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.