Friday, April 27, 2012

Beethoven 101

 Last night I was sitting up late at the old Steinway working over Beethoven's Opus 101. I just had the yen to go back to it recently and I have been bringing it back out of my head.

Looking the sonata up today on YouTube I found this darling video of the sonata being discussed by the musicologist and author David Dubal and this pianist named Mark Salman.

If there is one thing I love it is watching eggheads poring over a piece of music that I love. These guys are great. Both of them are very intense. There are a lot of comments about their hair.

The uncompromising discussion of Beethoven, of this sonata, kills me. I love it, just love it. Both these guys who look as if they never see the light of day, speculating about what was in Beethoven's mind when he wrote this measure or that measure and how we may best serve his intentions.

"Probably of the generation after it was Wagner and Liszt who understood the late Beethoven best."

".... As if Beethoven were now living the life of a Zen master."

"The contrast between the depth of the lyricism and the rhythmic joy ... it's amazing!"

"It seems to transcend the practical limitations of the piano!"

"This intensity builds to a point that I think is unparalleled in the music of its time."

"Listen to the stridency and dissonance of this climax. I don't think anything like it appears until the 20th century."

And my favorite part, when Dubal says:

"Oh, my God, it's... cataclysmic! I think I'm ready to hear the entire work."

I am, too!

I have to say, I think Salman plays that opening movement especially wonderfully. It's such tender music. I love how there are a couple of phrases of simply pure pleasure. You expect that from Mozart but not from Beethoven. One starts at 9:25 in the video if you want to see what I mean. Another phrase I love is at 9:14, just a moment earlier. If this were a symphony that phrase would be colored by the French horns.

One thing I did not know is that business they go into in the video about this new low E that was added to Beethoven's piano. I was noticing that last night, this low E, how Beethoven emphasized it. It ends up that the low E had just been added to his piano and he was thrilled about that.

It was the only time in his career that Beethoven was given a new note to play with! That is what the video says.

I love human details like that.


Monday, April 16, 2012

A song for the ship

Today when I saw the Herbert C. Jackson steam out of our harbor I thought of Schubert's "Der Schiffer."

That is what it is like to be a music nerd!

You do not really need the words to "Der Schiffer." It is all about a sailor reveling in the power and danger of the sea. He ends by saying what a heavenly joy it is to fight the storms. It is a very macho song! With a marvelous piano accompaniment.

Schubert loved those macho manly-man songs. It reminds you he was always kind of a kid. He never grew old enough to outgrow that, these chest-thumping songs about storms and ships and lords and ladies.

A song I love to play late at night. I used to listen to this as a teenager and just swoon. You never want to lose that, you know. Schubert never grew up and neither should we.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friend in high places

Just when I thought nothing exciting would happen today I got on Twitter and learned that I was being followed by the conductor Lorin Maazel!

I was trying to think when I had written about Lorin Maazel before. This is when.

At the time I wrote that I remember loving how Maazel lived with his wife and his 106-year-old father. His father would be what now, 109? I hope he is still among us! I am not going to Google because if he is not, I do not want to find out.

That and, Lorin Maazel's wife is named Dietlinde. I remember that one day, reading up on all that.

Here is Lorin Maazel playing the heck out of the finale of Beethoven's Seventh.

Hahaa, I always love looking at the comments. One listener writes:

"Where the hell on earth do you find such movements written these days? I am such a fan of Beethoven!"

Me, too!

People on YouTube are sniffing about how fast Maazel takes this movement but it does not sound excessively fast to me. Admittedly I am biased because now he is my buddy.

On Twitter Lorin Maazel goes by @MaestroMaazel. He seems very plugged in! As of press time, he has 20,007 followers. I am one! I followed him back. And he follows 2,388 people. A mere 2,388 people I should say. And I am, ahem, one.

I am honored that Lorin Maazel follows me.

I will have to try not to Tweet annoying things.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'Play the piano daily and stay sane'

Just now for the first time in weeks I sat down and played the piano. This is a funny thing about playing the piano: After playing for an hour or so I have problems typing. It has taken me forever to type that last sentence! And normally I am a champion typist.

That is because your fingers get the piano keyboard mixed up with the typing keyboard. It feels something like getting off  a boat onto land. Wow, you should see me trying to type this! I am hopeless.

I was playing the piano partly because of David Dubal, the, ahem, piano pedagogue. I have written about him before, about his book "Evenings With Horowitz."

A few weeks ago I had the honor of being in touch with a friend of his and I believe it was this friend who hipped me to this article Dubal wrote in the New Criterion about why we should all play the piano.

"There is a proverb that goes, 'Play the piano daily and stay sane,'" the story begins.

That is the truth!

Later he writes: "There is another saying, 'If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well,' but I disagree," Dubal writes. "Like Chesterton, I feel that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing even badly."

I love that!

"Good practicing is like meditation without the mantra," Dubal also writes. "When you commune with Bach or Schubert, you can reach the heights of Mount Parnassus, where the atmosphere is rarified."

I communed tonight with Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms. And I am only now getting my land fingers back! Now I am finally starting to be able to type again. That was a weird feeling for a few minutes there!

Anyway, a sweet, sweet story and it has stuck in my head for a few weeks now. The only part I did not like was about the guy who rented a hall to play for his friends and got nervous and blew it. I feel sorry for that guy. I would like to think his friends took him out drinking after that. My friend Annie who teaches piano to kids, she has a saying she tells her students: "If you play well, people will clap, and they'll eat pizza. If you play badly, people will clap, and they'll eat pizza."

Well, the rest of Dubal's story is sweet. I thought I wrote about it before but I guess I did not.

Tonight I did not have to read it.

I lived it!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Queens of the Night face off

Cool video that allows you to contrast sopranos and costumes.

My heart lies with Lucia Popp because I am a 1970s baby. That was the era when I was a kid learning to listen. Also, those high tones! Like bells.

It is fun to watch these videos on YouTube. A while ago I posted one of Schumann's "Carnaval" that contrasted 10 or 12 great pianists. Lots of fun in all the different approaches. One can occupy oneself for hours arguing and splitting hairs.

"The Magic Flute," what a wonderful opera. Opera seria taking its last bow in these chilling, terrifying, utterly beautiful arias by the Queen of the Night. Admit it, she is everyone's favorite character. We would much rather hear her sing than hear Pamina sing. Admit it. Face it.

Josefa Weber, Mozart's sister-in-law, was the first Queen of the Night, if I remember correctly.

One of these days watch, she will turn up on YouTube.

Hey, you never know!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The classic Berger

Music for your Holy Week:

Erna Berger singing "Et Incarnatus Est" from Mozart's "Great" Mass in C Minor, conducted by the great Josef Krips who was once music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

This is the part of the Credo when you say Christ was born and became man. Once you say He became man, you kneel. Well, we do at the church where I go. It is a reminder that you are speaking of something supernatural. Which Mozart seemed to be aware of, writing this.

At one time Erna Berger was quite renowned. She was a favorite of Furtwangler and Toscanini. She had a coloratura soprano famous for singing the part of the Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute."

What about L.L. Berger, the famous department store family here in Buffalo?

Either one, we are talking about Bergers of quality and taste!

I love the smooth, unwavering quality of Erna Berger's voice. She does not have the broad vibrato many other singers have, not that that is always a bad thing but Erna Berger's voice is more like a steady line. Nothing sounds as if it is a big effort. On the recording she does not sound like a modern singer. Some of that is the age of the recording but there are other factors too. How she eases from one note to another, how she takes certain phrases ... and, well, all I can think is vocal styles change.

I love the curlicues starting around 6:20 and the leap at 6:38. You can tell she would have made a great Queen of the Night.

And sure enough.