Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Liszt - Fantasy And Fugue On The Theme B-A-C-H For Organ S.260

The piano was central to the musical life of Franz Liszt. He was a virtuoso performer on the instrument from an early age, and his tours of Europe were legendary, and his compositions for piano and orchestra challenged the conservative nature that had crept into music in the middle 19th century. But despite his leadership with Wagner in what was called at the time "New Music", he had an interest in past composers and forms.  He championed works by composers that were unknown to the public at the time, such as the late music of Schubert and the opus 106 piano sonata "Hammerklavier" by Beethoven. He helped create pathways to new modes of expression by having one eye on the future and one on the past.

Although as a composer he is most well known for his music for solo piano and the symphonic poems for orchestra, he also composed in most other genres of music, including works for solo organ. The articleThe Organ Music Of Liszt by musicologist Zoltán Gárdonyi   states that Liszt traveled to Geneva Switzerland in 1836 and improvised on a church organ there.

As a trained pianist, Liszt was not adept at the pedals of the organ to begin with, and perhaps never got really proficient on them. But the manuals of course were a different story. He probably could adjust quite rapidly to the differences in the keyboards of pianos and organs. And there are many differences in the two instruments besides the pedals.

Liszt composed around 40 works for organ with the majority of them being transcriptions of other composer's music as well as his own. But he did compose two masterpieces of the literature for organ. The first was composed in 1850, the Fantasy and Fugue On The Chorale 'Ad nos, ad salutarem undam' from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera The Prophet. This is a massive work that takes around thirty minutes to perform. The second of Liszt's masterpieces for solo organ was composed ion 1855, the  Fantasy And Fugue On The Theme B-A-C-H.

In the 1840's the Bach revival was in full swing with Felix Mendelssohn continuing to lead the way in exposing the music to audiences. Mendelssohn played some of Bach's organ works at a concert in 1840, and Liszt wrote transcriptions of selected organ works for piano. Liszt's homage to Bach's music is based on the spelling in German musical nomenclature:
Bach himself used this 'Bach motif'' in one of his fugues in his The Art Of Fugue, and there is a long list of composers past and present who have used it.

Liszt begins the work with the motif in a solo for pedals:
The first part of the work is a fantasy with wide ranging tonalities that leads into the fugue which begins in the pedals. The fugue works through a few entrances of  the subject and then becomes a more free working out of ideas and motives until the subject returns in a more agitated form.  A section of trills for the pedals leads back to a fragment of the subject. After a short section marked maestoso, the Bach motif is heard again  in octaves in the pedal with shifting harmonies in the keyboards. This seems to be leading up to a grand finish, but instead they lead into a few bars in a more hushed tone that add a sense of mystery. This spell is broken by the final bars in fortissimo that modulate to the end chord in B-flat major. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Chopin - 24 Preludes, Opus 28

The  opus 28 preludes by Chopin were first published in 1839, a date that coincides with the winter of  1838-1839 in which he spent inMajorca with George Sand and her children. This has led some to believe that Chopin wrote the preludes in Majorca over that winter, but while some of theme were no doubt written then, there is evidence that some of the preludes were begun as early as 1831.  Each of the 24 major and minor keys are represented by a prelude. Some of them are quite short, with the longest lasting under 6 minutes.

Contemporary critics and musicians were somewhat baffled by the preludes, as illustrated by the words written by Robert Schumann:
The Preludes are strange pieces. I confess I had imagined them differently, to be designed in a grand style like the Etudes. But almost the opposite is true. They are sketches, beginnings of Etudes, or, so to speak, ruins, eagle wings, a wild motley of pieces. But each piece, written in a fine, pearly hand, shows: 'Frederick Chopin wrote it.' One recognizes him in the pauses by the passionate breathing. He is and remains the boldest and proudest poetic mind of the time. The collection also contains the morbid, the feverish, the repellent. may each search what suits him; only the philistine stay away!
 No. 1  In C Major - Agitato - Chopin studied the set of preludes and fugues The Well -Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach, and the opus 28 set was in some ways inspired by it. But Chopin made his own way artistically in his set. This first prelude shows a vague similarity in that it is in the key of C major and acts as a type of introduction to the set. But from the start, Chopin's set shows a marked difference in mood and approach. This prelude is short and rhythmically complex, and just as the listener's ear begins to discern distinct voices within the music, it is over:

No. 2  In A Minor - Lento - One of the peculiarities of the set was in Chopin's use of the term prelude. The name implies that a prelude comes before something else, as in Bach's prelude and fugue pairs. Chopin's preludes introduce nothing. They are entities unto themselves. When they are played as a set however, each prelude does lead to something; another prelude of varying distinction. The second prelude is brooding, melancholy, and full of dissonances in marked contrast to the opening prelude:
The melody as such is repeated in different pitches and accompaniment until the bleakness of the end.

No. 3  In G Major - Vivace - The mood shifts to brightness with the 3rd prelude. It begins with a widely spaced figure in the left hand that continues in a few differing harmonies, but stays in the home key of G major for the most part:
Chopin also makes his own way in key progression of the preludes. Unlike Bach who progressed chromatically and alternating major with minor, Chopin progresses on the circle of fifths alternating major and minor.

No. 4  In E Minor - Largo - A prelude that looks very simple on paper. A single voice in the right hand has the melody while block chords are played in the left. But simple does not always equate to easy. To bring out the descending bass line while keeping the right hand melody singing its intense song is not an easy task to do:

No. 5  In D Major - Molto allegro - A one-page prelude that has sixteenth notes moving throughout in an accompaniment while an eighth note theme appears within the accompaniment as shown by the notation. A quite rhythmically complex prelude:

No. 6  In B Minor - Lento assai - This sad prelude has the melody in the left hand that is reminiscent of the cello, with a repeating accompaniment in the right:

No. 7  In A Major - Andantino - A wisp of a prelude that is only 16 bars long, this is a miniature mazurka, a dance of Chopin's native Poland. It provides a short period of respite before the onslaught of the next prelude:

No. 8  In F-sharp Minor - Molto agitato - A most challenging prelude, one of the most difficult technically in the set. Scholarship has this as one of the earliest written preludes in 1831, around the same time as the first set of opus 10 etudes:
A dotted rhythm melody in the low part of the right hand plays against eight sixteenth notes in the same hand, while the left hand plays a sixteenth triplet-eighth note accompaniment for the entire piece. The harmonic structure is no less complex as it modulates to remote keys of E-flat minor and others.

No. 9  In E Major - Largo - A very slow prelude with a bass line almost as important as the melody in the right hand. The right hand melody is entrusted mostly to the little finger of that hand and must be more pronounced than the accompaniment in the lower right hand:

No. 10 In C-sharp Minor - Molto allegro - This odd prelude is quite short and consists of  a few runs down the keyboard in the right hand with arpeggiated chords spanning a tenth in the left hand:

No. 11 In B Major - Vivace -  although written in 6/8 time, this prelude drifts into short sections of 3/4 time, which is  hemiola. This gives a hesitant, not quite right rhythmic feeling to this prelude, something which Chopin was fond of:
No. 12 In G-sharp Minor - Presto - The two-note slurs in the right hand along with the tempo make this prelude one of the difficult ones. The impression I get from this prelude is a great struggle, an effect that Chopin might well have had in mind:

No. 13 In F-sharp Major - Lento - This prelude is a mini-nocturne, with a deceptively simple rolling bass in the left hand and melody in the right. There is a section a little over half way through the piece where the accompaniment changes and the melody gets more pensive, but overall the mood remains tender. The dynamic range is marked piano at the beginning, with a sensitive performance keeping the dynamic range within subtle shades of it:

No. 14 In E-flat Minor - Allegro - This prelude is marked to be played pesante (heavy). With the hands playing the same notes an octave apart, it may seem at first like a finger exercise, but the raising and lowering of pitch and volume as well as the unpredictability of what's coming next goes beyond finger work. There is difficulty in determining any definite melody. The mood of the piece is just as indefinite. This isi one of the most enigmatic of the preludes:

No. 15 In D-flat Major - Sustenuto 'Raindrop' - The longest in duration of all the preludes, this one is also the most well known single prelude of the set. The name of 'raindrop' was given to it either by Chopin's lover George Sands, or the pianist/conductor Hans von Bülow. There are a few sets of nicknames by performers for all the preludes, (including von Bülow's) by way of interpreting their individual mood. Chopin himself only put a name to one of his works, that being the slow movement of his Piano Sonata No. 2 in B♭ Minor, Op. 35, the famous Funeral March.

The prelude begins with a bitter sweet melody in D-flat Major. Many times the major mode in music denotes a certain mood, but with Chopin the mood between major and minor could be blurred. An A-flat 'rainsrop' repeats and is the reason for the nickname.:
In the contrasting middle section in C-sharp Minor (the enharmonic equivalent of D-flat Minor was used to make the music easier to read) the 'rainsdrop has enharmonically changed to G-sharp as the left hand brings forth chords in a steady progression in volume until the eruption of a climax with the left hand in octaves with the raindrops also in octaves plus inner voices. This section is repeated, and after a section of transition the opening of the prelude returns with some minor changes.  The A-flat continues right up to the quiet ending of one of Chopin's most demanding and well-known works.

No. 16 In B-flat Minor - Presto con fuoco - The prelude begins with six startling chords that bring the listener to attention for what follows. And what follows is music of immense difficulty. The right hand plays runs that are not conventional scales or arpeggios, but unconventional configurations of intervals, accidentals and snatches of scales while the left hand part is no less difficult due to the leaps required from octaves to chords. All of it to be played at an incredibly fast tempo that can seem like chaos ensues.  But that is an illusion of this very difficult prelude. Chopin was no proponent of chaos in music:

No. 17 A-flat Major - Allegretto - A very melodic prelude not given to any overt virtuoso display. When the main section is repeated, there are recurring low notes in the bass that are reminiscent of a bell that accompany the music to the end:

No. 18 In F Minor - Molto allegro - This prelude may be thought of as a spiritual brother in mood to the 14th prelude as this one snarls and snaps its way through less than a minute of dissonance, runs and sections where the hands play in unison an octave apart.  Four bars from the end, each hand plays a trill that is followed by sixteenth note staccato triplets that are spit out with great vehemence before the final chords:
No. 19 In E-flat Major - Vivace - This prelude is designated to be played semper legato, an incredibly difficult thing to do considering the leaping triplets (up to 2 octaves) both hands must make throughout. And this is to be done at a low dynamic and rapid tempo as well. Very poetic music in the guise of great difficulty:

No. 20 In C Minor - Largo - Thick chords give the impression of a funeral march to this shortest by number of bars (only nine) of all the preludes. Not a particularly difficult one technically, it does require richness of tone, especially in the fortissimo sections as well as an ability to balance chords so the melody is heard:

No. 21 In B-flat Major - Cantabile - A simple melody begins this prelude with a steady two-part accompaniment:
After the opening there is a section that gives the impression of G-flat major that creates a marked contrast. The mood of the piece, as with many of the preludes, has more than one possibility. This has lead to many different interpretations by pianists, and has helped to keep the opus 28 preludes in the repertoire for so many years.

No. 22 In G Minor - Molto agitato - A fiery, tempestuous prelude that has the melody in octaves in the left hand with the right hand answering in chords. Rapid in tempo, it is all too easy to pound the music out of the piano. Struggling in mood and impatient by nature, there is little if any resolution within the ending:

No. 23 In F Major - Moderato - As previously stated, there is no evidence that Chopin intended opus 28 to be played as a set at one sitting. But this prelude does shows how he composed preludes of contrast that followed one another. This 23rd prelude sits between two passionate preludes and avoids drama with a benign melody that plays out in the bass as the right hand passes up and down the keyboard. The addition of an E-flat to the arpeggiated F major chord in the next to the last measure is kind of a mystery. it implies a modulation to B-flat major, but there is no modulation. The note is accented and is clearly intended to be there. To what specific purpose has been open to conjecture:

No. 24 In D Minor - Allegro appassionato - The final prelude of the set is a wild, impassioned virtuosic piece that has a widely spaced accompaniment in the left hand while the right hand plays arpeggios up and down the keyboard, chromatic triplet thirds, and a buildup of near chaos that at the end descends from the top of the keyboard to three low D's hammered out in the left hand:



Friday, December 8, 2017

Haydn - Piano Sonata No. 53 In E Minor Hob. XVI/34

Only the later keyboard sonatas of Joseph Haydn were for piano, as the earliest ones were for harpsichord. Some of the middle sonatas were for harpsichord or piano, at the performers discretion.  But the transition from harpsichord to piano was inevitable, as the piano was capable of a much wider dynamic range, variety of tone color, and expression.

Haydn lived through a time of transition of forms of music as well. What modern listeners would call a sonata was derived from various multi-movement works of the Baroque era. Haydn himself did not begin to call his keyboard sonatas by that term until 1771. His early works were called partitas or divertimenti. Haydn was also influential in the development of the forms of the string quartet and symphony.

There are two numbering systems primarily used for the keyboard sonatas. The oldest is the one created Anthony van Hoboken, the other by H. C. Robbins Landon. The Hoboken system is categorized by genre, thus all of the keyboard sonatas fall under the heading of Hob. XVI. The Landon system was based on chronological order as much as possible, and is under the heading of L. Thus the sonata in this post is Hob. XVI/34 in the Hoboken system and L.53 in the Landon system. To add to the confusion, Landon lists 62 sonatas, but not all of them are extant while some are spurious.  Hoboken also has a total of 62 sonatas (including the lost ones), but his numbering system only goes as high as 52. He gives alternate numbers and letters to the lost or spurious ones. Many times, both numbers are given for a sonata in an effort to securely identify it.

The sonata is in three movements:

I. Presto - The first movement begins with a theme in the home key:
This theme goes through a short development and leads to the second theme in G major. This theme is in 5-bar phrases, and after 15 bars the exposition is repeated. The development section begins with the first theme, now in E major and transformed into one 5-bar phrase. After this theme is developed, the second theme is likewise, and leads to the recapitulation of the first theme. The second theme returns, now also in the home key of E minor. As is customary, (a holdover from the binary beginnings of sonata form) the entire second section of development and recapitulation is repeated.

II. Adagio - This slow movement in G major has the right hand playing a decorated melody with a simple accompaniment in the left hand:
Haydn varies the melody until the movement segues directly to the finale, something that happens infrequently in Haydn's sonatas.

III. Molto vivace - Marked by the word innocentemente (innocently), the final movement begins briskly with a theme in E minor that is accompanied by an Alberti bass in the left hand:
Haydn varies this material between repeats of the theme.  Unlike Mozart whose music could be a never ending stream of new melodies, Haydn could make the most of basic material heard at the beginning of a movement.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bach - The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, Nos. 19 - 24

After years of being copied out and passed from musician to musician, Bach's Well Tempered Clavier was published in 1801, almost 100 years later than the manuscript for Book One that is dated 1722. The influence the collection has had on music, musicians and composers since then is immeasurable

Modern times have not lessened its importance to the music lover and musician. They are useful as etudes for the building of a solid keyboard technique, as well as models of the diversity and creativity of fugal form, and examples of the various styles of keyboard music during Bach's era. The set of preludes and fugues holds beauties and difficulties in equal measure. And as the original musical text carries very few tempo designations, articulation and dynamic markings, various editors throughout its publishing histories have added all kinds of guides for the performer which can shed tremendous insight into how Bach's music was perceived in previous generations. And the original text as written by Bach gives the modern performer an opportunity of using their interpretive skills to bring forth a musical performance. And Bach's music can handle much in the way of interpretive variances, as long as the spirit and style of the music is allowed to come forth.

The final six preludes and fugues of the first set continues in the variety that Bach established in the previous ones.

Prelude and Fugue No. 19 In A Major, BWV 864 - It isn't long into this prelude until the listener realizes that the opening bars are actually a subject. This prelude is in fact a fugue itself, a prelude fugue that leads to a fugue.
The fugue is in three voices and the subject begins with a single note that is stranded for three eighth - note rests until the continuation of the subject. This is a little startling to anyone expecting a more common type of subject, but Bach was anything but common and could be quite innovative within his contrapuntal style.

Prelude and Fugue No. 20 In A Minor, BWV 865 - This prelude is in the style of a two part invention,
The 4-voiced fugue has a subject that is three measures long. The first statement of the subject is in the alto voice, and is followed directly by the repeating of the subject in the soprano, bass and tenor voices respectively. The fugue is worked out with many partial repeats as well as other contrapuntal devices, thus lending interest to one of the longer fugues in the book.

Prelude and Fugue No. 21 In B-flat Major, BWV 866 - A stunning example of what early keyboardists would do when they sat down to play. They would loosen up their fingers, get a feel for the instrument they were playing on, and check the acoustics of the room they were in by running up and down the keyboard in scales, arpeggios, broken chords and cadences. This prelude has all of that as the key of B-flat major (with some appearances of other keys) is shown off by the player.
The 3-voices fugue begins with one of Bach's most catchy subjects, one that is 4 bars long. The subject is played through all 3 voices before any development begins. The subject itself goes through very little change throughout.

Prelude and Fugue No. 22 In B-flat Minor, BWV 867 - A prelude that is defined just as much by a two sixteenth notes followed by 3 eighth note rhythm scheme as by any melody, which gives it a feeling of gentle movement.

The fugue is in 5 voices, and as the voices enter one after the other, tension steadily grows along with the complexity. Nonetheless, the tension created is mild as the overall feeling of this fugue is one of calmly unwinding the music until the final ending in the major.


Prelude and Fugue No. 23 In B major, BWV 868 - This prelude is almost entirely made up of repetitions of the sixteenth rest and seven sixteenth notes heard at the beginning in the right hand. This motive makes its way through three different voices.


The fugue is in 4 voices.


Prelude and Fugue No. 24 In B minor, BWV 869 - The key pattern of the Well Tempered Clavier begins with C major, and by alternating with major and minor keys chromatically, ends in B minor. The complexity as well as length of the material meets its culmination with this final entry of Book One. The prelude has a steady walking bass consisting of eighth notes while the right hand comments and embellishes as it goes. There is a sense of calmness throughout the prelude.

The final fugue is in 4 voices with a subject that is two bars long. It leisurely unwinds as the voices weave in and out creating a texture that while complex, makes profound musical sense in a purely aural sense, as do many of the preludes and fugues in this collection.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Widor - Organ Symphony No. 5 In F Minor, Opus 42

The meaning of a word or phrase can change over time, with the word symphony being an example.  A word with Greek roots, the meaning within ancient music referred to sounds that were consonant, that is, sounds that were pleasing to the ear. This meaning also went through many changes, with one being used to describe a musical instrument, especially one that could make more than one sound at the same time.  In the eighteenth century the word became to define a form of music that was written for an ensemble of many instruments, as Classical era composers lead by Haydn and Mozart codified what became to be known as a symphony.

But the changing of the definition did not remain static. Beethoven expanded the symphony to include more movements and even voices within the form.  Symphonies that more or less follow the basic principles of the form are still written, but there is much more freedom in form. 

The symphony for solo instrument is a style of writing that gives the impression of many instruments. Charles Alkan, French pianist and composer of the 19th century wrote what must be one of the first symphonies for solo instrument, in this case the piano, in 1857. Alkan's symphony is in his set of 12 Etudes In All The Minor Keys and is comprised of etudes 4-7, and while the composer wrote very much in a symphonic style, it takes a little effort on the listener's part to imagine the piano as an orchestra. 

Leading the renaissance of organ building in France in the 19th century was Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, whose family had been organ builders. He was an innovator that worked with composers to create a new type of Romantic organ that was capable of new sonorities and mixtures of sound. These organs with new designs and voices inspired French composers of the time to write music that would take advantage of them.

Widor was the composer that was the most prolific in the writing of oprgan symphonies as he wrote ten from 1872 until 1900. He was the organist at Saint-Sulpice in Paris that has Cavaillé-Coll's masterpiece, an instrument with five keyboards, 100 stops and 66,000 pipes. Cavaillé-Coll renovated and added to an existing organ that was built in the 18th century.

The impact of the French Romantic symphonic organ on composers was tremendous. Many French composers were also organists such as Camille Saint-Saëns, Gabriel Fauré, César Franck,, and many others. The organs of Cavaillé-Coll were subject to the changes of taste in the 20th century as a return to the sonorities of the Baroque style organ brought about by the organ reform movement in Germany. Some of his organs were changed to reflect this change, but the grand organ of St. Suplice in Paris remains essentially as the builder left it, as it had many qualities of the Baroque style organ retained during its makeover.

Organ Symphony No. 5 is in 5 movements:

I. Allegro vivace -  In the preface to one of the editions of the organ symphonies, Widor wrote:
Such is the modern organ, essentially symphonic. A new instrument requires a new language, another ideal rather than scholastic polyphony...It is when I felt the vibrations of the 6,000 pipes of the St. Suplice organ under my hands and feet that I began my first organ symphonies.
So it was Widor's intention from the start to create something new. And it was also Cavaillé-Coll's intent to have Widor become the organist at St. Suplice. The builder used his influence to help Widor get the training he needed so he could become the organist to realize the potential of his masterwork organ. As Widor's family were also organ builders that knew Cavaillé-Coll, it appears it was preordained for Widor to get the position. And once he had it, he kept it from 1870-1933.

Widor begins the symphony with a theme and variations movement instead of one in sonata form. There are a few variations on this theme, followed by a section with different material somewhat in contrast to the main theme. The next section develops the main theme, and leads to a restatement of the main theme with the full organ.

II. Allegro cantabile - A gentle accompaniment plays to the solo of an oboe stop that is joined a little later by a flute. The theme is repeated and slightly varied as the flute continues its commentary. A middle section is in different registration and mood until the oboe and the main theme return.

III. Andantino quasi allegretto -  The pedal begins the movement and plays an important part in keeping the music moving forward. The music has crescendo marks in the score, something that the symphonic organ could do by the aid of shutters that closed and opened around the pipes to decrease or increase the volume.  This feature, as well as the overall quality of sound and variety of stops, makes Romantic pipe organ music mostly unplayable on older organs. The important pedal part plays itself out and reverts to a simple accompaniment at the end.

IV. Adagio - Written in C major, this movement is the shortest of the five and travels in a slow mood and in a few keys before it ends in C major as it began.

V. Toccata - Widor wrote in many other genres besides organ music, and was an accomplished orchestrator, having written a book on instrumentation. But this is the piece that he is most well known. It is a favorite encore for organists and is used as a ceremonial piece, as in royal weddings. It consists of staccato sixteenth notes in the right hand throughout, with accent chords in the left hand. The theme itself, more like a motive than a melody, is in the pedals and played by the feet. it is in triple forte for most of its length, although effective use is made of volume variances in the middle of the piece when the music shifts from F major to D major. It has been recorded countless times, all too often at too fast of a tempo. The score calls for quarter note = 118, and since the music is in 4/2 time, the tempo is brisk to be sure, but shouldn't be excessive. But it makes an impression as a showoff piece at a rapid tempo, although the harmonic progression can be blurred because of that.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Alkan - 25 Preludes, Opus 31

As the word implies, the musical prelude began as a extemporized piece that acted as an introduction to another work, most of them for keyboard or lute. This was done to check the tuning of the instrument as well as to limber up the fingers of the player. They set the key and tempo of the piece to come as well. They became a part of set music practice in the 16th century into the middle of the 18th century.

Johann Sebastian Bach's preludes for organ and the set of 48 preludes and fugues of the Well Tempered Clavier became the model for other composers, and as the fugue grew out of fashion, the prelude came into its own. They retained the name, but no longer were an introduction to a fugue or other piece, but a work by themselves.

Writing a set of preludes in all the major and minor keys became a tradition that many composers followed. While Chopin's opus 28 set of preludes published in 1839 were not the first set of preludes without fugues, the quality and variety contained within the set rapidly made them the standard.

The opus 31 set by Charles Alkan was published in 1847 and contain an additional 25th prelude that serves as an ending. Alkan's preludes have similarities as well as differences with Chopin's set. Both sets are a collection of short pieces that are not complex in form. Some of Chopin's preludes are more harmonically adventurous, while Alkan opts for descriptive titles for some of his, something which Chopin never did.

Alkan's preludes are separated into three books:

Book I
1. Lentement (Slowly), C major - The first prelude is not complex and is but one page long. The melody moves between octaves played in the right hand. Performer indications are few, and the preformer needs to bring out the inner melody and follow what indications there are and bring feeling to what can be a mundane piece.

2. Assez lentement (quite slowly), F minor - The first section is in 6/8 time and plays out in the key of F minor. The music is marked cantabile with short statements for the right hand while the left hand plays a one chord accompaniment. The next section shifts the music to cut time, the key to F major, while the tempo increases. The music moves back and forth between these two sections until it ends in F major.

3. Dans le genre ancien (In the ancient genre), D-flat major - The ancient genre being the late Baroque era of Bach, the printed music shows how these preludes can be played on the organ or pedal piano as well as the regular piano. Alkan was a virtuoso of the pedal piano, which had a keyboard at the bottom of the piano like an organ pedal board.

4. Prière du soir (Evening prayer) , F-sharp minor - Alkan was Jewish, and this prelude brings some of the feeling of his Jewishness to the set. A prelude simple in form, marked to be played con devozione (with devotion).

5. Psaume 150me (Psalm 150), D major - Written in 3 staves, one of them being a part for pedal board. Inspired by Psalm 150:
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
 
6. Ancienne mélodie de la synagogue (Ancient melody of the synagogue), G minor - Another piece reflecting Alkan's Jewishness, the voice of the cantor of the synagogue. The tempo indication is Andante flebile (moderately and mournfully).

7. Librement mais sans secousses (Freely but without bumps), E-flat major - Light in mood and in execution 'without bumps'.

8. Le chanson de la folle au bord de la mer (The song of the insane woman by the sea), A-flat minor - While there are few recordings of the complete preludes, this one turns up as an addition to recordings of other works. It is a strange work, an early example of French music impressionism. It begins with the depiction of waves with large chords at the lower end of the keyboard. The song enters at the other extreme high up on the keyboard. The middle section has the tempo and volume increase as the waves get more pronounced and the song more frantic until a climax is reached. The music retreats back to the nearly catatonic as the song becomes quiet and more fragmented until the end is reached.

9. Placiditas (Gently), E major - Marked Tranquillo in tempo molto independente (tranquil with a much independent tempo) this is the emotional opposite to the previous prelude and brings the first book to a close.

Book II
10. Dans le style fugué (In the fugue style), A minor - A two-page fugue played molto presto. 

11. Un petit rien (A little nothing), F major - As the name implies, a simple prelude to be played rather fast but gently.

12. Le temps qui n'est plus (Times that are no more), B-flat minor - A melancholy prelude, lamenting the loss of treasured times of the past.

13. J'étais endormie, mais mon cœur veillait (I was asleep, but my heart was awake), G-flat major - Written throughout in cut time (equivilent to 2/2 time) each half note beat is subdivided into 5 eighth note quintuplets, essentially making this a prelude in 10/8 time, a novelty for the era. The title refers to a passage from the Old Testament book Song Of Solomon. Alkan was a scholar of the Old Testament.

14. Rapidement (Quickly), B minor - To be played rapidly. It has a contrasting middle section.

15. Dans le genre gothique (In the gothic genre), G major - I do not know what Alkan meant by 'gothic', but this gentle prelude represents the key of G major well.

16 Assez lentement (Very slowly), C minor - A prelude that begins sadly, with each voice entering in counterpoint. The middle section has a few moments when light enters into the music, but it mostly stays in a melancholy mood until a Picardy third ends the piece in C major.

17. Rêve d'amour (Dream of love), A-flat major - The prelude begins in A-flat major, with a middle section that shifts to A major. Another section shifts the key to E minor, and a impassioned chromatic section leads back to the ending section marked palpitant in A-flat major.

Book III

18. Sans trop de mouvement (Without too much movement), C-sharp minor - The indication at the beginning of the prelude refers to only the 4-bar introduction. The actual prelude is a romance that shifts between C-sharp minor and C-sharp major. It ends in C-sharp major.

19. Prière du matin (Morning prayer), A major - Another spiritual prelude that looks simple on the page, but needs the proper feeling and attention to the melody.

20. Modérement vite et bien caracterise (Moderately fast and with spirit), D minor - Octaves and thick, heavily accented chords bring out the aggressive nature of this prelude.

21. Doucement (Gently), B-flat major - The alternating B-flat notes are all that are heard in the left hand and lend a simple, bell-like accompaniment to the shifting chords in the right.

22. Anniversaire (Anniversary), E-flat minor - The music plods along in the home key with deep bass notes giving the accompaniment. The music lightens in the final section as the key shifts to E-flat major.

23. Assez vite (Quite fast), B major - A prelude of grace, to be played fast.

24. Étude de velocite (Velocity study), E minor - The only prelude with the overt attention to technique, rapid finger technique to be precise. This prelude resembles the style of Chopin in his Etudes.

25. Prière (Prayer) , C major - The longest in performance length, this prelude moves at a very slow tempo in mostly block chords. It is a hymn of harmonic richness, reverence, and ends the set as it had began, in the key of C major.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Chopin - Ballade No. 1 In G Minor, Opus 23

The history of the term ballad begins with a type of French medieval narrative song which was generally danced to. Ballet derives from the same base word in French, so both words have the action of dance in common. While the etymology of the word may be French, the ballad was a narrative song or poem that has been historically found across Europe and England and was associated with minstrels for centuries.

This cursory description of an historical ballad has a direct bearing on the term as used in the instrumental form. The historical ballad tells a story in verse with or without music, while the Romantic era ballad is an instrumental work. More specifically, in the case of Chopin's use of the term, it is a musical composition for solo piano that tells a story in purely musical terms. 

When the first ballade was published in 1836 it was considered somewhat of a novelty at the time, for no composer had used the term for a work for solo piano before Chopin. Chopin wrote four ballades (the spelling he used derives from French) during his lifetime, from 1831 to 1842. During his second trip to Vienna in 1831, he began to write the first ballade. He completed it in 1835 after he had moved to Paris. Each of the 4 Ballades are singular works. There are a few purely technical similarities between them, but musically and emotionally they are separate pieces. They contain some of the most  difficult technical and interpretive challenges of any pieces for solo piano in the repertoire.

Lento -  The ballade begins with seven bars of slow arpeggios in common time that serves as a recitative/introduction to the work. 

Moderato - The short introduction blends into the first of two primary themes, a gently pensive theme in 6/4 time and the home key of G minor. After this theme is repeated and slightly expanded, a motive is heard and passage work leads to the second major theme with the indication,

Meno mosso -  This theme is in E-flat major. This theme gets a proper hearing and elaboration, and leads up to the next section.

What has gone on before may be considered as the exposition of a piece in Chopin's personal use of sonata form, as the first theme reappears. It gradually leads to the reappearance of the second theme in a more powerful rendering in a different key. Another motive is heard, and leads to what can be considered as a recapitulation, although the themes appear in reverse order than they did in the exposition.  A stunning coda begins, complete with powerful runs in both hands alternating with solemnly quiet chords until a thunder of octaves brings the piece to a close.

In the end, no amount of analysis, slight or detailed, will convey the strength of Chopin's artistry in this ballade. Or is there anything of much value to trying to tie the ballade with any kind of literary work. Chopin made no reference to any outside inspiration. It is as Chopin intended; a story told in purely musical terms to be understood by emotions and feelings brought on by the music. In that aspect, Chopin is one of the most Romantic of all Romantic era composers.

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