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Kissin Breathing Fresh Air

Striking a very special chord for many world class performers the Verbier festival just completed its 21st edition. A regular guest artist there, pianist Evgeny Kissin believes it’s crucial to combine rest with work because it helps the performer to regain lost focus. After remarking that it was too bad that “… there were only 25 (sic) hours in a day and only 365 days in a year …,” Kissin made the point that he preferred the solitude of working on solo repertoire to that of working in a group. It allowed him to apply the energy and focus he achieved during his rest more effectively. Now that he’s turned his energy towards Jewish musicians like Bloch and Krein, Kissin hopes that this hard work boosts their popularity and garners them the respect they deserve.


Moonlight Trapped in the Sonata Form?

Sonatas come in many shapes throughout the history of music. The name Sonata is derived from the Italian word “suonare” (to sound) as opposed to “Cantata” (to sing). Although we find many single movement pieces from the Baroque period and mid-18th century named sonatas, it is not until Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven develop a 3 (or 4) movement disposition that we can talk about the term ”sonata form”. They all added extra movements in order to create what Leonard Bernstein later explained: “… perfect three-part balance, and second, the excitement of its contrasting elements. Balance and contrast — in these two words we have the main secrets of the sonata form.”

The popular classical form

For both Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven it is still the first movement in the sonata which stands paramount in the construction. Additionally a slow movement and a fast movement could be added, each having a specific function in the musical argument of the complete piece. Beethoven eventually develops the form and strengthens each movement’s own specific character and even re-disposes the number of movements and alters the fast-slow-fast disposition of the Classial era.

How can we explain this immense popularity of the sonata for over two hundred years? What makes it so satisfying, so complete?
In Beethoven’s hands the piano sonata underwent a drastic development from his early works inspired by Haydn and Mozart until his late experimental and bold works with a much freer concept of form and drama. The term “sonata form” appears in the mid-19th century and Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas were the basis for the analysis.

The Moonlight Sonata is different

There are no specific reasons why Beethoven decided to title both the Op. 27 works as Sonata quasi una fantasia (”sonata in the manner of a fantasy”), but the layout of no. 2 (the Moonlight Sonata) does not follow the traditional fast–slow–fast. Instead, the sonata proposes an end-weighted journey, with the rapid music held off until the third movement. The sonata consists of three movements:
Adagio sostenuto-Allegretto-Presto agitato
The name “Moonlight Sonata” comes from the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab, five years after Beethoven’s death.

Beethoven: Sonata Sonata Op. 27 no. 2, piano sheet music:
Moonlight Sonata piano sheet music

Two distinctly different interpretations

Here we listen to a recent performance of the Moonlight Sonata by pianist Yundi Li from a popular TV-show in Japan. His interpetation is quite traditional with a slow and beautiful rendition of the first movement while his last movement is very clean and polished – indeed not one of the more wild and stormy versions we have heard. But that is perhaps what to expect by Yundi Li, who is a former International Chopin Competition winner (2000).

On the other hand we have Andras Schiff who, in recent years, has proposed a completely different interpretation of the first movement for three resons:
1. The nickname “Monlight Sonata” is nonsense.
2. Since the meter is “Alla breve” we should count two beats (half notes) per bar, calling for a quite light and quick tempo.
3. Beethoven writes in the beginning of the piece “Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino” which means “This whole movement must be played with the utmost delicacy and without dampers. (i.e. with right pedal down). If that means that we should keep the right pedal constantly down throughout the piece or to change pedal in a traditional way when harmony changes is the big question for debate.
Listen to Schiff’s lecture below for a more detailed description.

Yundi Li plays Beethoven Sonata Op. 27 no. 2 (from Japanese TV 2014)
1. Adagio sostenuto
2. Allegretto
3. Presto agitato

Andras Schiff:
Lecture about the Moonlight Sonata (Wigmore hall, London)

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International Piano – July/August

A new issue of International Piano is out!
Content highlights:

  • Jean Muller: recording Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes
  • Rising stars: the top 30 pianists under 30
  • John Ogdon: remembering his talent 25 years on
  • Sheet music of Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major, Op 53 and MP3 downloads of recordings made on the instruments at Finchcocks Musical Museum in Kent

Piano Street Gold members have instant online access to the digital version of the magazine.


The Creative Dance of Imagination – Tango for Two

“I still can’t believe that some pseudo-critics continue to accuse me of having murdered Tango. They have it backward. They should look at me as the saviour of Tango. I performed plastic surgery on it.” – Astor Piazzolla

Sometimes melancholic and always sensual, Astor Piazzolla’s works found a magnificent balance between genres, styles and eras. Preoccupied with seeing things in a new, fresh light, breaking through different genres, Piazzolla established a unique balance between genres such as jazz, contemporary music and vocal music. Thus Piazzolla left a very distinctive music evoking laughter and tears, dance and contemplation.

The pianist sisters Khatia and Gvantsa Buniatishvili were introduced to the piano and to literature at an early age by their mother. Using imagination as their primary source of inspiration, they believe that music and literature are intertwined and have a commonality. Kathia has further explored the possibilities of filmed musical drama and her Liszt Sonata in b minor was shot in a forest near Hamburg in 2011. Hear Khatia and Gavantsa Buniatishvili play Piazzolla’s Libertango from a forest recital with a Concert Grand in plain nature. As Groucho Marx said: “It takes two to Tango”.

If you feel tempted to play some Piazzolla, we recommend these sheet music albums available from amazon.com to start with:
El Viaje: 14 Tangos And Other Pieces
Hal Leonard Astor Piazzolla 28 Tangos Arranged for Piano

Or try free sample pages at musicnotes.com:
Adios Nonino
Buenos Aires Hora Cero

On the topic of Khatia playing piano in the forest and the impact the film medium has on our impression of music, take the survey:

Do We Judge Music by Sight More Than Sound?


The TransAcoustic Piano – Silent Piano Technology Taken One Step Further

In the past, many pianists have contended with cantankerous neighbors who complain about loud practicing during the day or late-night schedules that preclude practicing for fear of waking even reasonable neighbors.
This led to the development of the technology referred to as Silent Piano (Yamaha) or Anytime (Kawai) which is an acoustic piano where there is an option to completely silence the strings by means of an interposing hammer bar, preventing the hammers from touching the strings.

In the silent mode, sensors pick up the piano key movement. It is then converted to a MIDI signal which links to a digital sound module with headphones. The silent/anytime pianos also have full MIDI capability for sending signals and can be linked to a computer for use with notation software for example.

The new TransAcoustic concept

Instead of pitting acoustic and digital against each other, Yamaha now has brought the concepts together combining the two worlds in an attempt to create a completely new kind of experience. The TransAcoustic technology is an experimental endeavour that most certainly only a large company could afford to develop and present to the international market.

At its most basic level, the new technology transfers the digital sound of the Silent Piano into the instrument’s soundboard instead of the headphones. Two transducers attached to the piano’s soundboard convert the digital signal into electromechanical impulses that set the soundboard vibrating – literally turning the soundboard into a loudspeaker membrane which means that the sound is actually delivered through a naturally resonant piano component.

This component allows the player to adjust the volume of this “half-acoustic” piano sound but also to play with other instrument sounds in TransAcoustic mode, such as harpsichord, marimba or electric piano. It is also possible to layer any of the 19 digital sounds on top of the standard, hammer-striking-string piano voice – a feature that assumingly will increase the demand for piano tuners. Another advantage over pure digital sound is, according to Yamaha, that when using the damper pedal in TransAcoustic mode the piano strings will pick up some of the digital sound in an acoustic phenomenon called sympathetic resonance. (Try this yourself by depressing the right pedal in an acoustic piano and sing or shout into the piano.) This is one of the parts of a natural acoustic piano sound that standard digital piano technology still struggles to convincingly recreate.

Time will tell how useful and popular the TransAcoustic technology will become. The first model, the Yamaha U1TA PE Professional Upright Piano has just started shipping.

Reader question:
What is your opinion about the usefulness and future of this kind of digital/acoustic hybrid pianos?


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