Friday post: Poulenc, Piaf, and 1940s carburators

Some news: my fall-semester Juilliard course, on how to speak and write about music, has started. Click the link for a week by week schedule. You can read all the assignments, if you’d like. More on the course later.


piaf blogOne happy item is a new CD, The Rascal and the Sparrowon which Antonio Pompa-Baldi plays Poulenc and Piaf. Or, more specifically, piano arrangements of Poulenc songs, and songs Piaf sang. Pompa-Baldi did the Poulenc arrangements himself. Such a fine idea, since both Poulenc and Piaf both breathed the air of Paris boulevards and cafés. And one of Poulenc’s piano improvisations, number 15, is titled “Hommage à Edith Piaf.”

So here again we have classical music joining the musical world outside it. The title of the CD seems a little silly, but the music — and the playing — is fine. Even if the Piaf songs (for me, anyway) are stronger, more memorable, than Poulenc’s. Certainly I felt the power of their words, even in Piaf songs I didn’t know. Partly because Pompa-Baldi so strongly plays their tone and rhythm.


Quotation of the day:

If we think of conservatories as “trade schools” (like where you would go to learn to be an auto mechanic or repair a refrigerator…), we are teaching our students the equivalent of learning to repair a car from 1940. Is that a carburetor? No? Well, I only know how to work on carburetors, not fuel-injection systems. And what’s a Hybrid?

From an on-target rant about classical music education, on Michael Lowenstern’s earblog.(Go here for his enticing website.)

Thanks to Heather Taves for the link!


The Houston Grand Opera has announced its new season, and it’s one model of what a forward-looking opera company could be. The start of a Ring cycle, some standard operas, an American premiere, a world premiere, openings to our wider culture with costume designs by fashion designers, and continued openings to the community (something the company has been doing for quite a while) with world premieres of commissioned works exploring Houston’s Vietnamese and Indian communities.

Again: one model of what a forward-looking opera company could be.


From a wise piano technician (he’d prefer that I don’t use his name), some thoughts on the sale of Steinway to a hedge-fund owner:

The news about Steinway’s sale to a hedge fund owner is being met with mixed expectations as one would expect. Having seen this happen before in other factories combined with a decade long industry trend of turning piano manufacturing into a hybrid process, many of us  practicing piano restoration crafts estimate a 12-18 month period between now and the potential of when Steinways aren’t made as we know them any longer. This doesn’t assume the pianos will be lesser instruments but that possibility must be taken into consideration. From a practical standpoint it is likely restoration costs will go way up along with the values of existing Steinways and the availability of genuine Steinway parts become more difficult to procure or become obtainable only at a much higher price.  If your Steinway needs restoration, restringing or action rebuilding I recommend not waiting longer than a year before getting it going. On the bright side, all “real” Steinways are already more valuable than they were prior to this recent sale. Like the fine wine market, there is a connoisseurship attached to Steinway vintages and although its position isn’t always justified artistically, (in my opinion) it does affect the market. Naturally, values of all Steinways built prior to this sale will skyrocket if the Steinways of the future ever do become hybrids.

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  1. Jacob says

    Suddenly, that snippet of “La Vie en rose” in the third movement of Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto makes sense…