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

Darth Vader’s Theme

TUESDAY, January 14, 2020

Also the Imperial March…

Darth Vader March or Theme uses exactly three minor chords in the theme. The theme modulates to several keys. It starts out G minor, then moves to A minor, Bb minor, B minor, C minor, then back to G minor, but in each key the chords are the same: Im, bVIm and bVm

In the key of G minor they are: Gm, Ebm, C# or Db minor, depending on spelling.

So it’s a piece using all minor chords, very simple. Two of the chords, Gm and Ebm for example, are morphs of each other, where one note stays the same (common tone) while the other two slide in opposite directions.

John Williams used many of the orchestral effects of Richard Strauss. Before movies were invented, Strauss wrote the kind of music now used in film scores.

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Princess Leia’s Theme

TUESDAY, January 14, 2020

(This is another update, from Aug. 1, 2019. I want to complete the main themes of Star Wars, then add to them. There are a lot more, of course.)

From Star Wars, popular for 41 years…

This is, of course, from the first film.

John Williams hit a home run with this track, writing about four and a half minutes of a sound poem that rivals those from the great 19th century composers. You can hear all those who went before, and it’s obvious how he was influenced by so many great ones from the past. This probably completes the most important original themes so that at this point we have the Main Theme, the Force Theme, Yoda’s Theme and Leia’s Theme.

 

 

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Yoda’s Theme

MONDAY, January 13, 2020

Episodes IV through VI came first…

It all gets very confusing because somehow George Lucas, the man who came up with the whole idea, started the story at Episode IV. So the original trilogy, in three parts, numbered IV through VI, took six years to get that far in the story. Did they really plan to finish it? Who knows. At the time it just seemed strange. Why start with the fourth part?

It was not until 1999 that they decided to continue the story by going back in time to when Darth Vader was just a boy. I think Lucas didn’t really think the story would ever be finished.

Yoda is introduced in the second movie…

Regardless, in Episode V we meet Yoda, a new character who mentors young Luke Skywalker.

From the time he was introduced Yoda was one of the most popular characters and central to the whole story.

Williams uses Lydian mode for Yoda…

This is where a scale used the sharp or raised 4th so that the II chord becomes major. Modes are very powerful in setting modes. Lydian is sometimes called the “fantasy mode”.

The original music in the first film…

Yoda remastered…

I don’t know how this is done, but I assume different tracks are spliced together from different sound tracks. This would not be authorized by Williams, but some of the people who do this remastering do an excellent job, and this is a really nice job. I starts with the Force theme, that after a couple minutes you hear the Yoda theme come in. It’s a good transition and makes sense, because Yoda is also extremely important in both the story and in the concept of the Force.

Yoda Suite…

This is yet another treatment of the Yoda theme..

This time it starts off with a very light march, mostly winds, then the Yoda theme comes back in its usual slow, majestic way. Of special interest to me is the cadence from G7b5 to a C major chord. The Yoda theme often ends on a Cmaj7 chord, but at the end it is a pure major chord. This may be the most elegant version of the theme.

One final treatment…

This one starts off with quiet dissonants, then you hear the Main theme, very quietly. This takes the first couple minutes. Usually this theme is in C major, and he sneaks the theme in, but in minor. G Eb C. Then he switches right to C major, then slips to D major, then to E major, slides to Bb major, then to E minor for a taste of the Darth Vader or Imperial March theme. So there are four themes or Leitmotivs here, and that is very common in this music.

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Luke Skywalker’s Theme

MONDAY, January 13, 2020

The Luke Skywalker’s theme is one of two themes linked to Luke…

I thought this would be a good time to talk about Star Wars again because the final film came out at the end of last year. It turns out that I wrote about these themes exactly a year ago, and I think at that time people were interested. But I put in a whole bunch of themes, and this year it might be fun to look at them one by one.

If you love Star Wars, you’ll love the music. But even if you hate the movies, it is likely you will at least like some of the music. It is iconic. John Williams, the composer, has won more awards than anyone except Disney, and he started the Star War Music many years ago.

It started in 1977, and no one expected it to go viral…

I went to see the first film by myself, on a whim. At that time the whole concept was unexpected, and I don’t think a sci-fi film has ever had such world-wide success. I was 28 at the time. If someone had told me the story would officially end in 2019, I would not have believed it.

42 years later…

The last episode came out in December of 2020. That means three generations of kids have seen all the movies. I’m disappointed in the last movie, but not in the music. Williams is the man who has united all these episodes.

Leitmotiv, a guiding motif:

A Leitmotiv (German for “guiding motif”) is a theme that announces characters. Wagner was famous for using this idea, although he did not use the word “Leitmotiv”, but perhaps the most famous use of the Leitmotiv is by John Williams in Star Wars. And the most famous theme of all is the main theme to the movie, which is sometimes called Luke’s Theme.

The main theme…

This starts the music and is in every Star Wars movie. It is probably the most well known theme. I remember that every one of my brass players wanted to play it. In 1977 I had only been teaching a few years, and I worked with many exceptional teens who played trumpet, trombone, French horn, euphonium and tuba. They were very similar to some of the amazing teens I show here, playing in so many elite organizations for highly talented music students.

I encourage people to listen to both versions, because they are not the same.

First the iconic version from the first movie.

John Williams usually presents something about five minutes long, and it always has more than one theme, so you will also hear the Darth Vader theme, sometimes called the Imperial March and the Force theme, also linked to Luke as wall as to Obi Wan Kenobi. But mainly it is the big, heroic theme.

The same thing, 42 years later, but is it the same?

Not exactly. First of all, it starts a bit differently, and it’s longer. There are more themes. The orchestration is a bit different here and there. Obviously Williams is using his own music, and he is free to change, alter or expand anything he chooses. The middle is very different. It’s darker and more menacing. Over the years the whole story got darker. Obviously there are a lot more themes in 10 minutes of music, but the main theme is still recognizable. It ends the music. The whole story is something like 20 hours long. This means the complete saga is actually longer than the Wagner Ring Cycle, and in more than 40 years Williams wrote a huge amount of music, more than what is in the movies.

 

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The Force Theme

MONDAY, January 13, 2020

This is also known as Luke’s theme…

But it’s really linked to the force and is used over and over in various forms, so it is called the Obi Wan Kenobi theme as well. This theme is used many times in all the Star War films.

The original…

This is from 1977 and is only a couple minutes long. I will be very surprised if there is a person on this planet who does not know this theme.

Because the characters are all linked over a many episode arc, this theme appears again and again. It appears for the first time in the very first film. You will hear this theme for both Obi Wan and Luke. Williams uses it in a thousand ways, both as a stand-alone theme and mixed with other themes. At the end you can hear it is about to move into another theme in a longer suite.

Here it is again, but mixed in with more themes…

Eventually the theme becomes linked to all the Skywalkers as well as Obi Wan, so this time the music is more complex. The main theme is also in this, plus tiny parts of the Darth Vader theme. I don’t know how this is done. Apparently it is some kind of mix, putting together the theme from lots of movies. It’s the best I’ve heard, very well done.

 

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Also Sprach Zarathustra

SUNDAY, January 12, 2020

Also Sprach Zarathustra, popular for 50 years- (Around for 102 years)…

What does the title of the music mean?

I’ll bet not one person out of a thousand would have any idea what this is, in any language. I wrote a bit about it about a year ago, but it was included in a very long post about a whole bunch of music.

In English, this is simply Thus Spoke Zoroaster. Obviously something out of the Bible, right? One of those prophets speaking in the desert. OK, it’s a good thing I didn’t have to take a test on this, because I would have flunked both religious history and literary history.

So, who is Zoroaster? And Zarathustra? Are they the same person?

I’m no expert in religion, the understatement of all time, but he sounds like a pretty interesting guy. Apparently he believed in one God, very unusual way back then, and the roots of several religions could easily be partially traced back to his teachings. That’s as far as I got. But I did find out that he was Iranian, and that he lived a very long time ago. In light of recent history, this becomes very interesting.

Zoroaster is generally called Zarathustra in German, and Nietzsche wrote a famous book called Also Sprach Zarathustra. Nietzsche, ironically, was an atheist, and I’m not going to break my brain figuring out how an atheist came to use the name of a famous deist for a book.

A tone poem by Richard Strauss…

Also Sprach Zarathustra – Thus Spake Zarathustra – was composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel of the same name.

The composer conducted its first performance on 27 November 1896 in Frankfurt. A typical performance lasts half an hour. It is very long, and I don’t even like most of it. It is likely that none of us would have ever heard of his composition if not for the famous film.

From ancient prophet to a 20th century cult classic sci-fi movie…

Here we have an ancient Iranian religious prophet, important to both Islam and Judaism, and by extension to Christianity. Somehow a German atheist wrote an important book with his name, and a famous composer stole the name for a very long piece of music, which then gets used as the main theme to a science fiction movie. What a twisted history!

2001: A Space Odyssey…

Along came Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alex North was almost hired to do the music, Kubrick decided to go with traditional music by various famous composers, which included the now very famous theme we all know. And that is pretty much all any of us know, but it went viral and remains something instantly recognizable.

And who is Alex North?

Most people do not know Alex North, but they know “Unchained Melody”, which became a very popular piece of music. If Alex North had written the score, we would never have heard of Strauss’s long-winded tone poem, and this iconic theme would not be known all over the world.

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Star Wars

SUNDAY, January 12, 2020

(This is from another post from around a year ago. At that time I was trying to write really long things, but since then I’ve enjoyed writing about whatever interests me at the moment. Since the last Star Wars movie recently came out, this may be a good time to talk about it.)

Star Wars, popular for 41 years…

The first Star Wars film was released on May 25, 1977. The rest is history. The last film was released at the end of 2019, so there is so far a span of 42 years for this saga, if the latest film is indeed the last one.

And here is the ending of the final film…

John Williams is a national treasure…

John Williams writes music in almost any style that sounds like it could be from any time. He has composed countless film scores, but he is most famous for Star Wars. Half the reason I went to see his movies in theaters was to hear what new magic he was creating in sound.

You can hear many of the most important themes. John Williams used the same idea that Wagner used in his Ring Cycle. The idea is to have themes for each of the important characters, called “Leitmotivs”, and these musical themes are played during important moments in the drama.

Williams’ scores for these films are as well known and popular as any ever composed. He will be 88 in Feb. 0f 2020. He is a craftsman as well as a creator, which is always the case for film composers, because he has to fit the music to the story and to time frames, but the music to famous films is also released as stand-alone albums and over time various important “tracks” become famous concert pieces.

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New – Eine kleine Nachtmusik

SUNDAY, January 12, 2020

(To start the new year, I’m going to revisit some old posts and take certain famous pieces one by one. This comes from the first post I ever did in Spotlight, but hopefully with some new info. In the past I used a rather generic recording. This one is much better.)

Eine kleine Nachtmusik, popular for 191 years…

These kids are 14 to 18. I love this performance. Usually when I hear this play I think, “Not bad for an old, dead guy with a powdered wig.” But this is full of energy and sounds like something that was written yesterday, not hundreds of years ago.

Eine kleine Nachtmusik means A Little Serenade

A serenade is a vocal or instrumental performance given outdoors at night for a woman being courted. In other words, romantic music sung at night outdoors, and people still do this today. In other words, if you sing a love song at night, you are singing a serenade.

But in the time of Mozart it was also an instrumental composition in several movements, usually written for somewhat small group of players and usually played in a chamber room. A movement is just a part of a longer composition that has a clear beginning and ending so that it can be performed by itself.

It’s a composition for a chamber ensemble…

The word “chamber” just means a big room, and in the time of Mozart this was a place where musicians not only performed but also got together to share their newest music. If you wanted to get together with your closest friends and “try stuff out”, you played chamber music.

Köchel

The real name is Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major), K. 525. When you see “K.” it is an abbreviation for “Köchel“, who was the man who attempted to put all of Mozart’s compositions in chronological order. Over the last couple hundred years this list has been revised as new facts come to light about when things were composed as well as how many things Mozart wrote.

Mozart’s most famous piece…

It was completed in Vienna on August 10, 1787. We do no know when the first performance took place. We do know that at some point it went viral in the 20th and 21st centuries, and it’s never been less than popular.

This was Mozart’s own title…

The traditionally used name of the work comes from the entry Mozart made for it in his personal catalog, which begins, “Eine kleine Nacht-Musik” – a little serenade. Mozart was only entering in his records that he had completed a small composition.

Mozart died broke…

This was published after Mozart died in about about 1827.Mozart died in 1791, so it took 36 years for the music to get printed. It was sold to a publisher in 1799 by Mozart’s widow Constanze as part of a large bundle of her husband’s compositions. Mozart was one of several famous composers who died with almost no money, true also of Vivaldi, Schubert, Chopin any many others I can’t think of at the moment.

Today, the serenade is widely performed and recorded and is without doubt one of the most popular pieces ever written and also most instantly recognizable.

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Schubert: Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D.960

WEDNESDAY, January 1, 2020

(I do not expect anyone to listen to all of this sonata, much less multiple recordings, but I would be very interested in impressions of these different players. If you listen to at least a bit of each, please give your opinion. There is no right answer. My own opinions are also just opinions and have no more importance or relevance than those of anyone else.)

A fine modern recording by Uchida…

Uchida an incredibly musical and convincing pianist still at her peak who is still going strong past the age of 70. Here she would have been in her late 40s, in 1997. I do find watching her to be highly distracting – I don’t like all those facial expressions, and I feel the same way about Glen Gould, who also unfortunately always sang along with himself. But I prefer to just listen, and what I hear in this performance is simply amazing in all ways. I will probably come back to this performance many times. I love her sound and interpretation. Her use of pedal is beyond belief. You can hear her use every bit of resonance of the modern piano.

But it’s another woman pianist…

I have to admit that every time I see and hear another lady playing the piano this way, it just makes me smile, because music should be beyond gender, race or age, and I see absolutely no difference between the best men and women in terms of playing except that at times I almost feel as though the women are a bit better.

Sviatoslav Richter, a famous but also  a controversial performance…

The first movement is played way too slow, according to what Schubert wrote. Allegro moderato means not only at a moderate tempo but a bit on the lively side. Richter simply decided to completely rethink the whole thing. His dynamics are more extreme. Everything is more extreme, the tempo, the contrasts. The loud parts are less polite, even a bit violent, and as  player I can tell you that making it work this much slower is about 1000 times harder.

And yet…

I keep coming back to this live performance with more wonder, because for me it is provocative, challenging, courageous and original. It’s also quite famous. My first impression was simply that it’s too slow, and therefore wrong. Repeated hearing changes first impressions, and now I am fascinated with this interpretation of the first movement, but with a serious doubt about the way it works for the whole sonata, because the 2nd movement is also slow, even slower, and this ultra slow tempo does not balance the whole piece well.

One again, there are no right answers…

There is no objective better or worse, superior or inferior, so whichever you like, or don’t like, it’s all up to you.

One final thought:

Schubert could not have made the first movement work at such a slow tempo when he lived because pianos of that time were very different and the sound decayed much quicker. So this interpretation can only work on a modern grand, and a faster tempo is undoubtedly closer to what the composer had in mind.

Now, the critics…

Schumann, the last sonatas’ dedicatee, reviewed the works in 1838, and his review was harsh.This was especially harsh because by the time Schubert had been dead about 10 years, and because he never got the kind of support or acclaim within his own lifetime that he deserved Schumann’s opinion was really phenomenally stupid.

Schumann’s criticism was typical of the view at that time, but it is especially surprising that he missed the boat. Of course the critics were wrong. They are always wrong. But it is depressing that such a famous composer was equally blind.

Brahms got it right, and Liszt perhaps even more so…

Brahms’s attitude towards the last sonatas was different. Brahms found special interest in Schubert’s piano sonatas, and expressed his wish to “study them in depth”. Liszt is famous for championing the music of other composers and was perhaps the most open-minded, far-seeing of all these 19th century geniuses.

Everyone finally got it right by the 20th century…

By the end of the 20th century, the final Schubert Sonatas frequently appeared in concerts and studio recordings, and no one judges them less than some of the finest music ever written today.

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Dvorak Piano Concerto

WEDNESDAY, January 1, 2020

Dvorak Piano Concerto, not so often heard…

Just how and why does something become popular, only to fade into obscurity? Who knows. Some things start out popular, fade, then never again regain the same level of fame. Some are never popular from the time of their creation, then something happens to bring them to prominence and they remain important from that time on. There are things that are very popular, fall out of favor, then regain popularity. And of course there are those things that are popular from day one and never lose their popularity. It’s all a mystery to me.

The piano concerto is probably the least known and least performed of Dvorak’s concertos…

This is a fact, but it doesn’t mean there is any reason why it is so, or that it is right or fair that this remains so. Popularity is a lot about trends and hype, and there is no telling when or how something will become viral. It took until after WWII for The Four Seasons by Vivaldi to fully catch. Often a movie will spark interest, or an animation, or even a TV show, and once something catches on it may then become a permanent hit. My assessment is that this concerto’s time, for some reason, has not yet come.

“An attractive Piano Concerto in G minor with a rather ineffective piano part”…

This is attributed to Harold C. Schonberg, and guess what? He was a famous critic, and by now you know I despise critics. I can find nothing about his musical background – did he even have one? Well, supposedly he studied piano with an aunt, but that’s hardly anything amazing. And I distrust anyone writing about what is good and not so good in music who has not mastered an instrument and at least performed, conducted, composed or taught music.As critics go he was not too bad, and he wrote some interesting books. But he was opinionated – nothing wrong with that – but also got paid for his opinions, some of which were just plain wrong. He trashed the playing of Glenn Gould and the conducting of Bernstein, which in my book that and some other topics make him so wrong about important matters that I have to ignore him.

Richter, again…

I’ll go with Richter, who was one of the most phenomenal pianists of the 20th century – or any other century for that matter. He loved this concerto and championed it. If he loved it, that’s enough to interest me, and just know it will be well played. This is an excellent recording.

Make up your own mind…

I like this concerto for a number of reasons too technical and complicated to go into here. I also understand the criticism of the piano writing, because I just don’t think that Dvorak was as expert at writing for piano as he was at writing for orchestra, but surely the orchestral part of a concerto is at least as important as the solo part. (I hope no one responds with “and don’t call me Shirley”.) There are things here and there that remind me of the two Chopin Concertos. There is something very intimate in the piano writing.

One piano concerto composers…

Mozart wrote a ton of them, Beethoven only five. Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn and Brahms wrote only two. I don’t know how long the list of those who wrote only one, but they include Schumann, Grieg and Dvorak. Dvorak’s is much less famous, but those of Schumann and Grieg are among the most popular music every written for the piano.

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