Mistaken Identity

2

In a solo recital at the Wigmore Hall, I gave the London premiere of Entranced by Mark-Anthony Turnage. It's a fantastic piano piece, rooted in American gospel music by way of Duke Ellington. I spoke with Sally Groves at Schott Music in advance. Mark was traveling back to London on the day of my concert. He would arrive in plenty of time to hear his piece. The concert went well. Though I didn't play Mark's piece quite as well as I wished, it … [Read more...]

Doctor Doctor

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I'm a Doctor of Musical Arts, but I seldom say so. In music schools like the New England Conservatory where I teach, the degree-ed-ness of the faculty is in inverse proportion to age. The older the faculty member, the less likely they are to have advanced degrees. Some older pianists earned advanced degrees in other fields. Charles Rosen had a Ph.D. in French literature... The Latin word "doctor" comes from "docēre" -- "to teach." I don't wish … [Read more...]

Poesie

RustAndBlue-1953

During a presentation by James Parakilas concerning examples of ambiguous musical notation, I noticed something. Parakilas was discussing the metrical organization in Fauré's tenth barcarolle. A curious hovering syncopation pervades the music. Fauré: Tenth Barcarolle A detail of piano writing in measure 7 corresponds, in my opinion, to the practice of singing an audible final syllable for a French word like "rose." Normally spoken as one … [Read more...]

Remodeling

deutsches-historisches-museum-23

In the cadenzas Beethoven wrote for his C-Major Piano Concerto, opus 15, higher high-notes are utilized than those in the concerto itself. The cadenzas were written down around 1809, more than a decade after the concerto. When you add on a new room to your house you may use the same materials as the original construction, but whether using the same materials or not, you're likely to utilize current technology in doing the construction. … [Read more...]

4 Trombones

PARIS1778

Paris, 2014 Arnold Schoenberg gave Rudolf Serkin an assignment. (This story is hearsay; worthy of attention, in my opinion.) Consider the opening of Mozart's A-Minor piano sonata, Schoenberg asked Serkin. What is the right instrumentation for this music, if it were to be scored for orchestral instruments? Mozart: Sonata in A Minor, KV 310 (300d) Serkin's answer included an oboe playing the upper melody line, and strings taking the … [Read more...]

Moving Target

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I don't know how to play the violin. In a master class in France, a violin prodigy played rather brilliantly for me -- while standing on one foot. "Try the beginning again, and be sure to keep both of your feet on the floor," I suggested. With string instruments, I notice that when the position of the fingerboard is not fairly stable spatially, playing is more difficult. It makes sense. The left hand finding pitches, and the bow contacting the … [Read more...]

Ugly Beauty

PnoStringsAJ

"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason." -- attributed to John Cage The sound coming from pianos (the physical, real sound) may displease the pianist. In trying out a concert piano, there are often several notes on the instrument that just can't be made to produce what is wanted. Those notes may need "voicing" -- a … [Read more...]

All beats are not created equal

JUDDaj

All beats are not created equal. They are endowed by their makers with differing length... Well, not quite. But if we're describing rhythm as rendered live by human musicians then yes, beats vary, even in regularly-beated music played "in tempo." Computer produced beats do not have to vary, as some post-1980 pop music displays. In human-played rhythm, how much do beats vary? Or how much can beats vary and still be perceived as "equal"? … [Read more...]

Construction Zone

LVBCrawford

“Down below, in the dark of the street lamps, Eusebius said, as if to himself: Beethoven—what lies within this word! Beautifully, within the deep ringing of the syllables, sounds an Eternity.” (“Unten im Laternendunkel sagte Eusebius wie vor sich hin: Beethoven — was liegt in diesem Wort! schon der tiefe Klang der Sylben wie in eine Ewigkeit hineintönend.”) -- Robert Schumann, 1835 Also, this begins with a statue. Every day I'm in the … [Read more...]

Labor Management

RubinsteinIrvingPenn

Sound recordings from the first decades of the 20th century form a performance-practice treatise, documenting practices that may offer insight into music-making of earlier times. In the case of piano music, very many of these recordings are recordings of Chopin’s music. There are a lot of recordings of short pieces. (The length of one cylinder and later one “side” of a disc was around 3 minutes.) Chopin: Waltz in A Minor, op. 34, no. 2, … [Read more...]

Immeasurable

LCouperinAJ

If they throw stones upon the roof While you practice arpeggios, It is because they carry down the stairs A body in rags. Be seated at the piano. ... Wallace Stevens: "Mozart, 1935" I ask many young pianists to play un-measured preludes by French composers Louis Couperin, Gaspard Le Roux, or Rameau. These are written pieces in which pitches are specified but rhythm is not. I offer no instruction, no advice. Louis Couperin: Prelude You … [Read more...]

Spectral

B7AJ

At the beginning of Beethoven's Opus 7 Piano Sonata, why this particular chord? Why this register, this particular arrangement of voices? Beethoven: Opus 7 (I) In other piano music by Beethoven, there are long melodic notes which are excited or made to vibrate longer (or differently) by reiterated lower notes. Beethoven: Opus 28 (I) In this passage from the first movement of Opus 28, the long, high right-hand melody notes (not … [Read more...]

Open String

monochord2AJ

Piano music may reference or be contextualized by music made on other instruments, or sung. Some piano music mimics other instruments. The mimicry might be subtle, or subliminal. In Brahms's Intermezzo, Opus 118, No. 1 -- revered by Milton Babbitt -- there's an extraordinary cadence: Brahms: Intermezzo, Opus 118, Number 1 In my ear/mind, the low open strings (C and G) of the cello are sounding. Musical norms or expectations encoded … [Read more...]

Transaction

HMVsmall

When listening to recordings from the 1930s I am fairly certain I don't hear the same thing as someone who listened in the '30s. Even if the sound waves were identical -- I could use a Victrola -- the context is so changed, my reception of the sound so differently influenced that it's different music now. Music is a transaction. When we categorize sound recordings as "music" we may make a misrepresentation. Isn't this sound, these patterns of … [Read more...]

Cause or Effect?

B53IIIAJ

Is written music a set of instructions? A student asked my opinion of a performance he described. In the performance, a pianist used the pedal to sustain long notes while taking his fingers off the keyboard. After thinking, I wrote: "I think the use of the pedal for sustaining notes or helping with legato depends very much on what music is being played. For me, in music by Brahms or Mozart, the central Germanic repertory, long notes must be … [Read more...]