Category Archives: Back-up category

Description

Für Elise

Or for someone…

We don’t know who Beethoven wrote this for, but he wrote it for somebody, a student or perhaps the student of a friend. It was not published until long after he died.

Für Elise (For Elise) is one of the most famous pieces of music ever written for piano. Just about every piano student who has ever lived has played it, usually very badly. It is rare to hear a top artist playing something so well-known and so simple with dead serious intentions, and this is one of those rarities. This, by the way, is the same man who played the “eerie Rachmaninov music”.

And another version…

Here is another player I don’t even know, but this is also very VERY good: The tempo is a bit freer and more what I would do myself, but both interpretations are utterly convincing. This man uses the alternate ending, which I prefer.

 

7+

Death of Love and Trust

(May 15, 2019)

Here is a very different feel:

The Death of Love and Trust, from The Firm, is a very different mood and style from composers like Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov, but it remains very Romantic, in a different way. This is another composition in the key of Eb Minor, which is a very awkward key to write in and to read. It has been historically used by composers for very serious matters.

The composer, Dave Grusin, unfortunately does not write out all the notes. I have them and have taught them a couple times, but I had to listen very carefully to complete the whole thing.

7+

Claire de Lune

You probably have heard this…

This is the most famous piano piece by Debussy, and this recording is by the composer. It was made in 1913 on a special kind of player piano, and that enabled recording engineers to use the roll to get close to what he played. I present it here for comparison.

To find the best contemporary pianists playing Clair de Lune, you have to find Suite Bergamasque, because this piece is just one of the selections in the whole suite.

Clair de Lune means literally “light of the moon”, and so “moonlight”. This was Debussy’s name, in contrast to “the Moonlight Sonata”, which was a name Beethoven never used.

A more modern recording…

For only Claire de Lune by modern pianists you have fewer choices. Here is one:

11+

Schubert Impromptu No. 3 in G Flat

Schubert wrote four Impromptus…

But this is by far the most famous and continues to be one of the most famous pieces ever written. I chose this recording, not only because it is excellent, but you can see the player. I’d like to get rid of the stupid chandelier  above, but nothing is perfect.

Here is a biography. Read it if you have time.

Biography of Schubert

But first remember this, most of all; he died at the age of 31. And much of his greatest music was never heard until after his death. He was so poor, he was only finally able to buy his own piano during the last year of his life.

We can only imagine what he would have written if he had lived to age 70.

 

7+

Another piece in Eb Minor by Rachmaninov…

This time a short Prelude…

The eerie piece I posted last week, also by Rachmaninov, was from very early in his career. There is something unique about music in Eb Minor because there are six flats, and it is a nightmare to notate. Great composers wrote in such keys because they are extremely comfortable for the hands, but they are very difficult to read.

This short piece is also in Eb Minor. I wish I could find one performance that is not so fast, but Ashkenazy is an incredible player.

The last Romantic giant of the piano…

There is an emphasis on speed by most modern players that drives me absolutely mad, as if something great can’t be played a bit slower and yet be as effective or more effective.

I keep coming back to Rachmaninov, (Apr. 1, 1873 – Mar. 28,  1943), because he died just five years before I was born, and if he had lived 20 more years I might have heard him play, at least on new recordings. I have very strong feelings about his music. Not only was he without doubt one of the greatest composers for the piano, his style, the sound of his music remains incredibly popular right to this very moment.

There has not been one great genius from the time of his death to carry on this kind of great music. It is not because of his style – his music is still played everywhere. There has simply been no one following him with the same monumental gift. I continue to hope that eventually someone new will rediscover the lyricism and absolute mastery of piano composition that he had.

10+

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.

13+

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.

9+

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…

5+

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.

9+

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.

 

10+