Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Lourié - Cinq Préludes Fragiles Op. 1

Arthur-Vincent Lourié was a Russian born composer that was associated with Igor Stravinsky for part of his career.  He began as a supporter of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and played a role in the development of Soviet music, serving as the head of the music department for the Commissariat of Popular Enlightenment.

He became disenchanted with the new Russian order, and when he went on an official visit to Berlin in 1921, he never returned to Russia. Like many expatriated Russians, he went to France and settled in Paris in 1922. He met Stravinsky in Paris and had a close association with him until 1931.  When France was occupied by the Germans in 1940, Lourié moved to the United States and settled in New York City. He died in Princeton, New Jersey in 1966. Lourié was a highly cultured man with diverse interests that moved in the circles of the avant-garde writers and artists of the early 20th century.

The Cinq Préludes Fragiles (5 Frail Preludes) were composed between 1908-1910 when the composer was 16-18 years old.  They reflect the influence of Scriabin and French Impressionism on the young man. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1913, but was self taught as well.

I. Lento -  The first prelude is in E-flat minor, and the subdivisions of the beat into triplets (3 notes to a beat), quintuplets (5 notes to a beat), and sextuplets (6 notes to a beat) gives the melancholy music an underlying restlessness.

II. Calme, pas vite -  This prelude is also in E-flat minor, and the composer instructed the player to play it with the freedom of a popular song. The music is not as heavy as the 1st prelude, but there is still underlying melancholy within it.

III. Tendre, pensif - To be played tenderly and thoughtfully, this music flirts with B-flat major and finally ends in that key.  Subtle syncopation keep the music in a reflective mood, not as dark as the two previous preludes.

IV. Affabile - To be played with joyous capriciousness, it is the brightest of the set. This prelude is in F major, with the time signatures of 9/16 and 7/8.

V. Modéré - With an instruction by the composer to play this prelude in a languishing manner, the set has gone back to the melancholy of the beginning. It is in G-sharp minor, and has a middle section that is marked moderately fading until another marking instructs the player to play arpeggiated chords caressingly. The music returns to the beginning of this prelude, languishes in its melancholy, and ends.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Couperin - Le Tic-Toc-Choc, ou Les Maillotins

François Couperin was a French composer of the Baroque era. He is most well known for his works for harpsichord,  of which over 230 were published in 4 volumes ofPièces de clavecin (Keyboard pieces).  He also wrote a treatise printed in 1716 titled L'Art de toucher le clavecin (The Art Of Playing The Harpsichord), specifically to instruct players how to play his harpsichord pieces in the correct style, while also offering instruction on fingering and ornamentation. This book is still used by early music performers and scholars for information concerning playing style of the time in France.

Even within the limited communication modes of the time, Couperin's music was known by other composers outside of France. J.S. Bach knew his music, and they may have written to each other. Couperin's influence reached to composers in the 19th century as well. Brahms played his music in public, and contributed as an editor with Friedrich Chrysander in a complete edition of the Pièces de clavecin published in London in 1888.  Modern harpsichordists and pianists have kept Couperin's music in the repertoire through some popular examples.

Couperin gave descriptive titles to some of his keyboard pieces. Some whimsical, some descriptive, some of them rather undecipherable. The title of this piece, Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins has numerous possibilities for translation and interpretation. Le tic-toc-choc has been thought of as representing the rhythm of a clock in comparison to the tempo of the piece. The last part of the title , ou Les Maillotins has been interprested as knock-knocks, or even little hammers.

It was intended for a two-manual harpsichord, per Couperin's instructions;
Pièce croisée: devra être jouée sur deux claviers, dont l’un sera repoussé ou tiré. Ceux qui n’auront qu’un Clavecin à un clavier, ou une épinette, joueront le Dessus comme il est marqué, et la Basse une octave plus bas. (Cross-piece: must be played on two-manual keyboards, one of which will be pushed back or pulled. Those who have only one harpsichord with one keyboard, or a spinet, will play the top as it is written, and the bass an octave lower.)
Modern  harpsichordists that have a two-manual instrument can follow Couperin's instructions, but pianists usually play the notes as written, which makes this a piece where both hands are on top of each other. This makes the piece all the more intriguing and difficult, as notes are rapidly played by one hand and then the other:

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Bach - The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, Nos. 7 -12

Bach intended Book II of The Well Tempered Clavier to fulfill the same uses as Book I; as a teaching aid for keyboard technique, theory and composition. But it also served as a showcase for him as a composer.While he was an acknowledged master of the compositional techniques of counterpoint (his works were called 'learned', not necessarily a compliment as used by some), he also knew the recent trends and the changes that were happening in musical styles.

Book II has more difficulties and is longer than Book I, and has not been as popular with players or listeners. But there are treasures to discover if one is willing.

Prelude and Fugue No. 7 In E-flat Major BWV 876 - This prelude has the feeling of flowing eighth notes throughout. It is not made up of themes, but consists of continuous movement that appears free from drama or overt tension.

The 4-voiced fugue begins with a subject that is repeated 12 times throughout.

Prelude and Fugue No. 8 In D-sharp Minor BWV 877 - The Prelude No. 8 in Book I was written in E-flat minor, while Fugue No. 8 of Book I was written in D-sharp minor, probably as a way for Bach to show the advantages of his well- tempered keyboard, as these 2 keys are theoretically different, but on the keyboard are only different in appearance on the music page. This Prelude/Fugue pair are written in the same key of D-sharp minor. As there was a separation of about 20 years between the composition of the books, the issue of which tuning to use may have been pretty much decided in the favor of well -temperament and Bach saw no need to emphasize it. Written in 2 voices, this prelude is similar to a 2-part invention, with its difference being in its length and complexity. The first 16 measures are to be repeated, as are the final 20 measures, thus the prelude is in binary form that is similar to what Bach used in some of the dance suites.

The 4-voiced fugue has a short two-measure subject that is repeated 16 times. There are a total of 8 episodes that are free of any subject

Prelude and Fugue No. 9 In E Major BWV 878 - This prelude moves along in 3 voices throughout, with the upper and middle voices contributing somewhat more thematic material than the lowest voice. It has two sections that are repeated.

The fugue that follows is in 4 voices. The subject consists of 5 notes with each voice entering directly after the preceding voice. There is no rush, as the fugue unfolds in a moderate tempo.

Prelude and Fugue No. 10 In E Minor BWV 879 - In two voices throughout, an extended two-part invention. The prelude has two sections which are repeated, with the second section being longer.  Trills in one hand help to define that voice while the opposing voice has its say.

A 3-voiced fugue that has the subject begin with an upbeat of the 2nd and 3rd notes of a triplet. It is rather a long subject at six measures that covers an octave. Bach uses this theme to garner interest even before the fugal entry begin. This subject occurs nine times during the fugue with no changes to it. There are six episodes in the fugue that do not contain the subject within it. The pace of the fugue is not fast, but it does have movement to it by way of the staccatos and triplets.

Prelude and Fugue No. 11 In F Major BWV 880 - A prelude in a pastoral, calm mood that begs to be played legato with no accents. This prelude reminds me somewhat of the beginning of the Prelude No. 7 in E-flat BWV 852 of Book I.

The 3-voiced fugue is written in 6/16 time, a signature that shows the basic pulse is sixteenth note triplets, 2 triplets to the bar. The bouncing subject is stated 8 times during the fugue. Most of the fugue is taken up by the six episodes.

Prelude and Fugue No. 12 In F Minor BWV 881 - The prelude begins meditatively, but with shifts into the major, the prelude has an underlying energy that may lead to some performers performing it too fast. This is another prelude from Book II that is in binary form, and as Bach develops sections of this prelude, it shows that it was a form that lead to the development of sonata-allegro form with later composers.

The character of the 3-voiced fugue as well as its 2/4 time signature gives the opportunity to increase the tempo. The subject appears 9 times, with 6 subject-free episodes. Much of Bach's music derives from dance forms that were old in his time, and this fugue has a sway to it that shows that derivation.