Saturday, January 03, 2015

Piano lessons, sales drop; some piano music of Stenhammar, Wagner

The number of people – especially kids – taking piano lessons has plummeted, as have sales of traditional upright and console pianos (let alone grands).  The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a discouraging story today (by David Pitt of the AP) about a store closing in Bettendorf, Iowa (Quad Cities) when there were still no more competitors left, link here
I had a Kimball console from 1952 (when I started lessons) until 2003, when I gave it away in Minneapolis, before returning to Arlington VA to look after Mother.  It had gotten banged up a bit and was rather out of tune. 
In 2011, shortly after her passing, I bought a Casio (all 88 keys) , for direct input into Sibelius.  Rather than assembled the stand with it, I put it up on sawhorses, which seems to be just the right height.  (It seems like a lot of users don’t assemble them.)  It plays almost like a real piano and in natural mode makes an outstanding tone with a real overtone ring.  The pitch is always a perfect match to recordings.
It seems that kids like to buy the electronic pianos, but for someone serious about piano as a possible major life activity, you need the real thing.
Let me note another milestone, recently getting my “Polytonal Prelude” (in D and E) entered more properly into Sibelius.  I am still on 7.0 with Mac 10.6.8, but I am expecting an upgrade my mid January.  The newer environment will, I hope, make some things easier.  I’ll get into my plans in more detail again soon.
Today’s “concert” music is a Naxos CD of piano music by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927), played by Niklas Sivelov (1996 recording).
The Three Fantasies (Op. 11) rather resembled a mixture of Schumann, Brahms, and big Chopin (the style of the Ballades).  The first, “molto appassionato” in B Minor comes across as “another” majestic Chopin “scherzo”. 
But the remaining short pieces (“Late-Summer Nights”, Op. 33, and the Three Small Piano Pieces), are much like Schumann miniatures.  The last of the small pieces, a polka, is familiar:  I believe my second piano teacher taught it (to another student) when I was in high school;  I’ve definitely heard it performed live. 
The CD includes the Impromptu in G-flat  (I prefer to call it F-sharp), and the twenty-minute G Minor Sonata (there are five, but this seems to be the only one published and performed).  The work is again rather like a Schumann sonata.  The third movement has a nice trio, and its odd to see to movements in a row marked Allegretto (with the finale).  The ending is vigorous but it does not go into the Picardy major, but remains stormy at the very end. 

Richard Wagner actually composed a few early sonatas, said to be hard.  The first, in A-flat, is in one movement and is on YouTube. It is rather quiet.   There is also an early Symphony in C on YouTube, played by the Rundfink Symphony and Rogner, link here.  The opening rather resembles Franz Schubert. 

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