Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Prof. G, thank you for the comment yesterday and for reading my new blog. I do not feel like such a loser, getting a comment from Prof. G. And this is what I had in mind, our having discussions like this.

About "Pictures at an Exhibition," I almost wrote something about that yesterday! But I was trying to keep the post short, and suddenly I felt I was rambling on and on, so I hit "delete." I will not hit "delete" today!

I prefer "Pictures" on the piano. There is no contest in my mind. If I turn on the radio and they are playing the orchestral version, which they usually are, I always wish I were hearing the piano version. Darn, I wish I could post some of Pennario's performance. But it is not on You Tube.

In the "Promenade" sections I like how a great pianist will change the colors as you move from one painting to the next. The orchestra can do that, but to me it does not seem as subtle. In "The Great Gates of Kiev," I think those big piano chords paint the picture better than chords heard in an orchestra. You can see and hear those great gates. The texture of the piano is more concrete than the sound of an orchestra. You can feel the shining surface of those gates, imagine them clanging shut.

Here is a video of the Irish pianist (and Pennario fan, which I admire him for) Barry Douglas playing "Great Gates."

Another thing: There is this obscure song cycle, "Kraemerspiegel," that Richard Strauss wrote when he was pretty young. It included this one piano solo that is ravishingly beautiful. When Strauss was old and writing "Capriccio" his son or someone told him, "What's that beautiful piano piece doing gathering dust in that old song cycle? Nobody ever listens to that song cycle. Put it into an opera." So Strauss orchestrated it and put it into "Capriccio," where it became the Moonlight Music that opens the last act.

The Moonlight Music is beautiful. But it has a whole different feel from that piano piece! Plus I am not even sure it fits in properly with "Capriccio." That might be because I knew it first as part of that obscure song cycle. Then again, I am not sure it belongs there, either. I just find it more affecting on the piano. It is more delicate. In its orchestral version it sounds overblown.

"Overblown." That word is getting me somewhere. I think Ravel's treatment of "Great Gates of Kiev" sounds overblown, too, compared with the piano part. I think I like the economy of the piano. That is why I think pieces written originally for the piano tend to sound overblown in orchestral arrangements.

I also prefer songs with piano accompaniment to songs with orchestral accompaniment. Think of Richard Strauss. He wrote so magnificently for piano. That is another issue to consider. The greater the composer's skill in writing for piano, the tougher it is to do justice to the composition when you orchestrate it.

Wow. Look at this. It is Jussi Bjoerling singing Strauss' "Staendchen." Listen to that 1950s introduction!

But I still like it with piano better. Here it is sung by the great, great Nicolai Gedda. They do not say who the pianist is but I am pretty sure it was Gerald Moore. There is Nicolai Gedda up above. His "Staendchen" is my favorite version because I loved it as a teenager. Teenagers should not be allowed to listen to stuff like this but nobody was supervising me and I did. I must have listened to this particular performance about a thousand times.

The pictures they put with the Gedda version! Like Frank Frazetta! Well, it is an extremely sexy song. One of these days we will list the sexiest German lieder and surely that will be near the top of the list.

With piano, of course.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, also thanks for the links. I didn't know that about Capriccio, but that's because I've always been oriented toward instrumental music and am weak about opera and voice in general. I mention this to say that even gutter dwelling professors can still learn new stuff!

    The shifting sands of taste are interesting (the taste of sand is not)(Sorry). Strauss was out of fashion for a long time, but the Mahler revival seems to have brought him back along with Pfitzner, Zemlinsky, Reger et al.

    I don't know whether you've looked at a book titled The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross. He tells how Strauss adored his Jewish daughter in law Alice and feared for her and his grandkids, which was one of the reasons why he went along with Third Reich policies.

    I will follow your blog and try to keep my own windedness short, unlike today.

    On the subject in your other blog, would it help to hire an accountant?