Saturday, September 29, 2018

Cat tries to play the Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu (which the composer didn't want published!)

In China, a young woman tries to play the Chopin Fantasie-Imprompu in C# Minor, Op. 66, and her cat wants to join in.

The work is controversial because Chopin regarded it as an experiment and didn’t want it published. He based the passagework on similar material in the fast finale of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. This is not my favorite Chopin.

Update: Oct 7
This related video is even better, it shows the cat opening the door twice to get to the piano. Cats can definitely open unlocked doors. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The potential of percussion alone

Here’s an example of what can be done with percussion only at the Foggy Bottom Metro Stop near George Washington University in Washington DC today.

Nearby was an amateur chess game, painful to watch.  Neither player wanted to face me as an opponent.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Soulfire" performs at Westover Market in Arlington VA

The group “Soulfire” performed late Saturday afternoon Sept. 15 in the Beer Garden of the Westover Market on Washington Blvd in Arlington, VA.

The event was supposed to be sponsored in part by the Trinity Men’s Fellowship at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

I’m not sure if this was the same group as Robert Snuhgie Stocks ‘s group or is connected to it, as often presented here earlier.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Conservative vlogger takes aim at "modern music" and it's not what I expected

“Economic Invincibility” (“EI”, a pseudo-anonymous conservative vlogger) lays it on the line with this little video “The Problem with Modern Music”.

I was hoping for a critique of modern expressionism (atonality), or even gebrauchmusikl – a culture of commissioning composers to write “program music” around some cute artistic object of concept. This is a big issue with young composers right now. 

No, he is talking about the lyrics of popular music, especially women who won’t walk away from abusive men. He finally gets around to talking about Shawn Mendes.

And he is very photogenic. Conservative young men are often handsome. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Scriabin's "Divine Poem": was this inspired by the Lizst B-minor Sonata?

Here’s another piece that seems inspired by Liszt’s B Minor Sonata, and tries to solve the problem of how a layered cyclical work like this should end.

It’s “The Divine Poem”, the Symphony #3 in C Minor, Op. 43, composed 1902-1904 by Alexander Scriabin.

Here’s a performance with a lot of commentary by Igor Golovshin and the Moscow Symphony (video recently replaced).

The official documentation of the work list it as having four sections:  A slow introduction, then a first movement (“Struggles” or “Luttes”), a slow movement (“Delights” or “Voluptes”) and “Divine Play” (“Jeu Divin”, call it “Godly play” if you want).

The first movement has three subjects, with the third of these more or less comparable to the Liszt Grandioso theme.  The movement winds down after a violent climax in the brief recapitulation to the slow movement which is like the central section of the Liszt Sonata. Then the “Finale” (the “play”) does further development, some of it fugal, and builds up to a tremendous coda combining all the themes of the work.  The very end bears a curious resemblance to the way D’Albert ends his Piano Concerto #1 and Scriabin probably knew this work.

In fact, after a pivot on the submediant, Scriabin hold the orchestra on a sustained C Major chord while the Wagner Ring arpeggios play underneath and then Scriabin offers three conclusive crashes on C to end.
The style of the work, from a Russian composer, seems both French (with some impressionistic harmonies in the quieter passages) and German (almost Wagnerian).  The cyclical structure, of course, had been tried by Cesar Franck and his D Minor Symphony. But in his piano music, Scriabin would experiment with bizarre new effects and his own form of atonality. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Scott E. Brown: a muscular white "preppy" does hip-hop to send a political message (and counter Trump-ism)

Scott E. Brown has a YouTube channel of politically-oriented music.

The Trump Legacy” has Scott, a clean-cut, southern, preppy “white man” performing hip-hop rap in order to make fun of Trump and offer support for past Obama social policies. 

Here is a case of music and politics coming together.

Scott has some namesakes, so I had some trouble at first finding him.
There’s nothing wrong with white teens wearing hoodies to show support, or make a statement against excessive police profiling.  I see some teens do this intentionally.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor, and there is controversy over the ending (and the beginning -- is it atonal?)

The Sonata for Piano in B Minor, completed in 1853 when composer Franz Liszt was 41, sometimes strikes us as the very beginning of postromantic expressionism. Is this work where the world of Arnold Schoenberg got started? 

I bring an embedded video of a performance by Krystian Zimmerman.

The work, as a sonata, is revolutionary; yet is was somewhat inspired by the Schumann C Major Fantasy, which in turn is a kind of “Beethoven Sonata #33” (not exactly "33 Variations").  It has an internally recursive form of a “sonata within a sonata”.  Running thirty minutes, the first section corresponds roughly to an Exposition.  After considerable reluctance, it migrates to a slow movement, “Andante Sostenuto” in ¾ time, often referring back to some descending motives in the exposition that never go away.  There follows a fughetta based on the opening motives serving as a scherzo, and then “Recapitulation” comes back, and finally a coda based on slow movement material (in the most accepted version). The piece is said to be an example of “double-function” sonata form.

Now it’s important to note the many components of the Exposition. The work begins on two repeated notes G, and a descending figure that sounds atonal, almost like a Schoenberg tone row to generate an entire work.  But the logic of the chromaticism takes us to B Minor, with several figurines forming the thematic material, finally leading to the famous chordal “Grandioso” theme in the relative D Major (with many interesting modulations built into the theme harmony).  This may be the most heroic (and most “masculine”) theme of all of piano literature. Teenage male pianists love to bang it out to show their own machismo.  Yet, in the usual rhetoric of hymnology, the normal cadence structure of the theme is never completed.  It migrates to other lyrical ideas in the Exposition, which probably could be viewed as “development”.

At the end of the work, if comes back one last time, in B Major, and works to a final climax in F#.  But it never completes itself.  Instead the accepted version of the music offers a coda starting with the slow movement material, as the protagonist of the music slowly withdraws from engaging his own self-chosen battles in his life.  The work ends quietly with bell-like B-Major chords.  There is one last low B, “ppp”. 

This is not so much the idea of a soft ending letting the listener contemplate her experience.  It is simply that the work of the music is done and wants to quit when it is ahead and exit honorably.
Yet Liszt actually wrote an alternate loud ending, where the Grandioso completes itself unconvincingly.  Here are three videos, the second showing where it fits the Grandioso, the third showing Liszt’s original handwriting crossed out.  (Composers in those days did not provide neat manuscripts to submit to contests like I had to.)

I could imagine a revision, letting the accepted soft coda almost finish, to the final bell-like chords, and then suddenly exploding by inverting the descending note and making it rise up for a 15-second flourish.

As I know from looking at completions of the Bruckner Ninth, if you want to solve the problem of the ideal coda of a complex sonata-like work, compose one yourself.  Then you can throw all the music of western civilization into the last two minutes of your final peroration (like Shostakovich does by quoting Bruckner at the end of his Leningrad Symphony – however politically incorrect to do so in a Communist regime).   
I wanted to mention here also the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat, Op. 61, a piece with weird effects, which winds down and withdraws toward the end, until there is one last loud A-flat chord.

Update: Sept. 13

Along the lines of writing your own solution to the B-Minor Sonata dilemma, it strikes me that this is what Eugen D'Albert did with his first piano concerto. The first section is an exposition and development.  The sweet second theme corresponds to the "grandioso" but D'Albert saves the heroics for later. I'm pretty sure that theme became a popular song in the 40s and got used by Hollywood (which loves to loot rarely performed works for themes). The "slow movement" even quotes Beethoven's Funeral March Sonata at one point, and the "finale" is a recapitulation of the opening material, even quoting Brahms's Piano Concerto #1 at one point. The "finale" ends quietly (as does the Liszt) but then D'Albert adds a gigantic coda with a fugue for solo piano on one of the opening themes, making it practically atonal; then a "scherzando" (Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 sneak preview) leading to a gigantic conclusion on the second theme, which turns into a Liszt-style "grandioso", and then a mad-dash Prestissimo final crash. D'Albert could wait to show his virility until the end, which means he must have been some charismatic teen, composing this at age 19. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Pianist Jan Liseicki, continuing my "young people will win" thread

I’m trying to cover some other pianists and various musicians, especially from the viewpoint “The young people will win.”

Jan Lisiecki, now 23, from Canada (Calgary, Alberta), was interviewed on CBS at around age 14 in 2010 as a prodigy. 

I looked for more recent videos, and I found an interview of him by Mexican conductor, Alondra de la Parra.

In the following video he plays the Mozart Piano Concerto #9 in E-flat, the “Jeunehomme” (K 271) or “Young Man”.  No, this music doesn’t quite describe David Hogg. The work is more mature than one is expecting.  By the K200’s the mature Mozart was appearing (works under K100, like the B-flat Cassation that a college friend gave me a record of, don’t make so much of an impression). He follows with a Chopin Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, #1.

He also discusses using a Schumann Reverie as an encore with her. He talks about simplicity in music.  Examples: the opening theme of the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 is marked “Andante Semplice”.  (The middle section is anything but…)   When I think of semplice, I think of Erik Satie, in so many movies.  I like complexity, for example fugal finales of postromantic works.  But something like the finale of the Beethoven Hammerklavier is not “simple”. 

Here is the “following” video I just mentioned.

I’ll cover some of these artists again as I come across work closer to my compositional interests.  If anyone is coming to DC (or say Baltimore, Philly, NYC) for a concert, make a comment here and let me know.

Picture: this crow was watching me this morning and making eye contact.  Weird. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

The tangent piano (and C.P.E. Bach)

Cleveland Johnson explains the “tangent piano” on p. C5 of the Saturday New York Times, here

Johnson then offers, online, some excerpts from the music of son CPE Bach on this instrument, which he says provides an unpredictable experience.