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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.


Simplicity Meets Complexity in Denk’s Piano Boot Camp

When NPR invaded Jeremy Denk’s home he was seriously practicing the piano etudes of György Ligeti. His music is “continuous madness,” Denk says. “Wonderful, joyful madness.” Denk has a great talent for making you fall in love with the most complex music, letting it sound completely natural. He admits, “I’m atuned to the weirdnesses. I guess that’s something I like about music that’s on the edge of destroying itself.”

In 2012, Denk made his debut as a Nonesuch Records artist with a pairing of masterpieces old and new: Beethoven’s final piano sonata and selected Ligeti Etudes. The disc was named one of the best discs of 2012 by The New Yorker, NPR, and the Washington Post. Denk says:

“But the most significant connection for me is between Beethoven’s vast timeless canvas and Ligeti’s bite-sized bits of infinity. Almost every Ă©tude visits the infinite; Ligeti uses it almost as a kind of cadence, a reference point. From simplicity, he ranges into unimaginable complexity; he wanders to the quietest and loudest extremes; he veers off the top and bottom of the keyboard. Always the infinite is lurking around, reminding you that it’s not impossible, that it exists. I think of the way, among other things, Beethoven drifts off at the end of the Arietta, the way he indicates ending without ending, implies an infinite space of silence surrounding the work? “


Stephen Kovacevich Plays an Allemande

A highly regarded pianist featured in the Philips label’s Great Pianists of the 20th Century series, Stephen Kovacevich is particularly known for his thoughtfulness, re-creative intensity and original artistic approach. In 1959, Kovacevich went to London, where he studied with Dame Myra Hess. A highly influential teacher, Hess recognized and encouraged Kovacevich’s affinity with Beethoven’s music. His numerous and acclaimed interpretations of the core classical repertoire has won unsurpassed admiration over the years.

Simplistic beauty as a result of extensive experience

Let’s hear Stephen Kovacevich perform the Allemande from J. S. Bach’s Partita No. 4 from the Verbier Festival in Switzerland in 2009. We are all very happy that Kovacevich decided not to quit playing the piano at the age of 32!

Bach’s Keyboard Suites

Suites of popular dance movements like the Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue, etc. were common and very popular in instrumental Baroque music. Bach wrote 18 keyboard suites; English and French Suites and Partitas. Although each of the six Partitas was published separately, they were collected into a single volume (1731), known as the Clavier-Ăśbung I (Keyboard Practice), which Bach himself chose to label his Opus 1.

Allemande – a calm dance expressing satisfaction

The Allemande originated in the 16th century as a dance of moderate tempo, derived from dances supposed to be favoured in Germany at the time. It was traditionally regarded as a rather serious dance or as Johann Mattheson described it: “a serious and well-composed harmoniousness in arpeggiated style, expressing satisfaction or amusement, and delighting in order and calm”.

Translation here


Bach with New Ears

The recent discovery of a new portrait of J. S. Bach opens up to the question: if we can see Bach with new eyes, how can we listen to Bach with new ears?
One of the most remarkable contributions to the idea that there is a world of Bach on the piano after Glenn Gould is the recording of three Bach concertos by French pianist David Fray in 2008. Enjoy the performance of the A major concerto and also take the chance to discover Fray’s world and work with Bach in Bruno Monsaignon’s film.

J. S. Bach – Concerto A major, BWV 1055, 1st mvt.

Swing, Sing, Think

Bruno Monsaingeon’s unique film “Swing, Sing, Think” takes us into the private world of David Fray and his work “recreating” three concertos for keyboard and orchestra by Johann Sebastian Bach. Although major musical figures such as Gould, Richter, Menuhin or Sokolov are part of Monsaingeon’s musical world, the filmmaker also likes to share his discoveries of young artists. David Fray, born in 1981, isn’t afraid of being in the limelight. He lets Monsaingeon film the recording of his first record for Virgin Classics in 2008 with Die Deutsche Kammerphilarmonie Bremen, which he also directs from the piano. The question is: How can one play Bach after Gould? We follow David Fray at home, in Paris, working on the score and explaining the different interpretational options open to him.

During rehearsals with the orchestra, he shares with the musicians his vision of the works with astonishing passion, spontaneity and imagination. Just like the title of the film “Swing, Sing and Think” suggests, this transmits the inspiration that Fray breathes into three Bach Concertos; in A Major BWV 1055, in F Minor BWV 1056 and in G Minor BWV 1058.

By retracing the musical gesture that leads to the interpretation of the work, or rather to its “re-creation”, the film also immerses us in the creative everlasting world of J. S. Bach.

“True baroque style could never be confined within the limits of the quest for an illusory instrumental authenticity. It resides, beyond philology, in the spirit, and it is at that level that David Fray has captured it with such moving eloquence.”
– Bruno Monsaingeon

See the entire Bruno Monsaingeon film “Swing, Sing, Think” about Fray´s recording of J. S. Bach concertos with Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (From French Television ARTE, French subtitles only):

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Which pianist of the two do you prefer for Bach's music?

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How will You Sound on Horowitz’s CD 503?

Steinway & Sons recently announced that Vladimir Horowitz’s legendary Steinway Model D continues its tour through 2014. This is a unique chance for the public to see, hear and even play the master’s favorite instrument – the Steinway CD 503 – used on his tours during his last years 1985-89.

The CD 503 has a very light and extremely touch-sensitive action. It has a crashing, thunderous bass and a transparent treble. While many pianists who have tried the piano agree that the action is even and it is a pleasure to play the instrument, it is clearly not the only magic bullet required to reach Horowitz’s level of artistic mastery.
Hear the master and his instrument in this legendary recital:

Recital: Horowitz in Vienna (1987)

Mozart Rondo in D, K. 485
Mozart – Sonata in B-flat, K. 333:
Mvt. 1: Allegro
Mvt. 2: Andante cantabile
Mvt. 3: Allegretto grazioso

Schubert – Impromptu in G-flat, op. 90 no. 3
Schubert/Liszt – SoirĂ©es de Vienne, no. 6

SCHUMANN – Kinderszenen, op. 15
1. Von fremden Ländern und Menschen
2. Kuriose Geschichte
3. Hasche-Mann
4. Bittendes Kind
5. GlĂĽckes genug
6. Wichtige Begebenheit
7. Träumerei
8. Am Kamin
9. Ritter vom Steckenpferd
10. Fast zu ernst
11. FĂĽrchtenmachen
12. Kind im Einschlummern
13. Der Dichter spricht

Chopin – Mazurka, op. 33 no. 4
Chopin – Polonaise in A-flat, op. 53
Liszt – Consolation no.3 in D-flat,
Schubert – Moment Musical in F minor, op. 94 no. 3
Moszkowski – Etincelles, op.26 no. 6

Documentary from 1985:

The Last Romantic (82 min.)

The long career of the last romantic

Described as the greatest pianist since Franz Liszt, Horowitz’s world wide career spanned nearly 70 years since his debut in 1920. Horowitz evidently suffered from anxiety and depression which led to long career breaks, especially from 1953-65 and from 1969-74.
In 1985, Horowitz returned to concertizing and recording. His first post-retirement appearance was not on stage, but in the documentary film Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic. In 1986 and as a consequence of the new relation between the USA and the USSR, Horowitz returned for the first time since 1925 for concerts in Moscow and Leningrad. Following the Russian concerts, Horowitz toured several European cities including Berlin, Amsterdam, and London. The final tour took place in Europe in 1987 and his legendary recital at the Musikverein in Vienna was documented on a video which was released by Deutsche Grammophone in 1991. His final recital, in Hamburg, Germany, took place on June 21, 1987.

Reader questions

  • What, besides the unique instrument, makes Horowitz’s playing so exceptional?
  • Which is your favourite Horowitz recording?
  • If you have played the CD 503, what was your impression?


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