Richibi’s Weblog

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Tag: sonatas

my reply to BookInhabiter, a.k.a. Brain

a reader writes

“Hello Richard,
Recently I’ve been watching up on many dance competitions. I knew of the existence of piano competitions but never thought that they would be filmed. I must listen to the top contenders. How did you hear about this competition?”

here is my, admittedly extended, answer, with pertinent links



I haven’t missed So You Think You
Can Dance
Brain, for 11 years, so
we’ve probably been watching the
same “many dance competitions”

“piano competitions” aren’t much
different, just another art, judged
here by professionals throughout,
rather than entire publics

the competitions are fierce, to a
person the competitors are world

the music is often sublime, utterly
transcendent, though more rigorously
intellectual than popcorn – pace
Mozart – this puts some people off

much as you probably find covers of
songs you like, I go out looking for
sonatas, string quartets, concerti I
already know of and admire, I check
out the big names, Chopin, Beethoven,
Rachmaninov, see what might be up

the Internet abounds with nearly
anything you might want to find, the
only obstacle is the quality

the Van Cliburn competition, from
Houston, was dreadful, enough to
put me off it, but looking for musical
counterparts to pieces of interest, I
found the Rubinstein one in Tel
offering sterling performances

I quickly flew across the globe,
virtually, of course, speaking

the experience has been well worth
it, I heard miracles of music, haven’t
had so much fun since reading Proust,
in French of course, but you must
understand I’m an inveterate egghead,
totally chronic

this week I started Edward Gibbon’s
The Decline and Fall of the Roman
, text and, to my delight,
audiotape, its reader is extraordinary

check out the Chopin Competition
for, up to this point anyway in my
investigation, only Chopin, but he’ll
do for a significant while, his music
is consistently breathtaking

I’ll also check out the Russian
Tchaikovsky Competition, which Van
Cliburn made famous for us in the late
, by winning it, despite the rancours
of the Cold War, with a still paramount
rendition of Tchaikovsky’s own
monumental First Concerto

wow, I’ve been hooked ever since

thanks for stopping by my blog, Brain,
you’ll find, incidentally, a lot of excellent
performances highlighted there, several
of the best, in fact, from the most recent
Rubinstein Competition
, none of which,
to my utter consternation, managed to

other recommendations follow, check
it out

I think your blog is wonderful, keep
it up


“Give ’em Hell, Harry”- Beethoven piano sonata no 18 – “Truman”‏

up until very recently I’d never heard of either
the movie, or the play, Give ’em Hell, Harry“,
or that its lead in this production, James 
Whitmore, had been nominated for an Oscar
for his performance in it, he lost out to Jack   
Nest, you decide  
Give ’em Hell, Harry“, the movieturns out to
be a filming of the play, an evocation of Harry
Truman, at a performance one evening in 1973
during its run at the Moore Theater in Seattle,
we are watching an actual play, audience and
all, it is riveting
it is a one-man show, an unforgettable experience
when the performer is up to it, James Whitmore 
is eminently up to it, delivering a towering
performance, every inch his President
after a brief introductory set of thoughtfully
considered sentences, precisely and decisively
articulated, much like Beethoven’s propositions,
incidentally, at the start of many a sonata, he
starts in at a clip, which, again in the same
Beethovenian manner, will never let up, except 
for at a moment of tenderer reflection when he
slows to an andante, a moderate pace, to maybe
even an andantinoa bit slower than moderate,
but never to an adagio
more like a constant allegro, fast, or often even
like a presto, swiftly, like the very wind 
Beethoven does the same especially in his Middle
Period when he’s full of fire, not impeded by 
earlier questions of unmastered technique, nor
later subdued by his progressive disillusion
with life 
you heard the Middle Period fire, in his 15th 
again not a single adagio nor, you’ll note by the
opus numbers, very far behind – a less convincing
sonata for me for not as assuredly engaging as
well as my admiration my heart, but which 
nevertheless must be considered of the very
highest order  
in the spirit of music as narrative, a spirit as I’ve
suggested Beethoven had been evoking, let me 
propose that, were the association with music
pursued here I would liken this play to a set of
musical variations, a series of takes on a subject 
that elaborate a central notion, here, of course,
that of Harry Truman, the President
to note that a sonata is also a one-person
performance does much to acquaint these
two at first glance unacquainted arts, allowing
each of these several consummate artists here,
in the 15th, in the 18th, and in …Harry, to
deliver resounding bravura performances
notice also, incidentally, the similar joy in each
his enraptured countenance
psst: here’s Truman“, a more detailed account
          of the not often recollected man, at least
          not outside America, in a not at all
          undistinguished production  
          it is no longer necessary, of couse, to
          italicize the Italianate tempo markings,
          but for me it makes the letters dance