Archive for January, 2014

Chopin, Piano Sonata in B minor, Op. 58

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Piano Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, 1844

Frédéric Chopin was a perfect miracle for the flowering of art music for the solo piano. His life almost perfectly coincides with the perfection of the instrument and its universal adoption as the solo instrument par excellence. But unlike the numerous performers and composers brandishing thundering feats of technical virtuosity that pushed the instrument and performer to their physical limits, Chopin brought only pure musical expression employing virtuosity and technique as means to an artistic end. With a fresh, novel approach to the piano, Chopin astonished and confounded the musicians of his day, essentially revealing a whole new domain of keyboard music uniquely his own becoming known as the “poet of the piano.” (more…)

Griffes, Selections for Piano

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Charles Griffes (1884–1920)

Selections for Piano, 1913-1916

Charles Tomlinson Griffes was an extraordinarily gifted American composer who flourished in the early 20th century before his death at the age of 35 from influenza in 1920. He is apt to be unknown to most listeners though towards the end of his life his reputation was steadily growing. Today he is regarded as one of the preeminent modern composers of his generation. Griffes displayed an early talent as both a pianist and composer. With the financial and moral support of a perceptive teacher, he was sent to a conservatory in Berlin with the initial goal of becoming a concert pianist, much in the fashion of other promising young American musicians of the time. Despite being recognized even in Berlin as a precocious talent, Griffes soon decided to leave the conservatory and seek private lessons in composition wishing to compose more than perform, much to the dismay of his family and American teacher. (more…)

Schubert, Fantasy in C Major, “Der Wanderer”, D. 760, Op. 15

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Fantasy in C Major, “Der Wanderer”, D. 760, Op. 15, 1822

Franz Schubert is well known to chamber music lovers through his brilliant corpus of instrumental works and his signature collection of arts songs. Schubert also wrote numerous works for solo piano with a particular emphasis on character miniatures in his collections of musical moments and impromptus as well as a number of multi-movement sonatas. In most of his works for piano, Schubert maintained a posture of intimate expression featuring his melodic gifts and evocation of mood more than extensive classical development or romantic virtuosity or even, as with the case of Beethoven, a probing exploration of formal design. A noteworthy exception in length, formal design and unquestionable virtuosity is Schubert’s Fantasy in C major, Op. 15 often called “The Wanderer Fantasy.” Composed in 1822 and published the next year, The Wanderer is Schubert’s most formal and virtuosic work for piano, so challenging that Schubert himself lamented he was unable to perform it. It is a tour de force of fantastic music with a number of interesting features. (more…)

Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109, 1820

Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas comprise a whole self-contained universe of music much like his companion sets of symphonies or string quartets. Of the keyboard literature they constitute a fundamental chapter sometimes reverently called the “new testament” after the “old testament” of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Within these sonatas alone, one finds a complete record of Beethoven’s monumental exploration as composer and pianist including the famous three periods: early, middle and late. In fact, as Beethoven was a brilliant pianist with the keyboard as his first and natural tool, one typically finds his irrepressible exploration undertaking adventure and experiment first in the piano sonatas, almost as a proving ground, before moving onward into the genres of symphony and string quartet, in that order. Beethoven’s late period comprises the last five piano sonatas, Op. 101, 106, 109, 110 and 111, an awesome sequence of works he composed starting in 1816, finishing in 1822 just prior to his final work on the 9th Symphony, clearing the way for the final quartets. (more…)