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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.


/patrick
 
     

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.


/patrick
 
     

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


/patrick
 
     

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.


/nilsjohan
 
     

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? “


/patrick
 
     



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