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
Got a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gift card to spend?
Want to take advantage of post-holiday and year-end and New Year sales?
It emphasizes unknown performers – like soprano Barbara Hannigan (below in a photo by Elmer Haas) and contemporary or new music. But it features piano music, orchestra music, chamber music and opera. And it has generous sound samples from the chosen recordings:
Here is a link:
Over the past month, The Ear has featured several other Best of 2016 lists. So here they are for purposes of comparison and crosschecking.
For example, on several lists you will find conductor Daniel Barenboim‘s recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar and pianist Daniil Trifonov‘s two-CD recording of the complete piano etudes by Franz Liszt — and justifiably so. (You can hear the trailer for Trifonov’s Liszt etudes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Here is the post-Thanksgiving guide from The New York Times:
Here is a list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:
And here is a link to a list by the critics of The New York Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is a double holiday.
As is true for most holidays, music is an integral part of the celebrations.
So without a lot of news to report, The Ear offers some links and YouTube videos with appropriate classical music to help you celebrate.
Some people celebrate Christmas mostly on Christmas Eve while others wait until Christmas Day.
And here is another list from The Telegraph in the United Kingdom. As you might expect, it seems slanted toward British composers. Nonetheless it includes some relatively neglected and even surprising Christmas-related music, including works by Francis Poulenc and Arnold Schoenberg, Franz Liszt and (one of The Ear’s favorites) Gerald Finzi:
Feel free to leave more suggestions and links in the COMMENT section.
Enjoy the music!
Enjoy your holiday!
For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement to post:
The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) welcomes acclaimed organist Greg Zelek (below) for a debut recital this Tuesday night, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.
For more information, including an interview with Zelek and the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/zelek
Praised for his “effortless facility on the instrument,” Zelek is increasingly recognized as one of the most exciting young organists on the American organ scene.
A recent graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, he makes his Overture debut with an exciting program of music to maximize the many colors of the colossal Klais organ.
General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/zelek, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.
Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.
This performance is sponsored by Walter and Karen Pridham. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.
With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ (below), which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.
By Jacob Stockinger
Like everyone in the almost sold-out house at Mills Hall last Friday night, The Ear went to hear the wonderfully gifted UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor unveil his new hi-tech invention: the so-called “Hyperpiano.”
Taylor (below) patiently explained in detail how the hybrid electronic-acoustic piano was conceived and developed, and then how it worked.
Here is a link to two stories with detailed background:
But at the risk of hurting the feelings of the brilliant and personable Taylor, The Ear has to confess: He left the event – more an experiment or demonstration than a concert – disappointed. He just doesn’t see the point. It seems a case where the idea will inevitably prove superior to the reality.
This new piano, conceived and executed by Taylor with lots of help, features a digital-like console (below) with two keyboards. The console then links up electronically to two regular acoustic concert grand pianos by means of lots of wires. Wires pass along electronic digital impulses to mechanical fingers that hit actual piano keys and makes traditional pianos play.
If the Hyperpiano sounds like some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption, well, that’s because it IS. Ingenious, yes; practical, hardly.
The piece Taylor used to demonstrate his new piano was the momentous and magnificent “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, a promising and appealing challenge for the new piano. The Ear has heard Taylor play this music before, and it was a memorable experience.
Not this time.
A great instrument is supposed to make playing easier, to bring both the performer and the audience closer to the music. But this new piano interfered with both and did just the opposite. It put you on edge, just waiting for the next thing to go wrong and get fixed and then go wrong again. It made no sense, and little beauty.
Clearly the Hyperpiano – more accurately dubbed Frankenpiano by Taylor’s students — is a technological curiosity that is still a work-in-progress, with lots of snags and flaws that became apparent during 2-1/2 hours.
But even had it worked perfectly, The Ear asks: What is the point?
Certainly it makes for an interesting electrical engineering problem to solve, one that eats up lots of time, thought, energy and money. But why have three $100,000 concert grand pianos and a custom-built piano console all on the stage when a single traditional piano would do the job just fine?
Single-keyboard pianos have brought us many memorable performances of the Goldbergs – including those by Rosalyn Tureck, Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, Jeremy Denk, Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt among others, to say nothing of Taylor himself.
And on stage was an old one-of-a-kind, two-keyboard Steinway that Taylor has used before to fine effect, rather like the two-manual harpsichord that Bach originally wrote the music for and that facilitates the difficult cross-hand passages.
Despite distractions, Taylor played the Bach with total commitment and enthusiasm as well as with his back to the audience, as piano recitals used to be played before the young Franz Liszt turned the piano sideways to show off his heart-throb profile.
Yet the misfiring of electrodes plus an unending loud chirp or tweet and the uneven pistons or clunky mini-jackhammers (below) that hit the keyboards as artificial “fingers” just meant a lot of dropped notes and, for the most part, a very choppy reading of Bach’s great music that stymied both the performer and the listeners.
Compounding the performance was that Taylor took all the repeats, which often just doubled the frustration. How The Ear wishes Taylor had played just the first half on the Hyperpiano and then, for comparison, switched to a regular piano or to the two-keyboard Steinway.
True, at the end the audience gave Taylor well earned applause and a prolonged standing ovation. But The Ear suspects it was more for his perseverance, patience, good humor and stupendous effort than for the music itself or the new piano. He bets only a very few listeners would pay to go back to hear another recital on the Hyperpiano.
Will Taylor continue to work on improving the terrifically complex Hyperpiano? Yes, one suspects that he will and one wishes him success. But wouldn’t all that time and effort be better spent learning new music and performing it?
The Ear says: Enough hype about the Hyperpiano!
It’s time for a great musician to get back to the music.
Did you go hear the Hyperpiano?
What do you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos.
By John W. Barker
The Salon Piano Series offered by Farley’s House of Pianos on Madison’s far west side continues to be a project of imagination and inspiration, with concerts offering a range of visiting performers and unusual repertoire.
It was quality and quantity in the program offered on Friday night, which was then repeated the following evening. A team of four—count ‘em, four— highly accomplished pianists, who are used to performing together as a team, gave a remarkable concert of multi-piano splendor.
The four (below, from left) are: Spaniard Daniel del Pino, Canadian Lucille Chung, Israeli Alon Goldstein and Italian Roberto Plano. Their collaborative facility is linked to utter enthusiasm in their work.
For this program, Farley’s assembled four superlative instruments. Three are vintage Mason & Hamlin pianos, one made in 1907, the other two dating from 1914; plus a Steinway grand made in 1940. The array of these instruments—all four in the center of the salon, with circles of chairs all around for the audience—was itself an inspiration, and a fine success.
The opening piece was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 381, for piano four hands, a kind of “miniature” introduction, and beautifully played by Chung and Goldstein at the Steinway.
“All hands,” as it were, then turned out for the remainder of the program.
A four-piano arrangement of the Dance Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns was knowingly made in 1874 by Ernest Giraud, a contemporary and colleague of the composer.
This was followed by a more recent effort, a Fantasy on Themes from Bizet’s “Carmen” (1994) contrived by the distinguished Mormon musician Mack Wilbert. Both of those works built up spectacular effects of sound and color, in music certainly familiar in their original forms.
Also familiar, of course, is Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, played in this program in a four-piano arrangement by Jacques Drillon (1992). Here, I felt that such an arrangement was a bit forced. All those hands made the repeated rhythmic foundation that much more pounding and more relentless than in the orchestral original, while the colors available from the pianos could not quite match the wonderful varieties that Ravel could draw from his wider range of orchestral instruments.
Particularly disappointing, I found, was a four-piano expansion (1886) by Richard Kleinmichel of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. While the single-piano original is dense, its division among four players was mainly a matter of doubling up the players on the same parts: more analytic than the original, this treatment does not really improve anything.
As an encore, the four delivered a Horowitzian transcription of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. (You can hear Vladimir Horowitz perform it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Responding to endless audience enthusiasm, the four then sat down together at the Steinway to play a Galopp by one Albert Lavignac, written for one piano, eight hands. The four players had a ball climbing all over each other to do this novelty piece as intended.
One interesting feature of the program was the opportunity to hear and compare these four fine pianos against each other. And the four performers added to the experience by constantly rotating who played which instrument.
To my ears, the Mason & Hamlin instruments could deliver a marvelous richness and power. But the Steinway could combine those qualities with an added brilliance and coloristic range.
But, then, that was to my ears.
Whatever, a dazzling keyboard evening was had by all.
ALERT 1: The UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program is the “Italian Serenade” (1887) by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903); the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73, (1946) by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975); and the String Quartet in A-flat Major, Op. 105 (1895) by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904).
ALERT 2: Tickets to the piano recital of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Goldberg” Variations by Christopher Taylor this Friday night are SOLD OUT as of Monday morning.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement to post about a set of unusual piano concerts this coming weekend:
In their only North American appearance, world-renowned pianists Daniel del Pino, Lucille Chung, Alon Goldstein and Roberto Plano will be heard this Friday and Saturday nights in the opening program of the third season of the Salon Piano Series.
Hosted by Tim and Renee Farley at Farley’s House of Pianos, the Salon Piano Series has quickly gained a reputation for unique and stimulating programs in the intimate and historic setting of the Farley showroom.
But never have four pianists been heard at once on four restored instruments.
“It’s an honor knowing the pianists chose our location for their only North American performance,” says Renée Farley, co-founder of the Salon Piano Series. “We thought of no better way to open our third season.”
The repertoire for the “Four on the Floor” concerts could hardly be more entertaining or appropriate for Halloween weekend: arrangements of the “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens; the “Carmen Fantasy” based on the beloved opera by Georges Bizet; Maurice Ravel’s own transcription for four keyboards of his “Bolero” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and an arrangement of the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt.
For the first time, an SPS program will be heard twice, on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, with both events beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Farley’s House of Pianos Showroom, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison. That is on Madison’s far west side near the West Towne Mall.
Tickets are $45.
For more information about tickets, the concerts and the artists, plus other artists and concerts in the Salon Piano Series this season, visit:
For information about Farley’s House of Pianos, go to:
Daniel del Pino (below) is a leading Spanish concert pianist juggling an international recital career with teaching in the Basque Country in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain.
The reputation of Lucille Chung (below), who often performs with her husband Alessio Bax, has grown steadily since her debut at the age of 10 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. To date she has performed with more than 60 orchestras.
Alon Goldstein (below, in a photo by Meagan Cignoli) is particularly admired for his artistic vision and innovative programming. The New York Times described a recent performance as “exemplary throughout, with his pearly touch and sparkling runs.”
Roberto Plano lives in Travedona Monate, Italy and teaches there at Accademia Musicale Varesina, which he founded.