Sunday, January 19, 2020

Is Wagner (especially) tainted by association with Nazism?

Is some classical music by German composers “tainted” by association with Nazism and Adolf Hitler?
The question is most often asked about Richard Wagner, as examined in this article by Holocaust Art. Alan Riding had examined the issue in a 2004 issue in the New York Times.

Questions also arise with composers like Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwangler.
On the other hand, some of these composers were Jewish, such as Mahler, who practiced both Catholicism and Judaism.
Also, Nazi ideology disapproved of dodecaphonic expressionistic modernism (Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, etc) which musicians consider a natural outgrowth of particularly German post romanticism.
Yet, I remember this as an issue when I was a patient at NIH in 1962 (just 17 years after the end of WWII).  I sometimes admitted in family or group therapy that I could feel “tired of music” (despite my obsession with my vinyl classical record collection), and there was a lot of social pressure to come down off the mountain and do popular music, from other patients. 
The Cuban Missile Crisis would happen while I was there.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

What happens to a piano concerto when it is played for solo piano as a "sonata"? Try this with Rachmaninoff #3

Ever wonder what a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, say #3 in D Minor, sounds like as a “piano sonata”?

Valentina Lisitsa shows us the potential of the music on solo piano only, with the embed above of the finale (from London Decca).
But in the final D Major peroration at the end, you really need orchestra.  Can a piano sonata be “amplified” in spots by other instruments, the way a symphony can be amplified by a choral finale? 
The concerto is present in three separate videos, recorded back in Dec. 2012 on YouTube.  

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Josh Wright discusses how one becomes a concert pianist

“Becoming a Concert Pianist: Realities, Difficulties and Solutions”, with Josh Wright.  

Josh mentions the hours of daily practice early, and then advises people who have other ways to make a living (like tech or programming or software, which will be common in musicians) to do that first.  

 But some people will have a passion and drive for concert life.  They know who they are.

He also says that there are several ways to get in, and it doesn’t always require wining a piano competition.

When I was growing up as a boy, I played in piano festivals, probably five years in a row, until about age 14.  The first piano teacher then died rather suddenly of colon cancer, and went to a new one.  

 You got ratings for your performances (two pieces;  one time I played Rachmaninoff’s B Minor Prelude from Op. 32).

I was reasonably proficient in high school and could play Mozart Piano Concerto #27 (and I think 20 – and sorry, not #26 with the missing left hand needing “recomposition”).  I could play the last Op 32 Prelude, a majestic one in D-flat.  Another favorite was Liszt’s second “Legend”, “St Francis Walks on the Water”.
Wright mentions playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3 (which cadenza?) and Saint-Saens #2 (G Minor) as well as the Chopin Grand Polonaise. 

The piano shown in the picture is on the upper level at the MGM Grand Casino at National Harbor in Maryland south of Washington DC. 

Friday, January 03, 2020

Schubert's "Arpeggione" sonata

Here’s a little curiosity to start out the New Year, the Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor, D 821, by Franz Schubert.
It is usually performed with a true cello, as is the case here. The original instrument was more like a guitar bowed as a cello.

Here it is played by YoYoMa and Emmanuel Ax.

Note that the cello part is printed an octave higher than how it sounds.

The slow movement is in the dominant major, which is unusual for a classical cyclical work in a Minor Key.
The rondo finale, a gentle Allegretto, is in the Picardy major. The very last chord provides a stylish soft ending. 
Schubert composed no concertos, and this work is often mentioned as close to one.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Beethoven Piano Sonata #16 in G, light and playful?

Ashish Xiangyi Kumar has posted sheet music and detailed analysis of form of the Beethoven Piano Sonata #16 in G Major, Op. 31 #1   There are two performances by Kovacevich and Goode.

The work seems playful and studious and almost a meta-essay on the Sonata from itself, with the expected key relations (how he handles the Dominant key is interesting).  The slow movement in C in 9/8 sounds a little perfunctory and a little like Haydn, but it picks up interest.

The finale is a laid back Allegretto rondo, that gets into finger virtuosity and feigns a big climax before dissolving into nothing.

I had at one time imagined composing two piano concerti.  One would be in C# Minor, and the Amy Beach concerto is a bit like what I imagined.  The second would be in G Major, which I imagined as an airy key, and it would end in nothing. Once in a while, a soft ending.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Eve Service at Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington VA -- and a bonus from Vaughn Williams

Last night for Christmas Eve I returned to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA for Christmas candlelight service.

Some of the music items have been covered here, before, but I’ll add a bonus at the end of this post.
There was a solo flutist to accompany the singing. 

An early hymn was “On This Day Earth Shall Ring” by Gustav Holst, based on a Latin chant in Dorian mode (d minor).  There was a curious device where phrases ended with sustained repeated notes.

The Trinity Chorale Ensemble – I know some of the singers personally – performed several anthems. First there was “As the Bells Ring” by Bob Chilcott, “The Blasts of Chill December” by James Bassi, and the more familiar “Night of Silence” by Daniel Kantor, to be followed by Silent Night with our holding candles (after communion).
There was another hymn "The Snow Lay on the Ground" by Leo Sowerby.
During the Offertory. Carol Feather Martin (director of music and known as a concert organist) performed a curious modally harmonize hymn on the piano, about 5 minutes, that sounded like a development of the Gustav Holst hymn presented earlier. I don’t know who composed the actual piece (not in the notes).  But the 4/4 rhythm was punctuated with extra half-beats once in a while (like a measure of 5/4 – not quite the 4/20 that Adam Neely describes in a posting here Nov. 26 – an effect common with rock bands and percussion! )

I’ll close with an embed of a Tim Keyes Consort performance in 2013 of Ralph Vaughn Williams ‘s short cantata “Toward the Unknown Region”, which I’ve had on Varese Sarabande, I think, and it is also on Angel with Dona Nobis Pecam.  (I had covered “Hodie” here Dec. 26, 2014). The piece is in F Major, unusual for effects of this nature, but the conclusion matches the effect of the end of Mahler’s Resurrection, for example.  Vaughn Williams is often considered a composer of gentle pastoral modal music, but he can be virile and loud sometimes.  Note the overpowering conclusion even with a chamber orchestra performance. This work seems to belong in a Christopher Nolan movie (maybe "Tenet").
I remember playing this in my NYC apartment in the spring of 1978 before catching a flight to Phoenix to go to one of Dan Fry’s “Understanding” conventions.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Rachmaninoff's "Cello Sonata", and why it is interesting to me, at least

Natalia Gutman (cello) and Elisso Versaladze (piano) play the Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 19 (1901) by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  

The work is titled as such as the idea of “cello sonata” would diminish the role of the piano.  Here, the 35-minute work is so much a piano virtuoso sonata that it overshadows the cello, which sounds like an obligatto.

The work has four movements, and the first movement offers a slow introduction and even exposition repeat (with the second theme in dominant major instead of relative).

The scherzo (C minor) is wicked, but the slow movement (E-flat) is opulent post-romanticism on steroids.

The Finale is entirely in the Picardy G Major.  It has some piano passage work that foreshadows the Second Piano Concerto.  Before the end, there is a fake slow-down as if it would end quietly, and then there is a prestissimo rush to the final fortissimo.

My “music friend” at William and Mary that lost fall of 1961 played the cello was well as piano and invited me to write him a cello sonata.  I have a sketch of a slow first movement in B-flat in handwritten notes, I still have it.  The finale was supposed to be a kind of tarantella.