dynamic contrast.
It is worth to use his etudes for advanced students, they are difficult to play and performer might feel nervous and insecure. It is also a good piece for recital encore.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Schumann's Fantasie in C major Op.17 and Papillons Op.2

I think Robert Schumann liked writing the style of Fantasie, he has several pieces named on Fantasie, such as Op.12, Fantasiestucke, Op.17, C major Fantasie, and Op.111, three Fantasiestucke. He was like that kind of person who always live in his dreamy world.
Schumann originally conceived of the Fantasie Op.17, as a piano sonata. The three movements related to sonata form. The Fantasie departs from sonata traditions in a variety of ways, including harmonic schemes, formal designs, ordering and balance of movements and textural development.
As a tribute to Beethoven, a lament for Clara, and a work dedicated to Liszt, the Fantasie has an extraodinay history. In the first movement, beginning phrase is Clara's theme. Not only in this piece, but also in his other pieces, wherever you find the descending five notes in Schumann's music, that is Clara's theme. In the development, the legend is showing out, it just like Schumann was telling a love story about he and Clara. At then end of the first movement, he quoted Beethoven's song from his song cycle. Schumann used some more Beethoven's ideas in the third movement as well, such as Beethoven's moonlight sonata like, Emperor concerto like, and Op,111 (2nd mvt) like.
Schumann's poetic intent, musical language, and creative process, everything shows on the C major Fantasie. It is a really great piece.

Together with this piece, I would like to talk some about Schumann's Papillons.
The Papillons was Schumann's early piece, Op.2, and was composed in 1831.It has meaning 'butterflies'. Papillons begins with a six measure introduction, and then following dance-like movements. Maybe it was Schumann's early piece, he didn't care about the connection between the sections. In Papillons, each dance movement sounds unrelated to the preceding ones, until the final, which is tonally similar to the introduction. Papillons is meant to represent a masque ball scence from a bovel, with each movement giving a different character at that ball.
The final dance is a quite famous old folk dance -"Grandfather's Dance". Some other composers copy the basic theme from the melody, for example, Tchaikovsky used it in his ballet "The Nutcracker".
For performing Schumann's music well, you have to use your imagination, because Schumann change characters a lot, you have to catch him. Flegejahre's writing for Papillons is a good reference to read.
At last, I want to argue something about our question in the class. If Schumann grow up or not? Of course, here we mean his music progress. I would like to say YES, he had grown up a lot because we can see in his music. His Abegg Variations,Op.1, and Papillons,Op.2 are his early pieces, they sound simple and not mature. Later until Op.9 Carnaval, Op.16 Kreisleriana, and Op.17 Fantasie are very successful writing. Does it not mean he grow up? I am confusing...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Schumann's Op.16 Kreisleriana and Op.22 sonata in G minor

I played this piece several years ago. I felt I could never finish playing it, because it was a very long piece. If I play with repetition, it would take 40 minutes long. After I learned it, I just love it. It is a very dramatic work and considered to be one of Schumann’s finest-written compositions for the piano.

Kreisleriana is an eight-movement piece, each movement has two different sections, resembling the imaginary musician’s manic-depression, and perhaps recalling Florestan and Eusebius, the two imaginary character s created by Schumann himself, they represented his impulsive and dreamy sides.

I read books and tried to understand more about this piece. Schumann wrote this piece in 1838, and dedicated to Chopin. This piece represents the fictional character Kreisler from the works “The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr” by E.T.A.Hoffmann. There, Hoffmann explores the bizarre, the fantastic, the ridiculous and the sublime. He portrayed himself in the guise of Johannes Kreisler- the hypochondriac, antisocial and moody but brilliant musician. In the book, the tomcat sets out to write his memoirs, using a biography of Kreisler as a blotting pad. By a printer’s error, the two lives get spliced together into a bizarre double narrative.

Comparing Kreisleriana with his sonata Op.22 in G minor, I just feel the sonata is not good writing as Kreisleriana. It sounds boring. I only played the first movement when I was 14 years old, I chose it because it can be played very fast, and I liked playing fast piece. I didn’t work rest of movements because I felt except fast rhythm, nothing else make the piece interesting to me. I still think that way when ever I listen to this piece. I don’t want to write more about the piece. Schumann wrote tempo mark ‘as fast as possible’ because around 1830, Paganinni was famous, so many composers try to copy him. That is why Schumann used fast tempo mark in the sonata.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chapter Summary

I was reading a chapter from Riedel's article. It described the important development during the 19th century. After the French Revolution, the social currents and political were beginning to go to a correct way. In the 18th century, we know some development in the area of mechanic: the inventions of Hargreave's spinning jenny, Crompton's spinning mule, and whitney's Cotton gin. In the 19th century, the era of widespread invention, created more significant developments. For example, the transportation systems, both steam boat and railroad appeared in 1802 and 1825; the electronic systems, electronic light, telephone and telegraph came out in the 19th century as well; the first undersea cable was laid in 1851. Even though the 19th century was the beginning of a fantastic technological progress, the coming of the Industrial revolution made people's life very difficult for several decades. The increased democratization of society and the need for more highly skilled workers made public education a necessity.

In the area of medical sciences, it was increased more than before, and it is another expansion of 19th century. They started having nursing profession and professionally trained phamacist. Many diseased were wiped out, such as cholera, small pox, and bubonic plague. The population was increasing because people could live longer than before with good medication.

The impact of these political, social, and industrial advances was felt in musical life. Music in 19th century reached a large audience than any other time in history. The music theaters, the entertainment halls, dance halls, all these flourished as a result of the broadened exposure of the public to more music and to materials related to music. There were more publishing for music showing out, such as music magazines, music periodicals and newspapaers etc. At that time, the concert life was extended into communities, musicians were able to travel a lot for giving recitals. The great conservatories of music were founded in every important cities.

For the more closed communication between the artist and his audience, "local color" was explored. Folklore furnished a wealth of colorful material with nostalgic overtones reinforced by nationalistic emotions. The artist explored the dream world, the supernatureal and various personal topics, more distinguish and individual. Musicians in 19th century also have propensity for objects of natural world, for example, in things pertaining to night, and by establishing a personal closeness to religion.

Much of the music from the 19th century was refered to as being in the Romantic style. The word "Romantic" means a folk story or a "Romance" in the vernacular. The story usually involved love and ligh adventure. Many great composers lived through this era. German composers Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner behaved like revolutionaries. Several composers were involved in political affairs, such as Bizet and Dvorak. In 19th century, patronage took on new forms, and musicians performed in Salons and Soirees of middle-class Parisian society, such as Chopin and Liszt. The 18th century's composers, they wrote music for emperor and court for earning money, they have purpose for writing. But, the 19th century's composers were free to write music for themself, they composed what they pleased.

Late Romantic composers expanded folk materials of their native cultures, such as Grieg, Dvorak, and the Russian Five. They often adapting melodies, patterns and the choral folk music forms. The folk music societies appeared in every Western nation during the 19th century.

This article chapter" the social order and music" is interesting to read. I got more knowledge about 19th century's development, not only from music area, but also other areas. I am glad to read it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Carnaval (Schumann)

I have never played Schumann's Carnaval Op.9, because I always thought it is a very long piece and there is nothing interesting to me. After learning this piece in piano lit class, I find some interesting things in the piece. Schumann created tonal unity in this twenty-two movement piano cycle. He liked using letters of name for composing the main motives. His "Abegg Variations" was used a lady's name. In the Carnaval, he used letters from his own name. In each section of Carnaval appears either or both of two series of musical notes: A, E-flat, C, B (signified in German as A-S-C-H); A-flat, C, B (signified in German As-C-H).
There are titles for each section and express different characteristic. "Pierrot" is a character of mime and from commedia of art. The ornamentation and the fast 16th notes runs present a crown's humor. Schumann's personal life was clearly reflected in the piece through the use of two alter-egos of his personality. "Eusebius" has lovely sound with 5 notes or 7 notes passages, it described passive and dreamy side of Schumann; and "Florestan" depicts composer's fiery impetuous side. The melody from "Papillons" shows out here. Schumann also used people's name as movement title for describing their characters, such as "Coquette", a flirtatious servant in Wieck's house; "Chiarina", Schumann used Russian name for depicting Clara Wieck; "Chopin", the Chopindish style writing really represent the lyrical style of Chopin. I remember one of my favourite movie "Pianist on the Ocean". The talent pianist never learned piano, but he can play very well and he can create different melodies for different characters of people. I really like that section of the movie. It is the same that Schumann described different mood for different people. This piece is one of the most representative and celebrated works. Now I think that Carnaval Op.9 is a pleasure to perform because I understood and found out the interesting of the piece.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cortot, What a wonderful musician!

Alfred Cortot was a Swiss pianist and conductor. He is one of the most popular 20th century musicians, especially renowned for his poetic insight in Romantic period piano works, particularly those of Chopin and Schumann. I have never heard Cortot's playing. Today in the piano lit class, Dr. Gainsford showed us video of Cortot's master class. It was transcendent! He was all passion and Poetry. He had the most distinctive and beautiful tone. "Penetrating-right to the soul." There was blood in his playing-the blood of a poet. I love how Cortot was able to transform such a simple piece into something extraordinary. He is not only a musician, but also a poet who transposes the idea of dreaming and personal peace, with a beautiful sound. I understand the truth is, you need to dream this piece, rather than just play it.