Roni's Journal

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Improvisation

C major

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Tuesday, 2 October 2007

What I am working on

Composing:
Adagio for oboe and two horns (f-moll)
Suite for piano (D-dur)
Trio for flute, violin and harp (e-moll)
Requiem for 3 voices a cappella (C-dur)
Theme and variations for piano (G-dur)

Click to listen to excerpts. Recorded on a computer, except the Requiem - I sang, so forgive me for the quality!


For the next Arts Evening I am preparing the following "potential" pieces:

Organ
Buxtehude – prelude and fugue (fis-moll)

Piano
Mozart – sonata No. 1 (C-dur)
Mozart – sonata No. 4 (Es-dur)
Beethoven – sonata No. 14 "Quasi una fantasia" (cis-moll)
Chopin – etude No. 23 "Winter wind" (a-moll)
Rachmaninoff – prelude No. 5 (g-moll)

Violin
Corelli – sonata No. 9 (A-dur)
Bach – concerto No. 1 (a-moll)

Arias
Scarlatti – "Gia' il sole dal gange"
Donizetti – "Una furtive lagrima"


Let me know what you like - I'll compose faster! ;)

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

Composition: Piano Concerto for a student

I composed the first movement to a piano concerto for a student (Masha, 10 years old). It's in the Viennese classical style.


Download score: piano part.

I think that playing scales and arpeggios is more fun when they are in the right context.

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Ken tells an amazing story on ensemble playing.

... cello guy totally lost the plot- he couldn't line up his triplets with the syncopated rhythm in the inner voices.


[The 1st violinist] and I started banging our heads like 16 year-olds at a Metalica concert to show the pulse. She glared straight into his eyes like the emissary of death and you could see her mouth moving with viper like precision – "one-two-thre-four-five-six!" and so on.


Amazing story, but I find that those players who can deliver a good performance again and again are the best, and deserve the corresponding title. We often hear and see one-time outstanding performances, and not only in music, but other arts as well (figure skating for example). We then expect the said performer to get better each time, only to find him or her to be really very average. The public doesn't tolerate such disappointments, nor do the critics who prefer fresh meat.

But, nevertheless, well done - on that night!

Of course I agree with you, but there is an entire category of "tales of the unexpected," whether great artists falling flat in concert or not-so-great ones rising to the occasion. I can think of a few truly great musicians where I either love or loathe their performances just based on how much coffee they seem to have had. The ability is always there, but the energy may wax and wane...

So often, it comes down to something as simple as will - great performers have it, almost without exception. In this case, you had two of us who were absolutely determined not to let the thing go south. We were able to pull him up, which is not surprising. What is surprising is that by making us dig so deep, he got us to give more of ourselves than we knew we could. Would I ask him to do it again to try and acheive the same result - no!!!!! But I now know there is something attainable in that passage that I didn't know about before, which I'll have to try to make happen next time.

As it is, I've got plenty of strange tales of concert happenings to share here - hopefully they make an interesting case study of performance issue.


You are right, but you know, with the greatest performers - who are musicians in the full sense of the word - I always find myself so immersed in the music, having to mentally take myself out of it to be able to actually listen to what’s going on, technically. A few minutes later - same thing - I forget myself and the world around. That’s what leaves me literally “speechless”. Not with the average concerts - they get the critique they deserve!

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Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Beethoven - Mitsuko Uchida, Paul Lewis

Patrick reviews Uchida's rendition of Beethoven's 'Hammerklavier' sonata.

I wonder what will Uchida's 'Moonlight' Sonata be like?

I have also not got my copy of Paul Lewis playing it, but I have heard it in a recording of his concert. The first two movements were ok. The Presto agitato - not.

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Sunday, 23 September 2007

Hélène Grimaud cancels concert because of piano pedal

Mostlyopera quotes:

Because of a controversy over the middle pedal of a piano the pianist Hélène Grimaud called off a gala concert with the Staatskapelle Dresden briefly before the beginning in Prague on Saturday. The 37-old pianist surprisingly required the organizers of the festival “Prager herbst” on Saturday to adjust the middle pedal. "Since the piano belongs to the Czech Philharmonic Concert Hall, the Festival Management does not have mandate to make such a change", said Festival executive Pavel Spiroch. Helene Grimaud, who is considered to be one of the best pianists in the world, thereupon canceled the appearance. On the program was piano concert No. 5 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Many of the visitors, having traveled a long way to attend this performance expressed both disappointment and anger, when they were informed of the cancellation before the locked doors of the Concert Hall, claiming the whole incident to be a farce. "The piano is one of the best in Prague", said Philharmonic Concert Hall leader Vaclav Riedlbauch. The Staatskapelle Dresden did not want to offer only half a concert to the public and therefore the entire concert was canceled.


Professional pianists use the middle pedal a lot, especially in fast piano passages.

But this particular cancellation may indicate that something deeper was going on between Hélène Grimaud and the management. The pedal was just one of the better reasons that the public might accept better.

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Friday, 21 September 2007

Beethoven - 'Moonlight' Sonata

Beethoven's "Moonlight sonata", a name coined by German music critic Ludwig Rellstab after Beethoven's death, is one of the most widely known classical music pieces, and has been since it was composed some 200 years ago.

But let us examine it more closely and look at the facts surrounding the piece, find past and future musical connections and, of course, compare and choose the best recordings of the sonata.

Read on: detailed analysis of Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata, and a comprehensive recordings review, all with audio examples.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The classical music world

After reading another one of these "classical music is dying" discussions, I replied:

Many people have no clue about what is going on with the classical music world. The classical music world doesn't really care.

It's not that today's audience is less classical music oriented. It's the young generation that is, and always has been - young people of all times, even hundreds of years ago, were always into popular music - and as people get older, they get to know more classical music, and at some point realise that it's "their thing". Then they try to bestow this 'knowledge' upon their children, and when they fail, they say that classical music is dying.

Grow up!

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Tuesday, 4 September 2007

The perfect musical composition

What is a perfect musical composition?

Is it, like the perfect chess game, a 'combination' yet to be found by a computer some time in the not so distant future?

Is it silence?

No.

A perfect musical composition is simply a piece that sounds "just right". It has the perfect balance between the melodic and harmonic shape. If you change or take out even one note from such a piece, you will disturb this balance, and it will no longer be perfect.

When you hear a perfect musical composition, you may feel that you have already heard it before, although you haven't.

So, is there a perfect musical composition out there in the classical music world? Yes. Mozart wrote a few hundred of such. Beethoven also tried. But there aren't that many out there.

Is this 'perfectness' an impartial property? Mostly. The more developed a musician is, the better he or she can notice the imperfections, the weaknesses.

Unfortunately, a bad performance of a piece can greatly affect one's judgement. A performance should conform strictly to the composer's instructions, while being musically alive.

Time is a great 'selector' of perfect musical compositions. Time passes and discards mostly everything. Only the best survives. Unfortunately, not the other way around – many perfect musical compositions were lost amidst the local 'noise' never to resurface again.

The greatest known composers were and remain great not because the public 'loves' them today, but because they have passed the test of time. Mostly, they have passed the test of later great composers. These later composers knew what they were 'selecting'. The public didn't and doesn't.

Most people are wrong about why is any one of the great composers a great composer. Reasons such as 'heavenly music', 'great influence', 'sheer number of works', 'immense popularity' are all wide off the mark. The main factor is the musical perfection achieved by the composer in his compositions.

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Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Composition: Minuet in the style of Haydn

Just composed:


Download score

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Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Simple is never simple

Kenneth reveals the complexities of Mahler's fourth symphony:

Looking at the page instead of thinking about what it sounds like tells you a lot about just how complex and conflicted this first movement is. As with Haydn, simplicity is the most serious business for Mahler.

...

Simple is never simple.

That is probably why such geniuses as Gesualdo, Buxtehude, Handel, Mozart, Schubert – to name a few – are way underestimated and undervalued, especially comparing to others.

That is probably also the reason why Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky – and the rest of the pack – are so overrated.

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Young virtuosi

Jessica tells us about her impressions from the Manchester International Concerto Competition for Young Pianists.

... the 22 and Under's strongest impression was left by someone who was also under 16: Jan Lisiecki from Calgary in Canada, who played Chopin's Second Concerto. He's only 12.

I'm all for young musicians, but, in my opinion, it's not all about being a virtuoso. Why are all these kids performing difficult virtuosic concerti? Is that the only way we can judge their musicianship, their musicality?

I have heard a few famous 10-year-olds. Some performances just blew me out of the chair. Some didn't. But my "approvals" weren't the same as the audience's. Why is faster – better?

I want to hear these kids play Handel's suite in D-minor (No. 15), the second movement from Mozart's 22nd piano concerto, Chopin's nocturne in F-minor (Op. 15 No. 1), to name a few.

Same goes for violinists, flutists and all other young musicians: play something slow – it is much more difficult.

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Sneak peak: Moonlight Sonata

The Phrygian progression discussion was a prelude to the upcoming post on Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor.

Quotes:

There's always been a discrepancy over the twelfth bar on whether to play the note c or b in the second triplet group ... But, in fact, there is no discrepancy, because, as per the counterpoint rules of the classical period, two separate voices mustn't move in parallel octaves or fifths, unless once is doubling the other. Clearly, the middle triplet note is not doubling the (already-doubled) bass-line. And hence – c, and not b, should be played.

The second movement turns out to be a light-hearted exercise in classical harmony. Unfortunately, the main motif is hardly a melody, and, what's more, it is repeated 20 times in the course of (fortunately, only) two minutes.

Again, Beethoven eyes a motif by Mozart for the first part of his second subject, and...repeats it six times until it gets him somewhere. He even grabs the ornaments along!

Over 20 top recordings will be reviewed, and the best of them selected.

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Career and family

Anne writes:

Many of us are single, and even those of us who are partnered are unsure how children will fit into their lives. Will we have the time and stability in our careers to devote to being the kinds of parents we would hope to be?

And my reply was:

You are right, many classical musicians are always "on the move", no time for real family... Children require real commitment, and if you know you won't be able to give them that – better not have them at all, I guess. But, in reality, it is up to you whether to turn the career nob down a bit and start a real family. Career and family can "live" side by side – they are not mutually exclusive!

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Sunday, 19 August 2007

Phrygian progression

In classical music, a descending tetrachord (line of four notes) with intervals tone-tone-semitone can be called a Phrygian progression, and forms the basis of the Phrygian mode.



The Phrygian mode is equivalent to the Dorian mode in ancient Greek musicology (due to a misinterpretation of the Latin texts of Boethius, medieval modes were given the wrong Greek names by the early Christian church in the 8th century).

Read and listen: classicalmusicblog.com

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Monday, 23 April 2007

Arts Evening

On Friday we had a 'Final Rehearsal' for the concert, with several friends coming. It was ok, we didn't play perfectly. But yesterday, on the actual 'concert', or "Arts Evening", we played much better.

The music programme was:

A. Scarlatti: Aria "Son Tutta Duolo"
Piano: Olya
Voice: Roni

W. A. Mozart: Minuet in C
Piano: Mary

S. Rachmaninoff: Vocalise
Piano: Olya
Violin: Roni

F. Schubert: Impromptus in Ges-dur
Piano: Roni

Several friends came and a few relatives. It is hopefully going to be a start of a long tradition, on the lines of what Rimsky-Korsakov used to have in his house - concerts every two weeks with a diversity of the best musicians appearing in his house in the course of many years. But to add to the music, we decided to have an "art gallery" of latest works by Olya and anyone wishing to join. In fact, one of my good friends brought her paintings as well, and I put up a few of my mother's paintings too, and so it was great fun after the music part of the evening to have everyone join to look at around 25 paintings that went on display!

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Sunday, 22 April 2007

Mozart - Minuet in C

My daughter, Mary, plays:

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Friday, 20 April 2007

Ariadne of Naxos

Ariadne of Naxos, yesterday, was an amazing experience! The production was very well done, and very interesting. It was semi-modern, but clever, and so, as much as music allowed, it was not to have been bored by.

Among the performers were Stephanie Houtzeel (!) as the Composer, Hen Reiss, the Israeli coloratura, with a fantastic performance as Zerbinetta, Stuart Skelton as Bacchus, and two Austrians - Paul Armin Edelmann as Harlequin, and Georg Tichy as the Music-Master, both well-known in the 'Ariadne' performance world. The music is simpler than I expected, all the better. However, there are passages in the opera, especially towards the end, that are outstretched far more than the energetic pace of the opera could allow for, thus creating these Wagner-filled rubber-like scenes, which, to my taste, Strauss could have done without. But this is said from a critical point of view, and also depends largely upon the production itself.

On Friday we have a 'final rehearsal' before the small concert on Saturday. The audience will probably be around 7 or 8 people, and the programme is as planned, including Schubert's Impromptus.

I am already planning pieces for the next concert, which I hope will be attended by more "prestigious" people, including my violin teacher, a friend of my mother's from the Opera house..

The choices are still to be decided, but I'm learning Chopin's A-minor Étude "Vent d'hiver" and Rachmaninoff's G minor Prelude on piano, Buxtehude's F-sharp minor Prelude (the one with two fugues) on organ (although the pedal notes would be played by the left hand, and so the right hand is sometimes preoccupied with duodecimae), Bach's Violin Concerto in A-minor and a Sonata by Corelli on violin (Olya will accompany on piano). Also, I hope Mary can learn Beethoven's famous Bagatelle in A-minor, known as "Für Elise" (which really was Für Therese!)..

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Monday, 16 April 2007

Concert-going

I went to see Falstaff a few weeks ago – the Kirov Maryinsky theatre was performing. At last I got in touch with someone who might be able to get me more tickets to final rehearsals of this type.

It was a modern production, but I liked the idea, which was to show the feelings of characters who are singing onstage by putting 2-3 pseudo-characters around them who are doing a sort of pantomime that describes what the soloist is feeling. At an extreme point, when Ford was singing about his jealousy and anger, and his doubts about his wife's fidelity, behind him, a group of 8 or so ballerinas came on stage and started dancing, when all of a sudden a "murderer" came in and started "killing" them with a knife. By the time the aria finished, behind Ford, the floor was full of "bodies"! The red lighting made the effect more so. But this was the extreme of it, and I quite liked the general idea – it was something innovative, without having to resort to "traditional innovation", if you know what I mean. The orchestra was great as were most of the soloists. Of course, it being a final rehearsal, there were a few things to correct, like the orchestra overplaying the soloists at times.

A week later I went to another concert. This time, a group of five kids conductors (10-12 year olds) from Uzbekistan conducted our city's symphony orchestra. They played a Rossini overture, a movement from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, Massenet, Beethoven's 4th symphony, and some other pieces.

The public's impression was that it was amazing. But the performance really was effective in just that – making an impression. My personal impression was that the orchestra, being very good itself, was playing well regardless of the "conductor". At times one could hear the orchestra doing things that the conductor wasn't even aware of. It was funny.

But the most important tests for the conductors were the slow movements. It is very difficult to conduct a slow movement well, and the kids' abilities to keep the entrances in time weren't good enough. The conductor's main job, in my opinion, is to keep the orchestra balanced – in volume, and together – in time. Unfortunately, none of this was achieved up to standard.

And so, even though it is great that these kids get to study music, to experience live concerts, and to actually have fun conducting, I think their time would have been better spent studying orchestration, listening more, etc.

On Tuesday I might be going to see Ariadne of Naxos by Richard Strauss.

We are planning to do a home concert on Saturday. I want to call it an Arts Evening. The plan is to have several musical pieces performed during an hour, with a break in the middle for 10 minutes. During the break, the guests would be invited to see a gallery of paintings. As my wife is an artist, it would be an opportunity for her to display her works, and for us, as a family, to play in front of an audience. We will start small, with the audience consisting of close friends and relatives, but I hope it can grow to be something regular and big: I've already invited a friend who also paints to bring her drawings along to our gallery, and next concert perhaps one of my music students will perform something as well.

The program for Saturday is not finally decided yet, but to start with we have: my daughter Mary will play a Minuet by Mozart, Olya and I will perform Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, with me playing on the violin, then I will sing an aria by A. Scarlatti. Also, I might play Schubert's beautiful Ges-dur Impromptus.

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Monday, 1 January 2007

Hilary Hahn

Last year I was at a concert conducted by Zubin Metha here in Israel, with three exceptional pieces in the programme: Bizet's first symphony (the second movement of which has a most lovely oboe solo, and which inspired me to write the trio for oboe and horns), a song cycle by Chausson (about the death of love and the sea), and Prokofiev's fifth symphony, which almost literally blew me out of my seat!

Yesterday I obtained the new CD with Hilary Hahn playing Paganini and Spohr. It is fantastic. It is absolutely unbelievable. I am going to write a detailed review and post it on the web, but I already am almost prepared to vouch that this is the best recording of Paganini's No. 1 that there is, somehow so easily surpassing Kogan and Accardo. I am in search of Gil Shaham's interpretation (whose Vivaldi recordings are the best I ever heard), which is essential for the Paganini comparison.

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Sunday, 24 September 2006

A new system of teaching music

People say that it is a matter of personal taste as to which performance is better, and as to what interpretation is closer to the "truth", but when you see or hear a perfect performance, anything less than that will not be "good enough" in future. For me, it was like that when I heard Jeno Jando's performance of Beethoven's "Presto agitato" from the C-sharp minor sonata #14, and again when I heard Mitsuko Uchida perform Mozart's sonatas #1 and #4. It didn't much matter that perhaps Mozart played them in a slightly different way: it was like setting a new standard of good performance for these pieces, for the future.

In our century, we can't listen to music which is out of tune, having had our ears trained by perfect-pitch synthesisers, and so records from fifty years ago seem to many as being very out of tune. So, we have to adjust our standard of performance to the "modern ears".

In this same way, we must adjust the way we teach music to the "modern children". I propose the following.

It is a new system of teaching, which can perhaps be similar to other systems in some ways or others, but in truth it has two roots: the classical-era music education system - and - my personal experiences. It must be a system which utilises the modern technologies, that suits the modern families' ideologies, and that creates the right environment for children to be exposed to classical music. Why "exposed"? Because it seems that in the modern world, most children can be divided into two groups: first, those that are educated in classical music, obviously being exposed to it, and second, those that are not at all exposed to it, let alone being educated. We needn't educate everybody, but when exposure to classical music drops below 100% - it is concerning, when it drops below 50% - it is worrying, but when it starts tending to 0% - something must be done, and it is not education that should do it.

We need to look at the current standard music education system and identify its faults, without compromise. We must then make sure there are none of them in the new system.

Problem #1: Non-professional music education is lacking or non-existent

Most children are given two choices: either to study music professionally from day 1, or not study at all.

Those that choose to study must think of themselves as becoming musicians at the end of the road. During their study years they must adhere to the program they are given, and must spend a certain time studying at home.

The problem is not in that this is required of those children that will eventually become professional musicians, but that the children that will not - drop early and do not get a chance to study music as a secondary choice, or for fun.

This problem has been resolved in many disciplines that require hard work, including ballet, sports, etc. - children are trained at their own pace, and those that are fit and eager enough - succeed to the top; others are given the chance to participate in the process.

Problem #2: Yearly program does not suit talented nor slower children

In later years, when music subjects are added, such as solfedge, harmony, music history, polyphony, analysis of musical forms, etc., it turns out that only about half of children adhere to the yearly program as defined by the teacher or the institution; other children are either more advanced and are bored during the lessons, or are more slow in understanding the topics, cannot keep up with the class and are at risk of dropping out of the music school, or just quitting out of frustration.

Problem #3: Different subjects aren't synchronised

It is impossible for the student to grasp the idea of music history continuity quickly - but this takes many years of training. And before this happens, they are given many subjects, each of which is taught by a different teacher, and the yearly program for that subject is not correlated to the yearly programs of parallel subjects.

For example, during one period of time, a student may be studying Baroque music in Music History, early Renaissance methods of writing in Polyphony, analysing Beethoven's sonatas in Analysis of Musical Forms, learning Classical harmony in Harmony lessons and singing 20th century vocalises in Solfedge!

Problem #4: Music cannot be taught progressively, because it is neither a visual art nor a science; Music cannot be taught without listening to music

When a biannual Music History course is taught progressively, when it starts with early Greek music, continues with Ars Antiqua through Ars Nova and on to Renaissance, by the time they get to Baroque, most will have forgotten what they learned about the Middle Ages, let alone anything more ancient. Of course, they can look in their notebooks, but music should be primarily listened to and not explained in words.

Many a time, a student in higher classes is given several analysis books to read, and learns about pieces just from their description in the books. The student can then tell you the name of the piece and composer when you describe the music to him, while at no point in this process has he listened to a single note from the piece itself. One can understand why the popularity of Wagner is flourishing among such circles of students - they are amazed by the complexity of leitmotifs and are "in love" with the music even before they have listened to it.

Solutions

The proposed music education system will allow students of all ages to participate. The "total" course is divided into small chunks and is taught in groups in cycles of several days or weeks. This means that the same material is presented to a group over a period of time, and then repeated over the next such period of time, with a variation of presentation. A student arriving at a group is prepared for the material in the former group, and will stay in this group until he or she has a good grasp of the new material. The student can then move on to the next group. Students move on from group to group at their own pace.

This solves both first problems in that students need not have to move on at all. They can do no home work and enjoy "music education" as an afternoon hobby class, staying in group 1 for the entire year, while perhaps a talented student manages to go through 20 groups in one year. No student drags other students behind him in this way, and the talented and eager students can move on quickly.

Our system will not have different classes for the various subjects, but instead two main classes: 'group lessons' and 'individual lessons', perhaps two of each per week. Each lesson should be divided into small parts with small breaks in between, e.g. 120 minutes divided into 6 equal parts of 15 minutes study + 5 minutes break/reorganisation.

The individual classes will only concern the student's personal musical abilities, such as playing an instrument, composing/improvising, stylisation assignments, etc.

The group classes will only concern collective qualities and disciplines where listening to given material is primary, such as music history, analysis, etc.

The group lessons will incorporate related material from various subjects into one lesson, allowing students to better understand the given topic from its various sides.

The individual lessons will follow suit, with the piece being played being related to the harmony, counterpoint, composition assignments.

Thus, the third problem is solved.

Most importantly, all studies must concentrate on the actual sound of the music, hearing it, and listening to it. Learning to listen, and learning to hear.

To solve the fourth problem, it is important to teach music as a pyramid, learning the basics at the beginning and then building on them later.

Let me elaborate on this point by giving examples of various disciplines being taught in this way to the beginner, i.e. in Group 1.

We start by listening to short pieces, each representing a whole era. Here is a possible list:

Middle ages
Hildegard von Bingen – chant 'O rubor sanguinis'
Motet 'Isaias cecinit'
Guillaume de Machaut – Virelai 'Je vivroie liement'
John Dunstable – Piece for Organ

Renaissance
Thomas Tallis – motet 'O Sacrum Convivium'
Josquin des Préz – Frottola 'El grillo'
Tielman Susato – 'Dansereye' – Fanfare

Baroque
Domenico Scarlatti – Sonata in d-moll (K. 1)
Alessandro Scarlatti – Oratorio 'Sedecia' – Sinfonia
Georg Friedrich Händel – Oratorio 'Messiah' – Chorus 'Hallelujah'
Johann Sebastian Bach – Mass in B minor – Aria 'Qui Sedes Ad Dextram Patris'

Classical
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Sonata in E-flat major (K. 282) – Allegro
Franz Joseph Haydn – Trio No. 20 in B-flat major (H. XV) – Allegro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat major – Allegro moderato

Romantic
Robert Schumann – 'Kreisleriana' (Op. 16) – Äusserst bewegt
Franz Schubert – Sonatina for Violin and Piano (D. 385) – Allegro moderato
Ernest Chausson – Piano Trio in G-dur (Op. 3) – Vite
Paul Dukas – "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"

Obviously, this is a very short list, and may and even must be varied each time the group cycle repeats, so that the student gets exposed to more music and gets a better grasp of what an era "sounds like". By the way, it is better to listen to performances of the earlier eras played on authentic instruments, at least for the sake of really getting the feel of the sound of an era.

It is important not to make an accent on the individual composers at this stage, because they are irrelevant. I have chosen more known composers for my list for the sake of illustration, but less famous composers must also figure.

While listening, students are taught the basics of "hearing skills", so that it doesn't turn out that they are listening to the music, but are not actually hearing anything in it. We can do this by asking the students to identify various features, attributes, qualities, such as:

Is the music being played or sung? If it is sung, is it one person or a choir, if a choir, is it male, female or mixed choir? If it is played, can we identify the instruments, or is it an orchestra?

Later, more advanced questions can be asked, e.g.:

Is the key major or minor? What is the tempo? What feelings does this music radiate?

By learning to hear parameters in music, we learn to identify and relate the music to an era or a composer, a style or genre, etc. This gives us the ability to judge the music by comparison.

When students can more or less identify the eras listened within one lesson, we can start spending more time on an era, e.g. a whole lesson per era, perhaps in Group 2.

While listening, we also learn about the historic events that were going on at the time (and perhaps place) of the music being played. We learn about the instruments of that era, the simple of genres, and mostly everything related to the music. This way we allow each student to relate the music they hear to something interesting and close to them in their life. Associations are the best way to learn something.

Let us also analyse the structure of some of the music played, identifying simple points such as repeats of earlier material, etc.

Moving onto music notation, let us begin by introducing just two lengths of notes: a 1/4-note and a 1/2-note, and call them 'short' and 'long' for now. Later, we can add more lengths.

Let us place these notes on a staff of only one, two or three lines. At this stage, we only need to teach that music progression in time is displayed as a horizontal progression on paper.

Let us also introduce the C-clef, written in the ancient way as a key. Why? Because we want to teach the student that the clef is a key to knowing the placement of notes on the staff. Once students understand the function of the clef, they will be able to play with any clef, be it a G-clef (treble) or an F-clef (bass), or even tenor or soprano clefs.

Going on, let us teach only one or two notes per lesson, e.g. Do and Re, or La and Si, or Mi and Sol.

We listen to these notes, we sing them, we play them, we compose with them, we write them, and we try to write out on paper a short piece played from a combination of 'long' and 'short' notes, with the two just-learnt notes alternating or repeating.

We will learn two more notes in the next lesson, and remind of the previous ones.

Let's move on to Harmony, and let's start by discussing the different emotions music can provoke in us. We listen to various excerpts to allow us to feel them and discuss. We can generally split the feelings into two groups, and call them 'major' for 'happy' and 'minor' for 'sad', and then into more groups, such as 'slow major' for 'content', 'fast major' for 'excited', 'slow minor' for 'sorrowful' and 'fast minor' for 'angry'. Each of these can be split into more subgroups, at later stages.

In later groups, feelings and colours can be generally given to various keys, each person in the group conveying their personal feelings and visions to the class.

Such are my examples, and I hope it is obvious that each small basis that is given in the first group can be grown upon in the following groups, by complicating the material. And the important point is that the whole is learned first, and then subdivided and subdivided, and not the other way around - when they try to see the whole by combining different parts after the parts are learned.

Many things have gone without saying in my outline, because it is not a discussion, and I am only trying to convey the key points, but I hope the whole picture is understandable.

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Thursday, 6 April 2006

Schumann's quotes

I have just watched and listened to three of Schumann's symphonies (1st, 3rd and 4th) performed by Wiener Philharmoniker with Leonard Bernstein, on Mezzo. That was one amazing conductor.

I was surprised to hear in the finale of the first symphony – a quote from Kreisleriana's last movement! What was it supposed to mean?

As far as I know, in Kreisleriana Schumann links himself together musically with Clara, and it is interesting to hear it here suddenly, right after the gentle main theme, which is like a "farewell to spring". Also, the quote (played by oboe and clarinet(?) with pizz strings) is immediately followed by another (so obviously also) quote, in unison tutti, which I didn't recognize (?), and then the second part of the Kreisleriana quote, and then again the other one. I wonder where the second quote comes from. After that the main theme turns more tragic. The quotations return at least twice more later. Fascinating and puzzling at the same time.

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Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Concert-going

On 19 Feb I was in a free-entrance concert in the Conservatoire of Tchaikovsky. Students of Tatyana Dobrovolskaya (one of the piano teachers there) were playing.

Even though, they played pieces by the standard (here) set of composers, i.e. Bach, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, the pieces weren't the usual showpieces, and it made the listening more interesting. Because, when one listens to a piece one has heard so many times, it is difficult to judge without prejudice, and without comparison to the stereotype performances, unless it is something extraordinary.

I liked the most the performance of one of Liszt's etudes.

On 22 Feb I went to another such concert. This time it was dedicated to earlier composers (Baroque and Classical), and among others, the following pieces made an impression: Mozart's C minor sonata (although played without the Fantasia), Chopin's Op. 28 preludes (only selected nine were played), Bach (played on a clavecin) - French suite No. 6, Toccata d-moll (913), Fantasia and fugue a-moll (904), Marin Marais - Les folies for clavecin and viola da gamba, Haydn's Variations in F-dur (HVII:6) played terribly on a hammerklaiver, and a few songs by Beethoven.

Also, a few contemporary pieces were inserted in between. How out of place!

One of the performers, Maria Uspenskaya, was exceptional, and I think her name will be heard more around the world in the coming years. She is very musical and her performance leaves behind an unforgettable experience. She played Chopin, the French suite by Bach and Beethoven.

On 25 Feb I listened to "Moscow Baroque", an ensemble that plays on baroque instruments. Three concerti by Vivaldi, a symphony by Pergolesi were played, and the two main pieces were by Pergolesi: cantata 'Orfeo', and the popular intermezzo 'La serva padrona'.

It wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything special, although the Bass singer was quite artistic. The soprano, Karina Debord from France was ok. Supposedly, she has been studying baroque music for 10 years, but I didn't feel that in her singing.

On 27 Feb, in the large concert hall of the Conservatoire, Elisso Virsaladze (piano) and Natalia Gutman (cello) gave a concert: Beethoven - 12 variations on themes by Mozart (op. 66), Grieg's a-moll sonata, and then Rachmaninoff's g-moll sonata.

It's a pity that the players have to play more than they want to prepare for. The Rachmaninoff sonata was very well performed, and it is an amazing piece. But the other two pieces weren't played what I would call up to standard, unfortunately.

The most amazing concert was on 2 March! I have never seen such young kids play so perfectly, so musically, genuinely! It was a Mozart evening. Several sonatas KK. 6 (piano, flute, cello), 15 (violin, piano), 19d (piano 4-hands) were performed - all by children aged 10-14. No single mistake, and everything - so musical, so dynamic, perfect! It was just amazing, and such an inspiration to my daughter (whom I took along with me). After the interval, several songs were performed, by more mature performers, and - funny - but it wasn't as perfect as were the little kids. All the performers were from Spivakov's fund. It is great to see such work being done. And it is great to see that young musicians are taught well.

The last concert I've been to was on 4 March. Olga Martynova and Olga Grechko performed 8 songs by Mozart and 8 songs by Haydn. Martynova is a harpsichord player, and unfortunately her playing on the hammerklavier was very harpsichord-ish. For example, the time delays on the first beats of 16th notes, which are the usual expression tool on harpsichord isn't needed on a hammerklavier, which has new tools, namely piano and forte, and obviously it doesn't sound in place. Another example is the arpeggiato of all chords, which also is usual on a harpsichord, but on a hammerklavier sounds out of place. A questions arises - was it worth playing the hammerklavier at all, why not play the harpsichord if it is all the same to her?!

But Grechko, the soprano, was very good, and overall, I enjoyed the concert.

My wife and I saw the most amazing figure skating performance on 7 March, which we went to (while the kids stayed with the visiting grandmother). Evgeny Pluschenko is absolutely fantastic! It was breathtaking.

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Friday, 17 February 2006

Music scores in the Middle Ages

We've been taught in the Academy that in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance time, composers wrote different vocal parts separately for the simple reason that they thought of them as separate musical lines, and their interconnection was secondary. Moreover, we were told that thinking in this way, they composed the different voices independently.

I was never at ease with this idea, and a few days ago, I finally found a proof that this teaching is wrong!

Look at this score (!) by Perotin, one of the earliest composers of polyphonic music:



It is so clear – the three melodic lines are written just like in a modern partiture! And here – the answer to the question comes out: look at the third voice – the notes are long, and spaced apart widely – and that is a waste of paper! Paper was extremely expensive in those times, and it is obvious why composers had decided to write out each voice separately – simply to save paper. But to denounce their harmonic thinking is ridiculous in my opinion – it is so clear in the music.

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Saturday, 25 January 2003

Mozart in E-flat

I'm enjoying Mozart's 22nd Piano Concerto in the background. Interestingly, the use of themes coincides with keys in all of Mozart's music. I know at least 2 other pieces of Mozart, also in the key of E-flat major (my favourite!) which have similar thematism. Obviously, each key meant something, gave feeling of something, or emotions. C minor, for example is always connected with something funeral. G minor, in my opinion, though, is connected to something devilish. Mozart wrote a lot more than the 55 known symphonies. But only 2 of them are in minor. And both are in G minor. The second one is No. 40 and is well known (especially to mobile phone possessors!), the other one is much more interesting, from the point of thematic material. I won't go into it, except to say that the last movement's main them resembles the secondary theme of Hava Nagila..

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