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.