Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tchaikovsky piano concerto no. 1 in Bb minor, op. 23

performed by the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande under Charles Dutoit, Martha Argerich, piano
(I have her recording of the piece with Leningrad under Kondrashin that I also quite like)

Also, watch this too....

If you read nothing else, watch the videos, and read the very last paragraph... 
For such an oddball kind of piece, this concerto is still undeniably one of the most famous in the repertoire, perhaps the most famous. Or should I say for such an enduring piece, it's kind of an oddball. I don't know which should come first; for most audiences I suppose, it's the latter, because a lot of the oddball stuff about this piece probably wouldn't be as obvious to a passive listener as it would be to musicologists, professionals or listeners of Tchaikovsky's day. What's odd about it? 
It's in a minor key, but that theme that everyone knows, that glorious beautiful wings-spread out soaring melody, is not in the home key, it's in the relative major. That same theme, as enduring and trademark-y as it is, never comes back, not even anything like it. One would think you could really get a lot of mileage out of something so beautiful, but we will see that Tchaikovsky can do lots of beautiful things with lots of other material. The traditional inner continuity of the movement is not really there. There are some key changes and stuff, but in general, it's just an odd piece, with lots of storm and drama and emotion and romance that finally culminates in a Bb major triumph. That all being said, with seemingly unrelated subjects and themes (we'll get there soon) aside, nearly

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Music and Math: The Genius of Beethoven

The title of this video really struck my interest. I was envisioning it as something exciting and revelatory, a heretofore undiscovered secret of the music of this great artist. 
It's also a TED talk, which means it will be fun and entertaining. It also means I shouldn't have expected it to be on such a level of detail as I'd anticipated.
So there was at least some disappointment on that level, but it was balanced by an excitement to share what was here with other people, namely a friend of mine to whom I'd tried to explain Schoenberg's twelve-tone idea (in Chinese). While I did explain the idea of consonant and dissonant chords as sounds that "work together" because of their relation to one another on the keyboard (really just a visual expression of that relationship), I did NOT express it in terms of their actual frequencies, which is what's shown here. 
Having played a bit of this first page of this piece (poorly and slowly), I was familiar with the

Monday, October 20, 2014

On this day: week of October 20, 2014

October 20
1973 – The Sydney Opera House opens.
1874 – Charles Ives, American composer (d. 1954)
1958 – Ivo Pogorelić, Croatian pianist
1870 – Michael William Balfe, Irish violinist, singer, and composer (b. 1808)

October 21
1775 – Giuseppe Baini, Italian priest, composer, and critic (d. 1844)
1921 – Malcolm Arnold, English composer (d. 2006)
1662 – Henry Lawes, English pianist and composer (b. 1595)
1991 – Lorenc Antoni, Albanian composer, conductor, and musicologist (b. 1909)

October 22
1811 – Franz Liszt, Hungarian pianist and composer (d. 1886)
1905 – Joseph Kosma, Hungarian-French composer (d. 1969) Relative of Georg Solti, studied with Bartok
1906 – Kees van Baaren, Dutch composer and educator (d. 1970)
1967 – Salvatore Di Vittorio, Italian composer and conductor
1859 – Louis Spohr, German violinist and composer (b. 1784)
1973 – Pablo Casals, Catalan cellist and conductor (b. 1876) 
1979 – Nadia Boulanger, French composer and educator (b. 1887)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Chopin piano concerto no. 1 in Em, op. 11

performed by Krystian Zimerman and the Polish Festival Orchestra, (Zimerman also conducting)

This is one of the earliest piano concertos we have talked about, certainly the earliest in our little string of four or five here. Actually the second of Chopin's two complete piano concerto to be written, it was published first, thus getting the no. 1.
Today (10/17) also marked the 165th anniversary of Chopin’s death. 

While certainly famous, and certainly beautiful, this piece has its criticisms, one being the extremely background role of the orchestra, again, in contrast with something like the Prokofiev from last week. The orchestra is kind of a platter on which the piano is served; they ARE the stage. This can make for a boring piece to perform for an orchestra, but I suppose can also be boring for some listeners. 
I won’t get into the actual details of this piece; I don’t feel like a play-by-play. 
I saw the fantastic and amazing Ingolf Wunder here in Taipei perform this piece on Thursday night, the day on which I usually post my music article, but in light of the performance, I decided

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

184 Years is a Long Time

This is something that baffles and fascinates me. I may have mentioned it here in passing before, but let’s talk about it some more. 
We’re on a  little string of piano concertos here (first Arensky, then Rachmaninoff, then Prokofiev, and the next two weeks [well, this week and next week] [at least]), and Mahler is getting VERY in the way of me preparing for these. I’ve been on a kick with listening to LOTS of different interpretations of his pieces (at the time of this writing, I’m currently finishing up a listen to Boulez’s performance of the eighth with Staatskapelle Dresden et al after my headphones fritzed out) (I need much better home speakers). I’m going to see Ingolf Wunder perform Chopin’s two piano concerti (BOTH OF THEM!!!!) this week, and am featuring the first of the two here. Last Saturday was the anniversary of the premiere in 1830 (October 11), and Friday, October 17 (the day I’ll be posting the Chopin piece) (with a review of the concert next week) will be the 155th anniversary of the great Chopin’s death. All sorts of anniversaries. 
Anyway, as far as Mahler is concerned (my obsession lately), as far as most classical music is concerned, he is quite a recent thing, in a number of ways. He was born quite some time ago, but died only 103-ish years ago. We actually have photos of the stage set up for one of the final rehearsals of the eighth, among many other photos of Mahler himself, his family, etc. To my knowledge, only one actual photo of Chopin exists. Mahler is recent in another sense, in that his music is only ‘recently’ beginning to really gain wide acclaim; we can think Mitropoulos and Bernstein and some of those early folk for doing a lot of the heavy lifting and promoting, but Mahler cycles are in no short supply these days, as anyone may know who has tried to find a definitive recording of any of them. We even have Bruno Walter’s recordings of his symphonies, a man who knew the composer and the works probably as intimately as anyone. That’s pretty recent, if you ask me.
However, when I kind of realized the other day that Chopin’s first piano concerto was premiered in 1830, and that it’s not just 1830, but it’s 184 years ago… it blew me away. Somehow 184 years