Monday, March 31, 2008

Brahms Sonata #3

Right from the start Brahms begins to play with traditional beat hierarchy. The third beat has a stronger accent than the second and the first. The rhythmic set-up reflects that of his second Ballade which is in ternary form. The movement is full of motivic demelopment called thematic transformation. Brahms takes a motive from the last part of his opening six measures and begins developing it in a beautiful quite more charming way. As to be expected he juxtapositions this eighth-note motion with triplet fifths in the left-hand. The second page features a very Beethoven-like texture. The right-hand sustains a beautiful chorale sound and the left features a stark staccato non-melodic sound, which not surprisingly comes from the opening rythmic idea. He then takes this same theme and puts it into a more appropriate matching texture. The chorale theme fits better with a warm oscilating wave of harmonies. The development plays with the previous established three against two concept and simplifies the chordal melody. For a whole page, Brahms sustains this hypnotic eighth-note syncopation with an otherwise 'normal' bass melody. I guess Brahms is known for his unique textures. What gives the piece coherency is the use of motives and the preservation of a accessible and understandable melody despite what else might be going on. The recapitulation really develops the opening six measures. Here we see a whole page full of the main rythmic motive: dotted eight and two thirty-second notes. The chromatic bass bass progression is a definite allusision to earlier baroque compositional techniques such as ground-bass and the forms of passacalgia and chaconne. This chromatic motion which we find so often in Liszt logically creates a sense of line in this pretty complex passage.
There is something about the second movement Andante that reminds me of Beethoven's Adagio from the Pathetique sonata. The key is the same as well as some of the textures. The third measure has a very similar melodic motion which instantly made me think of the Beethoven movement. The poco piu lento is very simple soft and beautifull. Their is a wonderfully simple progression which I find amazing. Bbm, fm, gbm, dbM, dbm, cbM, FbM, etc. It just weaves around somewhat like a Schubert sonata or impromptu. This section is part of the B section in this overall ABA form. What defies the form is this innovative and expressive coda section (Andante molto). It is unusual in that the bass creates a pedal not on tonic or dominant but on supertonic. The melody suggests the melodic first movement (part with 2 against 3). The build up is perfect Ab Db Eb Gb (huge) F Eb F Db. This is just varied repetition of the melody but FF and with huge chords. The climax is signalled by these uncontrolled sixteenth notes. It ends peacefully.
The Scherzo reminds me of Ravel's la valse. The heaviness juxtaposed with fast triple meter seems to have an element of self-contradiction. The second page features this eccentric chord progression which is conservative by no stretch of the imagination: ebm, abm, EM, BM, Fm, bm, G7, CM, C#dim, G7, etc..The pattern is most unpredictable and sporadic. I guess this is a typical trait of a scherzo. The trio is ironic in that is is a perfectly conservative chorale. The contrast to the previous section obviously changes the purpose of such an appearance. One cannot avoid the context within which a section appears. To see something as it is without relating it to its surrounding is bound to yield misinterpretation.

Pictures at an Exhibition

This long piece features a promenade which appears between major sections. It is really interesting how Mossorsky alters the theme almost every time it comes back which is about seven times (not including all the repetitions in the last section. The Catacombs is quite peculiar in that the theme presented right after it is completely transformed. The errie chromatic tremolos in the right-hand, the minor quality, and the soft dynamics really changes the character of the promenade. It makes me wonder: what is this promenade? Is it symbolic of something. Perhaps a memory? Obviously the various paintings in this gallery are influencing this thing. The serious slow motion of the Sepulchre is distorting the once majestic and powerful theme. Perhaps the memory of this painter is the promenade and these painting are bringing out different aspects of that whole memory. Here we glimpse something quite dark. The second promenade has a different function. Instead of showing an influence from the previous section this delicate melody foreshadows the Old Castle following it. There is a muted yet colorful texture to the theme which creates the mood for the simple, calm, droned, castle section. The third promenade is quite short and surprisingly does not seem to have any connection to any of its surrounding parts. There is however a slippery chormatic bass toward the end of the passage which reminds me of the gnomes: eccentric, grim. I love how Mossorsky sets up the Unhatched Chicks. There is quick premature interjection which successfully establishes the humorous mood and the energetic anxious character of a chicken. The fifth theme appearance is not very interesting because it basically repeats the opening measures. The Great Gate is really a theme and variation on the promenade. Mossorsky inserts the theme in different textures and different ways. The simple grand theme is first elaborated with more extensive chording and range. He places it in the texture of these cascading bells which soar and fall as the melody is switches between the hands. My favorite part of this movement is the purely Russian bell intensification which starts after the cascading octave bell variation. Here the harmonic motion is static: moving back and forth between a non-functional F7+flat V chord and a neighboring chord where the root is lowered by a half-step. The intensification happens because of a rythmic acceleration: half-notes to triplet quarters to eighths to sixteenth notes. Similarly the dynamics and register becomes more extreme. I really feel let down every time I listen to the last Grave section. I feel like no pianist can really play this part loud enough, convincingly more intense then the rest of the variations in this movement. If only the piano could imitate an orchestra better. It's not Mossorsky's fault, this ending is logical, the only way a pianist can make this part somewhat more dramatic is with the allargando. Only with rythmic inflection can there be more intensity.
One of my favorite movements is the Oxen (The Oxcart). It is heavy, repetitive, and simple, but it is so perfect. Similar to the third movement of Chopin's 2nd sonata, the alternating inversion of tonic have this weighty prodding along. Here it is a struggle: I can just feel the drudgery, the stress behind every step. But slowly and surely he pushes forward through every obsticle which is essentially the same. And there is a slight hint of weariness: the two-slurs represent a sigh, a bit of disdain and gloom.
The Gnome is the most bizzare movement of the set. Even the title hints at something unreal and obscure. There is a definite quirkiness about the music. Sudden outburst or unexpected dynamics, unpredictable entrances because of fermatas, and unusual texture changes (heavy low stuff and then high octave jumping. There is a whimsical character in this gnome and a hint of silliness (grace-note octaves). The chromatic minor thirds in the first meno mosso section has this cyber, surreal feel, which messes with my sense of being grounded, rooted in a tonal framework. There is something in this movement that reminds me of Ravel's Ondine. Perhaps the supernatural sounds and programatic element creates this fantastic scene. The The swirly unstable bass in the accelerando part has a magical intoxicating mood. The dazzling speed of the velocissimo is unwordly.
There is no way I cannot mention the Unhatched Chicks. This movement is hilarious. Mossorsky once again uses fast grace-notes for a silly purpose. The lightness and the quickness beautifully contrasts with the previous oxen part. The gaity and slightly unpredictable rythmic emphasis (pick to the third measure breaks the otherwise straight accent system). The trills also serve as an allusion to the fiesty anxious chicks. The bouncing energy and the cute ending make this a successful representation of chicks.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Liszt Funerailles

This piece opens with ominous dissonant bell sounds: low Db and C. It's really innovative in that Liszt asks the performer to capture octave C's in the opening for seventeen measures. The rhythm in the right-hand is it's is paired with the left is quite unusual, almost too intellectual. He builds this idea with the following structural plan: motive a, motive a, Extend ended motive a. He does this two more times rising the relative pitch level up a step. He continues the idea increasing intensity by using tremolos and extra chords in the left-hand. Liszt seems to do what he always does when he has to expand a section: repeat it again in octaves. After a transitional unwinding section, Liszt moves into a dark scary melody. Mysterious and without hope, this chromatic theme is again repeated in octaves (surprise) and drifts into a poor Chopin imitation theme. As is typical of a Chopin melody, the phrases are sentences (a, a, a continuation 4 +4+8. He also uses this weaving motion to move from one a motive to another: Fb, Eb, Ab, Bb, C. He also uses a typical Chopin melodic embellishment: C, Db, C, B, C, G, F. The left-hand chordal spacing is also reminiscent of a nocturne. He continues this idea. In order to avoid boredom, Liszt uses his famous textures: He adds a harmonic upper voice and puts it back in octaves with eighth-note inner chords. He rambles the phrase on preparing for the ultimate rip-off section. Although it is quite clear that Liszt is not trying to hide the Ab polonaise influence from Chopin, he could have at least made it sound as descent. The melodic line appears either too boring with constant Ab repetitions or it resembles 'I've been working on the Railroad' song. The passage gets a little more interesting on the repetition when the left-hand shifts to chromatic up and down octaves. The coolest part of this piece is the section after this. Liszt repeats the mysterious scary theme now with, guess what, octaves and big chords. After this basic insertion, Liszt dies away one last time. It is unusual that the melodic has been transposed by an augmented fourth. Just when we expect the piece to die away (morendo) Liszt decides to put in a one-more-time Chopin rip-off coda. Then it dies away and stops.

Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody 12

From the beginning of the piece, Liszt is introducing all sorts of different pianistic textures. Textures which unfortunately are all too familiar to listeners. First we have the typical lone octaves (each note embellished with a repeated octave). Then we have the sudden crescendo tremolo figure. The drama is intense, but the effect is cliche since we find it many times. The variety of pianistic textures in these first few pages seems to fragment the line. All the fermatas and rests seem to chop up the music. A lot of times, his form of structure is solely based on antecedent consequent phrases. After this he immediately abandons the idea and does something new. He does, however, repeat the same kinds of figurations, here, the repeated embellishment, extended fast note ornaments, and double dotted figures. It is quite humorous how Liszt moves away from this serious over dramatic into this light shallow melody based on four note scale. The melody is long winded. Liszt is constantly delaying cadence points, something that Wagner would take even further. On the second appearance Liszt subdivides the accompaniment part into eighth notes which successfully increases the relative intensity. At the end of this first variation Liszt does something quite awesome. He sets up a faster texture in sixteenth-notes. There is no doubt in my mind that Liszt knows how to stir up a crowd. By setting up this variation system, the audience is beginning to expect another variation. This logical step from quarter-note, to eighth-note, to sixteenth-note is a simple expected progression. These four measures of lead-in material is obviously there to create anticipation and excitement in the listeners who know what is coming next. He further creates a mood / textural change at the expense of musical continuity. This very expressive Italian singing style section is so beautiful that despite the existing stereotype, the part defies any sense of overuse. The phrase length is simple: 4 and 4 antecedent consequent, followed by a a varied repetition now in octaves. The return of the first tempo and the reappearance of low left-hand chromatic octaves and right-hand tremolos signifies the serious mood. Sure enough Liszt presents the first real melodic figuration from the beginning this time in a different texture. The right-hand is now in octaves and the left-hand is a series of sixteenths tied to eighth notes. Earlier the texture was rolled chords. Liszt moves back to the giojoso (silly) section by including the same lead-in used earlier to create anticipation. This time he simplifies the already simple shallow melody. This time he adds a continuous right-hand trill and includes occasional full keyboard sweeps (chromatic, pentatonic, scalar). He keeps an element of the earlier theme variation idea going by immediately moving to a more complex section (double thirds) with similar harmonic and phrase structure. From there on out things get more and more difficult to play. Liszt asks for an increased tempo (stretta vivace) and makes the left-hand more difficult (now fast abduction and adduction rotations). The right-hand moves to thirty second-notes and then the left-hand takes the melody and then the left-hand has the thirty-second notes. There's the chromatic descending left-hand octaves, the grand repeat of the giojoso section and the typical adagio right before the end. No one can argue that this piece is not exciting.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Transcendental Etude no. 10

Although I find much of Liszt's music over the top and quite repulsive, he does have movements of musical genius. In this etude at the second appearance of his melodic octave section accentato ed appassionato, Liszt has a simply beautiful four bar fragmentation followed by another four bar fragmentation. The melody itself is quite plain: C C C C B B C D E C A and then: C C C C B C Db Eb F Db Ab. The corresponding harmonies are am, B7, G#dim7, am, adim7, Cdim7 (same thing), and resolves to DbM. The possibilities of color change in this passage are incredible. Liszt does not stop here. Like Wagner, the melody never seems to end; we are always presented with new unexpected harmonies. And as you can see, his use of diminished chords allows him to easily shift from one tonal center to the next. The melodic and rhythmic motives make the extended period coherent ( quarter followed by dotted eighth sixteenth note). Like many of Liszt's other works (especially the Dante Fantasy), the use of chromaticism dominates his melodic lines. Even from the beginning, Liszt begins exploring these two-note chromatic slurs (mm. 3 and 6 B to c and Db to C). At m. 7 he elaborates these fragments with an added C Ab F and the end. It's as if we are peering into Liszt's compositional process. It's interesting to note the textural contrasts he sets up and uses throughout the piece. The opening interlocking hand figurations has a diatonic function. There is no real melodic significance to it, it is merely a textural effect. The two-note slur idea mixed with the 2/4 time signature remind me of a barcarole. Unlike Chopin and his etudes, Liszt does not use the same techniques throughout the study. He does often; however, create the illusion of continuous techniques. For example, on the second page of the etude, he writes out a RH sixteenth note triplet part: F G F F G F F G F (in higher and higher octaves). The music is supposed to be a simplified version of the interlocking hand figuration, which appears in the measure before and after it. The illusion figuration not only allows for a break, but also for the extra lH part. The natural assumption of associating the previous measure with the simplified measure increases the illusion of super-virtuosity. It is not until the third page that Liszt actually presents a lasting stable melody. This sense of dramatic opening larger stems from the tradition of Beethoven. Likewise the sense of organic growth and unity of motive comes from the man. What separates Liszt from Beethoven here, is that Liszt is constantly using those motives and shaping them and sequencing them in bizarre keys. For example Fm to Abm in this stable section. Unlike other pieces by Chopin, including his rhapsodies and concert etudes, this work has a clear binary type of form: introduction, Fragmentation section of half-steps, stable theme built from these half-steps, return of end of fragmentation section, exciting pure half-steps in both hands, return of fragmentation section of half-steps, stable theme built from these half-steps, return of end of fragmentation section, extended exciting suggest based purely on the organic fragments. This is basically (intro)ABCA'D ABCA'D' --a two part form. There is one interesting chord progression i wish to observe right before the Stretta section. This patterns turns out to be a series of fully diminished chords strengthened by contrary motion (as the hands reach the extremes of the piano. The chromatic descent in the list line of piece is also very exciting.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chopin Ballade #1

The form of this ballade is quite interesting. I call mm 8-31 A, 32-66 B, 67-93 C, 94-105 A, 106-117 B, 118-165 D, 166-193 B, 194-205 A, 206-264 coda(E). This is an overall ABC ABDB AE form with three reappearances of the opening melodic theme and three repetitions of the B theme (m. 32). Of course most of the excitement of the piece has to occur in the coda which, like all the other sections, is blurred into the preceding sections. This blurring forces performers to gauge, in advance how they are going to change the tempo and style: dramatically or gradually. Performance of this piece demands an understanding of coloristic varieties. Since Chopin blends sections together it is the performers task to smoothly shift between lyrical nocturne styles and fast, sparkling, brillant styles. There are several areas in the A and B sections that demand phrase variety due to repeated melodic figures. For example, observing how a performer might differentiate m. 8 and m. 16 is important. Do they create changes, or repeat exactly the same? Also how do performers change the tempo between sections A and B? Considering the expanse of the form, do the performers create long term lines or are they caught up in overemphasising melodic fragments. Important harmonic changes that seem unusual in the context of a section should also be observed. For example m. 91 suddenly reaches a G minor chord. How do pianists shape at the microscopic level?
Listening on the microscopic level the opening five bars are absolutely essential to understanding how these pianists are going to play the whole piece. #1 rushed through the opening eliminating any sense of anticipation or grandness although, he (or she), like the others, had moments of hesitation crucial to this style. #2 was the most clear and articulate. He had some nice hesitations, particularly in the third measure. Perhaps this artist was striving for a polonaise style, more than a legato dreamy mood. The third performer revealed, from the start a variety of color changes and subtlties and balanced the time of the three measures perfectly. The time spent on the quarter-note G in the third measure made up for the time taken away in the second measure.
On a larger scale it is interesting to see how these performers move out of the A section into the B. #3 is the best in terms of tempo smoothness, however he sacrifices a little bit of musicality. All three pianists play m. 8 and m. 16 the same. #1 hesitates on the second chord of m. 10 and exactly the same on m. 18. #2 has this instant fade away effect: the high D in m. 9 is instantly dimmed into the C in m. 10 (he does this exactly the same on the repeat). Between m. 20 and m. 35, #1 and #2 have moments of rubato. #2, as he did in the beginning, has somewhat abrupt moments of rubato. #1 uses more dynamic overloading but has some rubato also. All three performers successfully gauge the tempo change, slowly increase speed at m.36. #1 seems to push ahead quite rapidly at m. 48 (sounds like Rachmaninoff).
m. 180 is another highly exciting moment in this piece. How are the performers to deal with the simple repetition? Performer #1 is my favorite. He (she) has a subtle diminuendo into the end of the first phrase (m. 184). He contrasts the repeated phrases in m. 184-186 by initiating the soft pedal at m. 186. He also dissolves the left hand in order to stress a stronger diminuendo at m. 187. #2 has a very articulate approach with very little variety. #3 is the most expressive, and unfortunately the most speratic. Each figuration is emphasised (overly so). There is a huge rubato in m. 187 and an amazing pause between m. 189 and 190 to emphasize the minor triad. He clearly emphasizes this the most.
The coda is another interesting spot to see a variety of interepretations. #1 is the most dramatic in mm. 206-207. He pounds out the melody slowly. #2 is slightly faster, and #3 has the most logical natural pulse. This also the case throughout the remaining piece. #1 lingers starting at m. 231 to emphasize the cresendo. #2 Has some problems and has substancial slow downs between mm. 225-226. This pianist however has the fastest right hand in m. 246! #2 has very clean pedal changes even at the end where I believe Chopin desires more of an effect than a clearly articulated chromatic line. #2 however, does create the best contrast between the virtuosic parts and the p chords at mm. 252 and 256.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chopin Sonata op. 35

This week I gave a presentation on Chopin: his life and his second sonata. I did quite alot of prepartion for this assignment. The more I learn, the more I don't know. At first I had a conception that he wrote the whole sonata at one point. Later I realized The funeral march was written two years before the rest of the sonata. Then I read that in 1837, there were at least three different french editions of the march. Apparently Chopin did not know what he wanted out of this piece. Then I learned that in a letter to his publisher Juljan Fontana in Paris he discussed his plans for writting a Sonata. Deduced from the letter, Chopin might have written the second movement even earlier then previously assumed. To make things even less clear, I read that the second part of the funeral march (the lyrical section) was actually written as a four-hand piano piece. Also the presence of an Autograph of the lyrical section of the funeral march suggests this part was perhaps to be a seperate complete piece.

It almost seems too perfect when considering the motivation and purpose to Chopin's writting of this composition. His engagement to Maria Wodzinski was concelled by her mother in 1837. The previous August he had fallen in love with her while staying with the family in Dresden. People have speculated about way the engagement was cancelled. Most researchers say it was because of his health. Everything, as the mother Teresa said "depended on his health." Because he was always sickly, perhaps the family was uncomfortable with the notion of early death and Maria becoming a widow. Others speculate that his life was very unstable. As a musician, Chopin was always traveling, unsure about his plans. Obviously the Wodzinski's would be looking for someone he was healthy and predictable. In any case, Chopin recieved the sorrowful letter while he was in London talking to Pleyel (the piano maker). It is very frustrating trying to read Chopin's letters. He is very good at hiding his feelings even in the letter to Teresa right after she sent the bad news. The only evidence that he even recieved that letter is from this statement "Your last letter reached me in London, where I spent last month dawdling about. I had thought of going from there to Germany through Holland--I came back here, as it is getting late, and in my room it will probably be altogether too late for me. I hope for a less sad letter from you than the last. Perhaps my next one will be only a postscript to one from Antos." What is really sad about the whole situation is that Chopin was pretty excited about going back to the Wodzinski's that summer of 1837. Even though, as I have said, Chopin hides feelings, the anticipation is clear: "And is the summer beatiful at Sluzew? Is there much shade? Can one sit under the trees and paint? Has Teresa still a good place for her cheese-making? Does she not miss Panna Josefa's of Mlle Malet's heop with it? Shan't you see them soom? I could ask a thousand questions. The silly happiness in the tone is rather depressing when compared to the following emotionless one, which lacks any sense of personality, just facts.
I have always wondered why Chopin's music sounds so fragile, dark, and beautiful. It is so interesting how close Chopin is to his music. His whole life is full of sorrow, disappointment, and sickness. His music is always so painful. Even in the most beautiful moments their is a certain amount of poignancy. Even in his teens, when he was studying at the conservatory, tuberculosis was effecting his health: "[my head has] been aching, I don't know why, for the last four days. They have put leeches on my throat because the glands have swelled, and our Roemer says it's a catarrhal affection." Catarrhal is basically a swelling of the throat, a symptom of TB. His famous trip to Majorca is another period of intense pain and sickness. I wonder if his music would have just as good if he had not been a victim of constant suffering. He did write most of his preludes while he was there. I strongly believe that in order to convey a genuine emotion in music, one has to experience it in their life. Beethoven suffered greatly, and so his music has this deep real meaning to it. Any attempt to reproduce an emotion that one has never experienced is going to yield a certain amount of artificiality. Chopin had many friends die from disease in Poland. He knew death and he knew suffering. The whole second sonata is full of grim moods and suggests. Even the Doppio Movimento is full of painfull dissonance and exciting macabre moments.
Speaking of dark pieces, Chopin's polonaise in F-sharp minor is full of power and emotion. Like Chopin's other later pieces, this piece is full of chromaticism. Even the opening introduction is built on half-step ominous motives. Following a general ternary form A B A, the A is built on repeated variation. The first appearance is a single melody line that quickly becomes thirds and then octaves. In its reapearance the whole melodic passage becomes octaves, and by the third iteration the left-hand adds this sweeping gesture which adds to the drama. The B section is basically vamp material. This section keeps the listener waiting, waiting for a melody or something to come on top of this accompainment passagework which is solely connected by ryhthmic continuity. What keeps this passage from boredom is the suddenly harmonic intensification. Instead of returning to the A section, as listener's might expect, Chopin includes an italian style mazurka in the middle (how unusual!). The beautiful rather light section is almost comical in relation to the rather serious A part. With the help of creepy loud irregular scale patterns, Chopin transitions back into the darker stormy polonaise.