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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

“New Music Expert”

PlightBeuys

"I repeat all the great experiments of the 19th Century. My results are much better, more consistent, and more subtly nuanced." What will I think of the scientist who makes such a pronouncement? I might think that person's not a scientist. A craftsman perhaps. An artisan or hobbyist? But this guy's goal in the laboratory would seem to be something other than discovery, something other than science. And doesn't this apply to art as … [Read more...]

8.0

treeARthumb

As much as I'm opposed to the notion that musical learning is directly transmitted from teacher to student, it did cross my mind that musicians may fall into generational groups in terms of their shared practice or thinking. If so, as a pianist I suppose I belong to Generation 8 (Gen 8.0). I'm imagining that "classical" music as a culture of cultivating the durable repertoire of classics begins around 1800, and may be centered on the person … [Read more...]

Overheard

overheardAJ

During some days in late summer, I practiced Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. I'm sure the windows were open. My Juilliard piano teacher, Jacob Lateiner lived on 84th Street, just around the block. I mentioned I was learning Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. "I know," he said. Pianists are prone to be overheard. The piano can be a loud instrument. Living in close proximity to others, in a New York City apartment, or a suburban house -- practicing is … [Read more...]

Can’t get a word in

B101

There is music that suffers in performance from conventionally good music-making. Mainstream classical playing seems to rely on clichés of "musicality" -- arching every phrase, breathing between groups, tracing all those lines up and then down again. Some pieces need different treatment. The first movement of Beethoven's Opus 101 is an extended, wordless run-on sentence. Theoretically, we may understand that no satisfying cadence in A major … [Read more...]

Clover V

qwertyAJ

In considering the ways today's art is an art of appropriation, let's notice a basic change that's occurred in writing, composing, and design. Editing used to involve re-writing, re-typing, re-drawing -- physically copying some previously used material into each new version. Computer-enabled editing techniques now mean that the virtual copying and pasting of material from one version of a project to another is routine whether we're working with … [Read more...]

Voice Mis-Leading

RavelAJ

Some solo piano music has part-writing that seems to correspond directly to music for string quartet. In such keyboard music, there are a constant number of "voices" tracing coherent individual lines. Beethoven: Opus 110 These voice-parts have integrity. We can follow tenor or bass, alto or soprano (viola or cello, second violin or first violin). This is a modern practice in keyboard music, I believe. The earliest keyboard pieces -- … [Read more...]

Pat head, rub tummy

B110AJ2-thumb-445x149-19216

Within solo piano music, it happens that the individual must play two very differing things at the same time. In Beethoven's Opus 110, the right and left hands have different patterns of articulation and emphasis. For me, it would be best if the heavy, syncopated comic accents in the left-hand music do not in any way effect the folk simplicity of the paired-note articulation above, in the highest voice in the right hand part. In doing … [Read more...]

Jacob Lateiner (1928-2010)

JLschaafAJmini

Jacob Lateiner died this morning in New York. He was 82. The following passages are from my 1998 essay about his teaching: "In a sense, Jacob Lateiner does not give piano lessons. The piano is a tool for him. It's a means or an obstacle to singing, speaking, and (fuga!) flying. In lessons, Jacob aims to be neutral. Part Socratic (or Talmudic?) questioner, part Freudian analyst (to the exactly punctual end of each session), Jacob allows his … [Read more...]

Intertext

Sch16no2dAJ

In his anxiety, Johannes Brahms read the slow movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's piano sonata, opus 10, number 3, and penned his own intermezzo in E-flat Minor, opus 118, number 6: (If D goes to C-sharp, then D Minor can go to E-flat Minor. Up can be down. 6/8 and eighth-notes, or 3/8 and sixteenths. Largo e mesto. Dies Irae? D-Es?) Earlier misprision led Brahms from playing the slow movement of Beethoven's Opus 2, number 2, to … [Read more...]

Luigi Beethoven — postmodernist

Beethoven15AJa

Before, I've speculated that many of Beethoven's texts read as parody -- a mockery of 18th-century styles and practices. In some postmodern music -- John Zorn or Rzewski's People United -- musical styles, harmonic behaviors, or keyboard textures come on and off like readymade shirts in a fitting room. Though now it may be harder to discern (our subtle reception of old stylistic distinctions may be dulled), Beethoven does something … [Read more...]

Widescreen

youtubeAJ2-thumb-120x124-14191

The 4:3 television screen ratio came to represent present tense -- the "narrow slit of 'now'," to use Bill Viola's term. With the increasing preponderance of widescreen 16:9 ratio, those of us who spent thousands of formative hours with the cathode-ray norm find that video suddenly got more narrative. With the new proportions, since the information in view is just a little too much (too wide) to see in a glance, my entire sense of the medium and … [Read more...]