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Tag: Brahms

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

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        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

“Lament From Epirus” – Christopher King

breakfast-of-a-blind-man-1903.jpg!Large.jpg

   “Blind Man’s Portion (1903) 

          Pablo Picasso

                ________

though you’ll have to actively listen 
to Christopher King rather than 
merely hear him hereas you might 
have been doing with many of my 
suggested musical pieces, should 
you be at all interested in the history 
of music, he is fascinatingdates his 
investigations back millennia to very 
Epirus, Ancient, nearly primordial, 
Greece, to mirologia there, ancient 
funerary chants

some have survived, and have been 
recorded for posterity, onein 1926, 
by Greek exile fled to New York City,
Alexis Zoumbas, a year laterhowever 
improbably, by an Americanblind 
man, his own story inspirational, akin 
to that of Epictetus, one of the two 
iconic Stoic philosophers, the other,
incidentally, an emperorthough the 
blind man here, Willie Johnson, was 
never himself slave, but only, by a 
historical whisker, the emancipations 
of the American Civil War


Christopher King‘s comparison
of an Epirotic miralogi with an 
American one brings up, for me,
the difference between Mozart 
and Beethoven, notice how the
Willie Johnson version is more
rhythmic, the cadence is much 
more pronounced than in the 
Greek one, Johnson would’ve
got that from the musical 
traditions Europeans had 
brought over from their native 
continent, probably also from
Africa, Africans

Beethoven would’ve been 
surroundedmeanwhile, by Roma, 
perhaps called gypsies then, their 
music ever resonant in his culture, 
not to mention later Liszt‘s, and 
the Johann Strausses’ even, for 
that matter, Paganini also seems 
to have been imbued with it, it 
having come up from Epirus 
through, notably, Hungary – not 
to mention, later still, that music’s 
influenceand I’ll stop there, on
late 19th-Century Brahms


Christopher King, incidentally,
sounds a lot like someone you 
already know, I think, from his 
eschewing Gesundheit – cell 
phones, for instance, to his 
enduring preoccupation with 
death, not to mention his 
endearing modesty, indeed 
his humility, his easy 
self-deprecationdespite his,
dare I say, incontestable, and 
delightful, erudition

makes one wonder why that 
other hasn’t become also 
famous yet

what do you think


R ! chard

Dmitri Shostakovich – “Symphony No 4” in C minor, opus 43

portrait-of-joseph-stalin-iosif-vissarionovich-dzhugashvili-1936.jpg!Large

   “Portrait of Joseph Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) (1936)

                   Pavel Filonov

                           _________

if you’ve been waiting for a Shostakovich 
to write home about among his early 
symphonies, here’s the one, his 
Symphony no 4 in C minor, opus 43 will
knock your socks off from its very 
opening gambit, have a seat, settle in, 
and get ready for an explosive hour

the Fourth was written in 1936, some 
years after the death of Lenin, and the 
instalment of Stalin as the supreme, 
and ruthless, authority, after several 
years throughout the Twenties of
maneuvering himself, cold-bloodedly,
into that position 

from Stalin, Death is the solution to 
all problems. No man – no problem.

fearing retribution after Stalin had 
criticized his recent opera, Lady 
Macbeth of Mtsensk“, Shostakovich 
cancelled the first performance of 
this new work, due to take place in 
December, ’36, others had already 
suffered internal exile or execution 
who had displeased the tyrant, a 
prelude to the infamous Great Terror

the Symphony was eventually played
in 1961, 25 years later, conducted by
no less than Kirill Kondrashin, who’d
partnered Van Cliburn a few years 
earlier in Cliburn’s conquest of Russia
but along with this time however the 
long-lived Leningrad Philharmonic 
Orchestra 

to a friend, I said, this is the biggest
thing since verily Beethoven, no one 
has so blown me away symphonically 
since then

he looked forward, he replied, to 
hearing it 

the Fourth Symphony has three distinct 
movements, to fit thus appropriately the 
definition of symphony, though the first 
and third have more than one section, 
something Shostakovich would have 
learned from already Beethoven, it gives 
the opportunity of experiencing a variety 
of emotions within one uninterrupted 
context, add several movements and 
you have a poignant, peripatetic musical 
journey, more intricate, psychologically 
complex, than many other even eminent
composers, Schubert, Chopin, 
Mendelssohn, even Brahms, for instance 

it’s helpful to think of film scores, and 
their multiple narrative incidents,
brimming with impassioned moments,   
however disparate, Shostakovich had 
already written several of them

let me point out that Shostakovich’s 
rhythms are entirely Classical, even 
folkloric in their essential aspects, 
everywhere sounds like a march, 
proud and bombastic, if not a 
veritable dance, peasants carousing,
courtiers waltzing, and repetition is
sufficiently present to not not 
recognize the essential music 
according to our most elementary
preconceptions

but the dissonances clash, as though 
somewhere the tune, despite its rigid 
rhythms, falls apart in execution, as 
though the participants had, I think,  
broken limbs, despite the indomitable 
Russian spirit

this is what Shostakovich is all about, 
you’ll hear him as we move along 
objecting, however surreptitiously,
cautiously, to the Soviet system, like 
Pasternak, like Solzhenitsyn, without 
ever, like them, leaving his country 
despite its manifest oppression, and 
despite the lure of Western accolades,
Nobel prizes, for instance, it was their 
home

and there is so much more to tell, but
first of all, listen

R ! chard 

  

Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony no. 1, opus 10, continued

Dmitrij_Dmitrijevič_Šostakovič_(Дми́трий_Дми́триевич_Шостако́вич)

        Shostakovich in 1925

                   __________

                                        for Barbara, who died recently,
                                                 she would’ve loved this 

Shostakovich was just nineteen when
his Symphony No.1, opus 10 was 
first performed – it had been his 
graduation piece the previous year
from the Petrograd Conservatory –  
by, then, which is to say 1926, the 
Leningrad Philharmonicrenamed the 
Saint Petersburg after the fall of the 
U.S.S.R., the name it had held before 
the Bolshevik Revolution, the oldest 
philharmonic orchestra, therefore, 
incidentally, in our Russia, going  
back to 1882 

the work was a complete success, not 
surprisingly, if you’ll consider its scope, 
its power, and its novel musical 
interpolations, I mean a piano as an 
integral orchestral instrument rather 
than as a distinct, however interrelated, 
component, a pas de 40 instead of 
pas de deuxsomething I can’t remember 
anywhere else having seen for piano 

not to mention the drum roll between 
the last two movements, drums making 
splash in an orchestral setting, who’d 
‘a’ thunk it, though Richard Strauss had
done just that in his extraordinary 
Burleske” several decades earlier,  
another youthful work, Strauss only 21

but meanwhile back in Russia, before 
too seriously digress, Shostakovich  
was immediately compared to another 
earlier young prodigy there, Alexander 
Glazunovwho’d himself put out his 
own First Symphony, the Slavonic“,
at age 16, introducing, incidentally, his 
own instrumental novelty then, an oboe 
obbligato, which by very definition is 
lovely
  
Glazunov also mentored, by the way, 
Shostakovich at the Petrograd, proved
to be instrumental indeed in his 
progress

it’s interesting to put these last two 
together, to compare, the Glazunov, 1881,
follows the traditional Romantic 
imperatives, tempo, tonality and 
repetition, but with more bombast, to my
mind, than its European counterparts,
its fields are the Russian steppes with 
troikas, horse-drawn carriages, flying 
across vast unhampered vistas of the 
Russian snow-covered, therefore 
pristine, tundra, to whet the unbridled 
Russian spirit, the Europeans, Brahms,
MendelssohnMahler, conversely, 
are confined to the hunt, however ever
glorious, but with shrubs, copses,   
thickets, if not veritable forests, to blur
the sonic arena, inspire dreams, 
consequently, less far-reaching than  
those of Johnny Appleseed even, of 
the North American Prairies poets,    
their own far-flung, boundless  
imaginations, inspiration, you can 
hear it all, blatantly, in the resonance
of the horns

you’ll note the movements follow 
essentially the same rhythmic order 
in either symphony, the first two fast 
enough, then a third that’s somewhat 
slower, a variation from the strictly 
Classical order of fast, slow, fast, then
a last, eclectic, movement 

but Shostakovich is more atonal, 
melodically divergent, an eccentricity 
he’ll later polish to a degree of 
politically subversive brilliance

for not submitting, however, to the rule 
of repetition, which is manifest, though,  
in GlazunovShostakovichI find, leaves
us trying to find our bearings as his music 
rolls along, kind of like in biographical 
movies, when you start looking at your 
watch to determine how many life 
incidents remain in this particular, 
however significant, existential drama

as spectacle – and it must be noted that 
symphonic displays were at the time 
indeed spectacles – there was no 
phonographic, photographic 
equipment to transmit such 
experiences, the symphony itself was 
the show, it had, right there, itself, to 
wow the audience

in all of these cases, all of them did 

Shostakovich, however, of all of them 
remained eventually potently 
pertinent, powerfully paramount, 
watch

R ! chard

on art, its purpose

poet-with-flower-2008-jpgblog

                                Poet With Flower (2008)

                                          Stefan Caltia

                                                 _____

wherefore art, I’ve long and often wondered,
with only a wink to Juliet’s Romeo, for my
question dug deeper, why, indeed, itself art

we build our souls on the stories we’ve 
heard, the impressions we’ve received
from voices that spoke directly to our 
senses, painters with paint, musicians
with music, writers with words, poets 
with poems

it started with fairy tales, which told of
right and wrong, good and bad, courage,
kindness, responsibility, and dire 
consequences for discord

Biblical stories also took up a lot of my own
childhood, Jesus, Adam and Eve, Moses
and the Ten Commandments, this last 
reinforced by Cecil B. DeMille’s epic

but soon enough it was Oliver TwistLittle
Nell, and by an inescapable authorial leap, 
since these were all by an irresistible 
Charles Dickens for a guy my age, Sydney
Carton, who valiantly stands in for his
friend, Charles Darnay, at the guillotine, a 
quantum, even existential, leap from 
Peter Pan and Mary Poppins 

though I had the good fortune to learn to 
read and write music as a boy, play music, 
learn about Bach, Brahms and Beethoven, 
it didn’t take anyone else much more than
their enthusiasm to see what the Beatles
were similarly doing, the Rolling Stones, 
the Supremes, they were not only singing, 
but making history, shaping it, and us, we 
followed the questions they rose, their 
responses, the effects upon ourselves
for nothing is considered until it’s 
mentioned, spoken, made clear, and they
were those prophets

the same goes for art, we see as we see
cause Monet, Picasso, Warhol showed 
us how to see, what to look at

and of course poets, Shakespeare, 
RostandDanteGoethe, to inform, each,
their individual language, and culture

I have been Philip CareyScarlett O’Hara, 
Blanche DuboisGary Cooper in High
Noon“, both Martha and George in 
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf“, lately 
I’ve been even Hank Williams

as Babette would say, a French doll who 
gets abducted in Raggedy Ann and Andy:
A Musical Misadventure“, an animated 
movie from the Seventies, – oo aahrr yoo 

Richard

psst: all of them have been me too,
      incidentally

String Quartet no 1, “From My Life” – Bedřich Smetana‏

"Coucher de soleil sur le lac Léman" - Gustave Courbet

Coucher de soleil sur le lac Léman (1874)

Gustave Courbet

_________

paying attention to tenuti is not as
easy as all that, you’ll have found
probably that the music’s kept on
going and you’re not so sure if
what just went by indeed was a
tenuto, so brief, however stressed,
might’ve been the impression

rubati are easier, it’s hard to miss
them when they come round, for
being spread out through the
musical passage as a
consequence of being at the very
least three notes, usually
considerably more

tenuti happen on one note only,
one fleet fish in an ebullient river
rather than a more noticeable and
synchronous school

interestingly, not many of either,
rubati, tenuti, show up in music
history until the late Romantic
Era, the mid- to late 1800s, they’d
been only theoretically, and here
and there, part of the musical
vocabulary for having had no
purchase in music written for the
harpsichord, an instrument that
had allowed only minimal
resonance, though it laid the
foundations for composition,
and therefore dictated taste
into the very mid-nineteenth
century, a whole hundred years
after the invention of the piano,
by having entrenched the ideal
of strict tempo, the reflection,
note, of an ideal, and belief
then in a scientifically cogent
world

that was the Enlightenment

Romanticism came along to
express the ineffable reality of
the truths of the human heart,
in contrast to merely reason –
“Le coeur a ses raisons que la
raison ne connaît point”,
says
Pascal, “The heart has its own
logic which allows it to
understand what the rational
mind cannot”,
though he in a
somewhat other, much more
theological, context

but the shoe snugly fits, so I’ll
wear it, though with the same
consideration I’d render the
shoes, understand, of my
father

you can tell we’ve reached the
late 1800s when you start
hearing tenuti, ritardandi,
atonality, for that matter, and
also obscure and eccentric
repetitions

this pattern is probably more
evidenced in pictorial art,
where precision gives way to
individualized expression,
and the blurred lines of Early
Impressionism, see above

at the same time, the German
grip on the history of Western
music which it had held for a
hundred and fifty years, from
Bach to Brahms, began to loosen,
along with the idea, incidentally,
of a rationally, even irrationally,
conceived world, you can hear
it in the evolution of the tenuti,
the rubati, like canaries sense
altered conditions in a coal
mine

note however that music itself
is as indifferent to bald facts
as mathematics, it merely
describes, doesn’t comment

listen to Bedřich Smetana, a
Czech composer, his String
Quartet no 1, “From My Life”

follows in the footsteps of
the Germans, but with a
distinctively folkloric air,
there’s even a polka

tend the tenuti, relish the
rubati, if you can identify
them, they’re milestones
to the modern

but, more than anything,
enjoy

Richard

 

Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 21, K 467 (1785)

to my astonishment, not to mention my embarrassment,
upon learning just now, with this video, that the andante
to Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 21, K. 467, is not an adagio
as I’d been informing anyone I’d been trying to enlighten
about that tempo, breaking into, no, gently acceding to,
ever, the delicacy of the bucolic music in a voice that
had already often rendered the tune’s lyrical, incandescent, 
curves to the best of my fervent ability, I had to cede
years and years of my false assumption to the cold
irreversible judgment of black fact, I was wrong, I had
been wrong, am wrong, March 13, 2012
 
it doesn’t happen often, therefore the date
 
meanwhile beware of my pronouncements, where possible,
where pertinent, check your facts 
 
though that andante really feels like an adagio, don’t you
think
 
 
this middle movement had been the theme to a celebrated
movie when I was young – a Swedish movie, “Elvira Madigan“,
about a tragic couple who hadn’t survived the rigours of love,
a true and compelling story – and had become known through
this film, thereby introducing Mozart culturally to an entire
generation nurtured on movies
 
the andante is now probably again recognized as primarily
a work of Mozart’s, I’ll wager because of the film still now
his most famous, the film itself, “Elvira Madigan“, not having
had the shelf life of essential art, having become a historical,
though circumstantial merely, curiosity     
 
 
you won’t hear the fury of Brahms or Beethoven in
Mozart, he is of an another, earlier era, of courtesy and
controlled emotions, there is tenderness of course, but
never overt imperiousness or passion, just courtly music,
razzle dazzle and panache, that has lasted unscathed,
not at all blemished nevertheless for already 250 years  
 
 
Richard  
 
 
 
 

Brahms Violin Concerto – Kyung-Wha Chung (1985)

having had a yen for Brahms lately, his grand, sweeping
concertos, I put on again Kyung-Wha Chung last night,
with André Previn, 1996doing the Violin Concerto, a
good fit at under fifty minutes, while I simultaneously 
washed the dishes – the gods never granted me a
dishwasher, probably to keep me humble, wary of
potentially crippling, I think, hubris 
 
afterwards for the sheer exhilaration of it I wanted to
watch the whole thing over again, but another version
intrigued and beckoned, from 1985, when Chung was of
course younger, less assured, I suspected, her take maybe
less profoundly felt, not yet quite as definitive 
 
but she proved to be again Olympian, on fire, more fierce
in her attack, more defiant, Aphrodite, goddess of love,
beauty, pleasure, this time, still radiant, utterly authoritative
and convincing, paying glorious court to her host of equally
divine peers
 
this performance is of another, of an utterly transcendental, 
order, of the Brahms Violin Concerto you are not likely, nor 
are they, ever to see than either so illustrious a rendition
again
 
 
Richard
 
 
 
 

Brahms Piano Concerto no 2 in B flat major, opus 83‏

though I’d no intention of presenting a piano concerto
quite yet I’d been trolling Celibidaches on the Internet,
after marvelling at his wondrous Boléro”, and couldn’t
hold back this gem I found of his, Brahms’ Piano 
 
same venue, same Münchner Philharmoniker, same
starched ceremonial ruffles, I thought, same even age
of the conductor, to the very minute, it appeared, in 
his unchanged eye and perspective, wise, serene,
omnipotent, perhaps the very same concert as in the
illustrious Ravel, I said to myself, though later couldn’t
especially recognize individual instrumentalists
 
Daniel Barenboim, who conducted earlier the speedy
“Boléro”, wears another hat here, he’s the pianist, but
in this incarnation he is transcendental, carried aloft,
I think, notably, by the Olympian Celibidache, who
cedes his fire and glory to the younger Barenboim
throughout, who supremely is up for the challenge,
a ready and rearing Apollo, taking on the treacherous
musical task, defying obstreperous planets, perilous
astrological constellations in nefarious conjunctions, 
stray or fleeting stars, to foster safely home to its
final hearth his solar chariot, in a towering sunset,
finale of apocalyptic proportions, each purveyor
casting unutterable light, god and mere immortal, 
from his own particular perch, upon our beholden
world
  
Celibidache, as would Zeus, cedes serenely to his 
younger avatar his bow, his deserved adulation,
safe in his own unquestionable omnipotence
 
 
this concerto has four movements incidentally, greater
length always suggests more gravitas, more substance 
 
is it warranted
 
you be the judge 
 
 
Richard
 
psst: in another mythological context, note the hand of
         Celibidache resting on air, intermittently fluttering,
         at the beginning of the slowest movement, the
         andante, the third, the hand of God ministering, 
         according to Michelangelo, in the “Creation of 
         Adam”, should you not yet be convinced of the 
         maestro’s august and unequivocal stature
   
 

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

despite not having the stature of the other composers
already considered, Felix Mendelssohn, 1809 – 1847,
nevertheless squeezes right up the middle with his
the greatest violin concertos of all time, perhaps the
most tender of all in contrast to the mightier, more
imperious declamations of the other also more varied
and prolific masters, an archangel among the august
divinities, having earned a place of the very highest
order in their midst with even this one masterful
work, perhaps even of all the most beloved
 
he squeezed right up the middle chronologically as
well in fact, Beethoven wrote his violin concerto in
1806, while Tchaikowsky and Brahms theirs to my
astonishment each from his own little corner of the
world independently in the very same year, 1878,
a fabulous year, it would appear, for violin concertos 
 
Mendelssohn finished his violin concerto in E minor,  
opus 64 in 1844
  
 
when I began a few decades ago to explore violin
concertos, my essential resource was the set I had
on disc of all the great ones played, indeed definitively
executed, by Kyung-Wha Chung, who bested then to
my mind all, without exception, even the most
celebrated virtuosos, whom I need not therefore 
here recall   
 
until now I had never seen her perform 
 
in this outing she recovers in spades my early adulation, 
utterly, she lives and breathes her enchanted instrument,
she is the Mitsuko Uchida of the violin, I can think of no
higher honour, she is meteoric 
 
André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, who
accompany her, though accomplished, pale beside her
fire, which is throughout riveting   
 
André Previn was married famously to Mia Farrow way
back when, later married our very own Anne-Sophie
Mutter, though they divorced in 2006, he was a pop,
to my mind, conductor, made of serviceable and
always dependable stuff, but never shining, you’ll
have to leave that to his featured brilliant light here,
who will not, I assure you, fail to deliver searing
heat along with the stated incandescence 
 
 
Richard