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Category: Chopin

so you think you can be a soloist – Beethoven / Paganini / Chopin

chopin-performing-in-the-guest-hall-of-anton-radziville-in-berlin-in-1829.jpg

Chopin Performing in the Guest-Hall of Anton Radziville in Berlin in 1829” 
    (1887)                                                                                                                

        Henryk Siemiradzki

                 ________

Chopin’s Piano Concerto no 1, written 
in 1830, is in the same mold as both
the Beethoven Violin Concerto, 1806, 
and Paganini’s 5th, a synchronous 
1830, three movements, fast, slow, 
fast, long symphonic introduction,
followed by miracles of articulation 
by the virtuosic soloist, with, however, 
differing degrees of emotional impact

Beethoven is evidently the source, 
and model, for both later compositions
having clearly preceded them by a 
number of years, but neither Chopin  
nor Paganini have the chops to match
his magisterial orchestration

Chopin, like Paganini, was confined to
essentially one instrument, of which,
however, both were utter masters, and 
manifestly and profoundly there inspired, 
but in either, once the solo part takes 
flight, the symphony is merely 
packaging, no longer an equal partner 

Beethoven has parts for all his players,
his is a conversation, not a declamation

but Chopin, 1830, had learned by then,
and integrated from Beethoven the 
lesson of how to incorporate drama
into his high wire act, the constant 
repetition of a melting air, a musical 
motive, which Paganini hadn’t, Chopin 
not only could fly, but also knew how 
to dress for it, to become a virtual 
angel of mercy and compassion up
there under the biggest of tops, his
immortality 

don’t take my word for it, though, 
you’ve probably heard already Chopin‘s 
work, a very emblem of 19th Century 
Romanticism, somewhere in your 
subconscious you know this melody,
heard it before, it’s part of our Western 
culture

not so the Paganini

what’s kicked

see above

you’ll hear your senses talking, the 
language of music and art, more
accurate eventually than any of my, 
however erudite, however informed,  
but merely ruminative, words, art 
being, once again, in the eye, the 
ear, in this case, of the beholder, 
or here, the be-hearer

listen


R ! chard

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twice upon a dirge – Beethoven / Chopin

owl-on-a-grave-1837.jpg!Large

   Owl on a Grave” / “Eule am Grab (c.1836 – c.1837) 

          Caspar David Friedrich

                   _______

following my nose rather than 
my intellect in my exploration 
of musical treasures, like a very 
Aladdin uncovering at the click 
of my password a cave full of 
priceless wonders, I might find 
stuff out of sequence, but gems
nevertheless, and I can’t just 
whisk by without acknowledging 
them, however peripheral to my 
main task  

it’s like heading towards the Eiffel
Tower in Paris, and not stopping 
at the Arche de Triomphe

though I’d debated so soon 
presenting these two pieces, 
not because of their chronology 
especially, though also that, but 
mostly because of their dour 
content, I’ll point out that the 
move from Classicism to 
Romanticism is the transition 
from dance music, delightful 
music, to drama, passion, 
powerful emotions, dirges, 
therefore, are not out of place, 
however mournful

thus the two most famous 
funeral marches, Beethoven’s,
Chopin’s, the third movement 
in either of their home sonatas

the clincher for me was the 
immaculate performance of 
the Chopin herea revelatory 
moment, though the Beethoven
significantly earlier, the tune, 
1801, 1837, is nevertheless 
unimpeachable, however still 
underdeveloped – four variations 
only in the first movement, for 
instance, and all of them 
elementary – the caterpillar had 
not yet become the butterfly, the 
apple blossom the apple

note that each movement in the 
Chopin, apart from the last, has
two distinct tempi, executed 
effortlessly and nearly 
imperceptibly, a total of six, you 
can’t see, you can’t hear, the 
seams as you listen, which, with 
its virtual therefore episodes, 
conflicting and tortuous 
emotions, constitute collectively 
a drama, a narrative, music has 
become literature

the last movement of the Chopin
moves beyond even tempo – 
Beethoven’s also, incidentally, 
nearly – creating therefore 
very challenge to it, both trying 
to transcend tempi, an area to 
closely watch

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no 12

Chopin’s Piano Sonata no 2

take your pick

both are supremely, mark, 
instructive


R ! chard

Minuets in G – Bach / Mozart / Beethoven

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    The Minuet (1866) 

          John Everett Millais

                  _________

having pointed out that the minuet 
and the waltz were historically 
related, let me somewhat 
extrapolate

they are both in 3/4 time, which is 
to say, three quarter-notes to the 
bar, which means that when 
you’re dancing, your beat is one,
two, three, one two three, with 
the accent, usually, on the first 
note

so what happened, how could two
identical frameworks turn out so 
differently 

here’s Bach, 1725, his Minuet in G
the first thing you’ll think is, o, so
that’s what that is, it is an iconic 
number written on our collective
consciousness

the second thing you’ll notice is
that it is choppy, however delightful, 
that it is written for a harpsichord,
and that it’s probably not ready, 
despite it’s 3/4 time, to be a waltz,
too many curtsies

here’s Mozart, 1762, his Minuet in G
though you might not want to admit 
it, I suspect this number is much
more present in your subconscious
than you’d think, see if you don’t 
find yourself later on humming it

but it’s still way too polite to be a
waltz, you can easily imagine the 
partners, hands held high together
around their imaginary maypole,
courting, but there’s a touch more 
fluidity in the progression of the
notes, it is written for a fortepiano,
an instrument that has added the
hold, or the sustain, pedal to the 
harpsichord to increase a note’s
resonance, a loosening of the 
earlier constraints of that 
quintessentially Baroque 
instrument, a cannily apt 
metaphor, take into account, for 
the unfolding cultural r/evolution

here’s Beethoven, 1796, his Minuet 
in Gyou’ve heard this one too

the Revolution has taken place, 
but entrenched in the music of an
earlier era, the beat remains the 
same, this is not a waltz, despite 
it’s 3/4 progression

you’ll note, however, more spin 
to the cadences, more give, more
elasticity, much of this has to do 
with the development of the 
central instrument, which was 
about to become a pianoforte,
instead of a fortepiano, but 
‘nough said about that, I’ll let 
you feel it

here’s Chopin, 1833, his Grande 
valse brillante, Opus 18, written
for itself, the piano, it is indeed 
a waltz, the difference is in the 
piano’s ever evolving flexibility, 
again a metaphorical expression 
of, or an avatar for, the unleashing 
of personal freedom, an idea spun 
ineradicably from the lessons of
the French, and the, incidentally, 
nearly simultaneous, 1776, 1789, 
American Revolutions

for better or for worse 


R ! chard

a short history of the waltz

waltz-1891-1.jpg!Large

  “Waltz (1891) 

    Anders Zorn

       ________

inadvertently, during my last comments
I let slip, perhaps, prematurely – cause I
thought I’d explore earlier Romantic 
pieces first, more Beethoven, more 
Paganini – the word waltz, when I 
referenced the “Minute Waltz”, a dance 
which expressed a sea change in 
Western cultural history made 
manifest through music 

though the waltz was already the rage
in lowlier social circles in the late 
1700’s, the minuet still held sway in 
the more aristocratic salons, whose 
young swains nevertheless would 
skip out to ferret out the servants’ 
quarters, as young swains do

slowly the dance, for its more 
informal aspects, not to mention 
its sensuous intimacy, became so 
astonishingly mainstream as to 
define pretty well the very century, 
Chopin and the Strausses, Father 
and Son, would take care of that, 
the last two making a carnival out 
of very Vienna

but until the late 1820’s, not much 
was heard of the waltz in the 
musical curriculum, at which 
point it’ll come in with a vengeance  

not much from Beethoven, who, in 
his fifties, was probably about as ,
interested in waltzes as I am in hip 
hop, a ditty only, a trifle, this one,
1824, one of only two waltzes 
from him 

here’s Johann Strauss l, however, 
his Carnival in Venice, 1828, is a 
waltz in Carnival clothing, like 
cadenzas, for instance, in the 
guise of Paganini “Caprices”

here’s Johann Strauss ll, the son,
with his Wiener Blut“, “The Spirit 
of Vienna“, electrifying, 1873, the 
late already 19th Century

but here’s Chopin doing his stuff
1847, right in the middle of both, 
from far away Paris, which was 
going through its list of Empire 
changes right about then, his
Waltz in C-sharp minor

Chopin’s waltz is a more decorous 
composition, more courtly, more 
also introspective, contemplative, 
private, indeed Romantic

note how strongly the Classical 
unities still apply here, tempo, 
tonality and repetition, even more 
markedly than in Beethoven, Chopin 
is Mozart, but with more sentiment, 
and perhaps more rubato, stretching 
the rhythm in composition to 
accommodate a dancer’s presumed 
dip, in his otherwise meditational 
compositions 

the waltz will undergo trials and 
tribulations later, as the world 
turns, but I’ll keep those 
reflections for later

meanwhile, choose your partner


R ! chard

32 Variations in C Minor, WoO.80 – Beethoven

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Variations in Violet and Grey – Market Place (1885) 

               James McNeill Whistler

                          ___________

strolling through my virtual musical park 
today, in, indeed, the very merry month 
of May, I was taken by surprise by, nearly 
tripped over, in fact, a Beethoven work
written in the very year, 1806, of the 
“Razumovsky”s

I’d overlooked it cause it is without an 
opus number, is listed, therefore, as 
WoO.80and is, consequently, easily 
lost in the wealth of Beethoven’s 
more prominently identified pieces,
but it is utterly miraculous, I think, 
and entirely indispensable 

I’d said something about it in an earlier
text, back when I was somewhat more 
of a nerd, it would appear, perhaps even 
a little inscrutable, though it’s 
nevertheless, I think, not uninformative, 
you might want to check it out, despite 
its platform difficulties

the 32 Variations in C Minor are shorter,
at an average of 11 minutes, than Chopin’s
“Minute Waltz”relatively, a variation every 
half minute, where Chopin’s nevertheless
magical invention takes twice that to 
complete its proposition

but in this brief span of time, this more 
or less 11 minutes, Beethoven takes 
you to the moon and back

a few things I could add to my earlier
evaluation, could even be reiterating, 
Beethoven in his variations explores a 
musical idea, turns it in every which
direction, not much different from what 
he does in the individual movements of 
his string quartets, his trios, his 
symphonies, concertos and sonatas, 
with their essential themes, motives, 
they’re all – if you’ll permit an idea I got
from Paganini’s “Caprices” – cadenzas,
individual musings inspirationally 
extrapolated, which, be they for 
technical brilliance, or for a yearning 
for more spiritual legacy, set the 
stage for a promise of forthcoming 
excellence 

this dichotomy will define the 
essential bifurcated paths of the 
musical industry, during, incidentally, 
the very Industrial Revolution, their 
mutual history, confrontation, for the 
centuries to follow, which is to say, 
their balance between form and 
function, style versus substance, 
Glenn Gould versus Liberace, say,
or Chopin, Liszt 

before this, it’d been the more 
sedate, less assertive evenings at 
the Esterházys, to give you some 
perspective, mass markets were 
about to come up, not least in the 
matter of entertainment

Beethoven was, as it were, already  
putting on a show


R ! chard

psst: these alternate “Variations” put you in  
          the driver’s seat, a pilot explains the
          procedures, it’s completely absorbing, 
          insightful, listen

a Beethoven / Schubert piano recital

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 “Charlotte Rothsch, Baroness Anselm De Rothschild (1828) 

       Ary Scheffer

           _______

since Beethoven wrote nothing of any 
great consequence for four-hand piano,
I thought at first I’d head towards another 
kind of pairing, but upon listening to the 
complete recital here of the two Jussen 
brothers, where Beethoven’s “Variations 
on a Theme by Count von Waldstein”, 
1792, a trifle, and his later “Waldstein” 
Sonata, 1804, for piano solo, an infinitely 
more accomplished work of his Middle 
Period, both dedicated to the same good 
friend and patronbookend a flurry of  
enchanting Schubert compositions, 
the contrast between the two composers, 
if not starkly evident, is at least 
discernable if you listen with some 
degree of attention

the difference is in the tone, the intention, 
Beethoven is brash, assertive, Schubert 
remains ever respectful, even often 
courtly

you’ll note that after the fall of Napoleon, 
the monarchy was restored in France, 
therefore throughout the whole of 
Europe, which had resumed its more 
genteel pretensions, as had, for instance,  
even Chopin himself, you’ll remember, in 
very Paris, where he’d relocated from 
Poland because of its political unrest

I’ve often said that a distinct characteristic 
of Beethoven is that he writes against the 
beat, rather than stressing the first note 
of the air he is developing, he accentuates 
the second, or third, the next still, or the 
very last

don’t go, I wish you’d stay here, he, for 
example, beseeches, if you transpose 
his notes in the last movement of the 
Waldsteinthe one after the lugubrious 
adagio, into words, don’t go, he strikes, 
I wish you’d stay, don’t go, I wish you’d 
stay here, don’t go, wish you’d stay, 
wish you’d stay, wish you’d stay,
accent each time on the stay 

in Schubert’s Fantasie for four-hand 
piano, written a generation later, in 1828, 
and admittedly powerfully influenced by 
Beethoven, though no more derivatively 
than Mozart would’ve been of Haydn, try, 
I hear a bird sing, I hear it sing, I hear it 
sing, it sounds so lovely, to the lovely 
melody at its very beginning, one 
composer is peremptory, the other is 
more subservient, confessional

this is what I mean by intention, and the 
difference between these two towering 
geniuses, who shaped together the 
music of their era, however might they 
have been otherwise total strangers

they are both musical giants upon 
whose shoulders our Western culture  
still stands, and swoons, before such 
an utterly transcendent legacy

listen


R ! chard

String Quintet in C major, D. 956 – Franz Schubert

the-sistine-madonna-1513.jpg!Large

   “The Sistine Madonna (1513)
 
          Raphael


          __________ 

 

if you listen to only one piece of music  
this week, make it this one, Schubert’s 
a monument of Western culture, it’d be
like missing the Venus de Milo when 
you’re at the Louvre, or the Sistine 
Madonna of Dresden’s Zwinger 
the church of Saint Agnes Outside the 
Walls, transformative experiences

quartets, I couldn’t not next introduce
their very gold standard 
 
written in 1828, it was composed at 
the very height of the Romantic 
Period, just a little ahead of Chopin,
1810 – 1849, his other significant 
counterpart, apart from the ageing
Beethoven, 1770 – 1827, who still 
towered above all, despite his 
demise, and was universally 
admired 
 
but had Schubert lived longer than 
his 31 years, I suspect he might’ve 
been Beethoven’s equal, Schubert 
died even earlier than Mozart did, 
at 35, but of something that wasn’t
spoken of until much later, which 
is why we haven’t heard about the 
loss of this other musical giant
quite as grievously as we have 
about his somewhat more senior 
counterpart
 
but listen
 
it’s even hard to tell him apart from 
Beethoven, the passion, the urgency, 
the drama, even composing against 
the beat, a signature trait in 
Beethoven, like Alfred Hitchcock 
showing up in his own movies, or
Woody Allen, always introducing a 
work of art
 
a few things
 
though the frame is immaculately 
Classical, tonality, tempo, and 
recapitulation are not at all 
unobserved, the mood has changed 
from courteous, deferential, and 
respectful, to urgent, confessional, 
and private, the walls are there, but 
the furniture has changed, thanks 
of course here to Beethoven
 
and to the times
 
was writing her Sonnets from the 
Let me count the ways. – right about 
thenunfettered love poems to her 
beloved husband, Robertthe equally 
famous poet, who was remaining 
nevertheless, in his own work, more 
emotionally punctilious
 
I noted as well that the tempo in the 
second movement, one of the most 
beautiful adagios eversurely, 
lurches into an intemperate rebellion,
a second rhythm, up against the earlier 
mournful resignation of the poignant 
lament – note, in passing, that its 
stress of the dominant note is on the 
last beat not the first, like a weight 
that becomes, at every inching 
forward, intolerable, very path to a 
personal Calvary – before returning 
to that very fateful, though luminous, 
initial, stricken dirge

the next movement, the scherzo, does 
the reverse, fast, then slow, then fast 
again, to give the work in its entirety
eight rather than the four traditional 
tempi
 
the piece now has episodes, rather 
than merely a clockwork display,
drama has replaced the dance
entirely as the subtext for music
 
Schubert died two weeks after its
publication, for your info, I think 
his soul had been talking
 
 
R ! chard

psst: there’s a magical film I associate 
          with this music, The Company 
          of Strangers“, a Canadian 
          production, about several elderly
          ladies who get stuck in the 
          wilderness after their tour bus  
          breaks down in the middle of 
          nowhere
 
          you’ll never forget it

 

English Suite No 3 in G Minor – Bach

suite-fibonacci-2003.jpg

   “Suite Fibonacci (2003) 

           Charles Bezie

               ________

 
before I say much more about his Cello
Suites, let me point out that Bach has
some French Suites, some English 
Suites, on top of similarly structured 
Partitas and Toccatas, the French have 
their tout de suites, and hotels have, 
nowadays, their so named luxury 
apartments 

musical suites are sets of dance pieces, 
by the early 18th Century much stylized, 
with an introductory prélude, an allemande, 
followed by a courante, which is to say, folk 
dances, the first German, the next French, 
then a sarabande, Spanish, followed by a 
couple of galanteries, court dances, 
minuets, gavottes, bourrées, then a final 
English gigue

all of the markings are in French, which
leads me to believe that all of these 
dances must’ve originated at the court 
of Louis XlVth, the Sun King, 1638 to 
1715

but the suggestion is that Europe was 
becoming an integrated community
all of these dances were eclipsed by
the Classical Period, of Haydn and 
Mozart, apart from the minuet, which 
more or less defined, nevertheless, 
that new era

the minuet will die out by the time of
Beethoven, you’ll note, to be replaced
by the waltz, which had been 
considered much too racy until 
transformed by Chopin into a work 
of ethereal art

the Strausses, father and son, gave it,
only a little later, celebratory potency,
but that’s another story


here’s Bach’s English Suite, the 3rd
for context, the French ones are a 
little too salty, as it were, they do not 
quite conform to prescribed suite 
notionshowever might their 
propositions have been, ahem, 
sweet 

meanwhile, enjoy this one


R ! chard

Cyprien Katsaris in Budapest

Katsaris-Cyprien-01

       Cyprien Katsaris

               ________

if there’s only one concert you see 
this week – I would’ve said this year 
but I have way too many irresistible 
concerts to promote – make it this 
one, like none I’ve ever seen before, 
Cyprien Katsaris, who wowed us in 
my last encomium, delivers, not one, 
but two concertos, when emotionally 
I can usually deal with only one

but you can pause between the pieces, 
like I did, to wipe a tear or two away 
after the adagios, which remind me,
always, of my beloved, John

but that’s another story

Katsaris starts with an improvisation,
which he elucidates as an art form 
much more expertly than I would, 
then delivers stunning rendition of
his mastery of that gift 

though I couldn’t identify the first part
of it, the melting melody in the last 
section of his homage to, essentially, 
the Romantic Period, rushed back 
memories for me of a piece I could 
never forget, the music from Fellini’s 
heartbreaking masterpiece La Strada 
– listen, listen – right out of Romantic 
Period idioms, its very story evenlike 
Dickens’ Oliver Twist“, his Little Nell 
from the The Old Curiosity Shop“, 
staples of my adolescence, married  
to a nearly mythic lyrical invention 

let me add that improvisations have 
been an integral part of concertos for 
a very long time, the cadenzas, an 
interpolation by the performing artist, 
hir riff, a strutting of hir stuff, late  
in the, usually final, movement, a 
consequence, incidentally, of the 
more forward, individualistic, 
18th-Century progression towards 
individual rights, some left to the 
performing artist, but many 
prescribed by the composer himself,
where, here, I must, gender sensitive 
myself, unceremoniously interject to 
explain my deference to the
designation above, himself“, to male 
merely composers, who were then the 
only ones, however culturally ignobly, 
to nevertheless shape our quite, 
think, extraordinary musical trajectory, 
for better, of course, or for worse

in this instance, I suspect Katsaris 
wrote his own cadenzas for the 
Mozart, notice his arm at the end of 
the first movement fly up in an 
especial transport, and in the last 
movement, watch his very 
exuberance mark the spot, but 
couldn’t put it past Mozart to have 
written something so historically 
visionary

Bach, incidentally, wasn’t doing 
cadenzas, so don’t look for them 

the two concertos that follow the 
improvisation, Bach’s, my favourite 
of his – you’ll understand why when 
you hear it – then Mozart’s 21st – 
everyone’s favourite – are both 
played transcendentally 

consider the difference in period, 
the earlier Baroque, with Bach’s 
notes skipping along inexorably,
the pace required by the 
harpsichord, which didn’t have 
hold pedals to allow notes to 
resonate, the music moves along
therefore nearly minimalistic tracks, 
a pace, and musical motif, that don’t 
stop, they keep on chugging, until 
they reach their destination, their,
as it were, station, or even their

stasis

Mozart’s music is as effervescent,
but conforms to a different cadence,
where a theme is presented, then a
musical, and contrasting, second,
with recapitulation, sometimes
merely partial, which is to say that
the call and response dynamic of 
the dance, or for that matter, by 
extension, modern ballads, is  
being established, codified, and 
elucidated

an era has intervened

then as an encore, Katsaris delivers,
not a cream puff, but Liszt, of all 
people, we’re used to performers
giving us trifles at this point, but not
Katsaris

then to top it all off, he plays the Chopin 
you thought you’d never ever hear again, 
but here immaculate and utterly 
inspirational

the orchestra alone performs after the 
intermission, works by Ravel and Bizet,
surprisingly similar, I thought, the two
composers, in their musical idiom, the 
use of the winds as metaphors, for 
instance, for originality, eccentricity, 
unmitigated poetry within the context 
of what is not unnatural

neither is either composer adverse to 
atonality, they work in textures, instead 
of melodies, all of which is very 
Impressionistic, see of course Monet
and others for historical reference

did I say I want to be Cyprien Katsaris 
when I grow up, well there, it’s said,
he’s lovely 


R ! chard

Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 – Johannes Brahms

the-wanderer-above-the-sea-of-fog.jpg!Blog

    “The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog / 

            “Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (1818)   

          Caspar David Friedrich

                     ___________

                              for Collin, who’ll appreciate
                                        especially, I’m sure, the 
                                             Chopin


while I’m on the subject of clarinet quintets,
since there are so few significant ones, let 
me pull Brahms’ out of my hat and celebrate 
it, a worthy challenge to Mozart’s own utter
masterpiece

but over a century has gone by, it’s 1891, 
Beethoven, the French Revolution, the 
Romantic Era is reaching its end, ceding 
to Impressionism, after the disruptions of 
rampant industrialization, and its 
consequent effects on the social contract

Marx has proposed a theoretical master 
plan to equitably protect the rest of us 
from the 1%, however too politically 
fraught, eventually, such a system – see
Communism

furthermore, Darwin had suggested that 
we weren’t all descended from Adam and 
Eve, but from larvae, which is to say, 
millennially morphed, modified, through
time, genetically, leading to festering still 
ideological  objections

Elizabeth Barrett Browning had written 
her unadulterated love poems to her 
husband, RobertCaspar David 
Friedrich had shown us his wanderer’s 
back while facing the mountainous 
challenges of the upcoming world, 
godless now after NietzscheAnna 
Karenina had thrown herself in front 
of a train, Madame Bovary had taken 
poison, and Ibsen‘s Nora had left her 
husband for a fraught, if not even 
dangerous, life on her own, to escape 
his safe but insufferable dominance, 
while Jane Eyre was finding ghosts
in her cobwebbed, and insufferable, 
to my mind, though admittedly  
aristocratic, attic 


you’ll note the clarinet is not sitting
centre stage, but has nevertheless 
a place at the table, by this time, 
though not not honoured, familiar,
and is more integrated to the 
conversation, the idea of democracy 
has taken hold, with everyone having
an equal, and even a vociferous, say

Brahms modelled his Clarinet Quintet,
on Mozart’s, the Classical structure is 
still the same, movements, tonality, 
musical recurrence, all to wonderful 
effect

that he would do that is not a given, 
but a tribute to the power of that form, 
take the waltz for instance, alive from 
even before Strauss, not to mention 
Chopin, to approximately the middle 
of the Twentieth Century

think about it, who waltzes anymore,
though they might’ve enchanted still, 
residually, the  50’s – see Patti Page
for instance – its lustre having 
dissipated, with the wind, as it were, 
the gust, before us, of the unending 
ages 


R ! chard