Ever since monks began experimenting with complex harmony in the 11th century, people have responded differently to different intervals. Although no official documentation exists, the first interval other than the unison must have been the octave. In just temperament, an outgrowth of Pythagorean music theory, the frequency ratio between the two notes of an octave is exactly 2-to-1. As they experimented beyond the octave, musicians of all types, not just monks, discovered dissonances, which they avoided. In today’s equal temperament music world, major and minor thirds are among the most consonant of all intervals. During the 11th century, however, thirds were taboo because they were extremely dissonant in the chords of that time. This is because of just temperament’s relationship with, which based its structure on a series of perfect fifths. The circle of pure perfect fifths, however, does not end where it started. This creates a painful dissonance at the end of the series called the wolf fifth, which bridges the frequency gap. Because of this wolf fifth, keys requiring any more than three sharps or flats became so dissonant as to be impractical.
At the end of the 16th century, Galileo Galilei’s father, Vincenzo, wrote several pieces making use of equal temperament. This system, rather than using a series of pure fifths, divided the octave into 12 equal parts. Despite small changes in pure intervals, the relationship between the 12 semitones ensured greater flexibility in enharmonic expression. Instead of just a few, all 24 major and minor keys were now available because the dissonances in the interior intervals were so much smaller.
Our modern ears are now used to equal temperament, and, despite the impurities in its intervals, now prefer its sound over any other temperament. Researchers at the University of Minnesota wanted to delve more into this and studied 250 students at the University. Their main thesis question was: what makes certain combinations of notes pleasant or unpleasant?
They found that what caused an interval to be dissonant was the prevalence of “beating intervals.” Beating happens when two notes are extremely close in frequency but not exactly the same. For example, middle-C has a frequency of 512 hertz (cycles per second). Two instruments playing middle-C in unison would have no beating if both instruments produced a frequency of exactly 512 hertz. Beating would begin if one player played 512 hertz and the other played 511 or 513 hertz. Obviously, greater differences in the number of hertz would create larger beats. Larger beats would create, in turn, more and more dissonant and unpleasant sounds.
A fascinating but unexpected conclusion was that the amount of musical training in the test subjects affected the results. Subjects with more musical training than their counterparts preferred the most pleasant sounds. In other words, they preferred sounds with little or no beating. It makes sense that subjects with perfect pitch would prefer these tones, but it was apparent in those with only decent relative pitch, as well. This is indicative of how influential intonation is in musical performance, regardless of the performer’s level of training.
The researchers noted something else intriguing, as well. The preference for fully consonant sounds in subjects trained in Western music is absent in subjects that came from other cultures. Indeed, other tuning systems, such as that of an Indonesian Gamelan, use intervals and harmonies that would be very dissonant to a Western music ear. In fact, the tuning of many Gamelan ensembles is actually designed to create beats and dissonance. The researchers discovered that preference of consonance or dissonance varied from culture to culture.
The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was created after the late Van Cliburn’s victory at the inaugural Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow in 1958 as a means of perpetuating his unique legacy of effecting cultural diplomacy through classical music. The first competition was held in 1962. The Cliburn is now an innovative force in the classical music field and is a recognized leader in bringing live performances to audiences extending far beyond the concert hall.
The mission of the Cliburn is to advance classical piano music throughout the world. Its international competitions, education programs, and concert series embody an enduring commitment to artistic excellence and the discovery of young artists. It seeks to connect with audiences through all available media as well as educate new generations of listeners to help them discover and explore the wonder of classical music.
The Cliburn will host a dynamic multi-camera live webcast at Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall (May 24-June 9). The webcast will bring the Competition to life around the world in real time with over 110 hours of live broadcasts of performances, interview segments, and awards ceremonies over the 17-day period. The main focus of the webcast will be to bring to life each of the 30 young and gifted pianists through the live broadcasting of the three thrilling competition performance rounds, interactive live commentary, filmed profiles, as well as live and taped interviews with each competitor.
In 1997, the Cliburn began utilizing sophisticated Internet resources to stream the competition live online, extending its outreach to every corner of the globe. In 2009, web viewers enjoyed free real-time access to competition performances in their entirety, as well as to a fully produced webcast offering hours of educational and cultural content, backstage views of rehearsals, and the International Cultural Diplomacy Symposia.
There are significant changes to this yearâ€™s Cliburn. The preliminary round (through May 30) will have each pianist play two 45-minute solo recitals, rather than just one.
As in past years, the semifinal round will comprise a 60-minute solo recital and a piano quintet performance, this time with the Brentano String Quartet. A newly commissioned piece by Christopher Theofanidis will be required in the recital portion; in some previous years contestants were given a choice of new pieces.
In 2009, the final round required contestants to play one solo recital and two piano concertos â€” one from the classical period, one from the 19th or 20th century. This time, the round will comprise only the two piano concertos, with Leonard Slatkin conducting the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
Chopin’s piano music does have a prominent place in the classical music repertoire. Janina Fialkowskaâ€™s Chopin Recital II recording on ATMA Classique confirmed the fact when it recently won the prestigious BBC Music Magazine Award for Best Instrumental Recording of 2012.
The BBC Music Magazine Awards are the only classical music awards in which the main categories are voted for by the public. The shortlist represents the very best of more than 1,300 recordings reviewed by BBC Music Magazine during 2012, and features leading names from the international classical music arena.
â€śIâ€™m overwhelmed by the prize,â€ť Fialkowska told the Independent. â€śIâ€™ve devoted most of my professional life to the music of Chopin and itâ€™s nice to have my playing recognized in this way.â€ťď»ż
This short film artfully defines Janina Fialkowskaâ€™s imprint in the world of classical music: Constellation by Patrick Doan
“We have had many celebrated executants in London in this Chopin anniversary year — Zimerman, Pollini and Yundi Li among them — but none has taken my breath away quite like Fialkowska. If you have the chance to hear her, cancel all other appointments.” — The Evening Standard
“Fialkowska is formidable…performs with a clarity that sets her apart from the ordinary superstars. ” — The Toronto Star
“Fialkowska was always one of those “best-kept secret” pianists, loved by connoisseurs for her tonal refinement and exquisite musical taste, but her ordeal seems to have released a new lease of life in her music-making… the playing is sheer bliss. If you buy one Chopin selection this year, make it Fialkowska’s. ” — The Sunday Times
In part two of the three-part special on building a career as a professional pianist, Piano Streetâ€™s guest writer Alexander Buskermolen spoke with Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar about his education, vision on personal musical development, and the challenges he faces as an international performer.
Hannes Minnaar, who was born in 1984, is one of Holland’s most exciting and successful pianists. After winning third prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2010, his career took flight. Hannes Minnaar currently plays with orchestras like The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, The National Orchestra of Belgium and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. He worked with Herbert Blomstedt and Marin Alsop during those collaborations.
Alexander Buskermolen: To start off, could you describe your musical educational path in general? Please describe your path from your first piano lessons until now. Also, who were your teachers? What did they contribute to your development?
Hannes Minnaar: My first encounter with classical music was at the age of four when I listened to classical records at my grandparents. I wanted piano lessons for years, and my parents finally decided the time was right for me to start playing the piano. Well, to be exact, it was a keyboard and not really the piano. After starting lessons with the neighborhood teacher, it became pretty clear after two years that it was time to take the next step and go to music school. By this time, I was eight years old and my hunger for piano music was growing. While I was learning my first Clementi Sonatinas with my new piano teacher, I also made many trips to the local library to get Chopinâ€™s Polonaises and Debussyâ€™s Suite Bergamasque. Funnily enough, the Chopin Military Polonaise wasn’t the biggest problem. It was Clair de Lune with five flats!
After having three different teachers in four years, it was time to take a big step in my piano education. Since I was not old enough for the young talent class at the Conservatory of Zwolle, my parents and I decided to have private lessons with one of the most influential teachers of my life: Marien van Nieukerken. Now things started to become serious!
As I started my piano lessons with Marien, I learned about the tough side of becoming a pianist: playing Czerny etudes, raising the standard of technique, and learning music by heart for the very first time. During my lessons with Marien van Nieukerken, I realized that I really wanted to become a professional pianist. I couldn’t have wished for a better teacher to prepare myself for a career in music! He stayed with me up until I was accepted for a course of study on my way to a professional career.
When I started my professional musical education at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, I was very fortunate to have Jan Wijn as my teacher. The lessons with him were sometimes much different than the piano lessons I had had before. The biggest contribution that Jan Wijn made teach me to control the relaxation. Before that, I used to play nearly everything with just the fingers. I used no wrist or arm movement whatsoever. I simply couldn’t relax my arms as they hit the piano. The funny thing is, up until that point I had played a lot of repertoire that would let me get away with this kind of vertical piano playing. Later, when I started to play more Ravel and Rachmaninoff, I was able to benefit from this new technique and relaxation of the arms.
AB: Chronologically, which composers, methods, and compositions have specifically contributed to a certain technical or musical capability? Which piano methods did you encounter during your musical education?
HM: Like many Dutch kids from my generation, I started with the books of Folk Dean–this was the alias for the Dutch composer Theo Ettema, who lived from 1906-1991. After approximately two years, I started playing Clementi Sonatines, then Mozart Sonatas, Schubert Impromptus and even Brahmsâ€™ Opus 117. During this time, I also loved to play everything that I knew from television and radio.
With Marien van Nieukerken, I started to play Czerny Etudes, some unknown American Piano Sonatas, Chopin Etudes a lot of interesting but relatively unknown stuff, like pieces by Gottschalk, Ray Green and Simeon ten Holt. To be honest, 20th century music was something I appreciated more than, let’s say, an early Sonata by Beethoven.
During my time at the Conservatory of Amsterdam I also studied the organ, so I was attracted naturally to play a lot of Bach. Other composers that were part of my routine were Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Ravel.
AB: In November 2011, you performed Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto. This work is known for its extremely difficult score and technical challenges. Technically and mentally, how did you approach this first encounter with this musical milestone?
HM: After I played in the finals of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2010, a couple of orchestras asked me to play a Concerto with them. Of course, these orchestras have their wishes about which Concertos to play. Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto was one of them. For me, it was time to take on this challenge and try to master it in a relatively short amount of time. I was already in the mood because I’ve performed Rachmaninoff’s First Sonata many times. I had a very busy schedule, so after doing bits and pieces of the Concerto during most of the spring, it was only in the summer that I found a couple of weeks to really dive into the score. During the two months prior to the concert, I really practiced day and night to master the whole Concerto.
In anticipation of the first performance, I was quite anxious. Despite this attack of nerves, I felt really at ease during the performance and I really enjoyed playing it on stage. The second performance later that week felt even better. I really hope that I’ll be playing this Concerto many times more. So, even though I was familiar with all the myths and stories, such as the movie “Shine,” it turned out to be a fantastic project.
AB: How did you prepare for a very demanding life as a concert pianists, in terms of repertoire, during your time at the Conservatory of Amsterdam? Did you, for instance, learn how to program a solo recital or chamber music concert?
HM: Some of the repertoire that I played prior to my time at the Conservatory I could still play in recitals. For instance, I’ve played Preludes by Rachmaninoff, Etudes by Chopin and Ligeti, and also the Sonatine by Ravel. This last piece, together with Miroirs and Rachmaninoffâ€™s 1st Sonata, I even recorded on my first CD that was recently published.
When I started my lessons with Jan Wijn, romantic piano music was absolutely not the core of my repertoire. With him, I started working on pieces like Schumann’s Carnaval and Mussorgskyâ€™s Pictures at an Exhibition. In a way, you could say that Jan Wijn was a lot more orthodox in his approach to repertoire. He wasnâ€™t necessarily the kind of teacher that asked me to bring 20th century abstract music to the lessons. But I enjoyed working on contemporary pieces with him as well.
AB: You’re also a very gifted organist and recently obtained your Masters degree in organ performance, Summa Cum Laude. Which parallels and differences do you encounter when practicing on both instruments? How do you apply your insights into your daily practice?
HM: One of the biggest challenges in playing the organ, compared to the piano, is that you need to find a different balance in body posture. The simple fact that your feet don’t touch the ground has a huge impact on this balance. Therefore a good posture is extremely important to achieve a free technique. Also, in terms of articulation, I found a new approach to the piano. Playing the organ, I feel that I became more aware of my fingertips and movements. Articulation is the biggest factor in determining different styles of playing. Therefore, I developed a lot more awareness about the duration of a tone and how it affects phrasing. Playing the organ also enriched my understanding of a musical line.
The difference between both instruments was mainly emphasized by the teachers. For instance, my organ teacher was quite strict and theoretical about tempo. He believed in set tempi for every composition. This approach gave me a certain context to work in – I never got that before. Jan Wijn was more effusive and talked a lot about effect and feeling. He still remained true to the score, of course. His vision often collided with the fixed context given by my organ teacher, Jacques van Oortmerssen. For me, this was a perfect opportunity to think outside the box and find my own musical truths.
AB: Considering the extremely high technical standards necessary for any performance, how do you deal with this? How do you make sure your performances are technically clean and well executed? How were you prepared for this part of your artistic career?
HM: I can start off by admitting that I’ve rarely played perfect concerts. There are always a few slips. I’ve seen some of my colleagues play their recitals absolutely flawlessly, which is highly frustrating, ha-ha! I can be amazed by this phenomenon, though I know the essence of a performance should still be about the musicality, stories, and gestures. To achieve technical perfection and 100% clean executions of compositions, I believe you need extreme dedication to the studying process and an ability to concentrate beyond what most people will ever experience. I found out that only when I am in optimal concentration and focus (and relaxation!) Iâ€™m able to play without a slip of the finger. But I feel my technique is rather based on playing musical gestures than playing notes, the latter being much more safe. A clean technique may never be the main priority. However, Jan Wijn has always been quite strict about any kind of mistakes that were made in a lesson or performance.
AB: Iâ€™d like to thank you for your time and effort to speak with us. We wish you all the best in your artistic and personal path and we’ll make sure to keep track of your expanding career.
Listen: Samples from Hannes Minnaar’s premier recording on Etcetera label.
During his current work recording piano music by the Italian composer Andrea Luchesi — a contemporary of W. A. Mozart — pianist Roberto Plano made a most unusual and rare discovery.
Patrick Jovell: We know you as the First Prize Winner of the 2001 Cleveland International Piano Competition and as finalist at the Twelfth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition of 2005. We also know of roughly 20 available CDs. We would, however, like to ask you about your unique discovery. We understand that you made this discovery while working on a recent recording of the music of Andrea Luchesi, a contemporary of Mozart who lived from 1741-1801. Can you tell us the story about what you have found?
Roberto Plano: Yes, actually it’s not easy to make new discoveries. I didn’t think that I could make one… The story is simple. I was getting ready for the world premiĂ¨re recording of the two Keyboard Concertos by Andrea Luchesi, an Italian composer that I started to re-discover with a CD released on the Concerto label last year. One of these Concertos needed a Cadenza that was not written by the composer, so I decided to write my own. But just before the recording, a few Luchesi-fans let me know that Mozart probably wrote a Cadenza for the Concerto in F Major. This Cadenza had not yet been discovered. This news intrigued me, so I looked on the Digital Mozart Edition on the Mozarteum webpage for all the Cadenzas written by Mozart. I found two volumes. One contained some Cadenzas he wrote for his own Concertos, and one contained Cadenzas written for Concertos by other composers. In this last volume I noticed a Cadenza in F Major listed as a Cadenza for an unknown concerto. Since the key was the same as the Luchesi Concerto I played it, and found out that the musical material was undoubtedly the same! Mozart wrote that Cadenza for the Luchesi Concerto, and this was never discovered before! You can imagine my surprise. I was also aware that this Mozart music, with its missing Concerto, was probably never played in modern times. So, I learned it and recorded it.
Extract from Mozart’s cadenza K 624:
PJ: You have recently released an album with Andrea Luchesi Sonatas & Rondos. His compositional style could be described as being a mix of Mozart, Scarlatti and Galuppi, but what specifically has attracted your attention to his music?
RP: It’s exactly what you say that attracted me, together with the fact that these Sonatas were never performed on a modern piano. This seemed crazy to me since we regularly play the music of Luchesi’s contemporaries on a piano. These Sonatas are a mix between Scarlatti and Haydn, between Galuppi and Mozart. Music that could be similar to the Empfindsamer and Galant styles, but also close to the Classical style, especially in the slow movements. Listen for example to the Andante of the Sonata in C Major by Luchesi and the Andante of the Sonata K 545 in C Major by Mozart, and you will hear many similarities. Mozart wrote that Andante many years after Luchesi’s.
PJ: How would you sum up Andrea LuchesiÂ´s influence? Luchesi was nominated official court Kapellmeister in Bonn in 1774. He was also primarily a teaching composer/organist with students like Reicha, Ries, Roemberg, and young Beethoven. What do we know about his interaction with the Mozart family?
RP: It’s incredible to see how influential Luchesi was during his time. The Bonn Music Chapel was equally important at the time when Luchesi was Kapellmeister. The young Beethoven played the viola in the orchestra with Luchesi conducting. Luchesi was also teaching other musicians that would be incredibly influential in the future, such as Anton Reicha. Reicha eventually became an important music theorist of many new musical forms. In Paris, he taught sonata form to great musicians like Berlioz, Liszt, Gounod and Franck. Luchesi led the Bonn Chapel to a great role in the music of that time, which is something that his predecessor, Beethoven’s grandfather, apparently didn’t do. Before going to Bonn, he had earned great fame in Italy and this was why the young Mozart paid him a visit during his trip to Italy with his father in 1771. Mozart liked Luchesi’s style that much so he asked him for a copy of his Concerto in F, which is one of the concertos I recorded. It is a piece he played in concert for many years after that, and he also suggested his sister Nannerl to use it with her students.
PJ: LuchesiÂ´s works are said to be circulated in the name of Haydn, Mozart, and others since 1763. What is the story behind this? Is it true that German musicology is supposed to have misattributed them?
RP: This is the thriller beyond the life of Luchesi. I’m not a musicologist, so I cannot know what really happened during Luchesi’s time. What I know is that the copyright didn’t exist at that time, and there are cases where musicologists discovered that works attributed to one composer were not at all written by him. This happened, for instance, with HaydnÂ´s Symphonies. Once, there were many more considered than the 104 we count nowadays. What I don’t understand is why we have many Luchesi compositions from his Italian years and very, very few from his German period–where did his compositions written after 1771 go? And it’s also strange that German musicologists never mentioned Luchesi’s name associated with Mozart and Beethoven… nor discovered that Mozart wrote a Cadenza for his F major Concerto!
PJ: Can you tell us about your upcoming recording plans for the Luchesi project?
RP: Between the first CD dedicated to LuchesiÂ´s Sonatas and Rondos, and the one with the Keyboard Concertos to be released this fall, I also recorded a CD for the Italian music magazine Amadeus. It showcases Luchesi’s Sonatas Op. 1, where his development as a composer is obvious. It is out this spring.
Roberto Plano plays Andrea Luchesi: Piano Sonatas & Rondos
The first event of its kind ever in the UK, Music Education Expo took place at the Barbican Centre in London on 20-21 March 2013, hosting over 3000 visitors and 120 exhibitors.
The expo’s seminar theaters featured a compelling programme of influential speakers from the world of music education and beyond, while the interactive trade exhibition enabled primary, secondary and instrumental music teachers to get to grips with the latest resources, instruments, technology and expertise from across the music education business.
Among the many notable exhibitors were Music First, European Piano Teachers Association, Bechstein, Schott, Yamaha, Naxos Music Library and ABRSM. Piano Street was there to show the latest features, such as the Audiovisual Study Tool (AST) as well as other new features, soon to be announced here on the website.
The memory capacity of famous musicians seem almost superhuman. Can such outstanding accomplishments be explained by the same principles associated with ordinary, everyday memory related abilities? This is the story of how the pianist went about learning, memorising and polishing the last movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto, from the viewpoints of the pianist (author no. 2) and of a cognitive psychologist (author no. 1) observing the practice. The counterpoint between these insider and outsider perspectives is summarised by the observations of a social psychologist (author no. 3) about how these two viewpoints were settled.
Written for both psychologists and musicians, the book “Practicing Perfection: Memory and Piano Performance” by Roger Chaffin, Gabriela Imreh and Mary Crawford, (Psychology Press, 2002) provides the first detailed description of how an experienced pianist organises her practice, identifying stages of the learning process, characteristics of expert practice, and practice strategies. The core of the book, however, is on memorisation. An analysis of what famous pianists of the past century have said about memorisation reveals considerable disagreement and confusion. The authors point out how principles of memory developed by cognitive psychologists apply to musical performance and reveal the close connection between memory and interpretation.
â€śOf all the interdisciplinary collaborations of late between psychologists and performers, surely the most fruitful… has been that of the American-Romanian concert pianist Gabriela Imreh with cognitive psychologist Roger Chaffin and his wife the social psychologist Mary Crawford. I would go so far as to say that the report of their research should be required reading for every pianist, piano student and teacher in the land.â€ś – Piano Journal
Back in 1984, the Compact Disc changed the recording industry forever. Before that, the best quality sound came from very expensive half-speed master copies of 33 1/3 long playing records. These specially designed pressings used better quality vinyl and had deeper grooves. The cutting lathe cut the disc at half-speed which resulted in extremely accurate pressings. The truly best half-speed master pressings were the equal to Compact Discs. In many instances, they were better. Their main drawback, however, was the much higher cost. Compact Discs were easier and cheaper to mass-produce. Over the last 28 years, they have been the preferred medium for audiophiles. In this second decade of the 21st Century, downloading music is beginning to take over the mantle of “preferred medium”.
Today, classical music buffs who download music find MP3 files to be inferior to original, digital recordings in much the same way as later, cheaper vinyl pressings were inferior to half-speed master pressings. For the last few years or so, audio downloads were only available in compressed formats like MP3 or AAC. The compression removed small bits of the sound spectrum. Smaller speakers, such as those found in computers, cannot produce the removed sounds so there was usually no perceived loss. Despite this, classical music audiophiles refer to such files colloquially as “lossy files”. Pop music files have a smaller sound spectrum than classical music files. Usually, the lost sound is undetectable in these files, even on larger speakers.
Piano music is especially tricky since professional performers strive for a distinct sound. Differences between players are just the sounds lost in the compression process. Such compression makes similar, yet undeniably different, recordings sound the same. Audiophiles, therefore, are seeking a better option in downloaded music files. Free Lossless Audio Codec, or FLAC, provides that better option.
FLAC Format – No Loss of Sound Across the Entire Spectrum
In the winter of 2003, the Xiph.org Foundation perfected FLAC, and audiophiles rejoiced. Compression no longer required loss of sound or quality. FLAC operates in much the same way as Zip technology. The compression, however, is superior because Xiph specifically designed FLAC for audio files. FLAC belongs to a group of these newer technologies called “lossless” compression. Some audio players of today support FLAC in the same way as MP3, but not as many as MP3. FLAC does, however, work on many more audio players than competing lossless formats like WavTech.
FLAC is available in two different formats: 16-bit and 24-bit. 24-bit sound is the same as recording studio quality and is better than a Compact Disc. 16-bit sound is the same as a Compact Disc and, of the two, is the only one writable to a blank Compact Disc. The only way to listen to 24-bit FLAC files is on a computer or from a blank DVD. DVD quality discs support the extra information included in 24-bit FLAC files.
Where does one acquire FLAC files?
The website eClassical.com, is currently the premier site for FLAC format files. Affiliated with BIS, eClassical.com leads the way in affordable FLAC pricing. Deutsche Grammophon has followed suit and also offers FLAC, albeit only 16-bit files. BIS and eClassical.com offer three different formats for purchase: 320Kbps MP3, 16-bit FLAC, and 24-bit FLAC. They are the first to offer all three in one location. Remember, too, that FLAC files are much larger than MP3s. One must plan accordingly and use proper discs, Compact Disc or DVD, for the selected format.
eClassical.com has also solved the fair pricing problem. Other download sites, such as iTunes, calculate pricing by song or album. eClassical.com, on the other hand, charges based on seconds of duration. The going rate is two-tenths of a cent per second for MP3 quality files and three-tenths of a cent per second for 24-bit quality files. This way, the customer pays only for what he or she wants to download. There are no restrictions such as “one must purchase the entire album for one track”.
One the site itself, one can listen to complete albums rather than just a short clips. To thwart download pirates, each track has a fail-safe that stops it every 30 seconds. One must then restart. One can sample entire symphonies, concertos, or sonatas simply and effectively.
Neither Windows Media Player nor iTunes currently do this without the need to install additional “plugins”, and even with these, they may only play 16-bit FLACs. FLAC is supported by many other media players, but it can be a daunting task for the new user to choose a suitable program. Get started with this guide from afterdawn.com
Piano Street talks FLAC with George Olvik, CEO at eClassical
Piano Street: As a piano music enthusiast, why should I choose the FLAC-format instead of a MP3?
George Olvik: FLAC is full CD quality, MP3 isn’t. When choosing FLAC, you get the same that you could buy in a record store, the exact data that’s on the CD release. In MP3 files, some sound data has been left out to create a smaller file. If you can play FLAC files and have the extra space (about twice as much as MP3 320 kbit for 16-bit FLAC), choose FLAC, of course! I maybe should mention that at eClassical, you always get both MP3 and FLAC 16-bit if you buy any album. You can download whichever you want, or even both. Or download MP3 first, get a FLAC player at some time and later download the respective FLAC files.
PS: Today choosing music doesnÂ´t necessarily mean that you buy music to own it physically and young people tend to consume music at a faster pace. Is the FLAC-format convenient in this quick consuming sense?
GO: As hardware gets cheaper and faster and broadband is everywhere I can for sure see that FLAC can be the format also for this customer group. A lot of these people invest a lot in their headphones and I think and hope that they will ask for higher quality in their music files.
PS: For pianists the piano sound is a very personal question which the un-compressed format always can guarantee. What do we miss out on in pure piano sound authenticity when listening to MP3?
GO: Typical MP3 artifacts are a noisier sound, unclear transients and some missing frequencies. These become of course more obvious the higher the MP3 compression, i.e. the lower the bitrate. Our MP3s are all at 320 kbps, the highest MP3 quality that is universally playable, so they will already sound pretty good. Piano music as MP3 files can have unclear attacks, the piano could sound less brilliant and some typical sonic features of the respective instrument might get lost. MP3 encoders typically leave out the highest frequencies, but even the lowest notes might sound thinner with MP3.
Generally, classical recordings often are have an unusual high dynamic range, but also more static passages, compared to other recordings. You can e.g. have just one piano note sounding for several seconds. Whilst uncompressed formats (or lossless compressed, as FLAC) just digitize the soundwaves that reach the microphone, MP3 saves the sound split up both “vertically” into frequency bands and “horizontally” in short segments of some milliseconds. An MP3 decoder must recreate the signal from these soundbits, and sound quality can change for each of them, depending on which frequencies are present at what level. I cannot imagine that this process will perfectly recreate what has once been an acoustic vibration – even if only very little compression has been applied. And the high dynamics in classical music can make pre-echoes occur more often.
PS: What will the future bear for FLAC distribution from a technical point of view?
GO: I think that streaming lossless audio, like FLAC, could be the thing. But it will need more bandwidth, of course. In home networks, it is possible to stream FLAC audio, and many music fans do it. But if the streams are going out over the internet, plenty of people still are on connections slower than 1 Mbps, and they will hardly be able to stream FLAC in real time. On the other side, it might also mean quite an investment for streaming services if they need double bandwidth for every customer that wants to stream lossless audio. But as said, with quicker connections everywhere, lossless streaming will for sure be possible one day.
PS: Finally, a personal question – as CEO for eClassical, do you ever listen to music through Spotify, Naxos Music Library or iTunes?
GO: Yes I do :)
I have an account on Spotify and I purchase music on iTunes every now and then. But I don’t use Naxos Music Library. My father tells me I should but I have enough of classical music to listen to on my harddrives…
Try out some FLAC recordings!
Deutsche Gramophon and Decca offers FLAC as download option.
AndrĂˇs Schiff is one of the worldâ€™s most prominent proponents of the keyboard works of J.S. Bach and has long proclaimed that Bach stands at the core of his music-making. His 2012 recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (for the ECM New Series label) was nominated for the category “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” at the Grammy Awards 2013. He did not win the Grammy this time but had there been a category for “Best Classical Piano Solo Without Pedal”, we are pretty confident that Schiff would have won it.
After fifty years in close relationship with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, AndrĂˇs Schiff has developed a kind of personal secret code with these works, like pet names shared between a loving older couple. Bach carefully laid out the preludes and fugues in books 1 & 2 of his WTC: 24 of each, in every possible key, major and minor. Schiff thinks of each piece as having not just a key but a particular character that he sees as color. In his recent Bach project program notes he writes:
The Grammy nominated album
“To me, Bachâ€™s music is not black and white; itâ€™s full of colours. In my imagination, each tonality corresponds to a colour. The Well-Tempered Clavier, with its 24 preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys, provides an ideal opportunity for this fanciful fantasy.
Letâ€™s imagine that in the beginning there was innocence, and therefore C major (all white keys) is snow-white. The last piece of both books is in B minor, which is the key to death. Compare the fugue of Book 1 to the Kyrie of the B-minor mass. This has to be pitch-black. Between these two poles, we have all the other colours: first the yellows, oranges and ochre (between C minor and D minor), all the shades of blue (E-flat major to E minor), the greens (F major to G minor), pinks and reds (A-flat major to A minor), browns (B-flat major), grey (B major) and finally black.â€ť
Schiffâ€™s New Approach to Bach Interpretation
As opposed to before, Schiff now entirely avoids using pedal when he plays Bach. He seeks to emulate the character of the keyboard instruments Bach himself would have known: the clavichord, harpsichord and various hybrids of his day had no means of sustaining the sound and the harpsichord could not make dynamic inflections within a phrase.
â€śThe pedal is to the piano as the vibrato is to string players. Both must be applied with care, control and in moderation. Clarity is essential with Bach, the purity of counterpoint and voice-leading must be self-evident, never muffled or confused. Thus a discreet use of the pedal is not forbidden as long as these rules are observed. The question remains whether it is beneficial to the music to look for easier solutions. A perfect legato on the piano is an impossibility, and one can only create an illusion of achieving it. To attempt this with the hands alone is much more difficult but itâ€™s well worth trying. Bach certainly didnâ€™t want his music to sound easy; itâ€™s demanding for players and listeners alike.â€ť – AndrĂˇs Schiff, Florence, 2012.