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an interjection – Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no 3, opus 30

Sergei_Rachmaninoff_cph.3a40575

Rachmaninoff in 1921 (photographed by Kubey Rembrandt)

______________


for Barbara


a friend wrote today about memories of her 
uncle, a violinist, insisting on the right 
pronunciation of Rachmaninov, “with a soft
ch, as the c in cello. It drove my Dad crazy“, 
she said, which led me in a response to both 
his Second Piano Concerto, which she’d 
specifically mentioned, and to what I 
think is like comparing oracles with 
oracles, his Third

it seemed a wonderful time to shed light 
on some of the things I’ve been explaining
about Haydn

I spoke, even in a recent transmittal, about 
the idea of extending tempi, from its 
Classical four, to, through variations in a 
single movement, more than four, and
found Haydn to be awkward, as he 
experimented, unimpressive

listen to what Rachmaninov does, however,  
in every movement here, take it from its 
base through variations in tempi to leave 
you reeling with emotion

the adagio, the middle movement, for 
instance, starts off slowly, continues apace, 
then finds itself embroiled in a whirlwind of
sentiment it finds difficult to control, before
returning, with a nearly audible sigh, to its 
distressed slower, and defining, rhythm

there’s a story here, a narrative, and all the 
permutations of a drama, a reckoning

watching also the performer, Cyprien Katsaris,
the soloist, and marvelling at the speed of his 
fingers, I wondered, should a performer be 
impeded by hir conductor, for not acquiescing
to untoward advances, for instance, a recently 
significant consideration, raise the beat by one 
point merely on the metronome, a novice might 
be undone in a very minute, in a blur of 
distraught acciaccaturas, arpeggios, and 
discombobulated trills

a great player must consequently play the 
piece in practice at a quicker pace to ensure
an immaculate, ever, presentation, the work 
of a consummate, and immutable, artist

think about it, and watch, indeed marvel,
at this extraordinary performance


R ! chard 

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String Quartet in B flat, Opus 55, no 3 – Haydn

queen-marie-antoinette-of-france-1783.jpg!Large

                      “Queen Marie Antoinette of France (1783) 

                                Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

                                              ___________________

first of all, let me grievously repent an
egregious confusion I probably left
in my last diatribe, I said that the second
movement of the Opus 54, no 2 sounded 
to me like a minuet, I had, through 
embarrassing inattention, confused its,
however unmemorable, adagio with that
of this Opus 55, no 3, which I’d listened 
to in too quick succession, driven as I 
am by my thirst for epiphanies

the Opus 54, no 2 will do, but I’m not 
going back for seconds, nor to the 
Opus 55, no 3, though here’s where  
I flaunt nevertheless Haydn, not to 
mention Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, 
all the way to eventually Bruckner, 
Brahms, the extraordinary Richard
Wagner, passing through Schubert,
Mendelssohn, the Strausses, father
and son, and the unrelated Strauss,
Richard, another incontrovertible 
giant, and I nearly left out the 
unforgettable Liszt, all of them 
forefathers of our present music

you might have noticed that these 
are all Germanic names, obedient 
to the Hapsburg empire, with 
Vienna as its supreme cultural 
capital, and it was that 
Austro-Hungarian dynasty that
indeed nearly single-handedly 
secured our Western musical 
traditions

a few Italians are remembered,
from the 18th Century, Scarlatti 
maybe, Boccherini, Albinoni
but not many more 

no one from France, but they were 
about to have a revolution, not a 
good time for creative types,
though, incidentally, Haydn was 
getting Tost, to whom he was 
dedicating his string quartets for 
services rendered, to sell his stuff 
in very Paris 

then again, Marie Antoinette, I thought, 
was Austrian, an even archduchess, 
and would’ve loved some down-home 
music at nearby Versailles

so there you are, there would’ve been 
market

the English had Handel, of course,
who was, albeit, German, getting 
work where he could when you 
consider his competition, he was 
too solemn and plodding by half,
to my mind, for the more 
effervescent, admittedly Italianate, 
continentals, Italy having led the 
way earlier with especially its 
filigreed and unfettered operas

but here’s Haydn’s Opus 55, no 3
nevertheless, the best Europe had
to offer, socking it to them

Haydn’s having a hard time, I think, 
moving from music for at court to
recital hall music, music for a much
less genteel clientele, however 
socially aspiring, we still hear 
minuets, and obeisances all over 
the place, despite a desire to 
nevertheless dazzle, impress

then again, I’m not the final word, as
my mea culpa above might express, 
you’ll find what eventually turns 
your own crank, floats your own 
boat, as you listen

which, finally, is my greatest wish


R ! chard

String Quartet no 42 in C major, Opus 54, no 2 – Haydn

the-attributes-of-music-1770.jpg!Large.jpg

       “The Attributes of Music (1770) 

              Anne Vallayer-Coster

                      ___________

meanwhile back at Haydn, some nearly 
70 years after Bach’s Partita no 2
Haydn’s been freed by his sponsor, 
Prince Esterházy to sell his 
compositions to the highest bidder
and with the help of the Hungarian 
second violinist at the Esterházy 
courtfinds buyers in Paris

the Opus 54 is therefore associated 
with Johann Tost, as well as its 
companion Opus 55, and indeed 
Haydn’s later Opus 64 for string
quartet is decidedly dedicated to 
him

Haydn has been released from not
only contractual obligations, it
seems apparent, in his new, more
experimental phase, but from the
constraints of, verily, courtly music,
this is not dinner music for a coterie
of aristocrats, but demands attention,
Haydn is pulling out his showstoppers, 
musical eccentricities, to dazzle the 
crowd, pauses in the first movement, 
for instance, right off the top, for 
drama, of course, and musical 
tension

and the second movement sounds 
a lot more like a minuet to me

later in the last movement, he 
delivers a second, incongruous, I think, 
adagio, unusual at this point, the 
piece’s traditional cheery farewell,
interrupted by a presto, of all things,
right in the very centre of all that 
solemnity, you tell me if that ultimately 
works, thought not, and it ends, on 
top with of that, with whimper

but it opens the way for tempi 
prolonging the emotional impact of
the composition, six rhythms instead 
of four throughout the work makes 
the musical journey longer, more 
probing, more episodic, more 
narrative, eventually

wait till you hear what Beethoven 
does with that

but meanwhile, Haydn doesn’t 
disappoint, though you’ll have 
heard better, I think, and will, 
from him 


R ! chard

Partita no 2, BWV 1004 – J.S. Bach

Leopold_von_Anhalt-Köthen_(1694_-_1728).jpg

         Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen

                      __________

if I haven’t spoken much about Bach
until now it’s that, although he is at 
the very start of our modern music,
having in fact set up its very alphabet,
the scale we’ve been using since, he 
is nevertheless as different from our 
own era in music as Shakespeare is 
to us in literature, both are stalwarts,
but we no longer say, for instance, 
thee or thou, nor write in iambic 
pentameter, nor do we dance 
gavottes at court, nor congregate 
at church to hear cantatas

the turning point is the Enlightenment,
also called the Age of Reason, when 
the concept of God was being 
questioned, if not even debunked, and
the mysteries of nature were being 
rationally resolved, handing authority
to knowledgeable individuals instead
of to popes

by the time of Mozart and Haydn, a
secular tone was gradually pervading 
all of the arts, devoid of any religious 
intentions, sponsors were private 
rather than clerical  

Bach had indeed been hired by a prince,
Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, but was 
appointed court musician at his ducal 
chapel, Nikolaus l, Prince Esterházy 
wanted Haydn’s music, rather, for his 
court entertainment, and for himself 
as well, incidentally, as a fellow baryton 
player

Mozart was also employed by a prince,
but left when he wasn’t being payed 
well 

times haven’t changed much, see 
Trump, for instance

after the French Revolution, there was
not much call for religious music, 
human rights took the place of God, 
liberté, égalité, fraternité, and all that, 
not to mention the American Bill of 
Rights, and that’s the route we’ve 
been following ever since, for better 
or for worse 

but hey, we’re still reading Shakespeare,
and still listening to Bach, and loving 
both of them, some of us

here’s some more Bach for old times’
sake, his Partita no 2 for solo violin

a partita is just a series of dance suites 
– an allemande, a courante, a sarabande, 
a gigue, and a chaconne, in this case – I 
don’t think anyone other than Bach ever 
wrote some, but his are sublime

it’s kind of like my calling my own 
stuff prosetry, for whatever infinity 
that word might ever deliver, though
no one else might ever use that term
again

listen also to a transposition of its
celebrated last movement, the 
Chaconnefor left-hand piano, in 
this instance, as transposed by 
Brahms, a precursor to Ravel’s 
Concerto in G major for the Left
Hand, written for Paul  
Wittgensteinan already 
accomplished pianist – the much 
more famous philosopher, 
Ludwig‘s, brother – who’d lost his 
right hand during the First World 
War, and who’hopefully be 
inspired, by such positive 
reinforcement

art, music, poetry thrives on such 
heartfelt expressions of sympathy,
compassion, communion

art is the faith that we rely on now 
that God/dess is gone 


R ! chard

Easter Oratorio – J.S.Bach

easter-angel-1959.jpg!Large

   “Easter Angel (1959) 

          Salvador Dali

               _______

                                  for Elizabeth, 
                                      who needs an oratorio right now,
                                           and who takes great comfort, 
                                                 she tells me, in this music


if The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour 
on the Cross is not a divertimento, it 
nevertheless didn’t come out of nowhere,
and a clue to its inspiration lies in the 
eventual transposition of the orchestra 
only piece to, a few years later, the piece 
with voice, its oratorio

Haydn had heard his original composition
rendered in a nearby provincial town, where
they’d added lyrics, however saccharine, to
the score, and he thought it entirely effective 
and appropriate, had new less sanctimonious 
lyrics composedand gave us what we now 
hear

oratorios go back quite a while, not 
surprisingly, they are quintessentially 
religious music, meant to inspire, a 
familiar convocational ploy, Bach and 
Handel made them especially immortal
in the early 18th Century

listen to Bach’s Easter Oratorio to see,
to hear rather, the connection to Haydn,
though you might not even notice much
significant difference, they’ve as many 
movements more or less, nine for Haydn,
Bach’s has eleven, but all the forces are 
the same, and in the same order

that Bach’s oratorio would be more 
joyous is not surprising, the occasion for 
the Easter Oratorio is one of celebration,
where The Words is more lugubrious, it 
describes a portentous demise, dance 
rhythms therefore are not in the former 
inappropriate

its dances, however, are rather gavottes
and sarabandes instead of the later 
minuets, a not not instructive alteration 
when you think that minuets not much
later than Haydn had become waltzes,
more about that later

in the Easter Oratorio“, the story is told
by the singers, whereas in The Seven 
Last Words“, the music is doing the 
telling, secured by the fact that the piece
was originally written without singers

The Words is more dramatic, more
use of contrasting volumes and tempi,
the piano hadn’t been invented at the 
time of Bach, long notes couldn’t be 
accommodated on the harpsichord,
which determined the pace of the plot,
the piano allowed with its soft pedal 
a moderation in volume, and with its 
hold pedal a moderation of a note’s 
resonance, which allowed for more 
expansive expression, which led 
eventually, nearly inescapably, to 
the Romantic Period, after passing, 
of course, through, Mozart and
Haydn

but listen to what Bach can do 
without these later interventions,
proof that a poet can inspire with 
merely matchstick, the second 
aria itself – My soul, the spice that 
embalms you shall no longer be 
myrrh – for soprano and baroque 
flute, spare as it is instrumentally, 
is manifestly entirely worth the 
priceless price of admission 


R ! chard

Divertimento no 17, K334 – Mozart

minuet-with-pantaloon-and-colombine-from-the-room-of-carnival-scenes-in-the-foresteria-1757.jpg!Large.jpg

Minuet with Pantaloon and Colombine, from the Room of Carnival Scenes
                                                                                                       in the Foresteria (1757)

     Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

             ________________

already I can hear you asking, why is
The Seven Last Words“, with its nine
already movements, not a divertimento,
you’ll cry 

a divertimento is an entertainment, it 
doesn’t have the gravitas of Haydn’s 
composition, a sacred work, a 
divertimento is meant to delight

The Seven Last Words“, therefore,
by definition is not a divertimento,
it’s a completely different idea of a
piece with several movements, it 
has profoundly ulterior intentions,
following, rather, in the tradition of
Bach’s oratorios, though it had 
originally been conceived without 
words, the prelate in this work 
would be doing the talking

the piece gives itself a theme, a 
focus, a project, creating something 
like chapters in a book 

or think of the Stations of the Cross 
a metaphorically more apt, perhaps, 
unifying principle, instead of just a 
series of disparate airs, like singles 
were on albums until Pink Floyd 
similarly revolutionized music with 
a topic during my generation, The
Wall, with a little preparatory help
albeit, from the Beatles, earlier,
our friends

here’s Mozart, nevertheless, in order 
to compare, his Divertimento no 17,  
K334giving the aristocracy what 
they still, in 1780, wanted, something 
courtly

you’ll notice there are not just one 
but two minuets in the program, both 
with recapitulations, sure sign that 
we’re still in the Classical Era, though 
the minuet will die off as quickly as 
the divertimento will in the following 
decades, relics, both, of an earlier era

and indeed this is Mozart’s last for 
small orchestra, divertimenti would be 
composed from here on as merely 
tributes to an earlier period and its 
musical formulas

masses and oratorios would go the same 
way, incidentally, with some resurgence 
in the following centuries from a couple 
of Catholic organists who left profound 
influences individually on later centuries

but more about them later

meanwhile, here’s Mozart, feel the 
gentility, his genuflexion to propriety 
rather than to faith


R ! chard

“The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross”, opus 51 – Joseph Haydn

crucified-christ-1780.jpg!Large.jpg

                  “Crucified Christ (1780) 

                          Francisco Goya

                                 _______

Haydn’s Opus 51 was commissioned 
for the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, the 
Holy Cave Oratoryin Cádiz, Spain,
church, as the name suggests, built 
partially underground, it would be
performed, the Opus 51, for the Good 
Friday service of 1787, Haydn therefore 
put his Opus 50 on hold, six string 
quartets, to finish this ecclesiastical 
work on time

what had been required was a work for 
small orchestra to inform the Seven 
Last Words of our Saviour on the 
Cross, it would therefore have at least
segments, movements, and would be 
divided by the elaboration of the 
bishop upon the significance of these 
individual “Words”, or, in fact,
statements, see this example 

Haydn added an introduction, and a 
finale in the form of an earthquake,
quite, I think, wittily and ever so 
appropriately

nearly simultaneously, Haydn 
composed the orchestral 
arrangement for string quartet, and 
later for orchestra and voice, for, in
other words, an oratorio

to my mind “The Seven Last Words 
of Our Saviour on the Cross” is 
Haydn’s crowning achievement, in 
all of its iterations

you’ll note that there is even first of 
all a title, and the title asks for 
something quite specific, indeed 
words, which the composer would
have to render musically, somehow, 
he’d need drama, something of a 
musical narrative, no minuets

all of the movements, apart from 
the end ones, are variations on 
slow – adagio, lento, largo, even 
grave – and how do you keep an 
audience, or in this case a 
congregation, happy, or even 
interested, with seven potentially 
lugubrious adagios in a row, all 
profoundly melancholy

only Shostakovich has managed 
to do that since, which I’ll talk 
about at some point later

Haydn also undoubtedly inspired 
Beethoven here with the 
consequences of so many 
movements, the possibility of 
extending a musical intention
into something resembling,
indeed, a book, a story, the 
introduction of narrative, 
essentially, into our musical 
history, which is to say, music
as literature 

the orchestral version of “The 
Seven Last Words” is performed 
here at the very Oratorio de la
Santa Cueva, the string quartet
version, played not only better 
than I’ve ever heard it played
before, but better even than any 
other quartet I’ve ever heard, 
period, includes the commentaries 
in German by an attendant prelate,
as intended in the original 
composition 

the movements’ “Seven Words” are 
indicated in Latin, not, incidentally, 
the  language of “Our Saviour”, and 
move from “Lord, why have you 
forsaken me” to “If it is Your will, 
then let it be done”

the last version presented here is 
the oratorio, for orchestra and
voice  

all of them, utterly inspiring

listen


R ! chard 

        (to be, incontrovertibly, continued,
         this piece is too loaded with 
         substance, it is transformational)

January 30, 2018

moon-light-1895.jpg!Large

        Moon Light (1895) 

               Edvard Munch

                    ________

my mom texted me this morning that
the moon would be  “BLOODY RED IN 
COLOUR….because “, she added, “earth
🌏 will be between sun and moon …last
happened 152 years ago ….moon closest
to earth 🌏

I haven’t told her yet that from my 
window I’ll be singing, as the moon  
rises above the mountains in the 
east, Casta Diva“, Norma’s song 
to the moon

chaste Goddess, she appeals, who 
bathes these sacred trees in silvery 
light, bless us with your grace, we
are not not in need of it

maybe you’ll sing along


Norma is a Druidic priestess, 
representing her community, which 
has been overtaken, and is now ruled,
by the Romans, she bears already, 
however, two children of a Roman 
military official, Pollione, who has 
fallen for her maid, Adalgisa, sparks 
fly in every direction, both personal 

and political, Adalgisa ‘ll keep the 
kids eventually, and both Norma and 
Pollione will go the pyre, the very 
height of Romantic fervour, check it
out, it’s extraordinary, with Joan 
Sutherland in this, dare I say, 
classic performance

but first of all, Casta Diva itself, by  
the inimitable Maria Callas 

and may the moon be your guide


R ! chard

String Quartet no. 38 in E♭major, Op. 50, No. 3 – Haydn

fullsizeoutput_3f4.jpeg         

         Frederick William II of Prussia

                      ______________

if there’s a difference that I can detect 
between both these “Prussian” string
quartets, the No. 21 of Mozart, Haydn’s
38th, the somewhat more boisterous 
voice of the youthful Mozart up against 
the more deferential, the more precisely 
filigreed, manner of Haydn, the more 
consummate courtier of the two via his 
actual, and constant, presence at the 
Esterházy court

Mozart is somewhat less genteel, less
mercurial, I think

both sets, six in each, were originally 
dedicated to the King of Prussia,
William ll, Haydn’s in 1787, Mozart’s 
in 1789, though each had unfortunate 
legal, and controversial outcomes 

it’s not so much the specificity of each
other’s talent at this point that settles 
their ultimate significance, but that 
their invention, the form, the structure,  
has lasted already two hundred years, 
the might of their prowess has inspired 
inexhaustibly our culture

Mozart and Haydn built the house that
our music now stands on, working, of 
course, from earlier, even glorious, 
standards, culture  – music, art, 
literature – is like a tree, growing 
organically from its local soil, our
Western earth has become 
historically especially significant,  
we could be listening to Chinese 
opera for instance now had we been 
born, however arbitrarily, in that 
culture, for better or for worse we are 
in our ever evolving ours, our 21st 
global century, and the Classical Era 
is pretty well where it all began for us 

it was also called the Age of 
Enlightenment, Mozart and Haydn 
were doing their particular part

let me add that the term “Classical”
applies only to the music of that 
period, it is not the period of 
Classical art, for instance, nor of
Classical literature, the term 
“Classical” refers to the originality
of the product and its historical
resilience, we speak of Classical 
Greece, for instance, for its 
sprouting of our Western culture,
our literature, our sculpture, our
architecture, our very philosophy

after the Age of Enlightenment, we 
get the Romantic Period

wait till you hear about that


R ! chard 

String Quartet no 19 in C major, K465 (“Dissonance”) – Mozart

queen-marie-antoinette-of-france-1783.jpg!Large

                    “Queen Marie Antoinette of France (1783)  

                              Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

                                           ______________

if Mozart’s 19th String Quartetthe last of 
his Haydn Quartets, the six he indeed 
dedicated  to Haydn, sounds less 
deferential than one would have thought 
for the period, it should be remembered 
that the American Revolution had just
taken place, in 1776, the French one was 
about to, in 1789, and even the more 
aristocratic houses in Europe would not
have been unaffected, Mozart was young,
29, and astir with confidence and bravura,
it was 1785

Haydn had had his moment earlier, his
Opus 20, which went on to revolutionize 
music if not countries, but had retreated 
to a less emboldened political stance 
as he grew older, while concentrating 
rather on his more important muse, and 
refining his ear for precise, pure music,
which is to say devoid of any but polite
sentiments, delight and lyrical 
melancholy only

in Mozart’s 19th String Quartet, even the 
minuet is peremptory, not something 
you’d especially want to dance to,
however musically accomplished

he starts the first movement with, of all 
things, an adagio, however briefly, which 
could’ve been disastrous, you need to 
know what you’re doing when you open
with a lament

incidentally, all the instruments in the
opening adagio are playing in different 
keys, resolved when the allegro kicks 
in, this is why it’s called “Dissonance”,
something in and of itself of a 
rebellious act 

the 19th is also twice the length of 
Haydn’s nearest earlier one, his Opus 42,
expansive rather than terse, for whatever
that might mean, the point is to keep us
throughout interested, which he does, 
they do

Mozart is prefiguring hereincidentally,
Beethoven, with his audacity, his 
sense of an ideological mission, and  
he’s mightily impressive

listen


R ! chard