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Can We Play Like Mozart Did?

Pianos during the 18th century were much different than their counterparts in the centuries from the 19th to the 21st. First of all, they were much smaller, normally comprising only five octaves instead of 7 1/3. Secondly, they were lightweight contraptions built using barely more materials than a harpsichord. Late 19th-century pianos were much sturdier and could withstand later compositional techniques. Liszt, for example, left a trail of destroyed pianos in his wake because the materials weren’t up-to-snuff.

The fortepiano that Mozart played almost daily during his last nine years.

The fortepiano that Mozart played almost daily during his last nine years.

It was different 100 years before when Mozart was making a world tour as a youngster. Instead of being hunched over the piano crashing one’s weight down upon it, performers were required to sit ramrod straight and keep their arms and elbows at their sides. Most playing was finger-driven with supple wrists that were raised and lowered with great delicacy. Tchaikovsky’s racing octaves, Rachmaninoff’s gigantic block chords and Liszt’s monumental tonal constructions were notably absent from pieces composed at that time.

Christina Kobb, who is heading up a project to promote 18th-century playing, such as might have been practiced by Mozart, notes that it is easier to play running 16th notes faster. It’s also simpler to play chords more accurately and smoothly. She maintains that pianists should, at the very least, familiarize themselves with the techniques to get better in touch with the thoughts and aspirations of the composers of the time.

Learn 18th century piano techique with Christina Kobb:

Read more at nytimes.com


No Great Music Without Great Tension

Anthony Tommassini, classical music critic for The New York Times, invites us all to a mini-lecture at the piano on dissonance. With a series of examples by well known composers, Tommassini elaborates on one of the most crucial components in Western music.

Two or more notes sounding together in such a fashion as to create great tension are said to be dissonant. These notes seem to yearn for release. In music theory terms, such release is called resolution. At the beginning of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C-Major, for example, the opening chord is dissonant. The chord that follows it is consonant. The notes in the opening chord that create the tension move to notes that no longer create tension, which is the resolution. Some dissonant chords don’t resolve. The “Dance of the Adolescents” from “The Rite of Spring” pounds along without relief. Some dissonances resolve so grandly that they provoke visceral responses of great joy. The ending of Bach’s massive Passacaglia and Fugue in C-Minor is a case in point. Not only does the dominant seventh chord resolve, but it also moves to the radiance of C-Major on the final chord.


Yuja Wang & Prokofiev in Factory Setting

Let’s go to New York City.
After letting her finish her coffee we can hear Yuja Wang, not at the usual Steinway showroom in Manhattan where most pianists pick pianos for their performances, but on the floor at the Steinway and Sons factory in Astoria, Queens. National Public Radio (NPR) chose the most natural setting for any pianist interested in top notch concert grands when recording Yuja Wang playing Prokofiev’s technically demanding Toccata in D Minor, Op. 11.

With all its hypnotic repetition of a single note and elaborate chromaticism Prokofiev’s biographer David Gutman argued that Prokofiev himself had trouble playing it because his technique, while good, was not quite enough to completely master the piece. However this fact is not universally accepted and his performance as reproduced in 1997 for the Nimbus Records series The Composer Plays is certainly virtuosic and technically skilled. What do you think?

Toccata (from Italian toccare, “to touch”) is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or virtuosic passages and sections generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer’s fingers. Composers such as J. S. Bach, Robert Schumann, Maurice Ravel, Dmitri Kabalevsky and Aram Khachaturian have all composed well-known works in this form.


As Close as You Can Get? Glenn Gould Seeking the Ordinary in the Eccentric

Many are names of things we hold dear. An enigmatic musical poet, world- renowned pianist Glenn Gould continues to captivate years after his untimely death in 1982. Gould followed his sensational 1955 New York City concert debut at the age of 22, by taking his talent to the Soviet Union and became an equally prodigious star there, in the midst of the Cold War. But, after a decade-long thriving international career, he defied the critics and shocked and disappointed his fans by leaving the concert circuit completely.

As we know Gould became famous for his radical interpretations of the work of classical composers, especially Bach. He was a strange mix of a man, completely immersed in his music, handsome, charming, but an isolate. His complex recording technologies, including overdubbing, were unprecedented and his inimitable music and writing reveal a world view that we are still unraveling.

In 2010 the documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould was presented and became yet another attempt to describe the iconic musician. With comments from the very few people who knew him well, as well as from one of the great loves of his life Cornelia Foss and her children, the documentary paints a portrait of a man of prodigious and meticulous talent who may have hankered after intimacy but found it difficult to achieve in any long term. Genius Within has been fairly conventionally constructed, it’s blessed by the exhaustive documentation of Gould’s life while he was alive. But it nevertheless makes this troubled but talented man live again, it’s actually very touching and gives insight into what made his music so extraordinary.

This look at his life weaves together never-before-seen footage of Gould, excerpts from his private home recordings and diaries, plus personal interviews with Gould’s most intimate friends and lovers to reconstruct his thoughts on music, art, society, love, and life.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould


The Women Behind Chopin’s Music

Chopin revolutionised the nature of piano music composed both technically and emotionally but the actual musical instrument that provided his greatest source of inspiration was the female voice.
Other important parts of Chopin’s inspiration came from the women in his life. For 10 years, George Sand exerted her powerful influence on him, and he also gleaned much from listening to such great singers as Jeanne-Anais Castellan, Pauline Viardot and even the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind. Their exquisite tones and musicianship coalesced inside his mind’s eye, and he applied what he had heard to his compositions.

A documentary about Chopin’s unique piano style

In this documentary marking the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, pianist and trailblazer James Rhodes explores not only the Polish master’s music but also his complex relationships with women.

Rhodes’s film takes him from Paris to London and Warsaw as he delves, through exacting research, into the lives of the women who orbited Chopin’s star. Along with piano guru Jeremy Siepmann, Chopin specialists Adam Zamoyski, Emanuel Ax and Garrick Ohlsson lend their expertise to the film, and they comment on Rhodes’s playing and Chopin’s history. Opera singer Natalya Romaniw performs some of the arias that inspired Chopin and explores his cantabile piano writings by singing the melody of Nocturne opus 9, no 1.


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