Monday, August 31, 2020

Chopin - Twelve Etudes For Piano Opus 25

Chopin published his second set of 12 etudes for the piano in 1837, four years after his Etudes Opus 10. The second set continues in giving musical worth to technical exercises, and remains popular today. While the opus 10 set was dedicated to Franz Liszt, the opus 25 set was dedicated to Liszt's mistress, Marie d'Agoult. Why Chopin did that is still a mystery.

1. In A-flat Major 'Aeolian Harp' -  As in the first set, there are some etudes in this set that have nicknames. None of them originated with Chopin, as he didn't like to put names on his works, and he didn't like others doing it either.  Robert Schumann supposedly nicknamed this etude. An aeolian harp is essentially a box that has strings stretched across the top of it between two bridges that is put into a window or outside where the breeze goes over the strings and make them sound. This etude has a simple melody played in the top notes of the right hand while an arpeggiated accompaniment is played in the right hand and left hand.
Stretches in both hands as well as musical balance is the problem, as the grace note arpeggios need to be in the background while the melody is accentuated.

2. In F Minor - This piece is in cut time, essentially 2/2, but with eighth note triplets in the right hand and quarter note triplets in the left hand, so a slight rhythmic ambiguity arises. A kind of optical illusion for the ear. The dynamics are mostly subdued, and played legato throughout.
The main technical problem with this piece is playing in the correct time with both hands. 

3. In F Major - An etude that challenges the player with different rhythmic patterns in each hand. The opening 8 bars are repeated, and made even more complex with added notes in the right hand. The difficult rhythmic scheme runs throughout the piece.

4. In A Minor - Both hands play staccato chords with a melody line emerging here and there. An atypical piece for a composer known for his love of singing piano tone.

5. In E Minor 'Wrong Note' - Of course Chopin didn't write 'wrong' notes, but this etude is full of minor second intervals, an interval that can give the impression of incorrect notes. The left hand plays large rolled chords while the right hand plays the stumbling, wrong note theme.

The initial theme is played twice before a new theme enters in E major. This new theme is in the left hand and played in chords and octaves while the right hand plays an accompaniment in thirds that goes up and down the keyboard. This new theme is played twice and followed by the opening theme , this time in a more complex form. Chopin was a composer that seldom repeated himself verbatim in music. The ending changes things again, with wrong notes and chords. Chords are held while the inner voices of both hands play a trill. An arpeggio played triple forte leads to the ending note on G-sharp, implying the music has ended in E major.

6. In G-sharp Minor 'Thirds' -  Thirds are played throughout in the right hand, with the difficulty being playing them smoothly and at a relatively soft volume. The left hand compliments the thirds and make the etude more musical while at the same time adds to the difficulty. The phrasing of the left hand groups in the beginning slur over the bar line.

7. In C-sharp Minor -  Next to the piano, the cello may have been Chopin's favorite instrument. He wrote some pieces that have the melody in the bass and remind the listener of the range and character of music for the cello. This etude is one of those pieces, and is sometimes referred to as the 'cello' etude.
It begins with a solo in the bass. Soon it is joined by an accompaniment played in the right hand along with a counter melody at the top of the treble clef, essentially making this an etude in three parts. Towards the middle of the piece, the left hand displays runs as the right hand plays the accompaniment and melody. To bring out the two melody parts as the accompaniment plays in the background makes this difficult musically in itself, while the technical side of the music is no easy matter.

8. In D-flat Major 'Sixths' - As the nickname implies, this etude consists of the interval of a sixth in both hands until the very last bars. It is difficult to play scales and arpeggios in sixths of course, and that is what the music demands of the player.

9. In G-flat Major 'Butterfly' - One of the most recognizable of the etudes because of the nickname. The bouncing nature of the music can give the impression of a butterfly if the listener uses some imagination.
The difficulties of this etude are the jumps in the left hand, the bringing out of the melody in the right. hand, and bringing it all up to tempo. It is the shortest of the 24 etudes, and if played up to tempo lasts just under a minute.

10. In B Minor 'Octaves' - The piece begins with brutal triplet chromatic octaves in each hand. After the opening bars, notes are added between the octaves in both hands and add to the difficulty.
After the first few bars, notes are added between the octaves as a counter melody. This increases the difficulty tremendously as these notes are held down as the octaves are played around them. The middle section has the music shift to B major along with a slower tempo. Octaves continue in the right hand, and this section also has notes in between the octave notes. The right hand plays a two-part accompaniment, then there is a short transition back to a shortened version of the original material.

11. In A Minor 'Winter Wind' -  The etude begins in a quiet mood, but it is deceptive. After the first four bars, the music takes off as the right hand plays a complex pattern that is played throughout the piece while the left hand makes great leaps from playing low bass notes to chords.
The technical demands are considerable, the interpretive demands are no less so. It takes a great deal of endurance to play this etude. The final bars are a 4 - octave run of the A minor scale. There is no etude in this set (or the first set) that is less than difficult, and the 'Winter Wind' is one of the most difficult.

12. In C Minor 'Ocean' -  Chopin ends the last etude of this series in the same key as the last in the first series, C minor.  Both hands play in a unique arpeggio pattern, and after the first bars Chopin throws in a melody in the top note of the right hand.

Snatches of melody interlace between the hands and are to be accented and brought out from the maelstrom of sound of the arpeggiations. The two sets of etudes have a sea of technical and interpretive difficulties that are summed up with this last one.

Chopin - Twelve Etudes For Piano Opus 10

An etude is a composition written for keyboard  that explores a specific aspect of technique, such as double notes, arpeggios, etc. The origin of the word is French, and means study or exercise.  There were etudes written before Chopin wrote his opus 10 set, but his are not only studies for specific aspects of technique. They are works that weld technique, musical expression, and substance into a new art form that revolutionized piano playing.

In 1829, Niccolò Paganini played some concerts in Warsaw, and a teenage Chopin saw and heard him play. The influence of Paganini's revolutionary playing of the violin had an influence on Chopin, and inspired him to try and do the same for the piano. Chopin wrote 27 etudes for the piano in his career; opus 10 and opus 25, both containing twelve etudes each, and three separate ones with no opus numbers.  The opus 10 set was published in 1833 and dedicated to his friend Franz Liszt (also influenced by the virtuosity of Paganini). The opus 10 etudes made a profound influence on the dedicator as Liszt revised his own set of etudes after studying Chopin's.  Chopin's etudes were the first to become staples of the recital literature and have never lost their appeal.

1. In C Major 'Waterfall' -  Over the years there have been names attached to some of the etudes, but none of them originate from the composer.  The first etude is a study in extended arpeggios for the right hand that cover 4 octaves or more. Chopin has lead off the set with one of the most difficult etudes, and follows in the tradition of J.S.Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. Prelude No. 1 In C Major by beginning with a piece in broken chords:

2. In A Minor - A study in chromatic runs for the 3-4-5 fingers of the right hand while fingers 1-2 of the same hand play two note chords. The left hand plays a staccato accompaniment of bass alternating with chords. This etude is not only technically difficult, but the musical problem of keeping the chromatic runs in the forefront (complete with crescendos and diminuendos) while cleanly playing the accompaniment is considerable:

3. In E Major 'Tristesse' (Sadness) - This etude is also known by the name 'L'adieu' (Farewell) Chopin recommended that his students hear the leading singers of his day so they could try and emulate the voice at the piano. This etude is a good example of what Chopin was trying to convey, as the lyrical melody sings above the accompaniment. An agitate middle section in parallel sixths brings the music back to the beginning. Structurally this etude resembles the slow movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 In C Minor 'Pathetique' in the first and last part. Whether Beethoven's music was a model or merely a coincidence, this etude is one of Chopin's most well known works:

4. In C-sharp Minor -  This melody of this etude switches from right to left hand throughout. With cascades of sixteenth notes, this etude embodies some of the difficulties of the first three. The pace is relentless, and ends with a downward chromatic run in both hands and arpeggios in the right:

5. In G-flat Major 'Black Key' - This etude has a melody played in chords of the left hand while the right hand plays an accompaniment in triplets using only the black keys. Chopin didn't think this etude one of his best, but it has been one of his most popular.

6. In E-flat Minor - A melancholy melody plays over an accompaniment of a middle voice in sixteenth notes that winds under the melody while the bass gives support. The technical problems involve keeping the middle voice balanced as a secondary melody with the main melody in the right hand. The sadness of the music is lifted with the very last chord in E-flat major.

7. In C Major - A study in double notes for the right hand as the left hand plays the melody. The combination of shifting harmonies and repeated notes in the right hand makes this a difficult etude to make musically satisfying.

8. In F Major - Rapid sixteenth note runs scamper up and down the keyboard throughout while the melody is played in the left hand. The middle section darkens as the key changes to D minor, but only briefly. The piece ends with rolled chords in both hands in F major.

9. In F Minor -  A somber melody in the right hand is played over a wide spaced accompaniment in the left. In every six note figure in the left hand there is embedded a third element; a secondary melody in the 3rd and 5th note. The recognizing and playing of this secondary melody balanced with the main melody is a test of the ear and musicality of the performer. The ending of this etude is very quiet.

10. In A-flat Major - Written in apparently consistent patterns in both hands, Chopin mixes things up by shifting accents, touch and phrasing. One of the most difficult etudes musically.

11. In E-flat Major - An etude made up of rolled chords in each hand. The melody is in the top note of the right hand and is difficult to bring out when the piece is played up to tempo. Many of the chords are widely spaced and give added difficulty. The generally quiet dynamics of the piece make the rolled chords more difficult as well. The music reaches a crescendo with the closing notes and ends loudly.

12. In C Minor 'Revolutionary' - Tradition has it that this etude came about after Chopin learned about the Russian takeover of Warsaw. Whether this is fact or legend, the music itself is passionate and unsettling. It can be thought of as a summing up of the previous eleven etudes of opus 10, as it has many elements from each within it. The left hand has a relentless figuration of sixteenth notes as the melodyin chords shrieks from the right hand.
The piece grows more and more complex and passionate until the left hand figuration is heard in both hands fortissimo, in parallel motion before the piece ends in an unsettling C major:

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Satie -Trois Gymnopédies

The meaning of the name that Satie gave these three pieces for piano is up for debate, as well as the source where he first saw the word. As with much with Satie, it is as much a product of his own eccentrically creative mind as much as anything else. The term is included in the French Dictionnaire de Musique that gives the definition of  a nude dance, accompanied by song, which youthful Spartan maidens danced on specific occasions.  Some of the paintings by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes such as Jeunes filles au bord de la mer (Young girls at the edge of the sea) may have also inspired Satie.

1. Lent et douloureux - Satie instructs the player to play each piece in a specific mood. This first one
translates as 'painfully'. All three have the same basic structure; written in 3/4 time, with a mildly dissonant melody floating above a persistent accompaniment. This first one is in D major, with an occasional drifting into D minor.

de Chavannes - Jeunes filles au bord de la mer 
To add to the discussion of the source of Satie's name for these pieces, number one was printed with an excerpt from the poem Les Antiques by his friend, the Spanish poet that lived in Paris Patrice Contamine de Latour:

Oblique et coupant l'ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d'or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d'ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie

Slanting and cutting the shadow a bursting torrent
Streamed in streams of gold on the polished slab 
Where the amber atoms in the fire shimmer
Mingled their saraband with gymnopedics.

It is not known which was written first, the poem or the music.

2. Lent et triste - The next one is in C major, and is labeled 'sadly'. This one was published in 1895 while the first and third were published in 1888.  By the time of the publication of this work, Satie was in dire financial straits. His friend Claude Debussy arranged No. 1 and 3 for orchestra to help draw attention to Satie's work.

3. Lent et grave - To be played 'gravely', this work is basically like the other two. The Gymnopédies have become known as some of the most tranquil music ever written for the piano, a far cry from their perception as avant garde music when they were first published.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Bruckner - Symphony No. 6 In A Major

Anton Bruckner (1824 - 1896) was an Austrian composer who is most well known for his Symphonies and religious music.  He studied to be a school teacher like his father, but music was too great of an interest for him to stay as a general curriculum teacher for long.

He showed great aptitude for music as a child and learned to play the organ when quite young. He became a world-renowned virtuoso organist when an adult.  He gave recitals in London in 1871 at the Royal Albert Hall and at the Crystal Palace, as well as recitals in Paris, France on the new organ in Notre Dame Cathedral.  He was the greatest improviser on the organ in his day.  Despite his prowess at the organ, he wrote no major works for the instrument. 

Bruckner wrote nine 'official' Symphonies with the 9th being incomplete at the time of his death. He also wrote two other Symphonies which he did not deem worthy of numbering and these are commonly known as Symphony 0,  and Symphony 00.

Bruckner was obsessive about his music theory studies and took lessons until in his 40's.  He didn't receive recognition as a master composer until he was well into his 60's.  He was a disciple of Wagner, but of Wagner's music only. He had no interest or understanding of Wagner's dramatic elements.

All of Bruckner's symphonies have four movements. The Sixth Symphony is not the most performed of all the symphonies,  and the reasons are many. While it follows Bruckner's symphonic pattern, it is different in some areas than the rest.

Majestoso -  As usual with Bruckner's use of sonata form, instead of two main themes he has three. This leads to more development and possibilities within the structure and usually lengthens his sonata movements compared to his contemporaries. The Sixth Symphony's first movement begins with what is known as the Bruckner Rhythm, a rhythmic scheme that he was fond of and used many times in his work. The Bruckner Rhythm consists of two beats and a triplet, or visa versa. The Sixth Symphony has this rhythm appear through the entire work in many forms. 

Adagio - Sehr feierlich (very solemnly) - This is the only one of his slow movements in all his symphonies that is written in sonata form.  Bruckner's adagios are beautiful music, bitter-sweet in their melody and harmony. The adagio of this symphony is no exception.

Scherzo: Nicht schnell (not fast) Trio - Langsam (slowly) - Unlike other Bruckner scherzos, this one's tempo is slower and the themes are more like rhythmic fragments than tunes. This is another feature of this symphony that makes it unique from other Bruckner Symphonies.

Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (with motion, but not too fast) -  Bruckner brings back snatches of themes from the first and second movements while stating the three main themes of the Finale. The development section sees modulations through different keys until the undeniable key of A Major is brought forth.  The last part of the symphony, the Coda, sees yet more modulations and yet another massive assertion of the key of A Major which rounds out the work.

Bruckner's methods of orchestral composition reflects his knowledge and skill of the organ. He treats the orchestra as a huge organ, layering his music and 'pulling out stops' for color. His symphonies are long, and the Bruckner beginner may have a difficult time following the structure, because the music itself runs the gamut from beautiful to sublime to exciting and can also be very complex. But the rewards of getting to know Bruckner are many. His is music is such that, once you learn something about it, is all the more rich and beautiful.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Beethoven - Septet in E-flat Major, Opus 20

Two major influences on Ludwig van Beethoven in his apprentice years were the two great composers of his era - Mozart and Haydn.  Beethoven wanted to take lessons from Mozart and went to play for him in Vienna when Beethoven was sixteen, (with Mozart reportedly saying "Watch out for that boy. One day he will give the world something to talk about") but Beethoven had to rush back to his home town of Bonn when his mother became critically ill.  By the time Beethoven could manage a trip back to Vienna, Mozart had died.

Beethoven did manage to take some lessons from Haydn, but Haydn was preoccupied with writing symphonies for another planned trip to England. Beethoven even supplemented his studies by taking lessons from other teachers without Haydn's knowledge.  Beethoven's talk of Haydn was always somewhat disparaging, especially after Haydn suggested that one of Beethoven's three Opus 1 piano trios should not be published because it needed more work.  Beethoven often said that he learned nothing from Haydn, but he dedicated his opus 2 piano sonatas to Haydn.

Beethoven composed in most of the forms used by Haydn and Mozart, and one of his most popular compositions was his Septet in E-flat major. It is in all but name a Serenade or Divertimento,  musical forms used by Mozart and Haydn a great deal. Beethoven's natural originality usually saw him making changes in his music that set him apart from others.  While many Serenades were written for instruments in pairs, Beethoven uses seven single instruments,  - clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and string bass.  This ensemble of instruments must have appeared odd at the time, and in a way it still does. But Beethoven knew how to blend this odd combination when he wanted and have any instrument stand out in contrast when he wanted, and he wanted to show off his skill.

But it was not only in instrumentation that Beethoven showed his creativity. He expanded the from by writing two extended introductions to the first and last movements and by substituting a scherzo for the second minuet.  It was written in 1799-1800, performed in 1800 and was a great success, so much so that Beethoven wrote a version of it for clarinet (or violin), cello and piano.  Over time, Beethoven came to loathe the work because of its popularity and the continuing requests from patrons to compose more of the same kind of music.

While the Septet does resemble a serenade or divertimento, it is but a superficial resemblance. The whole character of the piece is more symphonic,  a little more serious in spots and daring (even quirky). Beethoven wrote it while he was still sketching out his first symphony, so perhaps the Septet was one of the pieces Beethoven stretched his 'symphonic' muscles with to get limbered up for genuine symphonic composing. The Septet is in 6 movements:

I. Adagio - Allegro con brio -  The slow, tuneful introduction leads the way for the beginning of the sonata form allegro con brio. The first theme is heard in the violin, and then taken up by the clarinet. The second theme also begins in the violin and is taken up by the clarinet.  After a short section containing some new material, the exposition is repeated.  The short development section begins with the opening of the first theme and explores the possibilities of material already heard. The recapitulation of the themes contain subtle changes in accompaniment and shifts in key.  A coda leads to the end of the movement.

II. Adagio cantabile -  A gentle, singing melody mostly played by the stars of the septet, the violin and clarinet. But Beethoven doesn't stick to the conventional division of the treble instruments playing the melody and the others the accompaniment. There is a great deal of swapping of roles.

III. Tempo di minuetto -  The tune of the minuet was taken from the minuet of Beethoven's Piano Sonata Opus 49, No.2, a work that was written very early in Beethoven's career but only published later on, hence the large opus number.

IV. Tema con variazioni: Andante - A set of 5 variations on a Rhenish folk tune.

V. Scherzo: Allegro molto e vivace - The horn begins the scherzo with a rasping dotted rhythm and is a main player in the movement. The scherzo hops and prances until the trio section where the cello is in the spotlight.

VI. Andante con moto alla marcia - Presto  - The introduction to the finale is rather dark and brooding, but it lasts but a short while, after which the first theme is played by violin followed by the clarinet. The horn plays a descending figure after the theme is played.  Other thematic material is heard and the exposition is repeated. During the development section new themes are heard along with a short solo for violin which leads to the recapitulation.  The descending figure in the horn takes a dark turn as it is given in a minor key which leads to the second theme repeat. A coda develops a fragment of the first theme until the violin takes off and the movement ends.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor

Brahms was a very self-critical composer. He revised and edited his compositions, some of them for years, until they met his high standards. and those compositions that he couldn't refine to his liking were destroyed. He claimed to have destroyed twenty string quartets before he wrote one that met his standards.

The beginnings of the first piano concerto are also an example of his drive for perfection. He began the work as a sonata for two pianos,  then began to revise it as a symphony. For whatever the reasons (as his new friend Joseph Joachim, the famous violinist and composer encouraged him) Brahms again converted the music, this time to a piano concerto.

Brahms doted on the score, refining and editing it over and over again. Brahms had heard Beethoven's 9th Symphony for the first time in 1854 and it had influenced him deeply. His drive to create a composition worthy of the tradition created by Beethoven and the other masters he revered while at the same time utilizing his progressive ideas made the work on the concerto last many years. Finally in 1859 Brahms played the premiere of the work with his friend Joachim at the podium.  A few days after this performance it had its premiere at Leipzig with Brahms again at the piano but with a different conductor at the podium. The critics were harsh in their appraisal:

“This work … cannot give pleasure. Save its serious intention, it has nothing to offer but waste, barren dreariness,” said one critic, with another saying, “The work, with all its serious striving, its rejection of triviality, its skilled instrumentation, seemed difficult to understand, even dry, and in parts eminently fatiguing.”  And it fared no better with the audience, especially at the Leipzig performance. Brahms described the scene in a letter to Joachim about the Leipzig performance:

“Nor reaction at all to the first and second movements. At the end, three pairs of hands tried slowly to clap, whereupon a clear hissing from all sides quickly put an end to any such demonstration … I am only experimenting and feeling my way, all the same, the hissing was rather too much."

An audience's appreciation of a work is most often gauged by the amount of applause. That also works in reverse, as when as audience 'sits on their hands' (sometimes literally as well as figuratively) it can be hard for a composer or performer to bear. Boos and cat-calls are worse, but an audience hissing is the ultimate negative reaction. I've been present in an audience when it has happened, and it can send a chill down your spine.  Brahms was 25 years old when he experienced this, and it made Brahms all the more cautious about his works, but he also resolved to work even harder to perfect his craft. He vowed to rewrite the work, but all he did was correct a few minor details. Despite the negativity shown the work at the premiers, Brahms judgement proved correct. It is now regarded as a classic and is a staple of the repertoire, although it took years for it to happen. The concerto is in three movements:

I. Maestoso - The menacing and fierce trills that open this concerto are one of the most recognizable pieces of music in the repertoire.  Brahms has begun the work with music that is brutally confident, sounds that grab our attention and are portents of things to come.  From the treatment of themes to the entrance of the soloist,  Brahms finds his own way from 'point A to point B', and manages to use the inspiration of Beethoven's ninth symphony to communicate his own ideas in his own way.  Looking at this movement in an historical perspective,  we can see just how innovative Brahms was. He was at 25 years old (and for all of his career) not only an upholder of tradition, but an innovator in ways that are not always apparent (or obvious) to the listener. His phrase structure, use of sonata form and rhythm, lead to a type of virtuosity that isn't always apparent (or obvious) either. It is a virtuosity that stresses the making of music, of expression, with very few purely technical fireworks. Everything works towards the musical whole.

II. Adagio - This movement is usually thought of as a tribute to the Schumanns, both Robert and Clara.  Robert had died in an insane asylum in 1856 and Brahms always had deep feelings for Clara. Again, there is no mere display of pianism, but music that in turn is passionate, dramatic, rhapsodic. Near the end is a chain of trills for the piano that go up the keyboard that is resolved by the slow, gentle ending of the movement.

III.Rondo: Allegro non troppo -  The piano begins with what always sounds to me like a foot-heavy dance, not really a peasant dance but not anywhere near a sophisticated one. The dreamy tune that endures brings a needed contrast. The orchestra plays through a short fugue that shows Brahms' already considerable contrapuntal skills.  The rondo plays itself out until the cadenza, after which Brahms changes the mood to a 'maestoso' but unlike the dark and foreboding maestoso of the first movement this maestoso is bright, confident, jubilant, and marches its way to the end.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov  was an an officer in the Russian Imperial Navy and Inspector Of Naval Bands. He was also a professor of composition, harmony and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory beginning in 1871.  He composed in many musical forms, but is best known for his operas and symphonic works.

He was a master orchestrator and his composition Scheherazade is a brilliant piece for orchestra. The piece is based on The Book Of A Thousand And One Nights also known as The Arabian Nights.  Rimsky-Koraskov  wrote a short introduction that he intended for use in the score and as a program note for concerts:

"The Sultan Schariar, convinced that all women are false and faithless, vowed to put to death each of his wives after the first nuptial night. But the Sultana Scheharazade saved her life by entertaining her lord with fascinating tales for a thousand and one nights. The Sultan, consumed with curiosity, postponed from day to day the execution of his wife and finally repudiated his bloody vow entirely."

Scheherazade is in four separate sections:

1) The Sea and Sinbad's Ship
2) The Kalendar Prince
3) The Young Prince and Young Princess
4) Festival At Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks Against A Cliff Surmounted By A Bronze Horseman.

Rimsky-Korsakov was very sparse in his explanation of the movements and the tales depicted. In later editions of the work he did away with even the titles of the movements, expressing his hope that the listener would hear the music as Oriental-themed work that evoked the sense of a fairy tale adventure.

Saint-Saëns - Mélodies Persanes, Opus 26

The French poet Armand Renaud was associated with the Parnassian Poets movement in France (although the movement was not restricted to France) that began with an anthology of poems byvarious French poets that was published in 1866. The movement was in reaction to Romanticism with the emphasis on craftsmanship and  a tightening up of form. The subject matter was often classical and exotic subjects, but as with any movement or school of artistic endeavors, the Parnassian poets shared a common artistic attitude rather than a rigid set of rules.

Camille Saint-Saëns used six poems from Renaud's Les Nuits Persanes (Persian Nights) and set them to music in 1870.  Saint-Saëns was a man of letters as well as a musician, so he was well acquainted with the Parnassian movement.  Saint-Saëns had a very wide interest in different historical and cultural traditions and throughout his career there is a peppering of music that was influenced by many different traditions. At the time Saint-Saëns composed these songs, he was 35 years old and an advocate of the new music of Liszt and Wagner. He was quite influential in French music in his early years, but he grew more and more conservative as he aged.

The songs in this set are well written and showcase Saint-Saëns' melodic talent. He did not use any authentic Persian themes, but he did try to create an exotic feeling to them. While all six are fine songs, the exotic influence can be difficult to hear.

1) La Brise (The Breeze)
This song is perhaps the most obviously Persian influenced in the set as the piano plays a dance rhythm. The first part of this song is in the Dorian mode in E, which also gives it an exotic flavor. Halfway through the music switched to E major and ends in that key. 

Like kid goats bitten by a horsefly
The beautiful girls of Zaboulistan dance.
Their nails are tinted a light pink;
No one can see them, apart from the sultan.
In the hands of each a sistrum sounds;
The turbaned eunuch stands with saber in hand.

But at the pale river where the lily lies sleeping,
The breeze grows like a pirate
that is going to steal their hearts and lips
under the jealous man’s eyes, despite the law.
O dreamer, be proud! The breeze has taken
your love poems for his talisman!

2) La Splendeur Vide (The Empty Splendor)
A beautiful song that modulates to different keys to good effect. 

In my soul I have built
A wonderful palace,
full of the smells of cinnamon,
Armand Renaud
full of reflecting images.

Sapphire, Amber, Emerald
Cover the pillars;
Quietly, there strides
familiar lions.

In the ivory cups,
on the deep pile carpets,
groups of Monarchs
are drinking white wine.

Isolated as an island,
the walls are steep,
and plunge into
a lake of silver.

Everything is motionless,
yet everything grows
and spreads like an oil stain
that deepens and shimmers.

But two things that delight
me are lacking:
There is not a sound, and
No color.

Oh! for a sound of lyre,
Oh! for the slightest color,
I would leave porphyry,
Fine pearls, and gold!

But the one that gives
cruel and soft love,
my crown forbids me
of harmony and color;

And the more everything shines and
everything becomes vast and nice,
I feel increased pain,
And the more I become a tomb.

3) La Solitaire (The Solitary One)
The piano imitates the object of the singer's affections as he rides a horse. 

O proud young man, o killer of gazelles,
Pale rider in light velvet,
On your horse whose hoofs have wings
Take me upwards with your love.

I have very often at night, on my terrace,
Shed my tears while holding you close.
Wasted effort! It is your shadow I embrace,
And my sobs, you do not hear them.

The sky made me warm and beautiful,
My soft lips are as a bright red fruit;
I have a song in my voice.
A ray of sun in my hair.

But locked and covered with veils
In a palace, I die far from the true good.
Why flowers and why stars,
If my heart beats and if you do not know it?

My beloved, your weapons are terrible,
Your long gun, spear, your dagger,
And most of all, your eyes dark charms
Piercing a heart with a glance.

O proud young man, o gazelle killer,
My fate is like their fate
On your horse whose feet have wings,
Include my sad heart to the bloody spoils.

4) Sabre en main (Saber In Hand)
The poem conveys the blood-thirsty wishes of the conqueror. While the accompaniment is appropriate enough, it doesn't convey an exotic atmosphere very much. 

I have bridled my horse
And put on his saddle of gold.
Through this barren world
We'll take flight.

My heart is cool, my gaze steady,
I love nothing and I fear nothing.
My sword grieves when in its sheath:
When drawn it strikes true!

With the turban wound about my head
And the white cloak on my back,
I wish to set out for the party
Where death screams and dances.

Where towns are put to the torch
While the people sleep at night,
Where the vile rabble think
We are glorious because we are strong.

I wish that kings, when they hear my name,
Would hold their head in their hands,
And that my saber would remove the brands
And the yokes of servitude.

I wish for the swarm of my tents,
My horses with flowing manes,
My bright banners
My pikes, my drums.

Without number, like a swarm
Of flies in summer,
So that the universe squirms and is
aware of how little it is worth!

5) Au cimetière (At The Cemetery)
As we sit on this white tomb
Let us open our hearts!
As night falls,
Marble’s spell conquers all.

As we murmur to each other,
The dead vibrate;
We shall pluck corollas
From the Sahara.

If he had, before his last hour,
The love of someone,
He will think of the past,
smell the fragrance and cry.

If he lived, without wanting
To share his heart,
He will say: I lost my life,
Without having loved.

My dear, you  shall jingle
Your gold ornaments,
So that desire takes wing
When birds fall asleep.

And without worrying,
For we only die in the end,
We say: Today roses,
Tomorrow cypress!

6) Tournoiement: Songe d'opium (Twirling: An Opium Song)
Saint-Saëns was a virtuoso on the piano and he kept up his technique his entire life. He was known to have a very clean and brilliant technique capable of very fleet and nimble playing which is reflected in the accompaniment to this opium-induced vision.

Without a pause,
On the tip of my big toe
I spin, I spin, I spin,
Like a dead leaf.
As at the moment one dies,
Earth, ocean, space,
Pass before my eyes,
Throwing out a glow.
As I spin around and around,
I go faster
Without pleasure as without anger,
Shivering, despite my sweat.

In the dens filled with foaming waves,
On inaccessible rocks,
I spin, I spin, I spin.
Without the slightest concern.
In forests, on the shores;
Among beasts
And their enemies,
Soldiers who go sword in hand,
Amid the slave markets,
The lands full of volcano lava,
With the Moguls and the Slavs,
I will not stop spinning.

Subject to the laws that ever govern,
The laws that the sun obeys,
I spin, I spin, I spin.
My feet are off the ground.
I go up to the night sky,
Before the silent moon,
In front of Jupiter and Saturn
I go with a hiss,
And I cross Capricorn
And I am in the abyss, the gloomy abyss,
The total and boundless night.