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Category: Chopin

Piano Concerto no 1 in D minor, opus 15 – Brahms

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

    “The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818)

         Caspar David Friedrich

                  _____________

if Beethoven built the Church, along 
with Goethe maybe, of Romanticism, 
and be assured Romanticism is an 
ideology, a moral outlook, a 
motivational perspective, much like 
the economy is nowadays, 
supplanting any more humanistic 
imperatives, Brahms put up one of its 
Cathedrals, just listen, the First Piano
Concerto is a monument, as mighty 
as the Cologne Cathedral musically,
right next to Bonn, incidentally,  
Brahms‘ birthplace

with the disintegration of the 
supremacy of the Catholic deity 
at the onset of the Protestant 
Reformation, Luther, Calvin
Henry Vlll and all that, bolstered
by new discoveries in scientific
speculation, that the earth wasn’t 
flat, for instance, that it revolved 
around the sun rather than the 
other way around, contradictory, 
though convincing, voices began 
to abound, excite question  

in the 18th Century, the Age of 
Reason, the Christian Deity fell,
never effectively to be put back 
together again, see for Its final
sundering, Nietzsche

in France, after the Revolution
the Church was officially removed 
from political consideration, 
countermanding its centuries of 
morally heinous depredations, 
the United States had already at 
its own Revolution separated it 
from State  

Romanticism was an answer to 
a world wherein there might not 
be a God, a world with, however,  
a spiritual dimension, to respond 
to the clockwork universe 
envisioned by the earlier epoch,
the Enlightenmenta world where 
everything could be categorized,
analyzed, predicted

Romanticism called for the 
inclusion of inspiration in the mix,
there are more things in heaven 
and earth, Horatio, than are 
dreamt of in your philosophy, 
as Shakespeare would, for 
instance, have it – “Hamlet”,
1.5.167-8 
 
poets became prophets thereby, 
if they could manage it, very 
oracles, the world was blessed 
with, at that very moment, 
Beethoven, far outstripping the 
likes of, later, for example, Billy
Graham, or other such, however
galvanizing, proselytizers, 
whose messages would’ve been 
too, to my mind,  literal

for music cannot lie, obfuscate, 
prevaricate, music cannot be 
fake  

and then there was Schubert
and Chopin, TolstoyDickens
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Roberther husband, 
TchaikovskyCaspar David
Friedrich, the Johann Strausses,  
ByronShelley, Keats, whose 
artworks, all, are as profoundly 
in our blood, our cultural system,
as, if not more so than, our 
present information about the 
details of our Christian myths, 
despite superfluity of them 
even, throughout the long 
indeed Middle Ages, and right 
up to, and including, the still 
fervent then Renaissancefor 
better or for worse still, for us

what Romanticism did, and 
specifically through the work 
of these seminal artists, was 
give each of us a chance, 
show us how to come 
through trial and tribulation,
what a faith does, any faith

it said, here, this is my dilemma, 
and this is how I deal with it

for me, Beethoven’s 32nd
Piano Sonata is, soundly, the 
epitome of that, but listen to 
Brahms put a stamp on it
with undaunted authority

we might be ultimately of no 
consequence in an indifferent 
universe, they say, but, hey, 
this is what we can do, and 
do gloriously, while we are 
at it

Woody Allen picks up the 
purpose in our own recent 
20th Century, following in 
the earnest footsteps of his 
Existential mentor, the much 
too dour, think, Ingmar 
Bergman  

but that’s another story
entirely 


meanwhile, listen

also watch, the conductor here
complete delight, is right out 
of Alice in Wonderland“, 
promise you’ll love it


R ! chard 

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Piano Concerto no 3 in E-flat major, opus 75 – Tchaikovsky

so050050

        gargoyle at Cologne Cathedral

                    ______________

if I’m including Tchaikovsky’s Third
and last, Piano Concerto in my survey, 
it’s not because of its excellence, it is, 
indeed, severely flawed, but because 
am a completist – if I’m visiting the 
Cologne Cathedral, ergo, for instance, 
I’ll make my way to the very top, 
however treacherous might be the 
stairs, the gargoyles being worth it, 
not to mention the view  

first of all, it’s incomplete, Tchaikovsky
died before finishing it, you can’t blame 
him for that, though he was, curiously, 
complicit in his own demise, but I don’t 
believe this composition and his death 
are that intimately interrelated

it has only one movement, but has 
nevertheless been termed a concerto 
on the, debatably unsound, strength 
of its intention

briefly, and this is my opinion, the
movement has no lyrical moment, 
no melting melody to float you out
of the recital hall as you exit
nothing to hum, nor to whistle as 
you wistfully wend your way back 
home, nothing to remember but 
flash, braggadocio, bombast, 
expert fingers strutting their 
dazzling, even, stuff, style over 
substance, I venture, won’t be
enough to whisk you into the 
following centuries

Chopin, the other towering Romantic 
figure standing between the spiritual 
bookends of Beethoven and Brahms, 
wrote two piano concertos, of which 
his Second suffers from, essentially,  
not being his First, however mighty 
his Second herefor instance, 
proves to be in this utterly convincing 
performance, watch, wow

Beethoven, in other words, wrote the
book, two works, Tchaikovsky’s First
and Chopin’s First, tower above his 
in the public imagination during the 
ensuing High Romantic Periodafter 
which Brahms closes the door on the 
era with his two powerful masterpieces 
for piano and orchestra 

of which more later

there are other piano concertos 
along the way, but Beethoven’s 
five, Tchaikovsky’s and Chopin’s 
one each, and Brahms two are 
the basics – but let me add, upon 
further consideration, and for a
a perfect ten options, Liszt, his 
own, of two, First Piano Concerto –
what you need to consider yourself 
comfortably aware of the essentials 
of music in the 19th Century, the 
culture’s predominant voice then, 
until art, painting, took over as the 
Zeitgeist‘s most expressive medium
with Impressionism

of which more later

R ! chard

Piano Concerto no 1, opus 23 – Tchaikovsky

the-birth-of-venus-1485(1).jpg!Large

    “The Birth of Venus” (1485) 

          Sandro Botticelli

              ___________

if there’s a piano concerto that dominates
the 19th Century, it’s Tchaikovsky’s First
Piano Concerto, not even Beethoven’s
Fifth, to my mind, matches its celebrity,
one thinks Romantic Period, one thinks
this iconic masterpiece

Tchaikovsky had the advantage of 
absorbing not only Beethoven by this
point in history, but also Chopin, the
narrative power of the former, with 
the mesmerizing textures of the latter,
what could go wrong but insufficient 
genius 

of which Tchaikovsky manifestly had 
more than plenty, enough to verily 
stop your breath  

many towering performers have 
challenged this concerto‘s peaks, 
some even historically, you’ve 
heard them, I won’t reiterate

but listen to what Yuja Wang does with
this challenge, and you tell me if she 
doesn’t conquer its tribulations
despite, or abetted by, her 
controversial dress 

she is a vixen, manifestly, at least in, 
admittedly, her attire, but should a 
vixen play as brilliantly, what does 
one have to counter her provocative 
presentation but her innate femininity, 
her, too often castigated, female pulse, 
something the world could do with 
lot more of

Venuswith all her allure, was goddess 
for centuries before women were 
obliterated from the dominant Christian 
pantheon, the Father, the Son, the Holy, 
I ask you, Ghost, with no equal female 
foundational representative 

Yuja Wangmodern day Venus abetted 
by her evident attendant muses, the
symbolic, hereorchestra, see  above 
could play nude, as far as I’m concerned,  
she’d still be transcendent, and I’m not
even heterosexual 

girlfriend, I say, however proper, modest, 
blushing, get a grip

not to mention that Tchaikovsky is also, 
in this outing, once again, astounding

listen


R ! chard

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

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

not_detected_236478.jpg

    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

variations-in-violet-and-grey-market-place.jpg!Large.jpg

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

charlotte-rothsch-baroness-anselm-de-rothschild-1828.jpg!Large

 “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

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   “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