Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Tension

Piano strings

Strings in tension strain
Against powerful posts and
Await their calling.

Vibrating, they speak,
The sound echoes out across
All of space and time.

Too tense, and they break.
Too slack, and naught is produced.
Balance is the key.

 

I read a phenomenal statement last night.

A piano can have as many as 236 strings.  Each string is under a tension of 160-200 pounds.  In a regular piano, this translates to 18 tons.  In a concert grand, it is close to 30 tons.1

Wow.

Even a violin is subjected to 50 pounds of tension across its delicate frame.2

But tension alone does not produce music; these strings must move to create sound.  Combine tension and motion, and you produce something that must be seen to be believed.  Here is the vibration of a violin string in slow motion.

You don’t have to search for very long before finding articles full of gnarly equations on the physics of vibration, harmonics, and the Helmholtz corner (here’s an equation-free article on the bowing of a violin and another, aptly named “Why is the violin so hard to play?”).  It came as no surprise then to find that physicist Richard Feynman had turned his keen mind to piano tuning.  Feynman’s letter to his piano tuner can be found here.  I hope the tuner could read equations.3

We can all be grateful for the technical wizardry of Stradivarius and Guarneri and Babcock’s cast-iron frames that would have kept Liszt from wrecking his pianos, but let’s turn again to the music that can be coaxed from these taut strings.

I hope you will enjoy Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk playing the fourth movement of Franck’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano.

References

  1. http://www.piano.christophersmit.com/strings.html
  2. http://physicscentral.com/explore/action/fiddle.cfm
  3. http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic726013.files/Piano%20tuning.pdf

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Image attribution:  Piano strings, photo by Alan Levine from Strawberry, United States (Music Strings) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piano_strings_6.jpg


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Bell and Denk Play Brahms and Schumann on WQXR Webcast

I just finished watching WQXR’s webcast featuring violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is available only today and tomorrow, so I hope you’ll get a chance to see it.  Here’s the program:

Robert Schumann: Romance No. 2

Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108

Brahms: Intermezzo in B minor, Op. 119, No. 1

Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 1

Clara Schumann:  Romance No.1

Bell and Denk, along with cellist Steven Isserlis, are releasing a new CD in September 2016, “For the Love of Brahms.”  The CD will include Brahms’s Trio in B Major, Op. 8 in it original formulation from 1854.  Typically, the 1889 revision by Brahms is performed.  It is said Brahms refined the trio and removed some of the less-reserved romanticism of his youth in the revision, so it will be very interesting to hear this original version.

 


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Free Webcast Concert Today: Jeremy Denk Plays Beethoven at DSOLive

Beethoven conducting wearing dark sunglasses

Today, at 3 PM EDT (GMT -4), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free live webcast featuring Jeremy Denk playing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.  Sir Andrew Davis will conduct.  Here is the program:

Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

Stenhammar: Serenade

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor

See the webcast at dso.org/live.


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Haiku Wednesday:  Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Johann_Sebastian_Bach

For Bach to give us
The Goldberg Variations
Would have been enough.

But that was number
9-8-8 of 10-80
It boggles the mind.

 “After a concert, I want to grab people by the lapels and tell them how lucky we are as a species that, out of all the hundreds of billions of us who ever lived, one of us managed to come up with the Goldberg Variations.”

Armando Iannucci, in The Guardian

The Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) is an aria and set of 30 variations by J. S. Bach published in 1741.  It is a masterpiece.

And what shall I say next?

I like this quote by pianist Jeremy Denk: “If there’s anything more terrifying than adding another recording to the existing legacy, it’s the idea of adding even one more word to the quivering mass of adulatory Goldberg verbiage” (read the entire excellent article here).

Yeah, um, what he said.  What could I possibly add?  So instead I provide resources to learn more and hear the variations for yourself.

NPR has written an introductory article on the piece and its history.

The Open Goldberg Variations project has made Kimiko Ishizaka’s performance of the piece on a Bösendorfer piano available for download for free or donation.  They also offer an option to purchase the performance on CD.  The score is available on the same page (scroll down).  You can also listen the piece and follow along in the score here.

Prefer a harpsichord?  The Oregon Bach Festival has made available an interactive website on which you can listen to the Goldberg Variations on harpsichord, piano, or synthesizer while following along on a score.

I urge you to also hear Glenn Gould’s legendary performances (both of them, 1955 and 1981—I abstain from expressing an opinion on which I prefer).  For something different, listen to Catrin Finch’s arrangement for harp.

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Image attribution:

Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJohann_Sebastian_Bach.jpg


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The French Connections: The Soundtrack

FrenchConnectionsCircle003

For each of the composers in the illustration I have selected a piece of music or two for your listening pleasure.  I deliberately tried not to pick the pieces the composers are best known for, so there will be no Carnival of the Animals here. The exception is Widor’s Toccata, because, well, it’s a cool piece of music, and that’s the instrument I started on (and no, I never got that far—not even close.  But one can dream).

Fauré Pelléas et Mélisande Suite Op 80

Poulenc Stabat Mater

Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No 3

Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2

Franck Violin Sonata in A Major, 4th Movement

(Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk! Thanks WQXR!)

Berlioz Reveries

Got some time?  Here’s the complete Symphonie fantastique performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Widor Suite for flute and piano

This is what Widor is known for: the Toccata from his Symphony No 5

Here’s the beginning of a Widor documentary.  If you’re an organ fan, you’ll enjoy this.

Gounod Repentir

Debussy Beau Soir

Beau soir indeed.


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B@ch’s blog

I was reading a post on Schubert in Jeremy Denk’s blog (another here) when I got to thinking.  What if classical composers had blogs?

Schubert would almost certainly be writing his from a pub with wifi, and given the sheer volume of songs that he produced, he probably would have been a prolific blogger.  The question is, how many people would hide him on Facebook due to his dark postings?

Bach probably wouldn’t have had time to blog, with those weekly cantatas he had to write, and all those children.  He might have been more of a microblogger.  @JSBach “This Sunday: Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen.  Don’t miss it! #bachcantata #SDG”.  SDG is Soli Deo Gloria [Glory to God alone], which Bach wrote on his compositions.

Mozart would most definitely be Not Safe For Work (NSFW), judging from the contents of his occasionally lewd and scatological letters.

I’d love to see Beethoven take on a troll (or would he just turn a deaf ear to him…sorry, bad joke).  Anyone who can write a piece with the title Rage over a Lost Penny could take down a cranky poster.  Here’s a blisteringly fast performance by Evgeny Kissin.

If Schoenberg could restrict himself to a 12-tone row, he could handle the Twitter character limit (I can’t–maybe you’ve already noticed; in my profession I get paid by the word, and it shows).

Can you imagine Glenn Gould’s blog?  It would be a perfect venue for his unique perspectives, interactive, and yet not.  Comments would probably be turned off.

I wonder if the pattern of their words would be reminiscent of their music, if the ebb and flow of phrases would match the cadence of their characteristic musical phrases.

Whose blog would you love to read?