The Well-Tempered Ear

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

August 12, 2017
1 Comment

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.

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Classical music: Starting off the New Year, can you identify the opening of certain works of music? Here is an NPR puzzler to open 2015.

January 10, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What is a good way to start off the New Year musically?

There are always the New Year’s Day celebrations from Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic. They get broadcast on PBS and also National Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is a link to a preview of this year’s celebrations:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/classical-music-dance-into-2015-this-morning-and-tonight-with-waltzes-and-more-from-vienna-on-public-radio-and-tv/

Golden Hall in Vienna

But this year sees another way, an intriguing and original way, to mark the new year: A quiz about how great works of classical music begin and whether you can recognize them right away.

Female Orchestra Conductor With Baton

So here is The New Year Puzzler from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR.

Go ahead.

Take it and see how well you do.

The Ear wants to hear.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/06/375127303/getting-off-to-a-good-start-a-new-years-puzzler

And below is a popular YouTube video, with 2.5 million hits, of one of my favorite and most inspired and dramatic openings that should be immediately recognizable:

 

 


Classical music: Are iPhones and YouTube videos killing off live musical performances? The outspoken Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman said he thinks so as he walked out of a recital being illegally recorded in Germany.

June 10, 2013
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems that these days just about everybody has an iPhone or some other small, convenient and easily concealed smart phone that can take and email photos and videos.

iphone 5

And those photos and videos can change the world. They certainly fostered the Arab Spring  (below) and other populist uprisings and protests, including those that led to the democratization of Burma/Myanmar and to the current civil war in Syria.

arab spring

But it can also have downside, especially where the performing arts are involved and where questions of intellectual property are centrally involved.

Witness the recent episode in which the acclaimed and award-winning Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman (below), known for his playing of Chopin and his championing of Polish music, who was angry and annoyed when he stormed off the stage at a festival in Germany after someone in the audience refused to stop filming the recital on his iPhone.

krystian zimerman gray

It is food for thought, and it raises a lot of issues, including intellectual copyright as well as mass media and citizen reporting and blogging, to say nothing of private use.

It seems to The Ear that all of this is the logical outcome, change or consequence of the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter and our changing notions of privacy. And it seems hard to allow it and praise it in one sphere of life yet try to contain its influence in another.

facebook logo

you tube logo

And of course it goes way beyond the rudeness of people who don’t turn off their cell phone that then ring during a performance. (The New York PHilhatmonic’s music director and conductor Alan Gilbert had to stop a performance of a slow movement of a Mahler symphony –- No. 9, I think it was — because of that kind of interruption.)

Now I myself don’t take unauthorized photos for this blog or authorized videos that I then put on YouTube.

But the issue is certainly close to me and relevant to the current performing arts scene.

But what do you think? The Ear wants to hear.

Did Krystian Zimerman do the right thing and sound an appropriate warning?

Or did he overreact as someone who is used to performing before thousands of audience members and even cameras and microphones? Is he trying to resist an inevitable social and technological change?

Read about it and leave your take in the COMMENT section.

Here are some links to stories about the incident:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-krystian-zimerman-20130604,0,1139427.story

http://www.itechpost.com/articles/10191/20130605/youtube-destroying-music-pianist-krystian-zimerman-storms-out-middle-classical.htm

http://www.contactmusic.com/news/pianist-krystian-zimerman-storms-out-of-concert_3704347

http://www.thecmuwebsite.com/article/leading-classical-pianist-hits-out-at-smartphone-filming-fan/

Krystian Zimerman annoyed 001

Krystian Zimerman is not alone in his point of view. Here is a link to a BBC story about musical artists in all genres protesting YouTube:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22780812

If I recall correctly, it was the 19th-century French novelist Stendhal who remarked that mixing politics in literature is like firing a pistol during a concert — rude but something one ignores at one’s own peril.

Pianist Zimerman has a history of being outspoken about various political and social issues — including the presence of American missiles in his native country — during his performances.

Here is a good background piece from the British newspaper The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2009/apr/28/pianist-krystian-zimerman

And here is a video of a YouTube recording of the piece by 20th century composer Karol Szymanowski — appropriately his Variations of a Polish Folk Theme, Op. 10 — that has sparked some of Zimerman’s outbursts or comments, or at least provided a context for them.


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