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Piano Teacher with over 40 years experience, teaching in the Fort Lauderdale area. Teaches exclusively at All County Music in Tamarac FL.

1798: Beethoven: Sonata No. 13 [PATHETIQUE]: 2nd movement

FRIDAY, February 19, 2021 – 11:51 AM

Beethoven: Sonata No. 13 [PATHETIQUE]: 2nd movement,  age 27

It was written in 1798, but since Beethoven was born in December experts believe it was written when he was still 27. It was published about a year later and was an instant success. it was named: Grande Sonate pathétique” by the publisher, but Beethoven approved of the title, which was unusual, and he may have given it the name “pathétique”. The timing is important because Mozart was only dead a few years. Haydn was still alive and might have known this.I generally try to remember Beethoven’s age and the year he wrote things because it tells us how advanced his musical thinking was.

No one knows for sure how fast his music is supposed to go because the Italian tempo markings are extremely open to interpretation. From time to time Beethoven used metronome markings, but we don’t even know if his metronome was accurate, so such markings are essentially useless

Arrau

This is listed as recorded in 1987, so here Arrau was around 85 years old. I believe it is the slowest recording I’ve heard, and there is no way I would or could play it this slowly, but while listening I am convinced it works. It takes astounding control to play it this way. Arrau was also a sticker for following the score, which means that more than anyone else I know he tried to do everything that is indicated, and it’s really very amazing. He believed going beyond the score, after you first learned it and tried to do what the composer asked for. I think this recording impresses me the most and shows that pianists never get old regarding their playing, if they remain healthy. Three years later he was died, so it is an amazing testament to the ability of the man.

Ashkenazy live

This is the tempo I would pick. I still love the way Arrau played it, but for the rest of us mere mortals this tempo will work better. This is an intensely personal interpretation and as good as any I have ever heard.

Schnabel

He was the gold standard for Beethoven sonatas up until around 1950 and was famous for playing all of them. He is not quite as slow as Arrau, but still rather slow. The recording is 2nd rate in 2021, but the playing is still first rate, so any serious pianist always listens to Schnabel for ideas and inspiration.

Horowitz

This is just a tiny bit faster and almost exactly the tempo I would pick. I grew up with this recording, which was made in 1963 during the time Horowitz stopped performing publicly.

Zimerman

Zimerman has the accuracy of a machine and yet is incredibly musical. This is just about perfect for me, slow but not too much. The recording is disappointing, but the playing is worth the listening. There is no better modern pianist than this man. He just gets better and better. As usual he plays as accurately live as most people do in a studio with multiple takes.

Other thoughts:

First, you want to hear the whole sonata, so after hearing the 2nd movement, be sure to listen to the rest.

Second, I will add comments about the other movements later, because this sonata is one of the greatest every written, the whole thing.

 

 

 

 

1921: Mangore: La Catedral (Allegro Solemne)

FRIDAY, February 12, 2021 – 4:51 AM

Agustín Barrios-Mangoré: La Catedral (Allegro Solemne), age 36

There is a huge story behind this piece, but I don’t yet have the energy to tell it. I’ll do it later. However, this is an extremely popular and famous piece of music for guitar. I transcribed this for piano about 15 years ago but never quite finished, and I’ve been busy completing the piano music, which I will start teaching.

There are many fine recordings, and I just picked two that I think have contrasting interpretations.

Ana Vidović

Nicholas Petrou

1777: Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 9 in D major

THURSDAY, January 28, 2021 – 11:55 AM

Piano Sonata No. 9 in D major, age 21

The official number is K. 311, which was an old attempt to put Mozart’s music in chronological order, but it was a very inaccurate system. The book in which I first saw this sonata put the sonatas in a completely different number. I remember them by key, and there are three sonatas in the key of D major. This is the 2nd and was written late in 1777. The number above, No. 9, is absolutely inaccurate. It seems that every editor numbers these sonatas differently, so pianists generally seem to refer to it as K. 311

Various pianists, in no particular order

Landowska

This is a very early recording, all the way back to 1937. It is incomplete

Wanda Landowska plays Mozart Sonata K311 – I

Wanda Landowska plays Mozart Sonata K311- II

Wanda Landowska plays Mozart Sonata K311- III

These three recordings above are what I first heard. I don’t know why they are broken up this way, which seems stupid.

Krystian Zimerman

Larrocha

Maria João Pires

Uchida

Barenboim

These other five recordings are all a bit different, and I have not listened to all of them completely.

What are you listening to?

WEDNESDAY, January 27, 2021 – 2:20 AM

I’m doing something new this year. Each time anyone comments on anything I  have put into Spotlight I’ll put that at the top of the list, so if you want to see what people are talking about, be sure to read the latest comments.

I want to also start adding things in the future that people are listening to – things that I don’t even know about, music that is new to me, so if anyone mentions any piece of music that I do not know and that I like, I’ll add it to the list.

 

Are you cool or square?

SUNDAY, January 24, 2021 – 4:36 PM

It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got that Swing

For me some things are so cool that after they are done being “new and cutting edge” and fade into “old fashioned” they come back, get discovered by a whole new generation of musicians. I don’t know one serious musician of any age who is not awed by Ella Fitzgerald. By the time this music was also “over”, meaning no longer new, cool, earth-shattering, and by the late 60s rock music had pretty much become the only thing that young people listened to.

Fast forward to 2021, and you might be amazed to find out how many people who are once again discovering Ella and her “scat singing”, which is actually so hard to do that musicians just listen with wonder.

Are you cool or square?

Before I try to add something new or “retread” something, here is a question for you wannabee musicians: would you ever call someone “square” who think is “not cool”?

I was curious, because I tried to explain last week that “swing” music has to have a swing, meaning that any two eighth notes are uneven. The first is twice as long as the second, but the music is written evenly.

So we have two ways of interpreting steady eight notes. One is called “straight” rhythms, meaning you play what’s on the page, and the other is called “swing”,  meaning deliberately uneven.

That put me on the hunt for “square” (uptight, not loose, too formal) in contrast to “hip” (with it, up to date, informed about what is being said or done right now.) And that left me with a question: if straight rhythms are “square”, what is the best word for that in 2021?

It turns out that the word we usually use, “cool” – as opposed to “uncool” – has been around since around 1930. But it seems to now be almost as OK as “OK”. So I guess that nearly a century later, Ella is still “cool”.

2021: Jacob Collier then and now

SUNDAY, January 24, 2021 – 5:11 PM

2021: Jacob Collier then and now

The Sun Is In Your Eyes (Voice Memo)

This just came out at the beginning of this year. It’s just a simple recording on an iPhone.

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing

I’m not sure what the first thing he presented to the world was, but this is quite early. He was either 19 or still 18 when this was done, depending on what month it was recorded.

 

1892: Rachmaninov: C# Minor Prelude

FRIDAY, January 22, 2021 – 10:06 AM

Rachmaninov: C# Minor Prelude, age 19

Rachmaninov

This to me is THE recording. It is the composer playing, and he just does things no one else does in parts. It is more interesting, more nuanced, and of course it’s the man who wrote the music. We are often disappointed when composers play, because sometimes they have not practiced enough and fake, or perhaps they are simply not the best pianists around, but Rachmaninov was a pianist other pianists listened to and admired.

If you listen carefully you hear things that no one else thinks of.

Voicing

This is about bringing out different lines or notes prominently. Here he plays the same phrase twice. The first time he brings out the top note of the RH. Then he brings out the same note in the LH. No one else did that. No one else does it. It’s not in the score. But it’s better.

Dynamics

The music is marked mf right before the ending, and most people do not observe that. It’s marked “dim.” before that meaning that he uses the rest of the piece to get softer and softer, delaying each chord as long as possible

While you listen to this stereo sound be amazed at the technology, because it was recorded not in the usual way but with something called a piano roll.

Lisitsa

I’ve only liked about three things this lady has ever recorded. She has one of the best techniques in the world, but I normally don’t believe she things about the music enough. But I try to keep an open mind, and there is something about this that is very special. She used more pedal in the beginning, very much what Rachmaninov wrote but perhaps more so. It has a bit of the sound of Debussy. Perhaps it is this last year that has made her more introspective, and she used the same voicing as Rachmaninov. She also starts the middle section very slowly, which has always been my concept. She leaves out one repeated phrase, which is what Rachmaninov did, so she listened to Rachamninov. Good for her!

Here are other interpretations

Kissin

Lugansky

Ashkenazy

His most famous piece…

Rachmaninov wrote this when he was still quite young. Experts differ on the exact timing, some saying age 18 and some saying age 19.

and it remained his most famous composition for the rest of his life. There are now many very few really good recordings of his most famous composition.

What’s New?

SUNDAY, January 10, 2021 – 3:05 AM

I started this idea about six months ago. My idea was to present whatever I was listening to at the moment. Then a day later I moved it to another place, “Yesterday”. I want to continue with the same idea here, whatever I’m listening to and writing about at the moment. But what is here will end up in the Spotlight Index as soon as I have the time to update those files.

1830: Mendelssohn: Rondo Capriccioso

FRIDAY, January 15, 2021 – 9:33 AM

Mendelssohn: Rondo Capriccioso, age 21

No one is quite sure when Felix Mendelssohn composed the Rondo Capriccioso, with some musicologists suggesting he wrote it as early as 1824 when he was 15 years old.

Mendelssohn put the date of June 13, 1830 on the revision, so we do know that by age 21 he finished it and possibly revised it. Mendelssohn is easily the most frightening musical prodigy in musical history of the last several centuries.

Claudio Arrau

The recording is downright primitive, but this is Arrau at his absolute technical zenith, and he has little of the shoulder and neck tension that he eventually showed as a old pianist. Most amazing is that here he is around 50 years old, still young for a top pianist, but already he plays with the thoughtfulness and introversion that made his playing unique. You will experience another pianist playing with this astonishing combination of virtuosity and otherworldly imagination. This would be my pick of all the performances I’ve heard, and it’s very nearly perfect technically even though it’s live.

Claudio Arrau again

There is nothing to see here, and it’s apparently a later recording. The piano is very slightly out of tune, but the recording is better. The same variety, contrast, sensitivity and fire is here. I’ve heard many people play this piece, and for me Arrau is the best. The number of times I’ve picked Arrau as the best of all players in a number of compositions escapes me, but it happens a lot. This man was truly a “pianists’ pianist” because he had a stunning technique in his prime, but you never heard virtuosity at the expense of lyricism and contemplation. I don’t know when this recording was made..

Murray Perahia

Perahia is another intensely musical pianist and was very close to Horowitz. This also starts very slowly and very lyrically. This a very fine recording and so very pleasant to listen to. You will hear more perfection in modern recordings because of both the improvement in technology and editing techniques that virtually remove all mistakes, but don’t conclude from that modern players play more perfectly in performance, where all sorts of odd things still do wrong.

Enzo Oliva

This is highly inflected, very personal and rather challenging in that he plays this very differently. What is frightening to me is how many pianists there are now with stunning technical mastery that I don’t even know by name or reputation. As our knowledge of the body works and how to make it all work continues to increase. This is not the most technically perfect live performance, but it’s close enough to convince me.

Alicia de Larrocha

She was a tiny little lady, barely five feet tall, but her playing sounds like she was around seven feet tall. I prefer the first part a bit slower, with more contemplation, but the fast part has never been played with more clarity, and the ending great. There seems to be something about small women in terms of accuracy and stunning finger technique, because Yuja Wang is very similar.

The Rondo Capriccioso is in two sections

But the first part was added later, so from this we know that the idea that Mendelssohn wrote this at the age of 15 is a best misleading.

Andante In E Major

Modern research has shown that this section was added to the original etude in E minor during the revision of 1830. It begins softly, and the melody has the style of his “Songs Without Words” a type of piano piece that was one of Mendelssohn’s specialties. It lyrically leads to a segue to the next section.

Presto In E Minor

Material from the opening section returns briefly, and the music shifts to E minor for an ending in thundering alternating octaves. The entire piece remains tremendously popular to this very minute.