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Posts Tagged ‘piano

“The merit of all things lies in their difficulty”*…

Francesco Libetta tackles the toughest…

Critic Harold C. Schonberg called Leopold Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études “the most impossibly difficult things ever written for the piano”; Godowsky said they were “aimed at the transcendental heights of pianism.” In the “Badinage,” above, the pianist plays Chopin’s “Black Key” étude with the left hand while simultaneously playing the “Butterfly” étude with the right and somehow preserving the melodies of both. One observer calculated that this requires 1,680 independent finger movements in the space of about 80 seconds, an average of 21 notes per second. “The pair go laughing over the keyboard like two friends long ago separated, now happily united,” marveled James Huneker in the New York World. “After them trails a cloud of iridescent glory.”

The studies’ difficulty means that they’re rarely performed even today; Schonberg said they “push piano technique to heights undreamed of even by Liszt.” Only Italian pianist Francesco Libetta, above, has performed the complete set from memory in concert.

Francesco Libetta takes on Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études: “Extra Credit.”

* Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

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As we tickle the ivories, we might recall that it was on this date in 1619, after the Vigil of the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, that Rene Descartes had his famous dream (actually a series of three dreams that night)– that ignited his commitment to treat all systems of thought developed to date, especially Scholasticism, as “pre-philosophical,” and– starting from scratch (“Cogito, ergo sum”)– to create anew.

Of these three dreams, it is the third that best expresses the original thought and intention of Rene Descartes’ rationalism. During the dream that William Temple aptly refers to as, “the most disastrous moment in the history of Europe,” Descartes saw before him two books. One was a dictionary, which appeared to him to be of little interest and use. The other was a compendium of poetry entitled Corpus Poetarum in which there appeared to be a union of philosophy with wisdom. Moreover, the way in which Descartes interpreted this dream set the stage for the rest of his life-long philosophical endeavors. For Descartes, the dictionary stood merely for the sciences gathered together in their sterile and dry disconnection; the collection of poems marked more particularly and expressly the union of philosophy with wisdom. He indicates that one should not be astonished that poets abound in utterances more weighty, more full of meaning and better expressed, than those found in the writings of philosophers. In utterances which appear odd when coming from a man who would go down in history as the father of Rationalism, Descartes ascribes the “marvel” of the wisdom of the poets to the divine nature of inspiration and to the might of phantasy, which “strikes out” the seeds of wisdom (existing in the minds of all men like the sparks of fire in flints) far more easily and directly than does reason in the philosophers. The writings of the professional philosophers of his time, struck Descartes as failing to supply that certitude, human urgency, and attractive presentation which we associate with a wise vision capable of organizing our knowledge and influencing our conduct.  (Peter Chojnowski)

And so was born the Modern Age in the West, and the particular form of Rationalism that characterizes it.

Many scholars suggest that Descartes probably “protests too much” when he insists in his autobiographical writings that he had abstained from wine for some time before the night of his oh-so-significant slumber.

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“Mozart died too late rather than too soon”*…

Glenn Gould was a gloriously talented and profoundly iconoclastic pianist, unafraid to challenge the conventions of the canon.

His April 1962 performance of Brahms’ first piano concerto, with the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein conducting, gave rise to an extraordinary situation in which Mr. Bernstein disagreed with Gould’s interpretation so vehemently that he felt it necessary to warn the audience beforehand. The performance was subsequently broadcast on the radio with Bernstein’s comments included. A draft copy of those comments can be found in the Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress and is available to read online…

But perhaps his most egregiously unpopular opinion was his conviction that Mozart– especially late Mozart– was a “bad composer.”

How Mozart Became a Bad Composer, which was originally broadcast on a weekly public television series titled Public Broadcast Laboratory in 1968. The Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center recently digitized the episode that includes the 37-minute segment from a two-inch tape found in the Library’s collection. It is now available on the web site of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, which is a collaborative effort by the Library of Congress and WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts.

On the reception of the program, Peter Goddard in The Great Gould (2017) wrote, “Recognizing the outrage-driven ratings possibilities here, the Public Broadcasting [sic] Laboratory series by National Educational Television, the precursor to PBS in the United States, broadcast Gould’s thirty-seven-minute-long How Mozart Became a Bad Composer on April 28, 1968. After that, the show disappeared from sight worldwide, and a version of the script was only uncovered years later by New York-based documentarian Lucille Carra.” Kevin Bazzana in Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould (2004) notes, “The program outraged viewers in both the United States and Canada, including formerly sympathetic fans and critics.” The program is now widely available to the public for the first time since its broadcast. Although, ardent Glenn Gould fans may remember his interview in Piano Quarterly, which was reprinted in The Glenn Gould Reader (1984), “Mozart and Related Matters: Glenn Gould in Conversation with Bruno Monsaingeon,” in which he expresses many of the same reservations about Mozart’s music that are heard in the television segment…

Cait Miller (of the Music Division of the Library of Congress) puts it in a personal context:

My parents are or were both musicians – my father was a composer – and so my appreciation for classical music was probably equal parts nature and nurture. So, when I entered graduate school as a musicologist and met a fellow student named Masa Yoshioka, who became one of my best friends during my doctoral study, it was more than a little shocking when, during one of our many extended conversations about music, he revealed to me that he did not think that Mozart was a particularly interesting composer. As a musicologist who had come from a previous incarnation as a classical singer, this was tantamount to heresy. However, due to my regard for Masa and his well-thought-out opinions, I did not discount it out of hand. Instead, I took it as a challenge to listen to the music of Mozart and, in fact, the music of all composers, with fresh ears every time I encountered it and to let no preconceptions that I had learned as a child allow me to speak as a child when I heard new works by a composer whom I had been conditioned to revere. It is with this spirit in mind that I hope you will view Glenn Gould’s television segment…

Your correspondent would agree. In any event, enjoy:

The Unpopular Opinions of Glenn Gould or “How Mozart Became a Bad Composer.”

[image at top: source]

* Glenn Gould (who also once suggested that “Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of a bag of nails, with here and there also a dropped hammer”)

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As we tickle the ivories, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that another group of musical iconoclasts, The Sex Pistols, released their single ‘Anarchy In The UK‘. Originally issued in a plain black sleeve, the single was the only Sex Pistols recording released by EMI, and reached the No.38 spot on the UK Singles Chart before EMI dropped the group on 6 January 1977. (The band ran through five labels; their only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977; #1 on the UK charts) was released by Virgin.)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Turn the page”*…

 

 

giphy

 

Like elevators, page turners are only remarkable when things go awry. And go awry they do…

 

But then…

There are breakout moments in musical history where turners become visible and audible through neither accident nor error. In Ravel’s two-piano version of his Introduction and Allegro, he calls for a mysterious “third hand ad lib.” to perform an impossible trill—a part that could only be executed by an especially daring page turner, reaching across the keyboard and right into the middle of the action. In the middle movement of Charles Ives’s Violin Sonata No.2, a raucous hoe-down, the composer’s manuscript features an additional stave with a drum-like rhythm instructing the page turner to smash out noisy cluster chords at the bottom end of the keyboard. It’s a strong reaction to anonymity…

Why pager turners matter (with an number of very amusing examples): “Turning Over.”

* Metallica (from the 1988 album “Garage, Inc.”)

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As we keep time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1897 that Alexander Scriabin’s piano concerto premiered in Odessa, with Scriabin as soloist.  Already a renowned pianist, the then-24-year-old Scriabin was making his debut as a composer for the orchestra (with what turned out to be his only concerto).  While this early work was influenced by Chopin, Scriabin went on to develop (independently of Schoenberg) an atonal musical system, and was one of the most innovative– and most controversial– of early modern composers.  The Great Soviet Encyclopedia said of Scriabin that “no composer has had more scorn heaped on him or greater love bestowed.”

Scriabin pf source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 23, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes”*…

 

piano tuner

 

Once a staple of middle-class American homes, a piano in the living room has become a less common sight, as fewer people learn to play the instrument. And in a city where square footage (and privacy) are at a premium, devoting space to a 500-pound instrument may seem like a strange choice. Yet Michael “Mickey” Finn, a resident of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, has been working full-time as a piano tuner in New York City for nearly 20 years.

Finn’s first job in the city was as a piano technician for the New York City Opera, before he became an independent tuner, working in private homes, in rehearsal rooms, and for institutional clients…

Finn speaks to Topic about his own musical education, how he started getting clients, and the song he plays to test his own work; illustrated with photos by Gus Powell, who followed him for several days as he tuned his way across town: “He’s Got the Keys to the City.”

* Thelonious Monk

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As we tickle the ivories, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948, three days after an announcement of the innovation at a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria, that Columbia Records began mass production of the 33 1/3 RPM long-playing record.  The format, which allowed for over 20 minutes of music on a side, briskly overtook the 78 rpm format and dominated music sales well into the 1980s.  The popularity of the LP ushered in the “Album Era” of English-language popular music, beginning in the 1960s, as performers took advantage of the longer playing time to create coherent themes or concept albums.

440px-12in-Vinyl-LP-Record-Angle source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him”*…

 

Genius follows its own law of gravity. It migrates in ever greater numbers to where it thrives. Hence places like Silicon Valley – and attempts to replicate it elsewhere, like London’s Silicon Roundabout. The phenomenon is older than the microchip, of course…

Watch the centers of creative gravity migrate through Europe, from 1400 to 1950, at “The Geography of Genius.”

* Jonathan Swift (the inspiration for John Kennedy Toole)

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As we put on our sailin’ shoes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1853 that Steinway & Sons sold its first piano in the United States.  The company had been founded in March of that year by Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, who’d started making pianos in his native Germany in 1935 (and who didn’t officially change his name to “Steinway” until 1864).  Working in a loft on Varrick Street in Manhattan, he called his first U.S. piano “Number 483” as he’d built 482 pianos before immigrating.  It was sold to a New York family for $500.  Over the next thirty years, Henry and his sons, C. F. Theodore, Charles, Henry Jr., William, and Albert, developed the modern piano; almost half of the company’s 127 patented inventions were developed during this period.

An “Original Style” Steinway piano like #483

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* Jonathan Swift

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

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