Saturday, March 23, 2019

Beethoven Makes This Second His First

This post [with  new videos] was first published in May of 2014.

Ludwig Van Beethoven [1770-1827] 
The great late Classical/early Romantic era composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven, composed 5 great piano concerti.  I think there is a consensus that his 5th piano concerto "The Emperor", is his best, and one of the greatest piano concertos ever written.  While it is hard to choose because they are all so good and I love them all, I think I would pick his piano concerto #1 as my second favorite of his five concerti.

Note-Update: Classical music lovers all have their favorites. For example, in the comment section, my friend Jim Denton, cellist for the Houston Symphony Orchestra, said his favorite concerto from Beethoven is the fourth: "For me and many of my colleagues, nothing comes close to Beethoven's fourth piano concerto for spirituality. That concerto touches me in a place that words simply can't. It's in a whole different class then the emperor." 

If one listens to Beethoven's first piano concerto, and then his second piano concerto, you might think it is odd that it seems like his first concerto seems a little more substantive and developed than the second.  Don't get me wrong, the second is a great playful, happy concerto with some great melodies.  It is a good piano concerto, but you might think that this would have been his first piano concerto he composed and the more substantive work labeled number one as his second.

That is actually the case.  Beethoven's second concerto was actually the first one he composed.  The concerto named #1 was actually composed after his piano concerto #2.  The reason it is called his first concerto is because in classical music, it is not the time that the piece was composed that determines the number, but when it is published.  Since the second one he composed was published first, it is called his first piano concerto.

Beethoven's piano concerto #1 is in the bright key of C Major with three movements: 1. Allegro con brio,  2. Largo,  and 3. Rondo: Allegro Scherzando

In the opening movement there is a long tutti introduction of almost 3 minutes before the soloist enters.

While there is a long tutti to open the concerto, the 
Beethoven cadenza that is usually played for the first movement is even longer and it is one of the longest cadenzas you will ever hear - almost 5 minutes from 12:40-17:25.  The cadenza used in the third movement is a much shorter one that begins about 36:55. 

In this video the soloist virtuoso pianist Krystian Zimerman also leads the Wiener Philharmoniker in this great Beethoven piano concerto.  The pensive largo movement begins at the 17:52 mark and the upbeat playful final movement rondo begins at the 30:30 mark.

Please turn up the volume and enjoy this great Beethoven Piano Concerto [one of my favorite of all piano concerti] that he composed second but it is labeled as his #1 piano concerto.

L.V. Beethoven: Piano Concerto #1 in C Major:

As an added bonus here is the piano concerto composed first but published second, his sunny, delightful concerto #2, scored in B Flat Major with 3 movements: 1. Allegro con brio, 2. Adagio, and 3. Rondo: Molto Allegro.  The soloist in this video is "a young" Vladimir Ashkenazy.

L.V. Beethoven: Piano Concerto #2 in B Flat Major:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Happy Birthday J.S. Bach #334

The great Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, was born 334 years ago in Germany on either March 21, 1685 or March 31, 1685 - this time dispute relates to the change of calendars [Julian to Gregorian] during that time period.  Most today celebrate Bach's birthday on March 31.  Because J.S. Bach is such a giant of a figure in classical music [the Baroque Era], we here at the Tales will celebrate both dates by repeating this post on March 31.  :-)

When you say Baroque music, the name Bach must come up. He is one of, if not the most, influential person in classical music with his musical inventions, techniques and great compositions.  Without Johann Sebastian Bach, it is doubtful, in my opinion, that classical music would have developed as fully as it did.  Most of the great composers in the Classical and Romantic Era's to follow [and even with children learning how to play classical music today] got their foundation from Bach's musical inventions. Bach was a virtuoso organist whose upbringing in religion and deep faith led him to compose much sacred music for organ and for choral works.  Bach had a fairly long life [for that period of time] of 65 years and he used this blessing by God to be a prolific composer of some of that greatest music ever written. He was a composer of cantatas and oratorios and many organ pieces and other keyboard pieces [mainly for harpsichord] and he was also an orchestral composer of concertos for violin and keyboard [that some have been transformed for the modern piano] and of orchestral suites and dances, and also of many great chamber music compositions.

From Wikipedia: Bach's famous instructive 'Well Tempered Clavier' for keyboard [at the time - harpsichord] "consists of Books 1 and 2 with each book containing a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 major and minor keys in chromatic order from C major to B minor."

Bach's 'Goldberg Variations' for keyboard is "an aria with 30 variations" with an "unconventional structure: the variations build on the bass line of the aria, rather than its melody."

J.S. Bach [March 31, 1685 - July 28, 1750]
Make no doubt about it, when one talks about the giants in classical music, J.S. Bach must be mentioned right near the top.  Along with Mozart and Beethoven, Bach fills my list of my top 3 composers.

Bach was the main developer of the polyphony technique that was a main characteristic in the Baroque period of music.  Polyphony means 'many voices' and in the compositions was demonstrated by different thematic lines [voices] of music being played at the same time [and/or sometimes the same melodic line being played but coming in at different points and not being played together-think "row, row, row your boat"].

One of the great examples of this polyphonic technique can be found in Bach's genius composition for organ, 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor'.  Listen from 2:57 on in the following video to hear 2 and then more voices [lines] being played at the same time.

J.S. Bach: Toccata and Fuge in D minor:

From the aforementioned "Well Tempered Clavier" Book 1, here's Tal Zilber at the piano playing  J.S. Bach's 'Prelude and Fugue in C minor':

To honor Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday, please turn up the volume and enjoy some more great music from the quintessential Baroque composer.

J.S. Bach: Brandenberg Concerto #2 in F Major, Movement 3, Allegro Assai:

J.S Bach: Air on the G-string "Suite #3":

J.S. Bach: Violin Concerto #1 in A minor:

J.S Bach: Keyboard [Piano] Concerto #5 in F minor:


Mendelssohn But Not Felix

I was listening to All Classical Portland about a week ago [in February of 2018] and heard this string quartet I hadn't heard before and I thought to myself, 'that sounds like Mendelssohn'.  I was right, it was Mendelssohn. But I was also wrong as it wasn't Felix Mendelssohn [one of my favorite composers] who I thought, but rather his sister Fanny Mendelssohn. Then I thought to myself, what an amazing classical musical family.

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel [1805-1847]
Fanny Mendelssohn [when married became Fanny Hensel] was the oldest of the four children born in Germany, a pianist and like her brother Felix, a composer, who both showed tremendous musical ability at a young age.

Please turn up the volume to hear some great classical music compositions from Mendelssohn-not Felix, but Fanny.

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel: String Quartet in E Flat Major, Movement 1, Adagio ma non troppo:

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel: Overture in C Major:

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel: Piano Trio in D minor:

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel:  "Bergeslust":

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Welcome Spring Week 2019

In honor of Spring 2019, beginning this Wednesday, March 20th to be exact, here are two great classical music pieces representing this wonderful season: Antonio Vivalde's Spring violin concerto, the first concerto from his "Four Seasons", and the great American composer Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring".  

Aaron Copland [1900 - 1990]
Note:  The second video has Leonard Slatkin leading the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Copland's magnificent piece - a truly American piece.  Before the piece begins, Maestro Slatkin gives a very moving story of Aaron Copland nearing the end of his life. 

The well known beautiful theme, "simple gifts", a Shaker hymn, begins slowly with the strings at the 23:27 mark and then develops into magnificent majesty by the full orchestra at the 35:07 mark. 

Please turn up the volume and enjoy Vivaldi's Spring, and Copland's, Appalachian Spring as we begin another new season for 2019. 

Antonio Vivalde:  Four Seasons Violin Concerto #1 in E-Major,  "SPRING":

Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring:

The one thing I love about Spring is that I know it means opening day for the Major League Baseball season, specifically for the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros, can't be far away.  

Play ball!