Richibi’s Weblog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Category: concerts to ponder

the essential Romantic violin concertos

the-violin-1916.jpg!Large

   “The Violin (1916) 

        Juan Gris

            _____

if I was able to bring up a list of 
ten top Romantic piano concertos  
throughout the 19th Century earlier
can number of violin concertos 
only three essential ones, with,
however, two other significant 
such compositions, which remain, 
for one reason or another, 
peripheral, secondary  

more about which later

but the exalted three are situated
conveniently, the first, at the very 
beginning of the Romantic Era, 
Beethoven’s magisterial, even 
extraordinary, Opus 61 in D major
1806, and close doubly with the
two others, Tchaikovsky’s
resplendent workwords cannot 
do it justice, and Brahms’ no less
transcendental one, at its very end, 
1878, none are negligible, it’d be 
like missing the Eiffel Tower while 
in Paris, skipping the pyramids 
along the Nilethey are part of our 
cultural consciousness, it would 
be an utter shame to pass them 
by, they are our glory, our 
magnificent heritage

it should be noted that the 
concerto, be it for violin, piano, 
cello, what have you, a soloist 
in concert with an array of 
instruments, is the perfect allegory 
for the Romantic Era, an individual 
in contention with a community, 
under the influence of a conductor, 
a mayor, a mentor, a polity, the
individuality afforded by the 
proclamation of human rights in 
the aftermath of the French 
Revolution, and its social 
consequences, musically 
manifested

the match might be fraught, 
should be, though with 
compromise, considerate 
accommodation, fruitful, 
hopefully even transcendental, 
if not at least entertaining, 
cooperation, music seems to 
infer eventual concord, 
congress, harmony, a way out 
of, even dire, distress, or at 
least point the way toward it

concertos die out, incidentally, in 
the 20th Century, you don’t hear 
of very many, if any at all, after 
Rachmaninoff, they are gone,
much like later, in the 1950s, the 
waltz, forever, with the wind

may they rest in peace


R ! chard

Advertisements

Piano Concertos 2, 3, 4 – Beethoven

the-liberty-leading-the-people-1830.jpg!Large

     “Liberty Leading the People (1830) 

             Eugène Delacroix

                    _________

                               for everyone, with great gratitude, 
                                  who reads me, I mean only to 
                                     bring poetry, which is to say,
                                        light

though I’d considered leaving the 
Romantic Piano Concertos behind
to explore other areas of the period
in this survey, it seemed unfair,  
indeed remiss of me, not to include 
the three among my top ten that I 
haven’t yet highlighted, Beethoven’s 
2nd, 3rdand 4th Piano Concertos
Opuses 1937and 58 respectively,
after all, these are where the spirit 
of the age, the Zeitgeist, was 
constructed, like a building, with 
walls, windows, a hearth, all of 
which would become church, 
then a Church, and by the time of 
Brahms, a very Romantic Cathedral 

the foundation had already been laid 
by Mozart with his 27, but music had 
not yet become anything other than 
an entertainment by then, or 
alternatively, an accessory to 
ceremonial pomp and circumstance, 
see Handel and England for this, or 
liturgical stuffsee, among many 
others here, Bach

but with the turn towards 
independence of thought as the 
Enlightenment progressed, cultural 
power devolved from the prelates, 
and their reverent representations, 
to the nobles, who wanted their own 
art, music, which is to say, something 
secular, therefore the Classical 
Period, 1750 – 1800, in round figures

then in the middle of all that, 1789, 
the French Revolution happened, 
and the field was ripe for prophets, 
anyone with a message of hope, 
and a metaphysical direction, midst 
all the existential disarray – the Age
of Reason had set the way, 
theoretically, for the possibility of a 
world without God, something, or 
Something, was needed to replace 
the The Trinity, the Father, the Son, 
and the Holy Ghost, Who had been 
seeing Their supremacy contested 
since already the Reformation 

Beethoven turned out to be just
our man, don’t take my, but history‘s 
authentification of it, see the very
Romantic Period for corroboration

in a word, Beethoven established 
Faith, a Vision, not to mention the 
appropriate tools to instal this new 
perspective, a sound, however
inherited, musical structure – his 
Piano Concertos TwoThreeand 
Four, for instance, are paramount 
amongst a host of others of his  
transcendental revelations

briefly, the initial voice, I am here, in 
the first movement, is declamatory, 
even imperious, but ever 
compositionally solid, and proven, 
tempo, tonality, recapitulation, the 
materials haven’t changed from the 
earlier Classical epoch, just the 
design, the interior, the 
metaphysical conception

his construction is masterfully
direct, the line of music is 
throughout ever clear and concise, 
despite flights ofoften, ethereal, 
even magical, speculation, you 
don’t feel the music in your body 
as you would in a dance, as in the 
earlier eraof minuets, but follow 
it, rather, with your intellect, you,
nearly irresistibly, read it

but the adagio, the slow movement, 
the middle one Classically, is always, 
for me, the clincher, the movement 
that delivers the incontrovertible 
humanity that gave power to the 
Romantic poet, who touched you 
where you live 

Beethoven says life is difficult, and
eventually, at the end of his Early, 
Middle and Late Periods, life may 
even have no meaning
 
but should there be someone, he 
says, who is listening, Someone – 
though implicit is that one may be 
speaking to merely the wind – this 
is what I can do, this is who I am
 
and while I am here, however 
briefly, am not insignificant, I 
can be worthy, even glorious, 
even beautiful, I am no less 
consequential, thus, nor  
precious, than a flower

for better, of course, or for worse


R ! chard

Piano Concerto no 2, opus 83 – Brahms

1024px-Notre_Dame_de_Chartres.jpg

      Chartres Cathedral

          _____________

if Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto is, to my 
mind, the last one of the Romantic Period,  
Beethoven’s First is, accordingly, the first
 
I thought it, therefore, instructive to pair 
them 

Beethoven, impelled by ideological 
speculations, built not only a variation
on what had come before, music as 
entertainment, a reason to dance, but
gave it a greater, which is to say, 
philosophical, dimension

by extending the reach of the cadence
beyond the usual metered rhythm, 
sending the melodic statement 
beyond an otherwise constricting bar 
line, Beethoven turned a lilt into a 
sentence, a ditty into a paragraph   

Shakespeare does the same thing to
poetry, for instance, with iambic 
pentameter devoid of rhyme

         “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
          It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
          Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
          Who is already sick and pale with grief,
          That thou her maid art far more fair than she”

                                  “Romeo and Juliet”, 2, 2, 2-6

and with this newfound oratory, 
peremptory, insistent, imbued, 
however, with utterly convincing 
honesty, unfettered emotion, 
which is to say, humanity, 
Beethoven establishes the 
sensibility of a very era, listen

that era, up to, eventually, Brahms
elaborates on that ethos, adding 
texture and enhanced authority 
to the original concept, setting 
the moral agenda for that, and 
other generations, to follow 

Brahms is more ponderous, mighty,
a cathedral instead of a church, a
commandment instead of an 
aspirational, merely, thrust, he 
adds even a fourth movement to 
an already magnificent structure, 
an extra steeple to towering 
edifice, a subliminally received 
reference to Beethoven‘s already 
inspiredbut tripartite only,  
architecture   

see Chartres for a comparable
ecclesiastical counterpart


R ! chard

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 

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 2 in G major, opus 44 -Tchaikovsky

beech-grove-i.jpg!Large

    Beech Grove I (1902) 

           Gustav Klimt

                 ________

if a sonata, or any composition for one 
instrument, is a meditation, a rumination,
an introspection, a concerto is its entire
opposite, it’s a declamation, a very 
harangue, the performer is not only 
before an audience, but before an
orchestra, before the conductor of that 
orchestra, that soloist had better be, 
therefore, something

Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Piano Concerto 
hasn’t cut the cultural mustard, you’ve
probably never heard of it, never mind 
heard it, not even in the miasma of our 
collective unconscious 

why

who knows, it’s magnificent

I suspect that Moscow’s distance, 
St Petersburg’s, might’ve had something 
to do with it, Russia would still have been 
a backwater to Europe, regardless of what
Catherine the Great might’ve done for its
intellectual edification, indeed a veritable 
Elizabeth the First, Queen of England
she, in her sponsorship of the arts

something like that happened, but in 
reverse, to Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele 
in art, SchoenbergBerg, Webern, the 
Second Viennese School in music, in 
literature, Robert Musil, his The Man
Without Qualities very rival to 
Proust‘s epic trip down memory lane, 
Remembrance …“, when the centre 
of gravity for the arts moved from 
Vienna to Paris in the late 19th 
Century with the advent of 
Impressionism

France had entered its Fourth
Republic by then, was to finally 
entrench its democracy, and we got 
MonetDebussy, and indeed Proust 
instead, not to mention all of that 
city’s celebrated others

leaving creative Vienna, meanwhile,
the undisputed engine of the Zeitgeist
the spirit of the times, for over three 
quarters of an earlier century, thereby,  
in the dust

New York would take over in the 
1950s, similarly, for a time, Andy
Warhol and The Factory, eclipsing 
any other town

in other words, location, location, 
location, in tandem with historical 
events


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

First Symphony, “Winter Dreams”, opus 13 – Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky_6.jpeg

 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1866)

            ______

                               for Elizabeth, who said she’d  
                                “be all ears once it happens“, 
                                     this first of my Tchaikovskys
                                               
the example of Beethoven was 
a hard act to follow, no one 
nearby, which is to say, in the
vicinity of Vienna, which had 
ruled the musical world for 
more than half a century, from 
Mozart to late Beethoven, 
would be able to match his 
eminence, not even the, 
however mighty, Brahms 

but in the East a star was born, in
1840, of extraordinary dimensions,
to tower above the High Romantic 
period, which shone with, were it 
not for its distance from the 
European central galaxy,  
comparable brightness  

Beethoven had written for every
instrument, every combination 
of instruments, every voice, 
every combination of voices, 
no other composer had, nor 
has since, done that but the 
incandescent Tchaikovsky
who’d ever ‘a’ thunk it

symphonies, concertos, string
quartets, sonatas, variations, 
ballets, operas, liturgical 
pieces, there wasn’t anything 
he didn’t touch, and transform 
into magic

here‘s an early work, his Opus 13
only, in order to get chronological 
perspective, and, as I pursue this 
compelling trajectory, a sense of  
his musical evolution, his First
Symphony, “Winter Dreams”*

listen for troikas flying across 
the steppes, hear the bells tingle 
from their fleeting carriages, be 
swept away by the exhilarating 
majesty


R ! chard

Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra,
      Joshua dos Santos, conductor

String Quartet no 16 in F major, opus 135 – Beethoven

portrait-of-alexander-sakharoff-1909.jpg!Large.jpg

    “Portrait of Alexander Sakharoff (1909) 
      
            Alexej von Jawlensky

                 ______________

if you’re wondering, how could a simple 
composer have such influence on an age,
think of the impact the Beatles had on 
the 1960s, essentially defining them, 
moving them from the pop song, I Want 
to Hold Your Hand“, an updated version 
of anything by Elvis Presley, to their 
transformational Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely
Heart’s Club Band“, thirteen arias in 
search of an opera, paving the way for ,
not only concept albums, but for the 
likes of, for instance, the messianic, 
the oracular, Pink Floyd

Beethoven did much the same for the 
early 19th Century

the 16th String Quartet, his last, is,
like the 15th, in segmented pieces,
not the uninterrupted challenge for 
instrumentalists the continuous
14th is, where neither the players 
nor the audience get time to even 
breathe between movements 

but their composition is so riven 
with musical eccentricities, 
conceptual challenges, that they
are not to be dismissed, are even
epochal

the pauses, the interruptions of the 
beat, the irregular, and disconcerting
sometimes, rhythms, the stridency 
of some of the notes, pitched and
peremptory interpolations, despite 
a sensibility that still pays homage 
between the lines to the Classical 
considerations of deference, 
propriety – you can even feel the 
courtier’s hand, at times, extended 
in the dance, with ever such refined
grace, in order to accompany, to 
partner, to gently lead, his lady 

in other words, the 16th is Abbey
Road“, if I’m to continue with my 
Beatle comparison, for neither  
was the equal of their respective 
counterparts, Sgt. Pepper” ,  
Beethoven’s 14th String Quartet
both of which incontrovertibly and 
absolutely, in their time, changed 
everything, were culturally, thus, 
superior, where the others weren’t, 
didn’t, as effectively, as profoundly, 
leave so strong an imprint  

but you choose, all are extraordinary


R ! chard

psst: in order not to not add the nearly 
          irresistible digital blueprints, 
          which is to say, the not only 
          dancing but utterly illuminating 
          computer graphics, here they are,
          divided in the 16th‘s separate
          movements

             1. Allegretto
             2. Vivace
             3. Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo
             4. Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß. Grave, ma non troppo tratto 
                      (Muss es sein?)  –  Allegro (Es muss sein!) – Grave, ma 
                      non troppo tratto – Allegro

String Quartet no 14 in C-sharp Minor, opus 131 – Beethoven

musician

        “Musician 

              Zaya

                 __

                                           for Ian, who surely 
                                              benefitted from my
                                                   intransigeance


after watching performed the first movement 
of Beethoven’s 14th String Quartet at home 
with a friend, I interrupted the piece and 
instead put on the one I’d found with 
computer graphics

not from the beginning, he said

yes, from the beginning, I retorted, a mere
six or seven minutes which’ll be worth it, I
insisted, and they were

four lines of music, the top one yellow for 
the first violin, red for the second, mauve 
for the viola, and blue for the cello, which 
individually advance according to the 
length of each instrument’s notes, the 
height, meanwhile, of the lines indicate 
pitch, top ones high notes, bottom lines 
low, it’s like watching a blueprint of 
what’s happening, and mesmerizing, a 
musical score in very motion, though 
without, admittedly, the bar lines, nor 
key and time signatures, clefs neither, 
for that matter 

the music meanwhile is transcendent

Beethoven here resolves all the issues
I brought up about his two early Late
Sonatas, grab bags of fine tunes but 
without a centre, cuts on an album, 
rather than the visionary 
pronouncements of the prophet I’ve
come to expect from Beethoven

Beethoven pulls out all the stops 
for his 14th, goes from a fugue in 
the first movement, a form 
reminiscent of Bach, who’d been 
completely obliterated during the 
Classical Period, masterful dance 
rhythms then, peppered 
throughout, referencing, indeed
honouring late 18th Century court
music, a set of variations in the
fourth movementand other 
classifications I won’t touch for 
their being too technical, but 
which all illustrate Beethoven’s 
mastery of every musical 
convention until his time, then 
pushes all of it further still into 
the future with this string quartet, 
supreme among all string quartets, 
his 14th

much later, Pink Floyd would pull 
off a similar stunt, take its own 
generation’s music to comparable 
heights with an equally cultural, 
which is to say historical, impact,
the comparison is, I think,  
noteworthy and instructive

Pink Floyd, incidentally, was also 
a quartet, for even more context

note that throughout, tonality, tempo,
and repetition have been strictly, 
though, admittedly, often 
eccentrically observed, the piece has 
been arresting, even riveting, however, 
for some, disconcertingly sobut 
never not understood, never foreign, 
the music isn’t at all alienating, as 
could besay, Chinese opera for most 
of us, we’re still here in our corner of 
the planet following faithfully in the 
Western musical tradition as it thus 
then evolved

I could say all of the above as well
again, by the way, about Pink Floyd  
in their own, ahem, Time


all of that said, this other version,  
by the Alban Berg Quartet, is the 
performance that you’ll remember,
it is still incomparable, the gold
standard

enjoy


R ! chard