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Category: concerts to ponder

rhapsodies – Gershwin / Rachmaninov

rhapsody-1958.jpg!Large

  “Rhapsody (1958) 

 

      Hans Hofmann


          _________

 

if a sonata is a piece of music with more

than one section, by definition a rhapsody

is not a sonata, a rhapsody has only one 

section, only one movement, all that is 

required, therefore, essentially, of a 

rhapsody, is that it be – a subjunctive 

here, incidentally, the mood of aspiration, 

high hopes, ideals – that it be, I reiterate, 

rhapsodic

 

in the spirit of juxtaposition, here are two

rhapsodies, the first, George Gershwin’s 

Rhapsody in Blue“, the other 

Rachmaninov’s, his Rhapsody on a 

Theme of Paganini

 

how are they different, you tell me

 

I’ll just point out that the one seems, to 

my ears, steeped still in the Romantic 

Period, the early 19th Century, despite 

its publishing date, 1934, the other

earlier, composition, 1924, sounds like 

full blown, in comparison, 20th Century

America, the future 

 

Old Europe, in other words, meets the 

New World, however chronologically 

counterintuitively

 

listen, you can hear all of it, both are,

either era, extraordinary, time is what

eventually tells

 


R ! chard

 

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Concerto for Keyboard / Violin, BWV 1052 – Bach

2.jpg!Large.jpg

     “The Nightwatch (1642) 

 

                  Rembrandt

 

                       _____

 

 

                                for Barbara, who dutifully 

                                      kicked me in the psyche

 

 

there is apparent discussion about whether

the BWV 1052 of Bach was first a keyboard 

or a violin, concerto, I’ve only known it as a 

keyboard concerto till now, when looking 

for it for a friend, I happened upon this 

recently published rendering of an event 

that took place at the Rijksmuseum in 

Amsterdam in front of the very 

Nightwatch” of Rembrandt, historical  

epochs coming iconically together  

 

which is why, incidentally, I love Europe,

Disneyland for adults, where epochal

periods come together like fantasies,

tossing back at us their manifest, their

multifarious, and mythic glories  

 

 

what do you think, which came first, the

chicken or the egg,  the keyboard or the

violin

 

I think, however prejudicially, the 

keyboardbut what do I know  

 

enjoy either, they’re both riveting 

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: note how the painted faces and the real

          faces in the violin version look alike,

          Rembrandt‘s genius 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Piano Concerto no 21 in C major, K 467 – Mozart

andante-sonata-of-the-pyramids-1909(1).jpg!Large

    Andante (Sonata of the Pyramids) (1909) 

 

           Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis

 

                         _______________

 

 

much like adagios, andantes, the 

next step up with respect to pace

in musical compositions from 

adagios, are rarely intended to be 

alone, are part, most often, of a 

larger creative intention, though 

they must appear singly here and

there somewhere in the literature, 

though where, I don’t yet know

 

and I’ve looked

 

but here’s an andante you’ll surely 

remember, a Mozart, not surprisingly, 

he was young and exuberant, adagios

would’ve been not immediately given

to so youthful an artist, consequently 

less prevalent in their music, nor his,

Beethoven would be more ripe for 

adagios, indeed crushing adagios,

eventually, in a more conflicted time, 

but that’s another story 

 

it’s the middle movement of his

inspired 21st Piano Concerto, no

less, itself, a monument to Western 

culture than its iconic central piece

work that for my generation most 

defined the essential Mozart

 

listen

 

note that the anguish, at even this

accelerated tempo, from the 

foundational adagio, is crushing

still and, still, utterly unforgettable

 


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a sonata / a suite of Robert Schumann

big-zoo-triptych.jpg!Large

    “Big Zoo, Triptych (1913) 

 

             August Macke

  

              __________

 

if a sonata is a piece of music with 

more than one segment, and a 

suite is also a piece of music with 

more than one segment, what’s 

the difference, you’ll ask, not 

unreasonably  

 

a sonata speaks for itself, as itself, 

is itself, whereas a suite, also in 

several sections, describes 

something else, something not 

itself, but a place, or an action, it’s

a tale, not an autobiography

 

this has some implications, the 

sonata will consequently be more 

expansive, displaying not only 

emotional impact, but also 

technical wizardry, will beat its 

chest, in other words, whether in 

agony or in bombast, whereas 

suite, while not excluding  

necessarily those aspects, will 

usually be more demure, objective

snap its suspenders less 

 

a suite also has more movements 

than the sonata’s usual three or 

four, consider the difference 

between, in art, a triptych, for

instance, and a collage, they’re

in either case artworks, but with

different intentions

 

does any of this matter, to the

aficionado it does, if you want to

buy a home, you could be looking

for a duplex instead of a condo, if

you’re listening to music, you

might  prefer chamber pieces to

large orchestras, suites to sonatas

 

Robert Scumann’s “Kinderszenen“,

or “Scenes from Childhood“,

though not yet identified, in 1838,

as a suite, since the term hadn’t

been used that way yet, is

nevertheless not any different

in kind from Debussy’s later

Children’s Corner“, 1908, so  

that the label fits, however

retroactively  

 

you could say the same of Beethoven’s 

“Pastorale” Symphony, for instance,

it’s also, however retroactively, a suite

 

but here’s Schumann’s Second Piano 

Sonata, to compare with his

Kinderszenen“, to get back to my

original subject, the difference

between a suite an a sonata

 

listen

 

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“Années de pèlerinage”, 2nd Year – Liszt

petrarch.jpg!Large

     “Petrarch (c.1450) 

 

           Andrea del Castagno


                     ___________

 

 

                                    for John, who would’ve 

                                                       been 60 today

 


though the suite might’ve started with

Bach’s string of dance pieces in the 

early 18th Centuryit becomes evident 

during the 19th Century, after a lapse 

of nearly 100 years, while it fell into 

disfavour, that its resurrection as a 

valid musical form might’ve kept the 

original structure, which is to say its 

several separate parts to make up a 

whole, its movements, but that it 

now was serving different purpose 

 

where music had, through to the early

Romantic Period, followed dance 

rhythms, or variations of tempo,

adagio, andante, allegro, and the like,

it now presented itself as a background

for settings, be it ballets, as in

Tchaikovsky’s, plays, as in Edvard

Grieg’s celebrated , Peer Gynt Suite“,

after Ibsen‘s eponymous play,

specific locations, as in Debussy’s

Children’s Corner“, or more  

expansively, both geographically

and in its compositional length,

these very “Années de pèlerinage” 

of Liszt

 

this is in keeping with the exploration

of consciousness of that era, which 

would lead to not only Impressionism, 

but to Freud, and the others, and the 

development of psychoanalysis

 

you’ll note that music seems much 

more improvisational in Liszt than in

Chopin, or Beethoven, prefiguring

already even jazz, more evocative,

less emotional, more personal, not

generalized, idiosyncratic, a direct

development of the newly acquired

concept of democracy, one man, at

the time, one vote, one, indeed, 

voice, however individual, however 

even controversial 

 

listen, for instance, to Liszt’s “Années

de pèlerinage”, 2nd Year, Italy 

 

   1. Sposalizio

   2. Il penseroso

   3. Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa 

   4. Sonetto 47 del Petrarca 

   5. Sonetto 104 del Petrarca 

   6. Sonetto 123 del Petrarca 

   7. Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia Quasi Sonata 

 

 

today you can listen to suites 

from famous films, for instance 

Blade Runner“, the beat, in 

other words, goes on

 

but note the renovations, find them, 

dare you, you’ll be surprised at 

your unsuspected perspicacity

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard  

Swan Lake / Swan Lake Suite – Tchaikovsky

1024px-Swan_Lake_prodution_2008_at_the_Royal_Swedish_Opera

    from a 2008 production of Swan Lake at the Royal Swedish Opera


        _________________________

 


did you know that the girl in Swan Lake

is called Odette, my mom asked when I

told her I’d been looking it up, my mom’s

name is Odette

 

I’m the one who told you, I said, and

incidentally, I continued, she’s not a 

girl, she’s a swan, which left my mom, 

of course, flummoxed, indeed mum

 

a day later, we watched it 

 

there she is, I pointed out, when Odette

made her appearance, fluttering in on

tiptoes from the wings, every single 

inch a swan

 

as was equally the prince, in this

magnificent production of the Kirov, 

every single inch a prince

 

watch

 

 

here’s the Swan Lake Suite“, however

 

how is it different

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: if you said the Suite is a collection

         of miscellaneous excerpts from

         the ballet strung together but with 

         instruments only, no sets, no 

         costumes, no dancers, you’re right, 

         the Suite can give you a taste of 

         the complete work, though it 

         stands magnificently enough, 

         thank you very much, on its own 

 

         enjoy

the Nutcracker Suite – Tchaikovsky

vzevolozhsky's_costume_sketch_for_nutcracker

 original costume sketch for “The Nutcracker” (1892)

 

       Ivan Vsevolozhsky

 

              __________

 

 

it didn’t take me long, after wondering 

about precedents for Debussy’s nursery

piece, Children’s Corner, to ferret out 

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a work

with a similar theme, childhood 

fantasies

 

but the Nutcracker Suite

 

         l. Miniature Overture

        ll. Danses caractéristiques

                a. Marche

                b. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

                c. Russian Dance

                d. Arabian Dance

                e. Chinese Dance

                f. Reed Flutes

       lll. Waltz of the Flowers

 

is not to be confused with the complete 

balletfrom which it had been excerpted 

to great acclaim before the ballet itself 

was presented, but to much less 

enthusiasm, until George Balanchine 

revived it in the 1960s

 

note that Tchaikovsky’s Suite, in 1892, 

contains still the traditional elements 

of the suite – see above – a prelude, or 

overture, followed by a series of 

dances, only a few years before 

Debussy’s Children’s Corner, 1908, 

redefined the form, made the 

movements indiscriminate, not 

confined to dance rhythms

 

note also that Tchaikovsky sounds 

a lot more like the Strausses, father

and son, Romantics both, than he 

does like Debussy, an Impressionist,

a generation later only

here’s the orchestral Nutcracker Suite,

a suite, in other words, is not limited

to one instrument

 

here’s a riveting version of it for two 

pianos, not to be missed 

 

R ! chard

on the third day of C***mas

les-musiciens-1952

   “Les musiciens (1952) 

 

        Nicolas de Staël

 

           ___________

 

on the third day of C***mas, I needed to 

ready myself for the onslaught, I was 

hosting, yikes, for someone from out

of town

 

I thought I’d had it all figured out, but 

obstacles occurred, of course, to my, 

nearly cowed, consternation

 

needed help

 

I’d anticipated more violin concertos 

to get me going, but, among my 

several bookmarks, King Crimson

came up, a group I’d admired 

tremendously in my formative years,

the 70s, when freedom of expression

prevailed, in all of its innocent

expectations

 

they are tremendous, if you like that 

sort of thing, entirely progressive 

rock

 

you’ll think me eccentric if I relate 

them to Classical considerations, not 

only are they rigorous about tempo, 

tonality, and repetition, essential 

Classical components, but reach 

further into even tribal configurations,

their minimalism – later formalized by,

incidentally, Beethoven – of infinitely

repeated rhythms, like thumping, 

intoxicating, essentially, thrusts,

heartbeats meeting heartbeats, very, 

in other words, primitiveprimeval

 

add to that, later, their superimposed 

atonal riffs – Jimi Hendrix meets the 

jungle – a direct reference to 

Schoenberg‘s breakdown of the 

orthodoxy of the musical scale, and

cadence, and reiteration, you’re left 

with a history of our culture’s sonic

aspirations in a single incandescent

concert, despite a couple of egregious 

commercial interruptions in the

download, a 21st-Century, it seems, 

corporate roadblock

 

watch, enjoy 

 

 

R ! chard

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

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