All posts by Gary


About Gary

Piano Teacher with over 40 years experience, teaching in the Fort Lauderdale area. Teaches exclusively at All County Music in Tamarac FL.

There has never been a better time to listen

SATURDAY, March 28, 2020

We are stuck at home. The main things to do are sleep, eat, talk on the phone, watch TV, play video games.

This is a good time to mention that YouTube is a miracle, and never before has the opportunity to listen been so amazing.

Without going into technical details, last night I found a recording from 1957 that by the sound I would have thought was recorded this year. What happened: by the late 50s serious recordings were made on Ampex machines. I wish my friend Louie were writing about this, because he knows a million times more than I do, but essentially they had these incredible tape recorders that were picking up sound in a way we still can’t really better right now. But I only heard these recordings on records, and those records and the players we used to listen to those records were primitive. We did not hear the actual recordings. No one did, except the sound guys in the studios were the masters were made.

Fast forward: we now have the capability of talking those amazing tapes and re-mastering them in a way that gets way way WAY closer to what those tapes sounded like, and still sound like. DSD is apparently the game-changer. I don’t understand much of the technical stuff, but the result is a sound that is mind-blowing.

People are somehow uploading these recordings to YouTube, and I found about 10 things last night that make anything I’ve ever heard before sound primitive.

The result is that this 1957 recording of The Firebird not only sounds as good as anything I’ve ever heard of the same piece, in addition the performance is superior to any I’ve heard. It was like going back in a time machine to hear Stokowski, legendary for Fantasia among other things, at his peak. This means that we hear a conductor who was born in 1882 at the same time as the composer, Stravinksy, who was renowned for his conducting and recording innovations, which alone is fascinating. But because of advances remastering, the result is that we hear it all as if both men were still alive and creating all this right now. That’s the kind of stuff on YouTube, so the only problem is that there is so much there, you have to know how to find it.


Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

FRIDAY, March 27, 2020

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

Fritz Reiner…

He was a man no one liked, a tyrant who was sadistic and made his musicians miserable. I feel a bit reluctant to present any of his recordings because of what thoroughly miserable human he was known to be. And yet he was also loyal. One of his teachers, Bartok, must have made an incredible impression upon him, because many years later he gave Bartok incredible support when he arrived in the US after WWII. I suppose we never know the full story of any human being. But I have to wonder if the current lack of respect for his conducting is a bit of karma, payback for being such a horrible person. As I searched for the recording I’m presenting here, I was shocked to find no comments and almost no likes. This is shocking, because it is easily one of the best performances and recordings I’ve ever heard. I have not yet located the date of this recording, but it must have been in the late 50s or very early 60s.

Living Stereo…

This is yet another example of a golden year period that started in the early 1950s and fully matured by the last 50s and early 60s. The quality of this recording is almost beyond belief.

Movement I: B minor

Movement II: D major

Movement III: G major

Movement IV: B minor


Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

THURSDAY, March 26, 2020

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

It is the 2nd of three monumental symphonies. There are six symphonies in all, and the first three have been largely overlooked until fairly recently, but considering the usual idiotic critics who always impede everything, this is not surprising. Even the last three symphonies were often badly reviewed. Today that seems completely impossible, since these last three symphonies are among the most popular symphonies ever written and always get a huge positive reaction from any audience.

Tchaikovsky, caught between two rival camps…

He could not win. His own teachers criticized him for not writing in the old, European manner, yet the nationalistic movement to write in a purely Russian manner often criticized him for not being “Russian” enough.

The Five criticized him heavily at first…

It took time, but eventually he was accepted, though never fully a part of this group. Today the idea that this quintessential Russian composer, beloved all over the world and most of all in Russia, was accused of being not “Russian” enough.

Stokowski’s amazing relationship to this symphony…

He was born in 1882, only 42 years after Tchaikovsky was born. When Tchaikovsky died, Stokowski was already 11 years old.

He made a recording back in 1923…

Although the recording sounds painfully primitive now, you can hear that his ideas remained unchanged over the rest of his life. He was 41 at that time, and he was one of the first people in the world to understand the importance of recordings.

40 years later, in 1953, a modern recording…

This newer recording sounds wonderful right now, and I just found it two days ago. It is a miracle. It is a bit narrower than modern recordings in spaciousness, but my friend Louie tells me that modern recordings techniques were almost completely what they are today by the early 50s. You could not tell that from the recordings that were available because what people used to play records on was at least a decade behind. There was no stereo, only mono, with heavy tone arms and needles that literally ruined records while they were playing them. But the original tapes, which we never heard, were very advanced, and you can find the 1953 recording on YouTube. It’s almost as good as the one from 1966, sonically, and may be the absolute best in terms of the performance. Stokowski was 70 years old when this later recording was made.

Phase 4, another step forward in recording ideas…

I once owned this, so I bought it not too long after it was released. It was called “Phase 4” and it used very new recording techniques. One of my favorite recordings from any era, it was made in 1966, when Stokowski was 84 years old. He never stopped rethinking everything about sound and was still evolving as a musician in his mid 90s.

Not easy to find…

It was actually hard to track down all the movements because, for some reason, they are all separate and not labeled with names that were easy to locate with a simple search. This is the “needle in the haystack” problem of YouTube. Just about anything you can imagine is there, but first you have to know that it exists,  then you have to be lucky enough to find it. These videos are are pure gold. Once upon a time you had to pay a lot of money just to buy the record. If anything these videos sound better than my old record because I did not have a very expensive sound system, and in those days that’s the only way that vinyl sounded really good, with a very good and a very expensive sound system.

Movement I: E minor

Movement II: B minor – D major

Movement III: A major

Movement IV: E major


Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

FRIDAY, March 27, 2020

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

There is an incredible amount written about this symphony. You can read the above link, which is a typical Wiki article – full of a lot of information but not very well presented.

Here is something more personal…

To me this is more interesting, though more quirky.

Now, my view…

I just want to get to the music, and perhaps once again point out how incredibly stupid critics were, as well as Tchaikovsky’s contemporaries. The short story is that Tchaikovsky was caught in a war of opinions.

Caught between two factions…

On one side were those who wanted things to stay the same, to continue in the tried and true tradition of European music. These people, of course, were looking backwards and simply did not understand how the world was changing, the musical world as well as the world at large.

On the other side were the forward-looking people who wanted things to change, and as quickly as possible. I have much more respect for their view, but they too were often so polarized in their views that they became unreasonable and extreme. Those on the side of change in Russia were extremely nationalistic and wanted first and foremost to further the advance of Russian music.

Tchaikovsky was caught in the middle…

The quasi-war between these two factions very nearly destroyed him. He was an intensely sensitive man, terribly self-critical, so he was caught in the crossfire. If you read a great deal about this symphony, the 4th of six, you will find that it was anything but an instant success. Today this seems utterly incomprehensible, since once the world caught it became one of the most universally popular symphonies every written.

Finding the right recording…

This is not just difficult, it is impossible because as much as anything ever written this symphony is a very different thing to different people. I avoid at all costs any recording that does not have spectacular sound, because the sound of this symphony is spectacular. I’m picking a recording that is legendary, one that is often picked as a recording of the century, and hit holds up very well in the 21st century. YouTube does something that drives me nuts, and I can’t it, so if the 1st movement does not start at zero, you will have to set it all the way back. I usually set the beginning to 1s (one second), but if I do it for this the beginning gets clipped because there is no lead time. I will place starting points for the other movements. Be warned that I can set starting points, but I can’t make music stop. So you might want to start with the final movement, then backwards to the first.

Movement I: Andante sostenuto — Moderato con anima — Moderato assai, quasi Andante  — Allegro vivo

All these different tempo marks just mean that this is complicated. The mood and speed keep changing. There are major sections, but the dominant feeling is minor. It is extremely intense, very emotional, and there is a theme that is linked to fate. That fate is very important here, but it comes back again in the last movement. They key is F minor, but you only know that for sure because it ends powerfully in that key.

Movement II: Andantino in modo di canzona

This literally says something sort of slow, but not too slow that is in the style of a song. It is one of the most expressive and lyrical slow movements every written, so probably nothing more is important. It is in the key of Bb minor.

Movement III: Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato — Allegro

Ostinato refers to something that is continuously repeated, so this could refer to the melody or anything else, but in this case it is probably about the very repetitive rhythm. Of special interest to me is that the “scherzo” evolved from the minuet but much, much faster. It is in 3/4 but so fast that each measure sounds like a single beat. But Tchaikovsky does not do that. To know whether it is in two or four beat measures you have to see the score, but you can hear it is not in three. This has something marked as a trio in the middle, but that just means a different section from the beginning and end that has a different feel, and it moves to A major. The movement is otherwise in F major.

Movement IV: Finale: Allegro con fuoco

This is back in F major, and there is really little to say about it because it’s so powerful and manic that you just want to listen to it. However, before it’s all over, the fate theme from the 1st movement comes back. Not all symphonies repeat themes of ideas from other movements and we are left to accept, on faith, that all the movements really do belong together. However, those composers who refer to past movements do something very special to pull everything together, and when this is done there is a unification that proves all the music is really one unified creation.


Star Trek, or Star Wars?

THURSDAY, March 26, 2020

Everyone steals from everyone else, and I’m not accusing the person who wrote this Star Trek Theme of doing anything illegal or unethical by ripping of John Williams, because John Williams ripped off someone else. The secret, though, it doing it in a sneaky enough way so that the only person who knows where you lifted and idea from is you!

Listen to this new theme carefully. I set the time so that it is obvious. Listen to the chord structure.

Now, listen to this.

The first time I heard the new Star Trek Explorer theme, I immediately said: “That’s not even a subtle rip-off!”

If I were a film composer, or a TV composer, I’d never write something so close to an iconic John Williams theme and try to pass it off as original.

Jeff Russo should have disguised his source better. Any experience musician is going to instantly recognize this connect. It figuratively socked me right in the face!


Make recordings

TUESDAY, March 24, 2020

Videos are best, because I can see what you are doing. But just making a sound recording, which you can also do with your cell phone, is almost as good. Most of you have my email address, but to be clear:

I will answer any questions you have with email.

If I see you are doing well with old music, I can send you new music.



Vaughn Williams Symphony No. 3

WEDNESDAY, March 25, 2020

Vaughn Williams (12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958)…

I don’t even know where to start when talking about this man.But let’s start with music first. This is his “Pastoral” Symphony No. 3. I was looking for something different to listen to, decades ago, and someone recommended this to me. It takes me to a different world, and I don’t even know how to describe this world, but I like it – very much.

A good human being…

There have been so many narcissistic composers who have written brilliant music but who seemed to care little about other human beings, and of course there have been many fine human beings who were never more than mediocre composers, but Vaughn Williams, who might have been known as  “just a good man” if he had not been a musical genius, was a late bloomer who eventually gained the recognition of the whole world.

He did not really find his own voice until his late thirties. Eventually he became one of the best-known British composers, noted for his emotional range as well as his unique voice.

Early life…

In 1878, at the age of five, Vaughan Williams began receiving piano lessons from his aunt. He also studied violin and  collected traditional folk songs from an early age. They went on to inspire much of his later music. In 1880, when he was eight, he took a correspondence course in music from Edinburgh University and passed. To me that means that he worked mostly on his own. He got help, but not the kind of help you would think such a talented young boy would normally get.

In September 1883 he went as a boarder to Field a preparatory school in Rottingdean on the south coast of England. In 1888 he organized a concert in the school hall, which included a performance of his G major Piano Trio (now lost) with the composer as violinist.

At the Royal College of Music…

Vaughan Williams studied at the Royal College of Music in London where Gustav Holst and Leopold Stokowski were fellow students. He also spent a short time studying in Berlin with Max Bruch. He and Holst (The Planets) were soon best friends and remained so until Holst’s death in 1934.

A religious background…

His father, Arthur, was the vicar of All Saints church in Down Ampney but died when Ralph was less than three years old, and he went on to first become an atheist and later a gentle agnostic. Yet Vaughan Williams edited The English Hymnal in 1904 and composed some fine Christian choral music.

A committed liberal…

The composer came from a privileged background, but he  worked all his life for for progressive causes and found small-mindedness puzzling. He viewed music as being for everyone rather than for just the elite.

Vaughan Wiliams was a student of Ravel…

He studied orchestration in Paris with Ravel, which lead indirectly to a great output of some of his best music. A Sea Symphony and the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis were composed in 1910.

Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis…

He discovered theme for A Theme of Thomas Tallis, when he was commissioned to put together the 1906 edition of the English Hymnal. His orchestration of it has remained one of his most popular pieces.

The Lark Ascending…

Vaughan Williams’ most popular piece, The Lark Ascending, was written in 1914 but the outbreak of World War I delayed its premiere. It was first performed in 1921 by the violinist Marie Hall, the woman for whom it was written.

Vaughan Williams in WWI…

He was aged 41 when World War I began, and that war had a lasting emotional effect on him. He served in France and Salonika. Prolonged exposure to gunfire caused ear damage that eventually lead  to severe deafness towards the end of his life.

English Folk Songs Suite…

Vaughan Williams was greatly interested in military bands, and in 1923 he composed the English Folk Songs Suite for them. This together with two similar suites written by his close friend Holst combine for three of the most important standard compositions for bands today in the US as well as elsewhere.

He just kept on composing…

In 1943 he conducted the premiere of his Symphony No.5 with London Philharmonic Orchestra, dedicated to Sibelius. He was already 70, so many assumed this would be his last major work, but he went on to write, among other things, four more symphonies.

Ursula Wood and Ralph Vaughan Williams…

Vaughan Williams was married first to Adeline Fisher, with whom he had no children. After her death in 1951, he married poet Ursula Wood, who was several decades younger.

Final days…

Vaughan Williams was still composing great music into his 80s. At the age of 85, he was set to supervise the first recording of his Ninth Symphony with Sir Adrian Boult conducting. But his death on 26 August 1958, the night before the recording sessions were to begin, prompted the conductor to announce to the musicians that their performance would be a memorial to the composer.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ popularity increases…

the popularity of Vaughan Williams has grown steadily each year with The Lark Ascending often topping the annual Hall of Fame poll from 2007 onward.


Pablo Sáinz Villegas

WEDNESDAY, March 25, 2020

I will repeat: I don’t play guitar. I know nothing about how to play the guitar. But I really like the way this man plays

Recuerdos de la Alhambra

Asturias (Leyenda)

As I understand it, playing repeated notes on guitar is very difficult. It’s a technique, and anyone who masters a difficult technique is impressive. But the way the man interprets repeated notes is very special, possibly unique.


Anna Russel

WEDNESDAY, March 25, 2020 

The Fanny Brice of opera…

Anna Russel was one of the funniest ladies we’ve ever seen and was famous for this routine. If you know nothing about Wagner, you may laugh a bit. If you know more, you will laugh harder. If you know The Ring, inside and out,  there may be nothing funnier in the universe. Everything she talks about, no matter how absurd it sounds, is essentially true, just exaggerated.