Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Leave a comment


Globe with eighth note

When I came across this video of Stephen Hough playing his arrangement of the Korean folk song Arirang as an encore at a concert in Seoul, I knew I had to share it with you.  It is beautiful.  The audience laughs in surprise and delight when they realize what he is playing.

To call Arirang a Korean folk song is an understatement.  It is the Korean folk song, an unofficial national anthem, known by folks of all ages.  And yet it is many songs; each generation has its own version, each region has its own verses.  But the song remains.  And it is not only a national treasure:  the song’s importance has been recognized by UNESCO, and it is on the List of Intangible Cultural HeritageHere is a traditional version.

Here is a modern interpretation, still beautiful, but far from traditional, by popular singer Sohyang.  You will see people singing along in the audience.

And K-pop fans would chastise me for not including the BTS cover of the song.

The world is filled with wonderful music!


Image attribution:  Image of globe and eighth note via Wikimedia Commons.

Leave a comment

Haiku Wednesday: Mompou

Mist over a lake

How like a haiku
Is the music of Mompou:
What is needed, stays;
What is not, is gone.
Once the image is painted
The sound fades away.

“The music of Federico Mompou is the music of evaporation.”1

These words by pianist Stephen Hough caught my attention.  I hadn’t heard the name Mompou, or his music, for a few years.  At that time I had heard some pieces from his Canciones y Danzas (Songs and Dances).  And delicate little pieces they were.

But evaporation?  Definitely.  Let me explain.

In his delicate miniatures, Mompou distilled his music down to quintessential elements.  It is simple in the way a haiku is simple—there may be few notes, few words, but they are exactly the ones needed to convey the thought, nothing extraneous is included.  Some pieces even dispense with the bar lines separating measures of music in a seeming suspension of time.  Listen to Impresiones intimas (Intimate Impressions) No 1, the first piece in this video, just one minute in length.

Mompou began writing music in 1917, and was an honorary member of Les Six in Paris.  He was still writing in 1979.  Perhaps his most well-known work is Música Callada (Silenced Music; typically translated as Music of Silence or Silent Music), a cycle of music written in four books between 1959 and 1967.

Mompou’s works have been recorded by many performers.  In this video Canción y danza No. 6 is performed by six different pianists (so you can compare their approaches). Here is a video of Mompou playing his own work and telling stories about his life (in Spanish, no English subtitles).

Here is a documentary for Spanish-speakers (no English subtitles available).

Here soprano Victoria de los Ángeles sings Mompou’s Damunt de tu només les flors (Above you, only the flowers) with Mompou at the piano.

Here pianist Alicia de Larrocha plays Mompou’s Canciones y danzas with the score in the background.

Those who would like to play the music of Mompou may benefit from the contents of a letter written by Mompou’s wife, pianist Carmen Bravo.  Here is a translated excerpt:

The majority of pianists who play the works of F. M., despite their obvious dedication and the loving care with which they interpret it, do not always manage to comprehend the blend of spirituality, poetry, and passion intermingled in it, and, many times they highlight one of these elements too much, forgetting the others, or relegating them to a secondary status.  Another essential factor in the interpretation of this music is its characteristic “rubato,” which is difficult to apply, and apply judiciously.2

So much to consider in so few notes.  It is indeed the art of haiku.

“My only desire is to write works in which nothing is missing and nothing is superfluous.”

Federico Mompou


  1. Stephen Hough, official website, writings,
  2. Fundació Frederic Mompou, . Translation by C. Gallant.


Image attribution: Photo by Eric Christian, copyright 2016.

1 Comment

Pianos in the Washington Post

While I’m sure there are some listed for sale there, that’s not what I mean.

The September 5, 2015 edition of the Washington Post has articles on today’s piano manufacturers, and comments on the dominance of Steinway in the concert piano market.

You might also like to read the review of Stephen Hough’s recording of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, the subject of an earlier post. Here’s a promo for the CD.

Leave a comment

Haiku Wednesday -Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces


Grieg’s Lyric Pieces
Ten books of songs without words
All tell a story

Edvard Grieg wrote 66 songs for solo piano that are collectively known as Lyric Pieces. They are in various opus numbers, and were written between 1867 and 1901.  A characteristic feature of the Lyric Pieces is that they paint a picture or describe a mood. These miniatures are gems, and I have enjoyed learning a few of them.

Here is Stephen Hough playing excerpts of the Lyric Pieces.

Here is Grieg himself playing Butterfly.  The sound quality is so good because he played into a Welte-Mignon reproducing piano.  The date of the recording is 1906.

And here is a 1903 phonograph recording of Grieg playing Wedding Day at Troldhaugen.