Sunday, June 30, 2019

How does piano music fit in at senior centers?

Here is a story some people find touching

This is “pop” music and I know the video is intended to say something about encouraging social life in senior centers, which I would not fit in very well with.

But would assisted living centers really invite accomplished pianists to perform?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Beethoven's pivotal Piano Concerto #3, with romanticism to follow

I mentioned Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3 in C Minor, Op 37, in a post yesterday, and it does bring back memory of my own coming of age.

Back in the fall of 1959, I had started eleventh grade and I remember getting a low price record of this work, which took up the whole disc despite its 35-minute length. The program notes said that this work was still in the world of Mozart and Haydn.

Yet the first movement has some melodrama to be sure, with a powerful climax after the cadenza.

But I can remember some interesting play with the interval of the fourth in the second theme, that would stick in my head as I read (for an English class book report) James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Deerslayer” (which had been a movie recently then), the passage about the ark on a hidden pond, and got ready write a term paper about Cooper’s treatment of women later in the academic year.  It wasn’t too progressive or woke by today’s cultural standards.  So I can place getting the record in the fall of 59 with that old RCA Victor record player in the basement.

This was one of the first major piano concertos in a minor key (after Mozart’s D Minor, #20) where the finale ends in the parallel, Picardy major. Yet here the finale doesn’t have the “big tune” idea that we would soon have in romantic piano concerti (Grieg’s would be one of the first to do this.)

The performance about is by Arthur Rubenstein and the Concetgebouw, a staple pianist during my own early days (then on RCA Victor).

The Piano Concerto #3 was composed around 1800, just before Beethoven’s hearing loss became more troublesome.  Four years later would come the triumph of the Symphony #5, but the whole finale is in the major key, not just the coda.
The Piano Concerto #3 also reminds me a bit of the Brahms First Concerto.  The slow movement of #3, in the mediant key of E Major, is the most adventurous harmonically, and there is an enharmonic transition back to C Minor for the Rondo theme of the finale.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Chloe Flower mixes classical with popular at Grammy's

Chloe FlowerGet What U Get”, Chopin adaptation, from the “Grammy's”, followed by Beethoven.

Later the end of the First Movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3 in C Minor comes into play. I’ll do another post on that piece soon as it was important during my own “coming of age” and the first movement has an unusually compelling climax as Beethoven breaks out of his classicism and predicts his future compositions.

I've never been a fan of copying classical music into popular, although now even the opening theme of Bruckner's 5th is in a disco song. 
Chloe gave an interview on YouTube here.  Shame on the Today Show for letting its video “expire”. That’s mainstream media.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Bach passed away just before finishing his last fugue, and didn't write his usual inscription to God (his son did it for him)

A friend wrote to me:

“Bach finished each of his manuscripts with the words Soli Deo gloria—“Glory to God alone.” He failed, however, to write these words on his last manuscript, “Contrapunctus 14,” from The Art of Fugue, which abruptly stops mid-measure. His son C.P.E. added these words to the score: “Über dieser Fuge … ist der Verfasser gestorben” (“At this point in the fugue … the composer died”). Bach’s life and work merged with his prayers as he breathed his last breath.”

I am told this comes from Arthur C. Brooks in the Atlantic.  I coukdn't find that, but he does connect Bach to the modern "free market" in music, like Washington Post article here (and how composers work today). 

The piece is in D minor according to my piano.  It ends abruptly, midstream, as the composer died, but before the last quiet chord.
Glenn Gould, who was a popular Bach pianist in the early 1960s on Columbia records (he used piano, not harpsichord, especially the five "piano concertos".) 

Bach had many children and composed every week for church services for a living.  In a sense, he had a permanent commission.  Today's composers should be so lucky. 

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Berlin Philharmonic performance by Rattle of completed 4-movement Bruckner Ninth (relate to previous video as a "part 2")

The concert that I had originally intended was the 2018 concert, showing a video of the Berlin Philharmonic’s playing the entire Bruckner Symphony 9 in D Minor, all four movements, with a final 2011 completion version by Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca.

Wikipedia notes that the four movement version was played at Carnegie Hall in New York on Feb. 24, 2012.  I barely missed finding out about this and going.  This performance is the only other live performance I could find (but I would presume he has performed it in Seattle and other places). So in a sense I have achieved a personal goal of “attending” a performance of the complete Bruckner 9.

The concert started with the 11-minute “Three Pieces for Orchestra” by Hans Abrahamsen, which was quite dissonant and workmanlike, gebrachmusik.

Visitors should play the 16-minute commentary at the end of the link.    Rattle presents overwhelming evidence that Bruckner had almost completed the work.  Bruckner had played an intended sketch of the coda on an organ to friends.

For a video on this post, I’ll show “Simon Rattle: The Making of a Maestro”, a one hour documentary.  I’ve embedded the finale here before.

One question I had was, why did Samale take out the finale pianissimo before the coda, and remain fortissimo through the end.  The answer seems to be that Bruckner had laid out all the measures first, so musical reverse engineering seem to demand the cut of the final pianissimo launching point.

Rattle does mention the "Hallelujah" theme embedded in the trio of the Scherzo, but it is less important to his version than to Letocart's.  After my own William and Mary expulsion at the end of 1961, I did get Bruno Walter's Columbia recording (mono) of the 3-movement work for Christmas.  That theme was on the inner grooves of the split side.  The old mono cartridge failed on this record (probably an electrical short, not just the stylus) and that was quite disturbing at the time. It seems ironic now. 
Rattle also points out that visitors to Bruckner’s body took away pieces handwritten sheet music as souvenirs.

The music of the Ninth is more radical (and frankly expressionistic) than other symphonies, even the Eighth (which Shostakovich quoted in the Leningrad). There are placed that approach outright atonality and resemble early Schoenberg.

Rattle notes that other music had been censored by publishers because of shocking dissonances, including Schubert’s Unfinished. I wasn’t aware I had grown up with that version.
Here’s another (unidentified) completion that YouTube just published. 

Monday, June 03, 2019

Berlin Philharmonic concerts on "Digital Concert Hall", part 1

I joined the “Digital Concert Hall” which offers video of Berlin Philharmonic concerts for various prices (in British pounds, to be converted) .
I watched two concerts today.  I had intended to watch the May 26, 2018 concert of the complete Bruckner Ninth but misread the site and wound up watching the May 25, 2019 concert performing Bruckner’s Second Symphony, second version, 1877.  I’ll make some more remarks about the Bruckner 9 concert in a separate posting soon.

In the 2019 concert, Paavo Jarvi conducts three works. 

The first one is the closing Ricacare (8 min) from Bach’s “A Musical Offering”, BWV 1079, scored for chamber orchestra by Anton Webern.  This is an enormously chromatic piece (in C) because of its dense fugal polyphony.  It sounds “modern”.

The second work was of “Seven Early Songs” which Alban Berg composed at age 22 but published much later in life (19 min). The soloist was Mojca Erdmann.  The music is lush if atonal and sounds a bit like lake Mahler.  I say atonal, but the songs have key signatures.

The main course was the Bruckner Symphony #2.  After the performance, Gunar Upatnieks interviews the conductor, who explains that this is an early work and doesn’t have the “ceremonial, ritualistic gestures” of the middle and late Symphonies (starting with #4).  I didn’t know that the first version had put the scherzo first.
The music sometimes sounds a little but perfunctory, yet the violence at the end of the first movement is captivating.  I remember hearing this work in my car radio in Minneapolis in 1998 the day after a very important dinner with a friend regarding my book.  The slow movement does sound reflective and looks back to earlier times.  The C Major coda of the finale sounds rather toccata-like, and later symphonies would be more daring.