The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Salon Piano Series again postpones two final concerts for 2019-20. Programs for Spring 2021 will be announced soon

July 28, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post from the directors of the Salon Piano Series:

Although it likely will come as no surprise, we are saddened to announce that Salon Piano Series — like so many of our concert colleagues everywhere — must take a pause in our recital series.

We delayed our last two concerts of the 2019-20 season until late summer. It’s clear now that even late summer is too soon to re-open the doors of our intimate performance hall. The safety of our artists, audience, supporters, and staff is our first concern.

These are uncertain times, but we want to assure you that we are looking ahead to reschedule classical pianist Drew Petersen (below top) and jazz pianist Bill Charlap (below bottom), and we plan to announce the exciting performers we’ve scheduled for spring 2021 events very soon. (Editor’s Note: in the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Drew Petersen play Chopin’s Ballade No. 4.)

Until then, we hope that you continue to support the mission of the Salon Piano Series as we weather this storm.

We ask you to keep your Petersen and Charlap tickets and we will honor them when we are able to resume the series. If that won’t work please consider donating them (which is tax-deductible) to Salon Piano Series. However, if you need a ticket refund, please check below for instructions on how to proceed.

Salon Piano Series is dedicated to preserving the intimacy and intensity of the recital experience. We bring you world-class artists performing on superbly restored instruments, offering some of the greatest piano repertoire in the world, from timeless classics to lesser-known works.

We eagerly await the day when we can safely gather together and bring back these masterful concerts. Contributions are welcome at any time, and will help ensure the vitality of our organization.

In the meantime, we extend our best wishes for your health and safety, and look forward to seeing you again as soon as it’s possible.

With appreciation,
SPS Board of Directors

Refunds

If you would like a refund immediately, please follow the instructions below and specify which concerts you are requesting a refund for. For refunds issued through Salon Piano Series, please allow several business days for processing.

Paper Tickets

Please take a photo of your ticket and email the photo to cristofori@salonpianoseries.org explaining that you would like a refund.

Online Tickets

If the ticket is not part of a season ticket, email Brown Paper Tickets at refunds@brownpapertickets.com. Please be sure to include your order confirmation number. Brown Paper Tickets’ refund processing is significantly delayed; however, all refunds will be honored in full.

If your ticket is part of a season ticket, contact Salon Piano Series at 608-271-2626. Refunds for season ticket holders will be issued through Salon Piano Series by check, not through Brown Paper Tickets.

Tickets Ordered by Phone

If you purchased a ticket by phone, contact Salon Piano Series at 608-271-2626 to request a refund.

 


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Classical music: This summer’s Token Creek Festival is CANCELED. Plus, a teenager’s piano “practice journal” on Instagram is instructive, entertaining and encouraging

July 17, 2020
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NEWS ALERT: This summer’s Token Creek Festival (TCF) — with the chamber music theme of Legacy to run from Aug. 21-Sept. 6 –has been CANCELED. Organizers say they hope to launch a virtual online season of archived performances at the end of the summer.  Also, once modestly sized gatherings are safe again, the TCF hopes to hold an off-season event. For more information and an official statement from TCF, go to: https://tokencreekfestival.org 

By Jacob Stockinger

Somewhere in New York City is a young Chinese piano prodigy who can help you get through what is often the most challenging and discouraging part of piano lessons: practicing.

His name is Auston (below) – no last name is given – and you can find him, in T-shirts and shorts, on Instagram at Auston.piano.

Auston is quite the prodigy. A 13, he plays difficult and dramatic repertoire: the Nocturne in C minor, the Scherzo No. 1 in B minor and the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, all by Chopin.

You can also hear him play the Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in C-sharp minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, by Johann Sebastian Bach; the fiendish Toccata by Sergei Prokofiev; and the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

One day, The Ear expects, Auston might well be among the impressive amateurs and, later, professionals who compete in international competitions.

But more than listening to him playing, his frequent social media entries – sometimes he posts two or three times a day — allow us to hear him practice. We even hear him practicing scales – so-called Russian scales that combine scales in parallel and contrary motion.

This week, he hit 100 video posts. Just yesterday Auston started sight-reading the “Winter Wind” Etude of Chopin, Op. 25, No. 11, which many consider to be the most technically difficult of all Chopin’s etudes. (You can hear the etude – played by Maurizio Pollini – and see the note-filled score in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Starting out, he often plays hands separately (below) and sight-reads the score very, very slowly, making mistakes and working out fingering. He also uses a metronome at a very slow tempo. He gets frustrated but he never gives up. He just starts over again and provides an excellent role model for aspiring piano students.

But this young man is also fun to read. In his one-minute or less entries of his “practice journal” – which he also calls his “practice journey” — he is witty and self-deprecating in his commentaries about the music and especially about himself when he makes mistakes. As seriously as he takes the piano and practicing, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

All in all he can even encourage others – including The Ear –to persevere and go through the same frustrations of practicing and learning a new piece.

In this case, it is the piano, but the postings could easily apply to practicing any other instrument or even to singing.

Check it out.

You will be impressed.

You will admire him.

You will laugh along with him.

And you just might practice more.

If this practice journal is a pandemic project, it succeeds way beyond what you — and probably Auston himself — might expect.

Happy listening!

And patient, productive practicing!

 


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Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: Three piano pieces by the forgotten American composer William Mason that are worth rediscovering

July 12, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

As often happens, The Ear was listening to Wisconsin Public Radio and yesterday afternoon he made a discovery during The Midday program with Norman Gilliland.

It was piano piece called “Amourette” by the American 19th-century composer William Mason (below). Unfortunately, you won’t find that piece on YouTube. But here, in the YouTube video at the bottom, are three other fine works, probably from the same Naxos CD, that are also noteworthy discoveries of a forgotten, if minor, composer who had a knack for pleasing and melodic salon music.

Here are a brief biography and an introduction from YouTube and Wikipedia:

William Mason (below, 1829-1908) was an American pianist, composer and teacher. He was from a musical family, son of the famous and prolific hymn composer Lowell Mason, and brother of Henry Mason, co-founder of Mason and Hamlin pianos.

William studied in Europe and was the first American student of Franz Liszt. In his music, you can hear reflected some of the major piano composers of the 19th century.

Here is a link to his entry in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Mason_(composer)

Although these William Mason pieces are largely forgotten now, his work is wonderfully melodic and certainly deserves to be heard more often.

These three pieces are from the Naxos CD “William Mason” (No. 8.559142) The CD contains 14 other Mason compositions – including his best known “Silver Spring.” (The CD is part of the American Classics Collection.)

For those tired of hearing the same classical music on the radio or the concert hall – the Naxos collection provides a wide spectrum of superb but rarely heard music.

The pianist on this album is Kenneth Boulton. On the third piece, “Badinage,” which is for piano four-hands, Kenneth Boulton is joined by his wife and pianist JoAnne Barry.

Track Listings: 0:00 “Improvisation”; 4:30 “Lullaby”; 7:35 “Badinage”

Do you like Mason’s music?

Let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Gift guide or gift or both? Critics for The New York Times name their top classical recordings of 2018, and so does National Public Radio (NPR)

December 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is “Panic Saturday” — another, newer theme day on the commerce-driven Holiday Consumer Calendar that goes along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber-Monday and Giving Tuesday. 

In past years, by this time many media outlets would publish the list of the top classical recordings of the past year. And The Ear has offered them as holiday shopping guides with links to the lists.

They seem to be running late this year, probably too late for many shoppers.

But recently the team of critics for The New York Times named their Top 25 classical recordings of 2018 that run from the 15th century to today (sample album covers are below).

This time, the website didn’t just reproduce something that first appeared in the printed edition. And something more than small snippets or excerpts are offered.

This time, the newspaper took full advantage of the electronic possibility of the web and used streaming to add hours of sound samples — some as long as 40 minutes – so you can see what you think of the recordings before you buy them. (Be sure to look at reader reactions and comments.)

It is a new and innovative way to do a Top 25 list – very appealing or entertaining as well as informative. Even if you don’t use it to buy anything for others or yourself, it can provide many minutes of listening pleasure. You can think of it as a gift guide or a gift or both.

Of course, there are also the usual short and very readable, to-the-point narratives or explanations about why the recording stands out and what makes it great music, a great performance or a great interpretation.

So there is a lot to listen to and help you make up your mind. The Ear has enjoyed it and found it helpful, and hopes you do too, whether you agree or disagree with the choice:

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-tracks-2018.html

Since this is the last weekend for holiday shopping before Christmas, here is the previous list – notice the duplications in the two lists — posted here, which was of the nominations for the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/

And here is the Top 10 list, which was chosen by the always discerning Tom Huizenga (below) — who explains the reasons for his choices — and which also offers generous sound samples, from National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. Also look for duplications:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677776208/npr-musics-best-classical-albums-of-2018

What recordings would you suggest? 

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: What is the one piece of music you could listen to over and over and over again without getting tired or bored?

September 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Saturday —  time for another reader survey.

A few weeks ago, The Ear asked: Which composer or piece you really cannot stand or consider overrated, for whatever reason.

A lot of readers responded and their responses were very interesting, even unexpected. They included such composers as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Scriabin and Mahler.

It was a question of personal taste and of course was subjective – like music itself.

Here is a link to that blog post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/classical-music-which-well-known-composers-or-works-do-you-hate-and-consider-overrated/

Today, The Ear wants to know:

What piece could you listen to over and over and over again without getting tired or bored by it?

Of course, it may not have to do with the quality of the piece, but rather with how forcefully it speaks to you.

And the piece you name now may not be the one you would name next week or next month or next year.

Right now, for example, The Ear is on a kick with the Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, by Chopin (below). He loves the work for its development and counterpoint as well as its titanic emotion, which is both Classically restrained and Romantically effusive. That’s why The Ear sees it as Chopin’s response to Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata.

The Ear has tried to play the Ballade and loves comparing different interpretations. (You can hear it played by Arthur Rubinstein in the YouTube video at the bottom. And there are a lot other versions on YouTube.)

As to your choice:

It could be larger work like a Beethoven symphony or a Rachmaninoff concerto or a Verdi opera. Or it could be smaller work, like a Schubert song or a Bach prelude or a Puccini aria.

Anyway, let us know what piece you are focused on right now. It might even serve as a recommendation to other readers.

And in the Comment section, tell us what you like about it and why, and include a YouTube link to a performance if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Why do we love Chopin? Ask pianist Jeremy Denk

August 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like playing or hearing the music of Chopin (below).

Can you?

But just why the 19th-century Romantic composer has such universal appeal is hard to explain.

One of the best explanations The Ear has read came recently from pianist Jeremy Denk, whose essay on “Chopin as a cat” appeared in The New York Times.

Denk, who has performed two outstanding solo recitals in Madison, is clearly an important musical thinker as well as a great performer. You can also see that at once if you read his excellent blog “Think Denk.”

The Ear suspects the current essay grew out of some remarks that Denk gave during a lecture on Chopin’s pedaling at the UW-Madison, and will be incorporated into the book he is working on that includes his previous acclaimed essays in The New Yorker magazine.

Denk (below), who has lately been performing an intriguing survey concert that covers 600 years of music, thinks that Chopin’s uniqueness resides in how he consolidated and fused both conservative values and radical, even modern, innovations.

To the Ear, it is the best modern analysis of Chopin that he has read since the major treatment that the acclaimed pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen wrote about the Polish “poet of the piano” in his terrific book “The Romantic Generation.”

Moreover, the online web version of Denk’s essay is much more substantial and satisfying than the newspaper print edition. It has not only audio-visual performances of important Chopin works by major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein and  Krystian Zimerman, it also suggests, analyzes and praises some “old-fashioned” historical recordings of Chopin by Ignaz Friedman, Alfred Cortot and Josef Hoffmann.

Now if only Jeremy Denk would record an album of Chopin himself!

Here is a link to the Chopin essay:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/music/jeremy-denk-chopin.html

Enjoy!

Please listen to the wonderful clips that Denk suggests.

Then tell us what pieces are your favorite Chopin works, big or small, and what performers are your favorite Chopin interpreters.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Pianist Adam Neiman defines what makes for great Chopin playing. He performs an all-Chopin recital this Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos.

February 21, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

What makes for great Chopin playing?

It is an especially germane question since the critically acclaimed pianist Adam Neiman (below) will perform an all-Chopin recital this coming Sunday at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.

Tickets are $45. For more information, go to:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

Neiman –pronounced KNEE-man — has appeared here as a soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded piano concertos by Mozart with the WCO. He is a critically acclaimed prize-winning pianist with a major concertizing and recording career. He also teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago and is a member of the Trio Solisti, a piano trio that has been hailed as the successor to the famous Beaux Arts Trio.

Here is a link to Neiman’s website with information about him and his recordings, including upcoming releases of Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninoff:

http://www.adamneiman.com

Adam Neiman also recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:

adam-neiman-2017

There are some exceptional players of Beethoven and other German composers who sound completely out of their element in Chopin. What qualities do you think make for great Chopin playing and what makes Chopin difficult to interpret?

Chopin’s music incorporates a narrative language and an emphasis on very “first person” points-of-view; in other words, it is highly personalized, expressing emotion from the perspective of the individual, including nationalistic sentiments. Often, Germanic music aims for “objective” viewpoints, with extremely stringent instructions by the composer.

For players who struggle with the open-ended idiomatic flavor in Chopin’s music, the lack of objective instruction by the composer can make it difficult for them to know what to do. (You can hear Adam Neiman discussing much more about Chopin’s personality and artistic achievement in the YouTube video at the bottom)

To play Chopin (below) at a very high level requires imagination and freedom, as well as a poetic and introspective musical tendency. The fluidity of rubato, the contrapuntal interaction between the hands and the frequent use of widely spread textures requires a nimble master of the instrument, one with the ability to emphasize the piano’s specific virtuosic abilities.

In addition, Chopin’s music is centered around a bel canto operatic style of melody, whereas Germanic melody tends to be more motivic in nature, and therefore developmental.

A composer like Beethoven will emphasize motivic metamorphosis as a means of augmenting a form to create large structures, whereas Chopin will glide from one melodic area to another, using harmonic exploration as the central means of formal expansion.

This compositional difference outlines different strengths in the pianists, as the skill set to play reams of melody lines in succession can often be very different from those skills required to highlight motivic development in a work.

Chopinphoto

Can you place the 24 Preludes that you will be playing within the context of Chopin’s entire body of works. What would you like the public to know about the preludes and how you see them individually and as a group?

The 24 Preludes were composed while Chopin was on holiday in Mallorca, Spain, which proved to be Chopin’s first palpable bout with tuberculosis, the disease that eventually killed him. (Below is an 1849 photo of Chopin on his deathbed.)

Many of these works were written in a fever-state, in haste, and during a stressful time period in which Chopin was not only facing his own mortality, but also dealing with the myriad challenges of integrating with the children of his lover, the French writer Aurora Dudevant who is better known as George Sand.

These Preludes are like snapshots into the mind of the composer at a moment in time, often without regard for cohesion or development. They exist in a timeless place, where the music expresses the extremely personal sentiments roiling through Chopin’s consciousness.

In many ways, these works capture his spirit in the most distilled possible way, giving the player and listener an opportunity to view the mind and heart of Chopin without filter or refinement, hallmarks of his larger works.

Despite the widely varied emotional content of these Preludes, as a set they hold together as a marvelous and surprisingly cogent musical journey. They exemplify the 19th-century “Romantic” ideals of fantasy, freedom, individuality and raw emotion.

Chopin on deathbed photo

You will also perform all four Ballades. How they do they rank within Chopin’s output? What would you like listeners to know about each of the four ballades, about what they share in common and what distinguishes each one? Do you have favorites and why?

If the Preludes represent the pinnacle of Chopin’s ability to express poetic ideals within miniature forms, the Ballades represent the apex of his more grandiose musical philosophy.

The Ballade, as a form, emanates from epic poetry, often portraying a heroic protagonist overcoming seemingly inescapable challenges. Ballades can also be tied to nationalistic notions, and for Chopin, all four Ballades are truly Polish in their expression.

As Chopin’s native Poland was invaded and he was cut off permanently from re-entry, Chopin became an orphan of the world, whose adopted home of France revered and celebrated him without equal.

His musical mission — exemplified by the Ballades, Mazurkas and Polonaises in particular — was to heighten awareness of Poland’s cultural contributions to a European audience totally unaware of the goings-on in the east.

As a result of the immense conflicts suffered by Chopin’s homeland, and in keeping with the deep pride and identification Chopin felt as a Pole, these Ballades express the emotional rollercoaster of a lone Polish hero — perhaps Chopin himself, autobiographically — battling the world.

All four of these works make an enormous impression on the listener. From the despair and anger of the first Ballade, the bi-polar conflicts of the second (below is the opening of the second Ballade in Chopin’s manuscript), the pastoral hopefulness of the third, and the desolate introspection of the fourth, these Ballades speak to the soul and require the most intensely personal voice of the performer.

Adam Neiman 2 2016

They require the possession of immense physical power and emotional maturity, which renders these works as being among Chopin’s most challenging.

I love all four of them equally. They are true masterworks of the highest order.

chopin-ballade-2-autograph

In there anything else you would like to say?

I am deeply honored and extremely delighted to return to Madison to perform this recital. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces, as well as new friends. Thank you!


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson is offering a 4-part Chopin course and an all-Chopin concert on Feb. 25 (NOT Feb. 24 as first announced an mistakenly printed here). TODAY is the deadline for enrolling in the course

January 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Trevor Stephenson (below), who founded and co-directs the Madison Bach Musicians, may be best known in the Madison area for his work with early music and Baroque music.

But Stephenson, who is known for his outstanding pre-concert lectures as well as for his performances, is also deeply involved in period instruments and historically informed performance practices concerning Romantic music.

trevor-stephenson-with-1855-bosendorfer-grand

He writes to The Ear: “In February, I’m offering a four-part course on  piano music by Frederic Chopin (below). This will meet on Thursday evenings 6-7:30 p.m. at my home studio. Information is below. Email me to enroll.

“Also, I’ll play an all-Chopin house concert on SATURDAY, FEB. 25 AT 7 P.M. — NOT Sunday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m. as first and mistakenly printed here — which will be here at the home studio as well. Refreshments will be served. Reservations are required (trevor@trevorstephenson.com). Admission is $40.”

Chopinphoto

CHOPIN COURSE

DATES: February 2, 9, 16, 23

TIME: Thursdays 67:30 p.m.

PLACE: 5729 Forstyhia Place, Madison WI 53705

COST: Enrollment is $120

Reading knowledge of music is suggested.

Class size is limited to 15, and enrollment closes TODAY, Friday, Jan. 27.

Contact trevor@trevorstephenson.com

TOPICS:

Feb. 2: Waltzes, Preludes

Feb. 9: Nocturnes, Mazurkas

Feb. 16: Etudes, Polonaises

Feb. 23: Ballades, Scherzos

Instruments to be used are: an 18th-century Fortepiano (Sheppard after Stein)
 c. 1840; a Cottage Upright Piano (attr. C. Smart ) c. 1850; and English Parlor Piano (Collard & Collard) 
c. 1855; and a Viennese Concert Grand Piano (Bösendorfer) 

Subject matter will include: Origins of Chopin’s compositional style; tonal qualities of his pianos, early 19th-century temperaments; fingering; pedaling; articulation; touch; tempo; and tempo rubato.


Classical music: The new year starts out on a sour note — Chopin’s favorite piano maker, the venerable Paris-based Pleyel, has gone out of business even while Steinway seems to have a bright future. Plus, violinist Kangwon Kim performs music by Brahms and Rochberg this Friday at noon for FREE.

January 8, 2014
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Kangwon Kim (bel0w) with pianist and FUS music director Dan Broner in the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78, by Johannes Brahmas and music for solo violin by the American composer George Rochberg.

Kangwon Kim

By Jacob Stockinger

The past few days I have spent catching up with some leftovers from 2013. This is another one, though it could also be classified as opening the new year of 2014 with sad news.

The news is that Pleyel, the venerable Paris-based piano maker (below) that made the favorite pianos of composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) — and was the oldest piano maker in the world — has gone out of business. (You can hear Chopin’s famous Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23, performed an 1836 Pleyel in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Pleyel logo

Was too much attention paid to marketing and promotion? Not enough to building pianos? Did too much effort and money go to surface and not enough to substance? Check out this YouTube video from several years ago about Pleyel trying to go upscale:

Perhaps the story with piano makers is not unlike the problem that some orchestras are facing because too much money has gone into new facilities, refurbishing concert halls and raising conductors’ salaries rather than to the musicians.

Whatever the answer is, the fate is certainly different that what has been promised to the famous Steinway and Sons company by its new owner, billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson.

Here a link to the Steinway story I posted earlier:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/classical-music-steinway-will-remain-steinway-says-the-new-billionaire-hedge-fund-owner-of-the-famed-piano-company/

Steinway Grand Piano

And here is a link to the story about Pleyel, which Chopin (below) favored for its light touch and soft sound, as reported by Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley, one of my favorite NPR reporters.

It also features audio-visual clips with the superb Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska (below, who has recovered from a debilitating injury) playing an 1848 Chopin-vintage piano.

Janina Fialkowska

Perhaps it is similar to the Erard piano that American pianist Emanuel Ax used some years ago to record with the late Charles Mackerras Chopin’s Piano Concertos Nos. 1 in E Minor and 2 in F minor (really his first concerto) on a period instrument:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/28/257581367/chopins-favorite-piano-factory-plays-its-final-chord


Classical music: The Request Line is Open! Here is beautiful love music by Schumann and Schubert for my Valentine. What music would you dedicate to your Someone Special for Valentine’s Day?

February 14, 2013
13 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Valentine’s Day.

Music and love are inextricably linked for me. In fact, I am quite sure that much of the very best music in all genres is some kind of love song – expressing love of another person, an idea, a landscape or a flower, an art object, an idea or even a God.

Cupid

For me, nothing expresses love and deep feelings as much as music. Nothing even comes close, not painting or drawing or sculpture, not the best prose or even the best poetry, which also move me, but just not as much or as deeply.

So today I offer two pieces for my Valentine.

Heart

The first is by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), the slow third movement from his Piano Quartet in E-flat. It is a piece that we both discovered and first heard together, decades ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, when the great American pianist Emanuel Ax (below) and the Cleveland String Quartet performed it.

Emanuel Ax

Was there ever a composer who captured romantic love and longing better than Robert Schumann? Some come close –- J.S. Bach in many different works, among which I single out the slow movement of the F minor violin sonata; Mozart’s “Forgiveness Quartet” in “The Marriage of Figaro”; Beethoven in many movements of his piano and string sonatas, string quartets, symphonies and concertos; Wagner in the “Love Death” from the opera ‘Tristan and Isolde”; Puccini in the first act of “La Boheme”; Chopin in certain works like the Ballade No. 4 and the Largo from the Sonata No. 3; Brahms in his F minor Piano Sonata, his “German” Requiem, his songs and some of his late piano pieces; Debussy in his “Clair de lune,” the slow movement to his String Quartet and some of his piano preludes; Prokofiev in his ballet score to “Romeo and Juliet.” And there many more.

But no one composed as much love music as movingly and in as many different forms as Robert Schumann, who spent his whole adult life affirming his love for his long sought after and finally obtained beloved virtuoso pianist wife Clara Wieck Schumann. (Both are seen below in a photo.)

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

So here is the music. See what you think:

The other piece is the song-like last movement of Franz Schubert’s penultimate Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959. Like Schumann, Schubert (1797-1828) returned again and again to love, especially in his art songs, his chamber music and his piano music. Empathy and compassion, humanity and love, are what make me  turn more to Schubert (below) than to Beethoven these days.

Schubert etching

And once again, this is a work I first heard sitting next to my Valentine, when the young Christoph Eschenbach (below in a more recent photo) performed it many years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater, before he turned to conducting. It was one of those times your hand instinctively reaches for the other person’s hand and you are joined in love and beauty.

Christophe Eschenbach

Much like love itself, the end of the songful music often seems like it could and will stop, only to go on triumphantly and movingly.

See if you feel the same way about the music in this performance by Alfred Brendel, not Christophe Eschenbach:

I also identify other works with my Valentine, especially Bach, Brahms and Faure. But these two are among the essentials.

Thank you, Valentine, for loving me; for bringing me a better life and making me a better person. I have always loved you, I still love you and I will always love you.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Now, readers, it is your turn: THE REQUEST LINE IS OPEN!

What piece of music best expresses Valentine Day for you and for your Valentine?

Which piece would you dedicate to your Valentine? If this blog were yours, what music would you post for your Valentine?

Let us know in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube video performance, if possible.

And Happy Valentine’s to you all.

I hope you are all as lucky in love as I have been.


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