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Category: Tchaikowsky

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

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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 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

“Grand Piano Sonata” in G major, opus 37 – Tchaikovsky

blossoming-almond-branch-in-a-glass-with-a-book-1888(1).jpg!Large.jpg

  “Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book (1888)

       Vincent van Gogh

             __________

if Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Piano Sonata hasn’t
remained in the canon, if it isn’t one of 
the pieces you’ve heard if only through
the grapevine, it’s, I suspect, cause it’s 
essentially not an advance on other more 
prescient works in the form, other more 
oracular compositions

Beethoven had paved the way for the 
Romantic Period, nearly invented it,
established incontrovertibly the 
dimensions of the sonata, notably its 
purpose, its structure, Schubert had, 
however belatedly, confirmed it, with 
works equal to his, and even, here 
and there, superior, listen

but having reached the summit of 
what a sonata could say, the form 
little by little withered in its several
Romantic permutations, Tchaikovsky
here, for example, and became mere
elaborations upon a waning theme 
rather than exciting, and revelatory, 
productions 

the sonata would survive, but  
transformed by another era, 
Impressionism, Tchaikovsky would
as well, of course, but not through 
his sonatas

his Second, however, is not not 
worth a listen, would you pass, 
for instance, on a less celebrated
perhaps, van Goghsee above

Tchaikovsky’s, therefore, Second

 
R ! chard

Piano Sonata in C# minor, opus 80 – Tchaikovsky

the-sonata-1.jpg!Large

The Sonata 

              Childe Hassam

                     ___________

                            for Sarah and Rachel, the daughters
                              of the son of a dear cousin, after a 
                                belated lunch recently, two young 
                                  girls14, 16, in bloom, as Proust 
                                    would say, who speak not only 
                                      music, but French and English,
                                        fluently, I checked – perhaps   
                                          even German, their Oma  
                                            lives with them – they also  
                                              play the flute, the piano,    
                                                and sing, what could be
                                                  I ask you, more beautiful,  
                                                   two young girls ibloom, 
                                                     indeed in very blossom   
                                        
                               or am I being too French
 
the form of the sonata had been established 
decisively during the Classical Period, out 
of the rudiments of Bach’s own such pieces
Mozart and Haydn had given the concept its 
final shape, its structure, three or four 
contrasting movements, by definition all 
entertainments

Beethoven kicked the entertainment part 
right out of the ball park, made his show 
into a veritable transcendental meditation, 
rather than to merely applaud, audiences 
gasped, were meant to be awed, as I still 
ever am by his musical speculations

but by definition as well, a sonata is a 
piece for a single instrument, therefore
inherently introspective, whether the 
player has an audience or not, soloists, 
note, play easily on their own

even an accompanied sonata, as violin
sonatas often are, for instance, or this 
one for two pianos, would lose the 
intimacy of a solo piece, for having 
someone playing, however compatibly, 
over one’s shoulder  

in other words, a piano sonata is, by
definition, a monologue, a soliloquy,
where notes tell the story that words 
would intimately, even confessionally,
in poetry, convey

the emotions that are elicited from 
a piece are as real as they would 
be from any literary alternative, 
except that they’re quickened, like 
aromas, through the senses, rather 
than through divisiveby definition 
confrontational, logic

rosemary reminds me always, for 
instance, of one of my departed 
aunts, like the taste of a madeleine 
dipped in tea opened the door for 
Proust to an entire earlier epoch, 
the seed, the subject, of his 
disquisition on Time, À la 
recherche du temps perdu“, An 
Exploration into Elapsed Time“, 
my own translation, none of the 
published proffered titles   
having rendered the subtlety  
of the shimmering original
  
rosemary, in other words, speaks,
if even only to me

listen to Tchaikovsky’s First Piano
Sonata, in C# minor, opus 80, one
of only two of his, what do you 
hear, think, feel


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

“Symphony no 6 in B minor, opus 54” – Dmitri Shostakovich

great-expectations-ussr-pavilion-on-1939-new-york-world-s-fair-1947.jpg!Large

Great Expectations. USSR pavilion on 1939 New York World’s Fair (1939) 

    Veniamin Kremer

       ____________

 “I hope that these few preparatory words 
can give you an insight that may permit 
you to experience this strangely 
heterogeneous work as a single entity, 
flashpoint in musical history”, says
Leonard Bernstein, somewhat, 
admittedly, grandiloquently, in an indeed
thrilling introduction to Shostakovich’s
Sixth Symphony in B minor, opus 54

that he reiterates several of the points 
that I earlier brought up does me no
disservice, coming especially from a
person of such high quality, pedigree, 
in the musical world, I’m abashed, 
bashful, indeed blushing, that my 
humble insights have been so 
eminently corroborated

but I cannot second his enthusiasm
for Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony
a failed, to my mind, entity, a long 
introductory lament that lingered 
long after its “best before” date, 
followed by indifferent, though 
perhaps energetic, yet unrelated,
final movements, the instrumentation 
might be, admittedly, brilliant, the 
Shostakovichian precise array of 
sounds, but the sum is less than the 
parts, I think, I took home only 
confusion, as did the crowd, 
apparently, at its first presentation, 
Leningrad, November 21, 1939,
Mravinsky conducting, wow, an
even more convincing argument,
maybe, than Bernstein’s, however 
rousing, interpretation

for your information, I’ve included
Tchaikovsky’s Sixthaccording to
Bernstein intimately related, he 
explains, to Shostakovich’s Sixth

you’ll note how different, however, 
these two symphonies are compared 
to how similar in so many respects 
Beethoven’s and Shostakovich’s 
Fifths are, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth is
manifestly more Romantic than
Revolutionary 

but imagine Tchaikovsky starting and 
ending with an adagio, how audacious, 
daring, though not particularly efficient, 
I think, not especially successful, the 
adagio lamentoso seems to me 
anticlimactic after the vigorous allegro 
molto vivacewhich receives a 
thunderous applause, the last 
movement, the lamentoso, however 
lovely, doesn’t rise to the heights of a 
proper finale for this forerunner’s
contagious ebullience, sounds rather 
like an encore, melodramatic and a bit 
pretentious

or maybe I’m just getting cranky


sooner or later though, the conundrum 
of adagio bookends will be resolved, 
someone inevitably will do it, like
finding the square on the hypotenuse, 
unearthing warped space, discovering 
a way to recapture carbon dioxide and 
make it work for us, as trees would do 
if we let them, someone always exceeds, 
miraculously, our expectations, watch 
for it, dare I say, here

R ! chard

Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony no. 1, opus 10

portrait-of-dmitri-shostakovich-1963.jpg!Large

     “Portrait of Dmitri Shostakovich (1963) 

             Martiros Sarian

                    ______

after being transfixed, rendered aquiver, by
this mesmerizing conductor in a performance
I can only remember for his magnetism, 
expressive fingers performing arabesques of 
such exquisite sensitivity, eyes that melt, 
light up, gleam, glitter, at every ebb and flow 
of the turbulent, towering, music, eyebrows 
that, blonde, cherubic, angelic, display with 
manifest intention, the spiritual implications 
of every musical turn, a youth only, in my 
senescent estimation, taking on the conquest 
of the 21st-Century world, lately installed as 
conductor, most illustriously, of both the 
Royal Liverpool, in 2005, and the Oslo, in 
2011, Philharmonics

Vasily Petrenko led me back to Shostakovich,
after his monumental Tchaikovsky 5th,
whereupon I’ve undertaken a chronological 
review of all Shostakovich’s symphonies, 
something I did long ago with Beethoven’s 
sonatas, to my great cultural advantage, it 
was a journey that informed me not only 
intellectually but, even more significantly, 
spiritually, taught me about patience, tumult, 
and the wisdom, even glory, one acquires in 
resignation, so long as you hold onto your 
principles, your core 

you look back, I told a man once, and you 
see what you’ve come through, and you 
are proud, you recognize the hero that 
you are, or weren’t

we have only our poise and grace to lend 
to the world, or our venom and invective

but I digress

here’s Shostakovich, his First, in a line 
of Shostakovichian explorations

if you’ll join me

R ! chard

on “Elegy for the Victims of the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 in Japan” – Nobuyuki Tsujii

tsunami-1998.jpg!Large

    Tsunami (1998) 

         Jacek Yerka

          __________

while watching Nobuyuki Tsujii play the
extraordinarily demanding Tchaikovsky 
First Piano Concerto on television the 
other night, with no less than Valery
Gergiev, conducting the resident 
orchestra at the Mariinsky Theatre in 
Moscow, for its White NightsI was 
wonderstruck by the challenges a 
visually handicapable pianist would 
have to conquer in order to reach 
such an apogee 

everything must be learned by ear, all
items must be discovered tactually, 
from the piano itself to the very 
individual keys, not to mention 
the player’s very own fingers

there can be no visual contact with a 
conductor, either, for cues, for 
instance, nor for any other 
accompaniment, for neither even an 
audience, it would all take place in 
the dark recesses of the head, the 
amorphous and, I suppose, 
confounding, cerebellum

later he played for an encore his own 
composition, Elegy for the Victims of
the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 in Japan“,
a fine addition to my budding collection 
of threnodies

and a very, very moving piece

an elegy, incidentally, is usually written,
while a threnody is composed, but these 
terms are often used interchangeably, as, 
indeed, they are here

you’ll note the utterly Classical mode of
composition of the Elegy“, it adheres to  
a uniform tonality, a consistent tempo, 
and the grounding and comfort of 
repetition, returning always to the main, 
endearing air, rather than more modern 
tripwires and stridencies, traditionalism 
being not an inappropriate, nor ineffective,
mode of address for honoured forebears 

long live Classicism

 

R ! chard