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Tag: the piano

at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Bach‏

"J.S. Bach, Wohltemp. Klav. Bd. I, No. IV. (Extrait) / (Duo de Tristesse)" -  Robert Strûbin

“J.S. Bach, Wohltemp. Klav. Bd. I, No. IV. (Extrait) / (Duo de Tristesse)” (1957)

Robert Strûbin


if I’ve been getting on their backs
about their Bachs at the Tchaikovsky
, it’s that they’re playing
Bach as though he were mediocre
Beethoven, it’s like asking Duke
Ellington to be Pink Floyd, it’s just
a completely different generation,

Bach wrote for the harpsichord, a
precursor to the piano, it could not
control the volume, nor the length
of a note, the pianoforte came
along to resolve both issues

therefore before Beethoven, who
made full use of the new invention
and worked hard the pianissimos
and the fortissimos, to degrees that
often became either inappropriate
or too authoritative, indelicate or
obnoxious if you’re not in the mood
– I remember wanting to play his so
solemn 111 at my father’s funeral,
but realized late that the first
movement was not especially in
that situation warranted, nor even
parts of the transcendental, but not
always not obstreperous, adagio –
and thumbed thus his nose at the
aristocracy, who earlier, before
the citoyens had demanded their
rights and when the world had
been considered to be of a
rational, logical order, a clock,
and as regular, would never have
tolerated such impudence

Bach and Mozart do not sway
much from strict rhythm, neither
do they alter volume much at all

so that the constant display of
heartfelt Bach and passionate
Mozart becomes cloying, and
not at all what these Classical
and Baroque masters would
have approved of

nor Beethoven, nor Chopin, for
that matter, whose strict tempo
markings didn’t include much
rubato, ritardandos, which you
could think of as milking a note,
putting velvet on your canvas,
it doesn’t work, the composition
itself unaided by bathos, pathos,
delivers, check out, of course,
Glenn Gould

Andrei Korobeinikov sat me right
down the other night with his
arresting BWV868, thrilling,
followed by more dazzling
pyrotechnics, though he fizzled,
and fractured his Beethoven, the
very 111 I care so much for, I
couldn’t even finish, you don’t
need a velvet canvas behind the
111, neither cloying ritardandos,
just skill, nor tangles of notes,
for that matter


Johann Sebastian Bach‏ – the Cello Suites

if the Well-Tempered Clavier is the alphabet of
even today our music, the six Cello Suites of Bach
are its apotheosis
again, suites are a series of dance forms, menuets,
sarabandes“, entirely stylized at this point in
history, nobody danced to them, they were enjoyed
intellectually as idealized memories of earlier, more
spontaneous, comparatively less fully civilized, times,
it would’ve been thought, a conceit of every epoch 
what is mighty to my mind is that this sublime
musical mission was devoted to the cello, even then
a secondary instrument, a mere accompaniment,
which grounded however with its stolid, even
lumbering, authority, like an overlooked patriarch
among the more effervescently expressive brood of
forthright and more limber maybe upstarts, who 
clamored for position like youngsters defining
their pretensions, not least of which the recently
incarnated harpsichord, or clavier, that
multifaceted, and iconic, wonder 
the cello can play one note only at a time,
something the harpsichord was now overcoming,
singly, because no other instrument could then,
nor still cannot, accomplish
which will explain the primacy historically of the
piano, which of course can play up to ten notes
at a time, theoretically, if you don’t take into
account large thumbs, fingers, their spans,
which could extend that number to x potentially
a cello must accompany itself, or rely on the
inspiration of its own simple, necessarily
unsupported, melody 
the Cello Suites of Bach have performed this
feat unimpeachably, even miraculously, for the
past nearly three hundred years, one note at a
time, describing intimately and profoundly a
certain unvarnished representation of the 
awesome structure of the very universe   
wow, man, extraordinary 

The French Suites – Johann Sebastian

though we listen to Bach today with the utmost
admiration – even reverence in my case, I would
in fact choose Bach over any other composer to
be with were I to be sequestered somewhere
for any extended length of time, the proverbial, 
for instance, desert island – he is nevertheless
not of our era, our epoch, he is of the earlier
Baroque Period, and you can hear it in the music, 
it’s quirky, intricate, and moment by moment
interesting, though never insistent, intemperate,
subversive, nor ever fragile, overtly emotional 
it’s great sponsor, and therefore influence, had
been the Church, but that was changing 
also the piano hadn’t been invented yet
the piano allowed for resonance in a note by way
of the sustain pedal, which allowed one to actually
raise a finger from the key and it would continue to
register, sustain a harmony even were other notes
the soft pedal controlled volume 
the harpsichord with no sustain pedal lost its
reverberation as soon as the key was released,
therefore only other notes could replace the
otherwise silence, which meant you didn’t waste
time before the next syllable in your statement 
with no soft pedal there was no variation in volume,
something I especially enjoy of a quiet ruminative
Andras Schiff delivers an enchanted evening of all
the French Suites, six of them with all their several
a suite is a set of dances, menuets, gigues, gavottes,
courantes, and my favourite, sarabandes, don’t ask,
these are all of another order where they’d never
heard of a waltz yet, and you’ll prefer that I not
go there but glancingly  
Glenn Gould delivers the quintessential French
Suites, I think, though in two separate instalments,
volume 1, volume 2, with only for visuals a static,
though striking, picture of him 
you’ll note that he uses the sustain pedal sparingly,
suggesting faithfulness to the original harpsichord,
this also sheds light on the bare bones of the
composition, illustrating starkly Bach’s technical
wizardry, the mind behind the man, he makes
clear, is nothing short of magic 
and that goes for all of us

the Well-Tempered Clavier

the superimposition of musical scales to facilitate
the movement from one scale to another upon a
single instrument without having to each time
tune that instrument is what is meant by
temperament, this appears to have been a
personal adjustment, though of course informed,  
according to each instrumentalist
you’ll note they do that still at the beginning of
any concert, to the tuning dictates of usually the
first violin, who often takes a bow to the applause
of the audience, who mistake him, I’m sure, for
the conductor then, why else so honour that first,
but not especially otherwise eminent, short string 
Bach formalized the process, gave it breadth and
majesty, and ultimately longevity, by composing
his Well-Tempered Clavier, a piece for adjusted
harpsichord originally, which he tuned indeed
himself, and that we hear nowadays most often
on the harpsichord’s more versatile descendant,
the piano
the scales we now listen to in Western music are
Bach’s tempered scales, we would find it difficult
to return to the precise, mathematically accurate 
ones, the most pure, our already skewed tonal
consensus suggests an already altered view of 
the universe not unlike the reimagined orbits of
the earth and sun at the time of Copernicus and
Galileo, all is still essentially exploratory, nothing
but mathematics is stable, we are precariously
balanced in an insubstantiated world, all no surer
ever than illusion
Scott Ross is exemplary 
is no better version, I think, than Glenn Gould‘s 
they establish here faithfully and unequivocally
our musical alphabet
psst: here is a version with moving pictures very
         much worth your while

an original composition‏

here‘s an aria, a musical composition for one voice, of
great tonal and rhythmic complexity, with an equally
challenging part for the piano
totally 21st century 
you’ll love it








Tchaikowsky piano concerto no 1 in B flat minor, opus 23‏

the piano concerto no 3 of Rachmaninoff was written in 1909,
a hundred years after Beethoven’s piano concerto no 5, the
, 1811, to the attentive ear the intervening years
are present in the evolution of the music

the most evident structural alteration, sensed now rather
than consciously heard, though this change would’ve been
glaring during that period, is the often elastic rhythm, the
hesitation, the reserve, the recapitulation of forces before
a surging onslaught, before a turbulent apotheosis, as a
movement returns to its fundamental tempo

the beat ever essentially reigns

this will change

let me point out here that this rallentando wouldn’t’ve been
even conceivable before the invention of the piano, which
happened around the time of Mozart, the harpsichord before
that couldn’t do that, it was confined, you might say, to
only rallentandon’ts, the harpsichord didn’t provide the
possibility of resounding a note, neither of moderating of
course its volume, which the piano, by very definition, did,
“piano” means “soft”, “pianoforte” “soft loud”, the very
foundational elements of the instrument, the elaboration
of beat would thus perforce henceforward play a major role

between Rachmaninoff and Beethoven, these two pillars of
our musical Trinity, there is the mighty, the third supreme
immortal, Tchaikowsky, a Late Romantic, of all composers
perhaps to us the most familiar, his piano concerto no 1 in
B flat minor, opus 23, written in 1875, is the concerto most
associated with my generation, Van Cliburn was a rock star
then, after winning the Tchaikowsky Piano Competition in
Moscow, 1958, an achievement of the very highest order
for an American in that historical context

and his performance of it was spectacular

the most salient aspect of Tchaikowsky‘s music to my mind
is the charged dramatics, which is not surprising when you
consider that he wrote the music for “The Nutcracker”,
“Swan Lake”, musical story-telling, you’ll note he evokes
this dramatic tension by sustaining, withholding, then
unleashing the beat before a storm of prestidigitatori

Tchaikowsky tells grandiose stories, Rachmaninoff opens
an anguished heart, Beethoven speaks with God, they are
our foundational musical poets, our sonic oracles

the formidable Emil Gilels, 1916 – 1985, plays Tchaikowsky,
he is electric, he is epic, he is extraordinary

Alfred Wallenstein conducts