Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Amy Beach: Prelude and Fugue in A Minor for Piano, a massive late work

Having heard a small organ piece by Amy Beach Sunday, I looked into one of her large solo piano works, the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, Op. 81, composed around 1917.

The work is hyper-chromatic, recalling Liszt and Scriabin, even in the fugue.  Beach is America’s best known post-romantic classical composer, with a style that sometimes resembles Brahms (the Piano Concerto), Dvorak (the E Minor Symphony) and then becomes more modern and dissonant – Scriabin is a good comparison.  She had command of harmony and counterpoint and piano technique equal to all the familiar great (male) composers of her time.

The fugal subject reminds me of a similar subject that generates the cadenza-fugue of Eugen D'Albert's Piano Concerto #1 (itself inspired by Liszt).
This Beach work would be a crowd pleaser.  I wonder if it has ever been transcribed for organ.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Faure Cantique, unusual organ prelude by Amy Beach played at First Baptist DC today

Today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC offered the “Cantique de Jaen Racine” (Op. 11) by Gabriel Faure, with harp (Rebecca Smith), organ and choir. 

The gentle main theme, in D-flat major, will sound familiar, with its arching melodic line which transposes itself.

Lon Schreber had played the quiet Prelude on an Irish FolkTune, “The Fair Hills of Eire O”.  Later, Beach, America’s most prominent female composer in the late romantic era, would use some Irish folk melodies in her Symphony in E Minor (the “Gaelic”), which has some stylistic reminders of Dvorak.  
Later there was a rather modal Sarabande from the Suite for Harp by Lynne W. Palmer  The Postlude was “Paean” by Percy W. Whitlock.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

My self-interest in Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion

Joseph Kalicksen and Joyce Yang, pianos, and Markus Rhoten (tympani) and Steven Schick (percussion) perform Bela Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion at La Jolla Music Society’s Summerfest (CA).

I present it here because I am contemplating preparing a version of my own Third Sonata where the coda of the finale, which is loud, will add percussion.
The original work, composed in 1937, as was also prepared as a concerto for two pianos, percussion and orchestra.  There is a version here with the Royal Concertgeobouw Orchestra conducted by David Zinma, with score shown. 

As Wikipedia notes, the prevailing key is C. The first movement opens with a slow introduction implicitly in F# (no key signature) and plays with the tritonal relationship between F# and C (one-half octave).  There does not seem to be a lot of polyphony in the opening and the theme lines are straightforward.  But the fast toccata theme tends to become modal and gradually invites fugal treatment.  The slow movement begins with percussion alone.

The work ends quietly on C.  (Mine will end triumphantly and perhaps martially.)

I have a Turnabout (Vox) recording of the soloists' version on a LP vinyl somewhere (in storage). "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta" is on the back. 
The work is said to be very difficult to play.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Paul Basler's Missa Brevis performed by Arlington VA church today

Today, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington Virginia integrated a performance of the Missa Brevis by Paul Basler (a University of Florida music professor with some emphasis on horn and brass), for choir, small orchestra and organ.  Carol Feather Martin conducted from the organ.
I caught a glance of the score after the service, and it appears to be in G Major.
The Mass has four movements: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.  The music sometimes reminds me of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, to which I took a date to the Kennedy Center in 1971 when I was in that phase of my life.  There is a little bit of modality, but less than in, say, the Durufle Mass and that composer’s Requiem, which I heard last night (reviewed on Wordpress).  The music is often loud and jubilant with some fast tempos, even in the Kyrie.  The entire work ends quietly, however.

The music often uses stepwise themes followed by jumps, like at the beginning of the Gloria.  
The composer is also better known for the Kenya Mass, which I will take up in the future with another posting.

Carol Feather Martin also played some organ variations on Holy Manna, by Don Hustad (as an “offertorium”) and a Postlude on Llanfair, by Robert Powell.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

New CD from pianist Pandolfi offers an unusual Mozart sonata

At a concert in Alexandria, VA on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, I did hear pianist Thomas Pandolfi perform Mark Wilson’s Piano Concerto, but today I wanted to do a brief write up on his CD “The Space Between”, “Thomas Pandolfi’s Germanic Repertoire”.

The CD starts with Beethoven’s Pathetique Piano Sonata #8 in C Minor, which I have covered here before.  I’ve always perceived this as a particularly laconic work compared the Beethoven’s later works in this key.
There follows a miniature by Robert Schumann, the Romance in D#, Op. 28, #2, and then the Impromptu #4 in A-flat, Op. 90, by France Schubert.  This one is very well known (it was in the Sherwood Music course when I took piano) and it starts out with a long section of arpeggios in A-flat minor, with the C-flat (enharmonic to B natural) entered manually.  Imagine G# Major later!  The circle of key signatures was so easy to learn.
The most interesting work on the disc is the Piano Sonata #4 in E-flat by Mozart, K. K282, which starts with a slow movement (the only one besides the Turkish as far as I can remember).  As shown on line the Sonata is unusual in ending softly.
He then plays the Impromptu #2 in A-flat of Schubert, Op. 142 (opus numbers not in sequence). Then he gives us a Brahms Waltz in A-flat, Op. 39, #15, and concludes with a “Dedication” by Robert Schumann, as transcribed by Franz Liszt. It sounds familiar and fits Pandolfi’s somewhat exhibitionistic style.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Korean folk song "Arirang" at Winter Olympics

A particular Korean folk song called “Arirnag” is getting attention at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics.

Andrew Keh in the New York Times calls it “A Ubiquitous Tunethat United Koreans” (Friday, February 23, 2018, p. B9). 

It is a slow melody in triple time, sung in unison with high female voices.

Does this music have political significance in North Korea really thinks it can force unification on its terms (maybe without nuclear weapons)? But that sounds like expropriation.
Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. image of Stadium, from Pence’s visit.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Brahms Handel Variations and Fugue, an old favorite of mine

The Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24, by Johannes Brahms, was one of my favorite piano compositions when I was a teen.  Could I really play it? 

The work is known for its very formal structure, with its observation of repeats. Wikipedia offers one of the largest and detailed formal analytic writeups of the work for anything in piano literature, with the full score. The entire score will display on a Google search!  This is an example of “orchestral” piano writing.