On Sunday, March 12, 2017 at 3PM EDT (8PM in Berlin, UTC -4) the Berlin Philharmonic will present a free concert on its website. The concert will feature Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman, and the program will include Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Elgar’s Violin Concerto. The concert is a benefit concert for UNICEF.
Piano works are
What he’s known for, but there’s more
That you need to hear:
His versions of Polish songs,
A stirring trio.
Get to know Chopin
In a whole new dimension
In non-solo works.
Now let us all say
Happy birthday to the great
It is Chopin’s birthday today! Church records list his birthday as February 22, 1810, but since Chopin and his family celebrated his birthday on March 1, it is considered the correct date.
Where does one begin to write about Chopin? He was brilliant. His works revolutionized the piano repertoire, and enriched the world of music forever. His mazurkas and polonaises captured the soul of Poland, his nocturnes and preludes plumbed the depths of human emotions. Countless words have been written about his piano solo works.
So I’m going to write about his other works.
Did you know that Chopin didn’t write solely for the piano? Certainly, there is a piano present in all his works (and he wrote a piece for two pianos, Rondo in C for Two Pianos, Op. 73, Op. posth.), but lesser known are his compositions that include other instruments.
Chopin wrote two concertos for piano and orchestra (Op. 11 and Op. 21). There are many wonderful videos of the concertos performed at the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, and you can find them here. You can also hear and see Piano Concerto No 1 performed by Evgeny Kissin (Zubin Mehta conducting) or Martha Argerich (Jacek Kaspszyk conducting). Here is a link to Piano Concerto No 2 performed by Arthur Rubinstein (conducted by Andre Previn).
Cello fans will enjoy this video of Chopin’s Cello Sonata (Op. 65) performed by Natalia Gutman and Sviatoslav Richter, or this performance of the Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major (op. 3) performed by Daniil Shafran and Anton Ginsburg.
Here is Chopin’s Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano (Op. 8), a wonderfully stirring piece of music.
Chopin also set several poems in Polish to music. Here is one of his Polish songs for voice and piano.
And now, since it is Chopin’s birthday, here is a fun tribute to him, the song Happy Birthday in the style of Chopin, with some added improvisation.
The last post was kind of heavy, so I thought I’d lighten things up. And what better way than with a joke?
In particular, Joseph Haydn’s string quartet Op. 33 No. 2, known as “The Joke.”
In this string quartet, Haydn plays with the listener’s expectations of what a string quartet “should” sound like, what the listener expects to hear. And when we are surprised by what we hear, sometimes we laugh. And sometimes we jump—this is, after all, the same man who wrote the “Surprise” Symphony (No. 94). You can hear the symphony’s famous second movement here (headphone/earbud listeners might want to pull them away from their ears before time stamp 0:40).
I found a great short TEDx talk by the St. Lawrence String Quartet on the last movement of “The Joke” that provides a fun explanation of what Haydn is up to. When the movement ends, you can’t help but chuckle.
They also have an extended discussion that includes other movements of the string quartet, and that video can be found here.
A funny point is brought out that involves the minuet (scherzo) movement. This minuet had already showed signs of Haydn’s tinkering: the “graceful” minuet had some starts and stops that would make it a little difficult to dance to. Then, (in the trio section) Haydn put an interesting fingering notation over some notes. Editors must have scratched their heads and said, “that can’t be right—play two successive notes on the same string with the same finger?!” What you end up with, if you play it with Haydn’s fingering, is an effect that sounds like…well, a slide whistle. It’s a funny sound, perhaps slightly inebriated-sounding, that seems to poke fun at the stately minuet. You can hear a wonderful example of it here.
Ah, but enough explanations! Let’s let Haydn do the talking. Here is this wonderful string quartet in its entirety. Enjoy!
Image attribution: Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy (1757-circa 1805) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJoseph_Haydn.jpg
The performance will also be streaming on the medici.tv Facebook channel.
If you won’t be able to watch the live webcast, it will be available on demand at medici.tv for 90 days.
- “Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5481664
Here are some musicians finding music in very unusual places. Enjoy!
And now, Siegfried’s Horn Call for Horn (and Chair)
And this post would not be complete without P.D.Q. Bach’s “Erotica” Variations for Banned Instruments (safe for work, despite title!). My favorite is the lasso d’amore (the orange whirly tube).
See if you can find some unexpected music today!
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
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.
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
Fall paints its portrait.
The backdrop sky, so blue, and
Clouds, the brightest white.
Leaves start to transform,
Red, orange, yellow, and brown,
The painter’s palette.
Some leaves, still green yet,
Cling to dark branches dotted
With bright red berries.
The crisp autumn wind
Flutters leaves like brush strokes and
Carries them away.
Caught in the light breeze,
They sign the painter’s name as
They float to the ground.
When I think of autumn and music, the piece that first comes to mind is Autumn from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
Here is Autumn played by Frederieke Saejis on the Guarneri “Ex-Reine Elisabeth” violin with the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra. The words that appear in the video refer to the poem that Vivaldi included with the composition for each season.
Rapper Mo Trip (website) has used Autumn in his song So Wie Du Bist [The Way You Are], which you can see at the beginning of this video on Das Vivaldi Experiment. The English translation of the German words can be found here. Educational materials have also been prepared as part of Das Vivaldi Experiment to introduce German-speaking schoolchildren to Vivaldi. Ausgezeichnet! [Excellent!]
Image attribution: A Wooded Path in Autumn (1902) by Hans Andersen Brendekilde [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AH._A._Brendekilde_-_A_wooded_path_in_autumn_(1902).jpg