Sightreading music is difficult. Sightreading piano music is a superpower. Unfortunately the spider never bit and after 17 years, it is time to button up the instrument and play no more.
Category Archives: Classical music
Revel in Unrivaled Ravel: The Sitkovetsky Trio and Pavel Hudec
This animation is making the rounds of the classical music world. Pavel Hudec adds gorgeous visuals to a sparkling performance of the spiky 2nd movement of Ravel‘s A minor Piano Trio. “Journey of the Pantoum” evokes some highborn traveler from distant land but, the pantoum is no potentate, panjandrum, or padishah, only a type of poem that informs the piece.
The Sitkovetsky Trio‘s playing is otherworldly. The video coincided with the release of the album on BIS featuring the full work along with the Saint-Saëns Trio No. 2 in E minor. It is (surprisingly) available in “hardcopy” as a compact disc or as a digital download from eClassical.com in high quality formats with PDF liner notes and cover for under $10.
YouTube Channel: Pavel Hudec
Piece of the Action: The crazy engineering of the piano key
Playing the piano is damnably hard. I have accepted that I will never practice consistently or wisely enough to reach my original wildly unrealistic goals of competence and am contenting myself with slow progress and occasional discoveries. Coaxing a good sound requires talent, coordination, flexibility, and freedom of movement. There’s nothing that can be done about the first item but occasionally something in the joints unsticks enabling a small improvement in the rest. I feel kinship with weekend athletes who get that occasional moment of grace amid hours of futility.
One of the many frustrations is pressing a key in the same place with the same pressure five times in a row and hearing no sound two of those times. The hammer misses the strings by a fraction of a millimeter and flops back with a click and a dull thud. This makes any kind of phrasing next to impossible for the duffer. He either settles for good enough or goes nuts trying to adapt as the instrument itself changes with the time of day and the weather. It never bothers the professionals who figure it out on the fly.
The piano action itself is a bizarre marvel of wood, felt, physics, and prayer. It is surprising that it works at all and there are eighty eight of the bloody things that have to work consistently. It is a lot to ask, perhaps too much. Robert Grijalva of the University of Michigan explains it in painstaking detail using a model of his own invention. For those with less time, a Dutch animator posting as Hoe Ishetmoegelijk (hoe is het moegelijk = how is it possible) has a concise summary.
Youtube Channel: Robert Grijalva
Youtube Channel: Hoe Ishetmoegelijk
The America First Playlist: An Inaugural Swing and a Miss
On inauguration day, a large chunk of America unclenched and exhaled for the first time in four wretched, miserable years. Five if we count the rancid campaign of naked bigotry and full throated lies that preceded and presaged the disaster of 45.
We now have some sanity in the ship of state and can hope that any honeymoon lasts long enough to get people vaccinated, businesses restarted, and the arts out from under hiding. Even before COVID, anything on the finer side of life was ignored at best and ridiculed at worst under the moron of Mar-a-lago. Many of us who eagerly awaited 20 January and some sign of support to the better things woke up to surprise and not a little disappointment at the overwhelmingly pop-culture besotted inauguration that actually occurred. The shark sandwich playlist promised much and delivered nothing.
“Whether you are a country soul, a jazz enthusiast, a hip hop head, a classical sort, or just love that old-time rock and roll, music clarifies, inspires, unites, and heals.”
— Inaugural Committee CEO Tony Allen
Us “classical sorts” got jack shit, not even the ubiquitous OFFS not-him-again Yo-Yo Ma bowsynching to Copland as in 2009 although the equally overexposed Rénëê Fleming was said to have sung at one of the side events. The rest, excluding Bob Marley, was as America-centered and nobrow as anything the MAGA movement could scrape together, excepting of course getting the performance rights. The perpetually inept LA Times arts and culture department, or at least one of its representatives, thinks things are looking up. This schlemiel, a tv critic no less, views the cultural future as the wasteland of the Discovery Channel, Bravo, History, and TLC which at one time actually had some decent programming but which long ago sold out to the perpetually dropping lowest common denominator. It might get better for the arts but it is more likely that the arts will just get redefined just as science was for ‘The Science Channel.’
What galls about the 46-0 shutout is that the United States does not lack for options. Copland and Gershwin are overplayed but we have Ives, Joplin, and Gottschalk. Dvorák was inspired in Iowa, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky lived out their lives here (as did Schoenberg but let’s stay within realistic limits). Hell, John Williams or Peter Schickele could have done something if asked. And, if all of that is still too off-the-radar, there’s good ol’American John Philip Sousa transcribed by good ol’ American Vladimir Horowitz. One pianist, one piano – saves on cost and brings everyone to his or her feet. Regardez from the Hollywood Bowl in 1945.
Youtube Channel: Michael Brown
Wolf and Nabokov on red hats, madness, and death
Monsaingeon’s wonderful Richter documentary features the legendary pianist accompanying Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Hugo Wolf’s ‘Feuerreiter.’ I don’t like vocal music much but the piece came to mind today and I searched for the lyrics. The first stanza is a knockout and the rest could be ripped from the front pages if front pages still existed to be ripped.
Sehet ihr am Fensterlein
Dort die rote Mütze wieder?
Nicht geheuer muß es sein,
Denn er geht schon auf und nieder.
Und auf einmal welch Gewühle
Bei der Brücke, nach dem Feld!
Horch! das Feuerglöcklein gellt:
Brennt es in der Mühle!
See, at the window
There, his red cap again?
Something must be wrong,
For he’s pacing to and fro.
And all of a sudden, what a throng
At the bridge, heading for the fields!
Listen to the fire-bell shrilling:
Behind the hill,
Behind the hill
The mill’s on fire!
— Translation by Richard Stokes
The story canters on and it doesn’t end well for our redcapped protagonist. There’s a rough (and admittedly forced) parallel in Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’ where a King-in-mind-only abdicates to eventual academe, a hapless assassin, and his own hand.
He never would have reached the western coast had not a fad spread among his secret supporters, romantic, heroic daredevils, of impersonating the fleeing king. They rigged themselves out to look like him in red sweaters and red caps, and popped up here and there, completely bewildering the revolutionary police. Some of the pranksters were much younger than the King, but this did not matter since his pictures in the huts of mountain folks and in the myopic shops of hamlets, where you could buy worms, ginger bread and zhiletka blades, had not aged since his coronation. A charming cartoon touch was added on the famous occasion when from the terrace of the Kronblik Hotel, whose chairlift takes tourists to the Kron glacier, one merry mime was seen floating up, like a red moth, with a hapless, and capless, policeman riding two seats behind him in dream-slow pursuit. It gives one pleasure to add that before reaching the staging point, the false king managed to escape by climbing down one of the pylons that supported the traction cable.
Regrettably our national fire is more of the Wolf stripe. The mill burns to the ground with untold consequences to the many where Nabokov’s paler flame is shaded to only take the life of Kinbote/Botkin. We are left to wonder and fear whether a “a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus” is in our futures.
Hear Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore perform it below with evocative added graphics and translation followed by a rehearsal of the same piece with Richter.
Youtube Channel: FiDiTanzer528
Youtube Channel: kadoguy
The time is out of joint: Chris Impey on the tick-tick-tock of the stately clock
Steven Weinberg wrote a famous book, “The First Three Minutes” on the early stages of the universe. The same universe became transparent to light some 370,000 years later. There are other landmarks in post-Big Bang time going down to bewildering fractions of a second.
But the early universe was very hot, very dense, and gravitationally very different from the comfortable-to-us 1 g we experience today on the surface of the earth. Einstein has convincingly shown that spacetime is accordingly divorced from that human experience. Clocks, for example, are affected by gravity and satnav constellations have to take this into account. Did the first three minutes flow the same way three minutes flow in the here and now? I sent that question to Chris Impey’s online office hour and he kindly answered. It is a tantalizing response and one that will require substantial further study to fully appreciate – perhaps finally diving into the guts of GR. It makes me wonder even more intensely why we anthropomorphize those intervals the way we do.
Youtube Channel: Astronomy State of the Art
Composer Toru Takemitsu has set the general idea to music.
Youtube Channel: Orquesta Sinfónica de Xalapa
World Piano Day: Deutsche Grammophon’s virtual festival
COVID ravages the world. America bails out Boeing, Wall Street, and if all goes to plan, assorted chunks of 45’s cancerous financial empire. Meanwhile, Germany rolls out support to its artists and musicians, a nod to what that nation holds dear and what it finds worth defending.
In honor of a plague-affected World Piano Day, the German record label Deutsche Grammophon virtually brings together a number of celebrated pianists to help us remember that our mostly corrupt, degraded, and base species nevertheless has had moments of glory. Artists include Maria João Pires 0:00 Víkingur Ólafsson 21:15 Joep Beving 40:38 Rudolf Buchbinder 01:05:39 Seong-Jin Cho 01:25:24 Jan Lisiecki 01:44:02 Kit Armstrong 02:14:19 Simon Ghraichy 02:46:18 Evgeny Kissin 03:17:43 Daniil Trifonov 03:26:00.
Update 3/31/20: Well, so much for DG’s benevolence. The video has been marked Private.
Schroeder is alive and well and living in Japan
And he has expanded beyond Beethoven.
Youtube Channel: Cateen
Chicken in the deadpan pickin’ out dough: Lord Vinheteiro takes on Rossini
Move over Igudesman, make way Joo. And roll over Beethoven while we’re at it. He’s hampered by a broken hand at the moment but before he fell to a mechanical bull, Lord Vinheteiro had some fun with a rubber chicken. Maybe more than is strictly legal. Always great to see opera get it in the chops.
Youtube channel: Vinheteiro
Theme and Variations: Nahre Sol adapts and explains ‘Happy Birthday’
Pianist Nahre Sol delightfully explains sixteen levels of pianistic complexity in about ten minutes. That doesn’t mean there are only sixteen but, damn, what a lower bound for the recreational pianist to aspire to!
Youtube Channel: Wired
and the separate Nahre Sol Youtube Channel
Sol is in good company. Here are Mozart’s Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” which we know as something else.
Youtube Channel: Canacana Family