Category Archives: Back-up category

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Something very eerie…

(Apr 19, 2019)

The composer himself…

This is by Rachmaninov, and it’s frightening to think that he recorded it in 1940, about three years before his death.

He still possessed a frightening technique. It’s typical of how it is usually played, and probably the best version played in the standard way.

Now something utterly different…

This is the same piece, but it sounds completely different. I don’t know if the composer would have been shocked and insulted to hear it so changed, or fascinated with a new interpretation.

I find it fascinating, with a whole different set of tonal colors. Although this was written about 123 years ago, it might have been in the film score of “The Sixth Sense”, one of the weirdest ghost movies ever made.

Pogorelich has always been one of the strangest performers in history, with critics who loathe what he does and fans who love it. My take: if 50% of your listeners think you are horrible, and the other 50% think you are the best on the planet, you are probably doing something great by shaking things up. You are making people think.

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Chopin 3rd Sonata, final movement

Great young player…

This guy has been around awhile now, and I have not heard a great deal about him lately, but around the time of this recording he was blazing through international piano contests. I don’t like contests. In fact, I loathe them. But every once in a while someone manages to win them without losing his or her passion and individuality.

Lost in a sonata…

Chopin is often said to have been a master of less structured musical forms – preludes, mazurkas, waltzes, polonaises and so on. His sonatas are usually analyzed as flawed, not tightly bound together, with weaknesses.

I would agree with that, and in fact Sonata No. 1 is rarely heard. In case you are interested, here is a good performance. Keep in mind that he wrote this at the old age of – wait for it – 18.

But the last movevent of his last sonata, Sonata #3 in B Minor, I believe is easily one of the best things he ever wrote. Why do we not hear it even more? Probably because tradition is a very powerful force, and it is almost considered “bad taste” to play only one movement of a sonata – a way of thinking I could not disagree with more.

And this is why I say, “It’s lost in a sonata”. If more pianists played only this last movement, it would be as popular as a few other of his compositions, such as the “Minute Waltz” or “Fantaisie Impromptu”.

For those of you who have a bit more time…

Here is the 1st Sonata. As I mentioned above, Chopin was only 18 when he wrote this. It is obviously not one of his greatest works, but I think it is worth listening to a couple times, out of interest.

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Chopin Polonaise in A♭ major

(Apr 9, 2019)

Polonaise Héroïque; Polish: Heroiczny…

Again, more than one recording.

  1. The first by a talented 14 year-old. There are mistakes and some minor problems, but overall it’s incredibly impressive for such a young kid.
  2. Then a second by the pianist who by many was considered the greatest interpreter of the music of Chopin, Arthur Rubinstein. One of the reasons for the huge power was his hand size. He could grab large chords and hit them solid, while most players roll those chords, which is a weaker and less massive sound. If I had to pick one performance, this would be it. The most shocking fact about Rubinstein for me is that he was already 70 years old in 1957, so whenever you hear a stereo recording of Rubinstein he was around 70 years old or older. When you listen to this you are hearing a man of probably at least 70 years of age.
  3. Finally, Vladimir Horowitz from, I think, 1971, a studio recording, when he was around 68 years old. This is very different from Rubinstein, so which you prefer will depend on you personality.

Simonas Miknius, age 14…

Rubinstein, around age 70 or later…

Horowitz, around age 68…

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Fantaisie Impromptu

(Apr 9, 2019)

Two recordings of the same thing by Arthur Rubinstein…

First of all, the Fantaisie Impromptu is another extremely popular and famous piece of music that was not supposed to be published. You can look up the Wiki article on the history of this composition – it’s pretty good – but the bottom line is that it was composed  and sold to the Baroness d’Este and was therefore considered by Chopin to have been private property. So when it was published by Julian Fontana after his death, it was against his wishes. So here is yet another composition we apparently were never meant to hear.

Because of the confusion about when it was written, and for whom, and which version is final or the best, there are actually considerable differences between scores. The first recording by Rubinstein is more traditional. It is the version published by Fontana.

The second version was bought by Arthur Rubinstein in 1960 and performed by him according to that score. Most people will not hear a difference, but to me the differences are huge, countless details or small changes which apparently Chopin made for the Baroness d’Este. Because of variations between what Chopin originally wrote, what he sold and other versions we now have, no one exactly agrees on all the notes. There are even other small changes in the middle section that are not written down but that have heard from famous pianist from earlier 20th century recordings.

The first recording, the traditional Fontana version…

The second recording, same player but from the private score bought in 1960.

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Liebestraum

(Apr 7, 2019)

There are really three of them by Liszt…

This is actually the third of a set. But the world for the most part only knows this one, number three in Ab major. Traum is the German word for “dream”, and “Liebe” is “love”. So literally this is “Love’s Dream”. Evgeny Kissen, the pianist, was already world-famous in his late teens and was playing with major orchestras from around the age of 12.

 

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Beethoven 5th Symphony, final movement

(Apr 2, 2019)

Beethoven in the modern way…

If there is one symphony that is more famous than any other, this may be it. I’m linking to only the 4th movement. Movement’s are a bit like episodes, or different books in a serious that make a story. There are four movements in all, and this one actually starts at the end of the 3rd. You have to hear the whole symphony to understand.

I believe all of us – not just a few of us – get bored after a minute or two of anything new unless we instantly feel a connection that grabs our attention. At first, listening to a symphony may not seem like that, because symphonies are usually somewhere between 30 minutes long and an hour. Some are even longer. How does anyone listen to a symphony for the first time in a world where everything is packaged in short bursts?

The answer is probably that each important thing is about 3 minutes long. In this last movement the main section is about 3 minutes long. By that time you either know you are not interested, or you are. Then it repeats. If you liked it the first time, you probably want to hear it again. Why not? What follows is not new. It is the same idea, developed (actually called the development section), and that’s always when things get highly interesting, more dramatic, more intense. It’s like listening to what you now know a third time, but it’s different enough to catch your interest. That also lasts around 3 minutes. Then the first 3 minute section repeats again with small changes, which recaps the whole thing. And this is called the recapitulation. Finally there is an ending, called the “coda”, and of course you have to have an ending.

Try to start out first with the last movement. The first movement, if you get to it, is one of the most famous pieces of music ever written. Then after this I’ll give a link to the whole symphony. Usually people start out with one movement, then try another, and finally, if they like the feeling, the story feels more complete listening to “the whole story”.

As a contrast to the video above, what is below is a very different sound. Now the instruments are as close as humanly possible to what Beethoven wrote for.

These are the instruments Beethoven wrote for…

John Eliot Gardiner

He is a modern conductor who has worked his entire life to champion the music of Beethoven’s time (and earlier and a bit later) in the way it would have been heard in Beethoven’s time, a sound that had totally been forgotten. That sound was lost.

Did players play as well back then as the players in this amazing orchestra?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!

Today’s virtuosos players on all instruments perform with a technical perfection that was not known a couple centuries ago, and that includes modern players who specialize on these old instruments. It is questionable whether modern artists play more musically on their own, but when assembled under the greatest musical minds of our time so that we hear modern recordings or get to hear them live, we hear something that is frighteningly good.

This recording is deceptive, and perhaps a bit a bit unfair, because these older instruments are not as powerful as modern instruments. Live they are not as loud. They do not have the same overpowering intensity – although the flip side is that they are quieter.

BUT: when recorded, that difference disappears, and suddenly there is often a rawness and perhaps an element of danger that you will never hear from a modern orchestra. The reason? Because these older instruments are more difficult to play. For instance, hitting the right pitches on these old horns is about 10 times more difficult. They had a rougher sound, and in the right places it is edgier, harsher, more primitive sounding. When notes are missed, it sounds downright embarrassing, but when it all works, the effect is unbelievably exciting.

For me it suits Beethoven, who was untamed, unapologetic, unyielding, and a man whose emotions were in every way bigger than life. This is by far the best performance I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard many.

I often wonder why Beethoven, right now, is not even more famous and more popular than he is, because in this modern era, when people insist on being heard and valued for being themselves, for “doing their own thing”, Beethoven is the very embodiment of that individualism. I often think of him as the “first rock star”.

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The girl with the flaxen hair

(Apr 2019)

One of many Preludes by Debussy.

I wonder who will prefer the piano, and who will prefer the music with full orchestra? If you only like it on the piano, you are a purist.

This is the famous pianist, Michelangeli playing Debussy’s  “La fille aux cheveux de lin”, which literally means “the girl with hair of flax”. Most likely “blond” is the closest thing we have today for hair color.

The same music, orchestrated…

I don’t know who did the orchestration, but I like this.

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Revolutionary Etude

(Apr 2019)

Op. 10, No. 12

(Opus, a separate composition or set of compositions by a particular composer, usually ordered by date of publication.)

Chopin wrote two sets of Etudes, Opus 12 and Opus 25. There are 12 in each set. Chopin was born in March of 1810, and he wrote the first set between 1829 and 1832, which means he was no more than 22 years old when the last one was published, and some of them were written while he was still a teenager. The next set, Opus 25, were published about four years later. None of the Etudes were given names by Chopin. The names we know today were added by many people later, but they are useful when talking about them. Many people – and this includes me – can’t remember the individual numbers.

Op. 10, No. 12 is the last one in the first set, and without doubt is one of the most famous and popular piano compositions ever written. Thousands of gifted piano students are still learning it for the first time right now, this year. Chopin is one of the best examples of Romantic composers, and Romantic music has never gone out of style, as anyone who has played video games knows very well. Kissen probably plays this Etude as well as it can be played.

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Chords and modes

The more serious relative of the regular 7 chord

Here are ways you will see this notated as symbols:

  • Xm7
  • X-7

Xm7 is most common most clear.

Take a regular 7 chord, then change 3 to b3. There is close to zero problem with spelling, and frankly I don’t know why. There are variant spellings of the regular 7 chord, but generally not for this one. It may be that the spelling is more stable because it is not normally used as a modulating chord.

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Minor 7 Chord and Modes

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