In the early 1990s I was heavily involved in what was then the exploration of midi. MIDI is an acronym that stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It’s a way to connect devices that make and control sound — such as synthesizers, samplers, and computers — so that they can communicate with each other, using MIDI “performances”. The idea is that we can make music with our computers, with or without keyboards. It’s a different way of thinking, a different way of relating to music.
We were also exploring digital keyboards, what they could do, what they could not do, looking for new ideas, new openings. At that time the Yamaha Clavinova was close to the best keyboard available for this kind of work, so I began using it to record. These recordings are from the mid to late 90s, and although the sound is now dated (things keep getting better and better re sound and technology, I still like some of these recordings for their ideas, and so I am sharing them here. I was doing a bit of editing as late as 2005, but the actual playing, the creation of the MIDI files that drive the performances, are from much earlier.
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (Scenes from Childhood), Op. 15, by is a set of thirteen pieces of music for piano written in 1838 by Robert Schumann, a famous German composer (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856.) They were originally named Leichte Stücke (Easy Pieces), then the names were added later as a suggestion as to how to play them, what kind of conception or sound to have in mind.
Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, in one file:
- Von fremden Ländern und Menschen –
Of Foreign Lands and Peoples, G major
- Kuriose Geschichte –
A Curious Story, D major
- Hasche-Mann –
Blind Man’s Bluff, B minor
- Bittendes Kind –
Pleading Child, D major
- Glückes genug –
Happy Enough, D major
- Wichtige Begebenheit –
An Important Event, A major
- Träumerei –
Dreaming, F major
- Am Kamin –
At the Fireside F major Menu
- Ritter vom Steckenpferd –
Knight of the Hobbyhorse, C major
- Fast zu ernst –
Almost Too Serious, G♯ minor
- Fürchtenmachen –
Frightening, E minor – G major
- Kind im Einschlummern –
Child Falling Asleep, E minor
- Der Dichter spricht –
The Poet Speaks, G major
The Children’s Corner
Debussy composed Children’s Corner between 1906 and 1908 and dedicated his suite to his young daughter, Claude-Emma (known as “Chou-Chou”), who was at the time of composition between the age of one and three. His dedication reads:
“A ma chère petite Chouchou, avec les tendres excuses de son Père pour ce qui va suivre. C. D.” (To my dear little Chouchou, with tender apologies from her father for what follows.)
- Download or play Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum: This is Debussy’s very humorous allusion to “Gradus Ad Parnassum” by Muzio Clementi, a set of pieces that were usually considered tedious to play and to listen to. In contrast, Debussy’s composition is playful and joyous.
- Download or play Jimbo: This is about Jumbo, who came from the French Sudan and lived briefly in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris around the time of Debussy’s birth. It was misspelled as “Jimbo”, and possibly as a result of confusion between the French pronunciation of“u” and “i”. I think Debussy had in mind a smaller elephant, more the size of his daughter.
- Download or play Serenade of the Doll: Supposedly this is a porcelain doll, but my conception is of a doll that comes to life and who dances with great expression.
- Download or play The Snow Is Dancing: Some people may think also of another famous piece of music by Debussy, Des pas sur la neige (Footprints in the Snow), a short prelude by the same composer. Everything is muted and indistinct one minute, precise and crystalline the next.
- Download or play The Little Shepherd: this is simply a small boy with his flute
- Download or play Golliwogs Cakewalk: This gives us a window in time to examine what popular music was more than 100 years ago. The cakewalk was a dance, and the dancer with the fanciest steps won a cake. This is one source of our modern idiom “to take the cake”, meaning to win or to beat everyone else. Basically this is a ragtime with jaunty rhythms and banjo-like effects. There is even a humorous allusion to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Of great interest to me is that Debussy’s view of “pop music” is very dated, obviously “old”, reflecting a very different time, but in his more serious music his chord structure and musical ideas remain amazingly modern to this very moment, often reflecting the same sounds and structures as rather modern jazz.
G Minor Ballade
A ballade as conceived of by Chopin was a very free form composition with no strictly defined structure, interweaving various themes, and Chopin was apparently the first famous composer to write pieces of this name that were, in general, highly dramatic and often heroic in nature. Robert Schumann was hugely impressed with this work, and both Liszt and Brahms also wrote ballades, obviously influenced by Chopin.
It is structurally complex and not strictly confined to any particular form, without doubt one of the most famous and frequently performed compositions of Chopin.