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Tag: Romanticism

Études – Chopin /Debussy

edgar-degas-the-ballet-class.jpg!Large.jpg

   “The Ballet Class (1871 – 1874) 

 

          Edgar Degas

 

             ________

 

 

ballet dancers will attach weights 

to their ankles during exercises 

to add lift to their legs when they 

are on stage, such is the point of 

études for a piano player, a 

workout for the fingers before 

public performance 

 

Chopin, however, made them, by

themselves, works of great art,

followed by, among others,

Debussy

 

here’s Chopin, his Opus 25

 

here’s Debussy, his own Études

pour piano, Livre 1“, or Book 1

 

how are they different

 

you tell me

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: this is an easy one, Chopin is

          Romantic, Debussy, manifestly,

          is not, Debussy is Impressionistic,

          it is a new perspective, you can 

          hear it, it’s textural rather than 

          emotional, indeed, it’s even

          abstract

 

          but nearly a century has gone by,   

          and Impressionism is the new  

          aesthetic, the new preoccupation

  

          which belongs to not only the  

          painters, let me point out, but to  

          all the arts, for better, once again, 

          or for worse

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 

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

twice upon a dirge – Beethoven / Chopin

owl-on-a-grave-1837.jpg!Large

   Owl on a Grave” / “Eule am Grab (c.1836 – c.1837) 

          Caspar David Friedrich

                   _______

following my nose rather than 
my intellect in my exploration 
of musical treasures, like a very 
Aladdin uncovering at the click 
of my password a cave full of 
priceless wonders, I might find 
stuff out of sequence, but gems
nevertheless, and I can’t just 
whisk by without acknowledging 
them, however peripheral to my 
main task  

it’s like heading towards the Eiffel
Tower in Paris, and not stopping 
at the Arche de Triomphe

though I’d debated so soon 
presenting these two pieces, 
not because of their chronology 
especially, though also that, but 
mostly because of their dour 
content, I’ll point out that the 
move from Classicism to 
Romanticism is the transition 
from dance music, delightful 
music, to drama, passion, 
powerful emotions, dirges, 
therefore, are not out of place, 
however mournful

thus the two most famous 
funeral marches, Beethoven’s,
Chopin’s, the third movement 
in either of their home sonatas

the clincher for me was the 
immaculate performance of 
the Chopin herea revelatory 
moment, though the Beethoven
significantly earlier, the tune, 
1801, 1837, is nevertheless 
unimpeachable, however still 
underdeveloped – four variations 
only in the first movement, for 
instance, and all of them 
elementary – the caterpillar had 
not yet become the butterfly, the 
apple blossom the apple

note that each movement in the 
Chopin, apart from the last, has
two distinct tempi, executed 
effortlessly and nearly 
imperceptibly, a total of six, you 
can’t see, you can’t hear, the 
seams as you listen, which, with 
its virtual therefore episodes, 
conflicting and tortuous 
emotions, constitute collectively 
a drama, a narrative, music has 
become literature

the last movement of the Chopin
moves beyond even tempo – 
Beethoven’s also, incidentally, 
nearly – creating therefore 
very challenge to it, both trying 
to transcend tempi, an area to 
closely watch

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no 12

Chopin’s Piano Sonata no 2

take your pick

both are supremely, mark, 
instructive


R ! chard

“First Piano Concerto” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

concerto-1975

      “Concerto (1975) 

               Jack Bush

                         _____

if there’s a piece that defines Classical music
for most people, encapsulates it, even for 
those who aren’t especially interested in 
Classical music, that piece would be, I think,
Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto

strictly speaking Tchaikovsky isn’t a Classical
composer, but a Romantic one, the Classical 
period in music having been transformed 
some years earlier into the Romantic period
by none other than Beethoven1770 – 1827, 
perhaps the most transformative composer 
of all time – Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto
was written in the winter of 1874 – 1875, pretty
well at the end of the Romantic Period, which 
then ceded to the Impressionists, just to get 
our periods right

what the Romantic Period added to the 
Classical Era was emotion, sentiment – note 
the use of tenuto, for instance, beats being 
drawn out, languidly, longingly, for pathos – 
what it maintained was the structure, the 
trinity of Classical conditions, rhythm, tonality, 
and repetition, which is why even the most 
uninformed listener will usually be able to 
sing along throughout the entire performance
the blueprint is in our collective blood, in the 
DNA of our culture

to remain present a piece must remain 
relevant to the promoter, an interpreter must
have reason to play it, substance surely plays 
a big part, but technical considerations play 
perhaps an even greater role towards a great
work’s longevityChopsticks“, for instance, 
is good but it won’t fill a concert hall  

unless, of course, it’s with Liberace

the “First Piano Concerto” of Tchaikovsky is 
the Everest of compositions, emotionally
complex and technically forbidding, nearly 
impossible, it would seem, were it not for 
those few who’ve mastered its treacherous 
challenges, conquered its nearly indomitable  
spirit

Van Cliburn put it on the map for my 
generation, with a ticker tape parade in 
New York to confirm it

Martha Argerich later on kept the ball rolling

and now Behzod Abduraimov, a mere youth, 
born in 1990 in UzbekistanTashkent, delivers 
by far the best performance I’ve seen since,
giving it new life for the new millenium
 
behold, be moved, be dazzled, be bewitched  

Behzod Abduraimov, watch

Richard

Bassoon Sonata, opus 168 – Camille Saint-Saëns

photo-this-is-the-color-of-my-dreams.jpg!Blog

                  Photo; This is the Color of My Dreams (1925)
 
                                                Joan Miró 
 
                                                   ______
 
 

 for  my sister

a competition program that pits
youngsters against each other,
but on a variety of instruments,
with some operatic voice, has
riveted us to our sets on Friday
evenings, seven o’clock local
time throughout Canada

out of the province of Quebec,
however, and therefore in
French

Virtuose lives up to its name
with extraordinary performances
from mere children, and some
adolescents, you can catch all of
the past episodes, and performers,
on their website

last week a young man delighted
us with a movement from a bassoon
sonata
, an unlikely instrument, of 

Saint-Saëns, his opus 168

my sister expressed surprise,
un basson, she marvelled

quickly I sought out, of course, the
full composition, it’s otherwise for
me like reading one chapter only
out of a book

it’s a short piece, no longer the
grand statements of the earlier
Romantic Period, but a series of
pastiches, fleeting impressions,
impromptu ruminations rather
than extended dissertations,
something like what I’m doing
here with these texts

you’ll recognize also a similar
approach in other composers of
the period, Debussy especially,
but too Satie, Ravel, Poulenc to
name only a few, the speed of
the new century precluded
extended musical peregrinations,
you’ll remark on the dearth of
symphonies, concertos,
composed during this epoch

the composition is in G major, my
cleaning lady had come over, was
already busy in an adjoining room
at the time, I was nearing the
end of the first movement, the
allegro moderato, a wistful
evocation of spring, I thought,
an innocent, fragile blossom
unfurling its delicate petals
with unaffected grace and
unconscious poetry

the final note sounded, the
bassoonist removed his lips from
the tube, but the note kept on
playing, coming, as I soon
understood, not from the video I
was watching, but from the other
room, Jo had turned on the
vacuum cleaner

o my god/dess, I uttered, hurried
over to where she was, subdued
my enthusiasm in order not to
unduly rattle her, as I brimmed
with my scintillating insight

your vacuum cleaner vacuums in
G, I gushed when she turned to
acknowledge me, it continued the
last note, I explained, of the first
movement of my sonata, Saint-
Saëns’ – say that three times with
a lisp, I interjected – until you
turned your vacuum cleaner off,
which is also, I pointed out, a
wind instrument

her delight was modest compared
to mine, however ever nevertheless
congenial, and quickly she returned
to her duties

I went back tickled pink to my
monitor and the following
movement, the sprightly and equally
enchanting allegro scherzando

Richard

String Quartet in G minor, opus 10‏ – Claude Debussy

Il-ratto-di-Proserpina-Galleria-Borghese
                                        
                                    “Pluto and Persephone” (1522)
 
                                               Gian Lorenzo Bernini
 
                                                  ______________
 
 
if I’ve been away from my post for so long,
it’s either because my muse had left me, 
abandoned me to the rigours of an 
especially inclement winter, cold, driving 
rain, short somber days, weather for 
isolation, insulation, hibernation
 
or, like Persephone, I’d been abducted 
as to an Underworld, moral as well as 
meteorologicalhowever cosseted might’ve 
been there my stay, eiderdown pillows, 
blankets, books, Internet movies, concerts, 
plays, until by permission of Plutofateful 
consort, God of the Netherworld, by the
intercession of Mother Demeter, Queen of 
the Harvest, I’ve been allowed, even urged, 
to return for spring
 
where cherry blossoms are burgeoning, 
flowers bud in their variety of colours, 
birds sing, trees, like myself, begin to 
scratch out their brimming script onto 
the open-armed page of heaven
 
 
I’d left the string quartet evolving towards
Bohemia and Russia, in the capable hands 
of Smetana and Borodin respectively, from 
its solid roots in Vienna with Haydn and 
 
it would evolve westwards, of course, too 
to France eventually, as the centre of art 
shifted somewhat from Vienna to Paris in 
the late 19th Century, and spread, through 
paint mostly, the eye superseding the ear, 
wresting the cultural reins from music as 
oracle for the times, the new perspective 
of Impressionism
 
minor, his opus 10, a world away from 
the emotional seductiveness of 
Romanticism, but rather driving, electric, 
cosmopolitanteeming with traffic, it’s 
1893, the zeitgeist has changed
 
 
Richard

“Death and the Maiden” – Franz Schubert‏

 "Ophelia" -  John William Waterhouse

Ophelia (1889)

John William Waterhouse

___________

though death is not an especially
appealing topic for many, it was
nevertheless of fundamental
consideration during the
Romantic Period

Goethe, the German poet, had
already created a sensation
with his The Sorrows of Young
Werther
, a young man,
disappointed in love, takes his
own life, a potent seed for the
new era, secularism was
overtaking theocracy, the
autocracy of the Christian
Church was giving way to the
prevalence of human rights,
a private opinion, well disputed,
was holding sway against the
rigidities of religious orthodoxies,
science and reason had been
chipping away at the very idea
of God

but with human rights there was
the question of personal
responsibility, if not an imposed
authority, then each man, woman
was in charge of his, her own

the fundamental question,
therefore, was Shakespeare’s
To be or not to be, or, for that
matter, Burt Bacharach’s and
Hal David’s What’s it all about

this is not me, this is Albert Camus
talking, who formalized the situation
in the 1940s

“There is but one truly serious
philosophical problem, and that
is suicide. Judging whether life
is or is not worth living amounts
to answering the fundamental
question of philosophy. All the
rest — whether or not the world
has three dimensions, whether
the mind has nine or twelve
categories — comes afterwards.”

after Werther, Madame Bovary followed,
Anna Karenina, suicide had become an
option, the penalty was no longer
opprobrium, castigation, as it had been
under unforgiving religious constraints

death itself, fatefully rather than
personally determined, was, of course,
no less considered when the era of
heartfelt declarations dominated,
Mendelssohn had written his
Quartet no 6 in F minor, opus 80
for his deceased sister, Beethoven
and Chopin, each his Funeral March,
either, incidentally, still iconic, and
perhaps the most poignant work
of all in this manner, Schubert’s
Death and the Maiden, a precursor
of his own much too premature
demise

this is music as if your life depended
on it

watch, listen

Richard

psst:

the Alban Berg Quartet, a group who
set the standard for several significant
string quartets in the ’80s, do no less
with this one

you’re not likely to see a better
performance of it ever, nor, for that
matter, of anything, pace even Glenn
Gould, a statement I think nearly
against my religion

you be the judge

septet / schleptet – Beethoven / Schikele‏

"The Swing" ("Les hasards heureux de l'escarpolette") -  Jean Honoré Fragonard

The Swing (“Les hasards heureux de l’escarpolette“) 1767

Jean Honoré Fragonard

_____

though I’ve spent the last forty years
exploring Beethoven, I still haven’t
heard, much less seen performed
all of his music, unexpected gems
pop up still to prick up even my
weathered ears

but a septet this time, who’d ‘a’
thunk it

the opus 20, not unexpectedly, sounds
like Mozart, formal, musically inventive,
but not prompted by Beethoven’s later
transcendental passions, it was 1800,
he was still showing off his Classical
shoes, spinning andante cantabiles
out of minuets, for no less than Maria
Theresa in this instance, the Empress,
its august dedicatee, not yet having
profoundly outgrown them, the tiara,
the shoes, though you’ll find
expressions of his surpassing majesty
already throughout this masterpiece

six movements, for instance, uppity,
impudent, bold, an impertinence
towards imperial time and its
exigencies, unless it’s worth it, of
course, even in the case of my own
more relaxed schedule

but a precursor to his seven-part
C# minor String Quartet, opus 131,
for its breadth, for its ambition, for
the prefiguring of a monument, a
cultural institution, for its
proclamation of the advent of a
veritable sonic Parthenon

you’ll note a peculiarity, he uses
in the Septet‘s third movement
the same air that served him well
in his 20th piano sonata, opus 49,
no 2
, second movement – why not,
it’s his – an earlier composition
despite the later opus number

don’t ask

opus 49, no 2 has only two
movements, incidentally, like his
earlier opus 5, no 1, or his later
incandescent no 111, to shed light
on the chronology of his musical
evolution, his eventual historical
apotheosis

find the movement with variations
in the Septet, your body will tell
you, much like it does slow tempi
from fast ones, you merely listen
with your senses, not just your
ears, your unconsciousness, while,
distractedly, you’re, say, washing
dishes, you’ll say, hey, I’ve just
heard this before, but different,
only this minute

hence the term variation

compare this Schleptet in Eb major,
from Peter Schikele for fun, from
the year 2000, a spoof on Beethoven’s
Septet
in the identical key the
better to roast him, but in five
movements this one, in the Classical
style, but where the mood is neither
Classical, nor even Romantic, it’s
ironic, satirical, wry, even cynical,
note the slapstick tempo markings

I. Molto Larghissimo – Allegro Boffo
II. Menuetto con brio ma senza Trio
III. Adagio Saccharino
IV. Yehudi Menuetto
V. Presto Hey Nonny Nonnio

the voice, for better or worse, of our
time

Richard

Chopin piano concerto no 1, opus 11‏


this is for Brain, who, according
to its response to my last blog,
is about to explore Chopin, a
transformational experience,
which I’d like to encourage
and heartily abet

____________

watch, be transported

Evgeny Kissin at the piano, Zubin
Mehta conducts, Chopin’s First
Piano Concerto
, an indisputable
masterpiece, just click

before this performance I will remain,
uncharacteristically, mum, let Chopin
speak for himself, from the early
Nineteenth Century, letting us know
what they were up to then

it appears to have been utterly
astonishing

Richard

psst: thanks Brain