The Well-Tempered Ear

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: Who has stage fright and why? And how can you overcome stage fright?

August 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s surpising how many acclaimed professional performers -– like dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, pop singers Adele and Carly Simon, actors Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day-Lewis, and pianists Charles Rosen, Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz  and Emanuel Ax — have suffered from the same ailment that afflicts countless students and amateurs, including The Ear.

We are talking about stage fright, which ranges from mild to debilitating in its severity. (Below is an illustration by Nishant Choksi.) It can literally rob people of careers in the performing arts.

Stage fright Cr Nishant Choksi

Periodically, stories about stage fright and how to deal with it or perhaps even lessen it come to the public’s attention. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The latest is a book by gifted amateur pianist Sara Solovitch (below top, in a photo by Christine Z. Mason). Her book, “Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright” (below bottom) has just been published by Bloomsbury.

Playing Scared is journalist Sara Solovitch's first book. Her work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wired. She lives in Santa Cruz, Calif

Playing Scared is journalist Sara Solovitch’s first book. Her work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wired.¬†She lives in Santa Cruz, Calif

Sara Solovich Playing Scared cover

And here is Sara Solovitch playing a work by Claude Debussy:

Several essays and interviews give a terrific overview of the book and its contents.

Probably the best is in the Aug. 3 issue of The New Yorker in a review by critic Joan Acocella. Here is a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/03/i-cant-go-on

Also, two stories on NPR or National Public Radio offer an engaging take on the book and the subject of stage fright:

http://www.npr.org/2015/07/05/419485599/in-playing-scared-pianist-grows-less-frightened-of-stage-fright

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/06/26/417190441/to-master-stage-fright-practice-makes-imperfect-ok

Do you suffer from stage fright?

How do you deal with it?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 


Classical music: The Ear says goodbye and “Rest in Peace” to 22 prominent classical musicians who died in 2012.

December 29, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the sad duties of ushering in the New Year is saying goodbye to the old year and especially to the people we loved or respected who died last year. (A couple of days remain in 2012, but we can hope no other prominent clasiscal musicians pass away.)

When it comes to classical music, I can’t think of better round up of the classical musicians we lost than the one that was posted this past week by the famed New York City-based all-classical radio station WQXR. (Much of its programming can be streamed live in real time, including its annual end-of-the-year Classical Countdown through this weekend until midnight on New Year’s Eve that includes 105 audience favorites. Check its home page www.wqxr.org)

Not only does the WQXR obituaries offer fine portraits of the musicians, they also give their ages as well as a capsule summary of their careers with particular points of distinction.

Some of the names, from all genres, are all too familiar: baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (below); composers Elliott Carter and Dave Brubeck; pianist Alexis Weissenberg and pianist-writer Charles Rosen, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (at bottom, singing Villa-Lobos). But there are many more who were also distinguished and who will be missed.

dietrich fischer-dieskau at height

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2012/dec/26/memoriam-classical-musicians-who-died-2012-slideshow/slideshow/

Let us keep them in our memory and be thankful for the music and beauty they brought into this world, which so sorely needs that beauty.

If you know of someone who was left our,  please leave some remark or remembrance in the COMMENT section.

May the departed rest is peace as we greet 2013.


Classical music: Pianist-scholar Charles Rosen is dead at 85.

December 11, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Charles Rosen, the acclaimed concert pianist and award-winning author of books about music history, has died of cancer in New York City. He was 85.

Rosen (below, in a 2007 photo at his home by Sara Krulwich for The New York Times) was best known as a performer and music scholar who often recorded alternative versions of well-known works by such composers as Schumann. He also performed and recorded major works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin (at bottom), and he championed modern and contemporary composers like Arnold Schoenberg and Elliott Carter.

Charles Rosen in 2007 Sara Krulwich NY TImes

As an author, Rosen is best known for his work “The Classical Style” (below), which won a National Book Award in 1972. His other works include “The Romantic Generation,” “Sonata Forms” and “Piano Notes.

Charles Rosen The Classical Style

Rosen was an impressive figure who held a PhD in French from Princeton and who taught French at MIT before turning to music full-time. I have read much of what he wrote about music, and I heard him perform live with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor, if I recall correctly.

I suspect he was rarely anyone’s favorite pianist in any given work, but he invariably turned in performances that made you think about the music and about other performances of it. (Below, Rosen performs at the 92nd Street Y in New York City in 2007 in a photo by Hiroyaki Ito for The New York Times,)

Charles Rosen performing in 2007 Hiroyaki Ito NY Times

Here is a long and detailed obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/arts/music/charles-rosen-pianist-polymath-and-author-dies-at-85.html

Here is a New York Times profile of Rosen when he turned 80, five years ago:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/12/arts/music/12rose.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1355242913-C5nsl9EFS0p20qigJUcrBg

And here is a fine appreciation that aired on NPR”s “Morning Edition”:

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/11/166935092/classical-music-scholar-charles-rosen-dies-at-85

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/12/10/166876593/remembering-charles-rosen-a-prodigious-pianist-and-polymath


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