The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which piece of music did you first connect with emotionally and how old were you?

February 11, 2017
14 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Another weekend, another reader survey.

For The Ear, music was and remains much more an emotional experience than an intellectual one.

So he was intrigued when he came across a survey question on the Internet earlier this week.

The question was simple: When did you first connect emotionally with a piece of classical music and how old were you? And what was the piece and composer of the piece that you first connected with emotionally?

It sounds so easy. But The Ear found himself going back through time and really straining to choose the right answer.

Early on, The Ear loved the sound and drama of Smetana’s tone poem “The Moldau.” And he loved some works by Johann Sebastian Bach that he heard in church. During piano lessons, there was some pieces by Chopin.

But then at about age 11, the Great Emotional Awakening to Music came in a way that reminded him of the famous madeleine memory episode in Marcel Proust’s novel “Remembrance of Things Past,” translated more accurately, if less poetically, these days as “In Search of Lost Time.”

Since he himself was a young and aspiring pianist, The Ear has realized, he no doubt first connected with the powerful recording by Arthur Rubinstein (below top) of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below bottom). That recording also featured Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and you can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Arthur Rubinstein

rachmaninoffyoung

The answer really isn’t a surprise — young people love the sweep of Romantic music. After all, on a lesser emotional level, Rachmaninoff had also moved The Ear with the famous Prelude in C-Sharp Minor — the “Bells of Moscow” — which spurred The Ear into starting piano lessons when he heard it played live and right in front of him by a babysitter.

How intently he listened to the concerto, with a friend in the basement of his friend’s house, over and over again. How it moved him and never failed to move him – and still moves him today.

And then, maybe at 12 or 13, he rushed out and bought the Schirmer score tot he concerto when he was old enough and skilled enough to try to play some of it – the famous opening chords and excerpts from the beautiful and lyrical slow second movement. That experience of playing even excerpts also proved very emotional.

Now, there is also a practical purpose to this question. The answer just might give adults an idea about how to attract young children and new audiences to classical music.

Anyway, that’s what The Ear wants to know this weekend:

How old were you when you first connected EMOTIONALLY to classical music?

And who was the composer, the piece and the performer that you connected with emotionally?

The Ear hopes you have just as much poignant fun recollecting the answer as he did.

Let us know the answer in the COMMENT section with a YouTube link if possible.

The Ear wants to ear.


Classical music: These are tough times for piano sellers who are hearing sour notes. Read why. Plus, hear a FREE concert of string music by Bach and Bartok Friday at noon.

January 7, 2015
2 Comments

ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held in the Landmark Auditorium from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature violist Jeremy Kienbaum and pianist Vincent Fuh in music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Bela Bartok.

FUS1jake

By Jacob Stockinger

For most of my life, having a piano at home and taking piano lessons seemed one of the cultural givens. It was a gateway to classical music, and to playing other instruments and even to singing as well as to becoming a lifelong appreciative listener.

child at the piano

But times are changing.

And they are not changing for the better -– at least not from my point of view.

Across the nation, sales of acoustic pianos are down — way down.

Here is a story from The Associated Press that localizes a piano store in Iowa to show the general situation.

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_PIANO_STORES_DWINDLING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141


Classical music education: Prize-winning Korean conductor and pianist Myung Whun Chung records an album of music that rewards and encourages piano students.

June 16, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Spring is the time for year-end piano recitals, for piano teachers and students to show off their stuff as the school year ends.

Lutes 12 Maylynn Hu

If you are looking for something to give a young piano student -– or, for that matter, even an older piano student -– The Ear can’t think of a better gift than a new album from ECM Records.

It is the debut recital of solo piano works by the prize-winning Korean conductor and pianist Myung Whun Chung (below), whose fabulously musical family includes a famous violinist sister and a cellist brother with whom he recorded many famous trios by Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and others. (Below, he is seen conducting at the BBC Proms.)

myung-whun chung

Here is a link to his biography:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myung-whun_Chung

And here is a taste with some description from ECM:

http://player.ecmrecords.com/myung-whun-chung–piano

Myung Whun Chung recital cover

The CD features great sonic engineering. The piano sound is clear and upfront, not overly resonant and not percussive. The treble and bass are well-balanced. And the playing seems relaxed and natural, never tense or forced, whimsical or neurotic.

The album contains a variety of 10 pieces for different levels of playing, though most are for advanced beginners or intermediate students. As Chung explains at the bottom in a YouTube video, he made this album not for pianists, but for young people. We need more of that kind of caring and music education.

Fur Elise’ by Ludwig van Beethoven and Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Autumn Song” lead on to more difficult works like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as well as two Impromptus from Op. 90 (E-flat Major and G-flat Major) by Franz Schubert and two Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin.

The simpler “Traumerei” from “Scenes of Childhood” by Robert Schumann, which the great virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz always used as a signature encore, leads to the underplayed as well as harder and longer Arabesque by the same composer. (Below is Myung Wha Chung recording at the piano in a photo by Rainer Maillard for ECM Records.)

Myung Whun Chung at piano CR Rainer Maillard ECM Records

So there is a variety of learning levels built-in as a teasing incentive to push on to the next one.

But such playable beauty is its own incentive.

The CD makes clear that great music is not necessarily hard or virtuosic music. Chung’s “Fur Elise” is not rushed, but instead beautiful and unrushed Beethoven at his best.

I also like the way Chung opens the recital slowly with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune.” It proves an engaging and inviting way to set the mood, to calm the often hectic and nervy experience of a solo recital. (Below, Chung is seen playing on stage at the plush and warmly Old Word-elegant Teatro La Fenice in Venice in a photo by Sun Chung for ECM Records.)

Myung Whun Chung on stage at Teatro La Fenice in Venice CR Sun Chung ECM Records

You can see why Chung won second prize at the Tchaikovsky International Competition and why he guest conducts so frequently. He is a born musician. This is fine playing, not over-pedaled. Good rhythms and very fine tempi rule the day. And Chung demonstrates a fine use of rubato, or flexible tempi and timings, as well as a legato singing tone.

The album also serves as a reminder to piano students that there is more to music, and to possible professional and even prominent careers in music, than solo playing. The many famous conductors who went on from playing the piano include George Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein and, locally, both John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera, and Andrew Sewell of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

This CD reminds The Ear of the albums “My First Recital” and “My Second Recital” albums by the late Ruth Laredo. They too also had all good pieces, all very well played. The Ear thinks we could use more albums that help show how great musicians started and then got great. As for music education and music appreciation, it serves a similar purpose to Leonard Bernstein’s great “Young People’s Concerts.”

Ruth Laredo BW

Sure, I would have liked to hear something included by Johann Sebastian Bach, who is so essential to learning music — maybe one or two of the Two-Part Inventions that most piano students get to know. Or maybe one of the easier Preludes from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” or a movement from one of the French or English suites.

But then you could also ask for some of the easier Chopin preludes, mazurkas or waltzes, or maybe a Brahms Waltz.

Maybe those will come in a sequel, and maybe by next spring’s recital time.

One can hope –- and listen to this lovely recording while waiting.

But for this lesson, in any case, Myung Whun Chung — seen below in photo by Jean Francois Leclerq for ECM Records– gets a gold star.

Myung Whun Chung CR Jean-Francois Leclerq ECM Records

 

 

 


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