By Jacob Stockinger
A conservative musician who admired and valued the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart above that of Ludwig van Beethoven and his own contemporaries, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) is one of the most popular and most played of all Romantic composers.
He remains a perennial favorite of audiences, students and concert artists. Witness the recent sold-out concerts featuring Chopin’s music by Trevor Stephenson at his home and by Adam Neiman at Farley’s House of Pianos. An amazingly high percentage of Chopin’s works remains in the active repertoire.
His was no belated posthumous fame, either. Chopin, the famous Polish pianist-composer who was exiled in Paris, was well-known and widely respected in his own lifetime by the public and by other famous composers and pianists such as Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann.
Yet despite many drawings and paintings of Chopin – often at odds in their depictions — until recently only one known photograph of Chopin existed: The familiar one taken by Louis-Auguste Bisson in Paris towards the end of Chopin’s life, just months before he died of tuberculosis at age 39 in 1849.
Now a second photograph — or daguerreotype, to be exact — has been discovered. It probably dates from 1847 or so.
Here is the new photographic portrait of Chopin:
Want to know some background?
Here is the story from Poland via The Washington Post and the Associated Press:
Here are the two known photographs side by side for comparison:
And here is a terrific blog analysis of the two photographs that also discusses his late music and what the photographs tell us about Chopin:
The Ear wonders how long it will be before we start seeing the new photograph of Chopin on CD jackets and liner notes.
By Jacob Stockinger
Attention all pianists– amateurs, professionals and students — as well as other keyboard players.
This Saturday brings the first University of Wisconsin-Madison “Keyboard Day.” The focus is comprehensive, having the title “From the Practice Room to the Stage: The Pathway to Artistry.”(The official logo is below.)
The underlying reason may be to attract and recruit talented undergraduate students to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. But the net effect is that a lot of wisdom about keyboard playing – from practicing to performing — will be on display to be shared with those who attend.
All events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
The event takes place in Morphy Recital Hall from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Here is a schedule:
9:30-10 a.m. Coffee and Pastries (Mills Lobby)
10 a.m.-noon UW-Madison Keyboard Faculty Workshops
Strategies for Learning a New Piece with Professor Martha Fischer (below top) and Professor Jess Johnson (below bottom)
Getting Inside a Composer’s Head with Professor John Stowe
Beyond Repetitive Drilling: Custom Exercises for Every Difficult Passage with Professor Christopher Taylor
Mindfulness and Self-Compassion in the Practice Room with Professor Martha Fischer and Professor Jess Johnson
1:30-3:30 p.m. Master class for high school students with UW-Madison keyboard faculty
Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3 by Frederic Chopin; Yunyao Zhu, a student of Kangwoo Jin
Sonata in G major, Op. 49, No. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven. George Logan, a student of Liz Agard
Sposalizio, by Franz Liszt. Owen Ladd, a student of William Lutes
Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31, by Frederic Chopin. Jacob Beranek, a student of Margarita Kontorovsky
3:30-4 p.m. Reception in Mills Lobby
4-5 p.m. Recital featuring UW-Madison Keyboard Faculty
Sonata, Wq. 49 No. 5 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). From Sei Sonate, Op. 2 (1744). John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord (below top)
Quasi Variazioni. Andantino de Clara Wieck by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) from Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 14. Jess Johnson, piano. *Performed on a Steinbuhler DS 5.0 TM (“7/8”) alternatively-sized piano keyboard.
Don Quixote a Dulcinea (1933) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Poetry by Paul Morand. Paul Rowe, baritone, and Martha Fischer, piano
The Banjo by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Christopher Taylor, piano (below middle). You can hear the piece in the YouTube video at the bottom. Taylor will also play “Ojos criollos” (Creole Eyes) and “Pasquinade” by the American composer Gottschalk.
Nature Boy by George Alexander “eden ahbez” Aberle (1908-1895) Johannes Wallmann, jazz piano (below bottom)
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:
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:
Adam Neiman also recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s Valentine’s Day.
If you want to celebrate, there is always chocolate or roses or champagne or a special dinner.
But there is music too.
Many composers come to mind: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Gabriel Faure, Giacomo Puccini, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and Sergei Rachmaninoff to name a few.
But The Ear thinks one of the most beautiful pieces is a short one, a miniature if you will.
It is the Romance in F-sharp Major, Op. 28, No. 2, by the Romantic German composer Robert Schumann (below with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann). Nobody wrote music about love, music filled with love and yearning, better than Schumann.
Not only does the piece sound intimate.
It IS intimate — with the two thumbs playing the melody a third apart much of the time. It is as if the two thumbs, left and right, are the two lovers.
Little wonder that the composer asked his virtuoso pianist-composer wife Clara to play it for him as he lay dying.
And to top it off, it is not all that difficult to play, so you could learn it and play it for your Valentine.
Here it is, performed in a YouTube video by the late Van Cliburn:
But what about you?
As radio stations like to say ”The Request Line is open!
What piece of classical music – big or small, old or new, hard or easy — would you play or dedicate to your Valentine?
Duets of all kinds seem especially appropriate. But so do songs and symphonies, operas and oratorios, and all kinds of chamber music.
So tell us about your musical gift for Valentine’s Day.
Leave a message in the COMMENT section, with a short explanation and dedicatory comment and perhaps with a YouTube link if possible — the forward it to your Valentine.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Pianist Gabriela Montero (below, in a photo by Shelley Mosman) will perform in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Saturday night, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. Montero last performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wowed the house at the Overture Center.
On this Friday, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall, Montero will also hold a master class, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Here are ticket prices for her recital: UW-Madison students are $10; Union members and non-UW students are $42, $38 and $25; UW-Madison faculty and staff are $44, $40 and $25; the general public is $46, $42 and $25; and young people 18 and under are $20.
The first half of Montero’s program features the first set of Four Impromptus, Op. 99, D. 899, by Franz Schubert and the playfully Romantic “Carnival” by Robert Schumann.
After intermission, the former prodigy will perform the spontaneous improvisations – usually on themes suggested by the audience – that she is acclaimed for.
According to The New York Times, “[Gabriela] Montero’s playing has everything: crackling rhythmic brio, subtle shadings, steely power in climactic moments, soulful lyricism in the ruminative passages and, best of all, unsentimental expressivity.”
Here she is performing the third Schubert impromptu, in G-flat major, in the set of four that she will play here:
Montero was born in Venezuela and gave her first performance to a public audience at the age of five. When she was eight, she made her concerto debut in Caracas, which led to a scholarship for private study in the United States.
She has been invited to perform with the world’s most respected orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Liverpool Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony and more, performing in the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall and Wigmore Hall, among others.
Celebrated for her ability to brilliantly improvise, compose and play new works, Montero is an award-winning and best-selling recording artist.
She has received the Bronze Medal at the Chopin Competition, two Echo Klassik Awards in 2006 and 2007, and a Grammy nomination for her Bach and Beyond follow-up Baroque work in 2008.
She participated in the 2013 Women of the World Festival in London and spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She has also been recognized as a composer for her Piano Concerto No. 1.
This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee and was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsors are WORT 89.9 FM and the UW-Madison student station WSUM 91.7 FM.
CORRECTION: In a recent post, The Ear used a wrong date and time for the Chopin and Debussy house concert by pianist Trevor Stephenson. The correct time is SATURDAY, FEB. 25, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The all-women chamber group Arbor Ensemble will perform a recital of all-French chamber music this weekend.
It will take place this SATURDAY (NOT Friday, as mistakenly reprinted form a faulty press release), Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.
Admission is $10 general, and $5 for students and seniors.
The group will perform rarely heard chamber works by French composers, featuring Madison soprano Rachel Edie Warrick (below).
The program includes the Trio Sonata by Claude Debussy; Prelude, Recitative and Variations by Maurice Duruflé; “Où voulez-vous aller?” (Where do you want to go?) by Charles Gounod; “Une Flûte Invisible” (An Invisible Flute) by Camille Saint-Saëns; and Trio No. 2 in A minor by Cécile Chaminade (below).
You can hear the Chaminade Trio No. 2 in the YouTube video at the bottom.
Founding members of the Arbor Ensemble are flutist Berlinda Lopez (below top), violist Marie Pauls (below middle) and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr (below bottom).
The ensemble often performs programs by female composers.
For more information, go to Arbor Ensemble’s website at www.arborensemble.com.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Admission is $40.”
DATES: February 2, 9, 16, 23
TIME: Thursdays 6−7:30 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.
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
Yesterday, I posted a disconcerting story from the Columbia Journalism Review about how most mainstream newspapers and traditional media are cutting way back on art coverage.
After all, runs the conventional wisdom, how can the arts compete with sports, politics and crime for attracting readers?
Here is a link to that post:
Well, that kind of mistaken thinking is one reason why The Ear likes to watch PBS and national Public Radio or NPR. Especially on the PBS NewsHour, you find terrific stories about and interviews with major figures in the fine arts and the performing arts.
PBS treats the arts as vital and essential, not ornamental or secondary.
A wonderful example happened this week on the segment called “Brief But Spectacular” in which people offer their thoughts about their own lives and careers.
In this case, it was Jean Stark — a 90-year-old Belgian-born woman who was an accomplished concertizing classical pianist. She performed in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York City, and in halls around the world, and who talks about her life and career for PBS.
In the four-minute interview, she laments how classical music isn’t promoted these days and emphasizes how wonderful it was to be alive during the golden years of classical music with such great figures as composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.
But, she confesses, for all her accomplishments she was unsatisfied with how she played slow movements of sonatas by Classical-era masters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Until she came to the U.S. and went with a friend to a concert by Ray Charles.
Charles, she says, taught how to play slowly.
The Ear only wishes she had been more specific about the lessons she learned. Was it phrasing? Tempo? Accents? “Rubato,” or flexible timing?
It is a great, heart-warming story and typical of the kind of human interest arts coverage that you generally do not find on other television news channels, whether traditional networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX or cable TV channels such as CNN and MSNBC.
So The Ear offers it as both an enjoyable and informative arts story, and as an endorsement of the PBS NewsHour and especially reporter Jeffrey Brown, who does such a terrific job of reporting on the arts.
Here is the segment, which you can find on YouTube, along with other recordings by Stark:
An after-thought: To the best of his knowledge, The Ear thinks that the music you hear her playing is the “Aeolian Harp” Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1, by Frederic Chopin and part of the suite “Pour le piano” (For the Piano) by Claude Debussy.
What do you think of arts coverage on the mainstream media and on PBS?
What do you think Jean Stark learned from Ray Charles?
If you saw this story, how did it affect you?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following word to share from Trevor Stephenson, the founder and artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians who is also an accomplished keyboard player in addition to being an entertaining and informative lecturer about early music and period instruments:
We’re giving a house concert to celebrate the New Year, 2017.
On Friday evening, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m., I’ll play a program of solo keyboard music on harpsichord, fortepiano and the restored 1855 Bösendorfer concert grand piano (below). (NOTE: The Ear earlier mistakenly had said Jan. 7 in the headline only, and apologizes for the error.)
The program includes selections by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Domenico Scarlatti, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and Claude Debussy. Sorry, no word about specific pieces. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Stephenson play the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata on a fortepiano.)
Refreshments will be served.
Admission is $40.
Reservations are required. To let us know that you’d like to attend, please email email@example.com
Trevor and Rose Stephenson