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.
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.
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!
I’ve studied Schubert’s Op.90 E-flat Major Impromptu off and on for years, long before I was ready for it. In fact, I’m still not. With expert teaching, even novices can use the great repertoire to learn and develop technique as a complement to scales, pedagogical exercises, and short pieces. Up and coming pianist Martin James Bartlett has, at the age of 22, a mantelful of awards and a promising career ahead of him. This Impromptu is no challenge for his considerable technique. Nevertheless, Knight Commander András Schiff gently guides him towards bringing out the orchestral colors hidden in the piece, to bow a percussive instrument like a viol, and frees Bartlett’s voice without imposing his own will on the young musician. Schiff’s legendary dry wit never oversteps into unkindness, except of course to the very late Carl Czerny who often takes it in the shorts in Schiff’s Guardian Lectures on the Beethoven Sonatas. It is gratifying to see that the steps to improvement at ones own level often recapitulates those of experts. This is education at its finest.
This revolutionary and/or romantic music is played in the baroque Grand Salon of l’Hôtel de préfecture du Rhône in the city of Lyon. The French know how to do government buildings. English subtitles available through the Youtube cc icon.
Andrew Robinson celebrates the high notes in the mathematician’s inimitable musical oeuvre.
Lehrer agrees with mathematician Stanislaw Ulam (one of the builders of the atomic bomb) that rhyming “forces novel associations … and becomes a sort of automatic mechanism of originality”. As he told me in 2008: “If ‘von Braun’ didn’t happen to rhyme with ‘down’ (and a few other words), the most quoted couplet in the song would not exist, and in all probability the song itself would not have been written.”
Amateur musicians are justifiably in awe of their professional counterparts. We struggle with rhythm, tempo, dynamics, intonation, and sight reading. They’ve mastered all that and more at an early age. It is all maddening especially the sight reading part. I’d do a deal with Mephisto in a heartbeat if I could do that without actually working for it. But, on the positive side, we schmoes reap the benefits of the pro’s superior talent and diligence in concert. The USC Thornton School sent five graduate students to Rolling Hills last Sunday for a rollicking ‘Trout Quintet’ to a packed and savvy house. Fine ensemble playing by a group that assembled and converged for this event. It was damned hard not to hum along, especially with the fourth movement. Video/audio to be posted if made available.
Youtube offers many channels with high quality classical music accompanied by synchronized scores. Ashish Xiangyi Kumar has an especially good one for piano fans. A large number of his videos feature two or more pianists interpreting the same work. To these, he offers his own thoughts on the pieces and the interpretations. A young Singaporean now studying law at Cambridge, Kumar brings to task a razor sharp mind and keen persuasive skills honed through a championship debate career. His notes read like chess matches analyzed by a grandmaster who can both understand and explain features large and small. He’s also a composer and if he can play what he writes, his chops must be first-rate.
The guilt? The recordings and scores come from somewhere…
For best results, start the videos, then click on the “Watch on Youtube” button and read the commentaries.
“At an evening party, Mozart bet a case of champagne that Haydn could not play at sight a piece he had composed that afternoon. Haydn accepted the bet and proceeded to play it on harpsichord only to stop short after first few bars. It was impossible to continue because the composition required him to simultaneously strike notes at two ends of the keyboard and a note in the very center. Haydn exclaimed, ‘Nobody can play this with only two hands.’
‘I can,’ Mozart said, and took his place at the keyboard. When he reached that problematic portion of his piece, Mozart bent forward and struck the central note with his nose.
Haydn conceded saying: ‘With a nose like yours, it becomes easier.'”