Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Beethoven’s No.7 as Rumba

During his stay in Bohemia, fixing his health in the spas of Teplice, Beethoven wrote two symphonies. One of them, Symphony No.7, lovingly named by Richard Wagner “The Apotheosis of Dance” is considered to be one of the brightest examples of Beethoven’s artistic wisdom.

Cuban Rumba dance
On the day of premiere in 1813, Beethoven chose to be himself the conductor of his musical child. They say that during the moments of highest emotional peaks, while introducing the fortes, the master would literally jump up in the air in excitement. The symphony, especially the finale, is all about sheer energy and powerful rhythms.

It’s not often that at the premiere of a symphony like that, the audience asks for encore. However, this is exactly what happened in December of 1813. The composition was so well-received that people asked for more. However, the most love went to the second movement Allegretto, which was encored on that day. Compared to the other parts, Alegretto is the most sombre and heavy one. But it is exactly this movement that became the most popular for years to come.

In an attempt to perhaps make it sound more cheerful, Joachim Horsley arranged it in a Cuban Rumba style. Here’s what came out as a result:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul”

You may have heard the recording of it by The Cleftones group, or the 1952 version by The Aces, or maybe one of the 1939 interpretations by Eddy Duchin or Al Donahue. You might have enjoyed best the original version recorded by Larry Clinton and the Orchestra where Bea Wain acted like the sweet soloist. But I doubt that all of you have come across Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul” performed on a giant foot piano:

il Grande Piano performance

The song itself is such a unique jazz standard that there’s hardly any instrument that could ‘spoil’ its universal melody. Written by Hoagy in 1938 (lyrics by Frank Loasser), it became one of his chartbusters along with the later written Stardust, The Nearness of You and Georgia on My Mind. But the song’s popularity did not only spread in public entertainment. Its educational effect can’t be mitigated. Up to day, the melody of “Heart and Soul” is considered to be the perfect and most optimal material for learning to play piano four hands. The song is even cited as one of the pillars in American musical pedagogics.

Hoagy Carmichael was a very interesting man. He is known for his image of a restrained person able to produce bright, joyful and powerful hits. In this regard, the musician was even compared to James Bond: an attractive talented man with strong willpower and restraint. The reason for the sudden change of behaviour was the early loss of the younger sister that forever erased the smile from the man’s smile. It is amazing that despite this tragedy he was able to bring to the world such wonderful music creations.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Debussy’s Mythical Cathedral

Got to mention at once: this is one of the most gorgeous piano pieces by Claude Debussy that create for me that sense of infinite space and time. One of the favourites!

Known as “La Cath├ędrale Engloutie”, the piece was published in 1910 as part of the two-volume piano set consisting of twelve lovely compositions in the style of what is called musical symbolism. “La Cath├ędrale Engloutie” (which translates as ‘submerged cathedral’) is the tenth prelude in the set.

I always got chills when listening to this amazing work. But when I learnt its story, the image became even more vivid. The piece is based on the so-called “legend of Ys”, Ys being a mythical city off the coast of French Brittany. The legend goes that on early clear mornings, when the water is most transparent, a beautiful cathedral would rise amongst the water and the people would hear its organ playing and the priests singing to it, bells chiming lively all around.

In his prelude, Debussy made sure we experience the imagery of the legend in all its beauty, from the slow rise of the mythical cathedral to its going back under water. With the help of the harmonies and a number of musical impressionism techniques that Debussy was so good at, the composer reflects all of the legend’s images one by one in a very realistic manner. Just close your eyes and watch the marvellous myth Live!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Shostakovich & Psycho

What do we know about Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No.3? Yes, it’s beautiful, emotionally charged and enigmatic. What else?

Dmitry Shostakovich
Dedicated to Beethoven Quartet, it was premiered by it in 1946. It was a difficult time for all artists, including composers, as the Soviet censorship machine was especially severe in the post-war years when the cold war in full play. Thus Shostakovich’s 9th Symphony that preceded the quartet was badly censored and banned too, just like the numerous work pf art in that period. The quartet, too, was banned from public stage shortly after its premiere.

In order to avoid the formalism, Shostakovich gave different names to the non-traditional 5 movements of the work on its premiere. They carried a war-descriptive character and made a little ‘story’ of the war time. The names were withdrawn soon in fear of the above-mentioned censorship, which still didn’t help the work ‘to survive’ the rules of the regime.

The String Quartet was perhaps the only composition among his works that fascinated Shostakovich so much. On attending the private rehearsal of Beethoven’s Quartet a few years after, composer was supposed to make remarks concerning the performance. The Third Quartet was the only work that he didn’t stop but asked to keep playing, listening to it defenceless, with tears in his eyes.

Another interesting fact has popped up recently and that one was a bit unexpected to me.  The famous horror sounds from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” soundtrack are believed to be a reworked version of the seven notes from the Third Quartet. Bernard Herrmann decided that Shostakovich’s creation would convey the necessary spirit in the best way. Well, that’s rather a theory than a fact, but still, sounds kinda convincing, have a listen:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ludovico Einaudi, the 12 “Elements”

Einaudi’s music, already known for its emotional and moving nature seems to be evolving further in its beauty.

Composer’s latest album titled “Elements” has shown another side of the author’s talent. One might be surprised to find out that that the title does not come only from the literal elements like water, fire, air and earth, but is a more complex vision of the world’s essence. According to Ludovico, the idea was to walk on the bridge of the known and the unknown to him, so a great part of the music explores the unexpected sources of inspiration like the myths of creation, Kandinsky’s work, the periodic table, the geometry of the landscape, sound, colour and what not.

The ethereal texture of some of the 12 Elements pieces is changed by the powerful music force of the others. Thus the title track of the album, “Elements” that embodies the ‘organic growth’ is supported by the explosive accompaniment of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, making it even more invigorating.
The critics agree that the new album is quite experimental for Einaudi, compared to his previous piano writing, with more emphasis made on the genre of piano-based electronica (check out the pieces “Numbers” and “Four Dimension” to feel the change of style). However, while listening to the new poignant tracks like “Drop” or “Mountains”, we realise that what Einaudi became recognised and loved for at the very beginning – is still there.