miércoles, 30 de noviembre de 2022

Chopin: Impromptu No 1, Op 29

Entre los años 1834 y 1842, Chopin compuso cuatro impromptus, de los cuales se publicaron en vida del maestro solo los tres últimos. El primero de los cuatro, de 1834, no solo fue desestimado para su publicación sino enviado a la hoguera. De modo que los tres que vinieron después fueron publicados como aquellos que iniciarían la serie, el No 1 del Opus 29, de 1837; No 2 Op 37, de 1839; y finalmente, No 3 Op 51, de 1842.

Sorprendentemente, el primerísimo de toda aquella producción, aquél enviado al infierno, es hoy prácticamente el único que se escucha en recitales como parte de un programa. Es la popular Fantasia Impromptu, que Julian Fontana, amigo y factotum de Chopin, salvó de la hoguera.

Esta popularidad llevó, sin embargo, a que los restantes impromptus hayan sido destinados, por lo general, a ser parte del bis, o encore, que los intérpretes regalan a la audiencia al final del programa, donde conjugan musicalidad y técnica en una pieza  breve. Qué mejor entonces que elegir un impromptu, aquel género íntimo y lírico en estructura A-B-A, con un tema inicial que simula una improvisación, luego un pasaje central más expresivo y opuesto en carácter al anterior, y finalmente un retorno a la primera idea. Genial.

Impromptu No 1 en La bemol mayor, op. 29
Marcado allegro assai quasi presto, o sea, muy vital, fue publicado en París el mismo año de su creación, 1837. Está dedicado a la condesa de Lobau, de quien no sabemos nada pero podemos imaginarla como alumna del maestro. Su extensión, poco más de cuatro minutos. 

En 2006, la pianista japonesa Aimi Kobayashi tenía 11 años. El 24 de diciembre de aquel año dio un concierto en Moscú con gran éxito de público y crítica. Dirigida por el maestro Spivakov y acompañada por la agupación Virtuoso's Orchestra interpretó el Concierto para piano No 26 de Mozart. La audiencia reaccionó con un aplauso sostenido. En retribución, Aimi regaló al público ruso una performance única del Impromtu No 1 de Chopin.

lunes, 14 de noviembre de 2022

Beethoven, "Rage over a lost penny", rondo / Yuja Wang

The manuscript of Beethoven's sprightly and charming rondo entitled Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio was "lost" for nearly one hundred and twenty years. Today it is a favorite of pianists, to be used as a graceful encore, but during Beethoven's lifetime, it is unlikely to have been heard on any stage. The manuscript, apparently incomplete, was found among Beethoven's belongings after his death in 1827.

The following year, it was published by his friend, colleague, and publisher Anton Diabelli, who reportedly concealed the fact that the composition appeared to be unfinished. After the 1828 publication, the manuscript disappeared and was only rediscovered in the USA in 1945. This time it was found among the belongings of a lady named Noble, who had kept it in her possession for at least 20 years. And indeed, the original shows some discrepancies with the later versions of the Diabelli edition, all based on it.

In any case, with the discovery in hand, it was possible to know the time of the piece's composition, since the manuscript, in its last pages, contains sketches of works of known date, the years 1795-98. Thus it could be concluded that the rondo belonged to the same period. It is the work of a Beethoven in his twenties, approaching his thirties, living in Vienna for at least three years.

"Rage over a lost penny"
The piece is also known by the curious title "Rage over a lost penny, vented in a caprice". The words appear written in the manuscript but not by Beethoven's hand. It is speculated that they could be the work of his friend and first biographer Anton Schindler, who was known for often taking liberties with his famous friend, which led more than once to angry, though transitory, disagreements.

A "harmless rage"
Fantasizing that the master had indeed drawn inspiration from a fit of passing anger, Robert Schumann (who by Beethoven's death was 17 years old) would later write "...it would be difficult to find anything more cheerful than this Caprice... It is about the kindest, most harmless anger, similar to what one feels when one cannot take one's foot out of one's boot."

Marked allegro vivace, the rondo combines the traditional outline of the form with Beethoven's unique inventiveness for variations.
The rendition is by the brilliant Chinese-born pianist Yuja Wang. The piece lasts less than six minutes. 

domingo, 13 de noviembre de 2022

Chopin, 24 Preludes Op 28 / Yuja Wang

Chopin finished the 24 Preludes Opus 28 in Majorca during the winter he spent there in the company of George Sand and her children, in 1838-39. It was no easy task. On the island, Chopin fell ill, got better, and then fell ill again. He first worked on a dilapidated rented piano until he got the pianino sent to him by Camille Pleyel, his publisher friend, pianist, and piano maker. He had promised him, five hundred francs in advance, to finish the preludes there on the island and send them to Paris as soon as they were finished.

Via Julian Fontana, a mutual friend, Pleyel was informed of progress and setbacks over two months. On November 15, Chopin wrote: "You will soon receive the preludes"; on December 3: "I cannot send you the manuscripts because they are not yet ready"; on the 14th of the same month: "I hope to send the texts very soon"; on the 28th: "I cannot send you the preludes. They are not finished. But now I am better and will work". Finally, on January 12, 1839, he writes to Fontana: "I am sending you the preludes [...] It seems to me that there are no mistakes. Give a copy to Probst [the Leipzig publisher] and the manuscript to Pleyel...".
For the 24 little jewels, Chopin charged two thousand francs. Rather, this is what Pleyel promised for the complete series after seeing in Paris the preludes that were already finished; hence, the " advance " of five hundred francs.

Published in Paris in September 1839 (with a dedication to Pleyel), also in Berlin and soon after in London, the Preludes were very well received, marveling the musical circles of the time.
Liszt asserted of them:

"--Chopin's Preludes are compositions of an order entirely apart... they are poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams..."

Schuman, somewhat more cautiously, noted:

"I must mark them as very remarkable. I confess that I expected something very different, with a lot of style, like his Etudes. It is almost the opposite, sketches, beginnings of studies, perhaps ruins.... But in each piece we find his refined, pearly writing: it is Fréderic Chopin's, we recognize it even in the pauses and in his ardent breathing. He is the most daring and haughty soul of today...".

The genesis
Although it is not at all evident in his music, Chopin worshipped Bach; already as a child, he was one of his gods (the other being Mozart). It is not surprising then that he decided to build a series of short pieces systematically ordered, in tribute to the German master, or in tribute to the Well-Tempered Clavier but without fugues: the days are different. In addition, the Polish genius had a recent model: Hummel's Preludes in all keys, fifteen years earlier. Chopin will continue the path.

Arrangement of the series
Apart from the matter of the absent fugue, unlike Bach, Chopin will arrange his 24 preludes in the major and relative minor keys by advancing through the "circle of fifths". That is, starting in the key of C major, the next prelude goes in the relative minor key of C, say, A minor. Now comes the leap of fifth: the next prelude is in G major... the next one in E minor, relative of G. Leap of fifth: D major; relative minor: B minor. Etc.

Unitary work vs. independent pieces
The particular arrangement described above has led some scholars to believe that Chopin's intention was to construct a unitary work whose parts were to be performed in succession, one after the other. But the truth is that Chopin himself rarely played more than three or four preludes in the Parisian salons, and never the complete series. In our days something similar happens: perhaps not discographically, but it is undeniable in public performances. Today's pianists may include one or two preludes as part of the program, but more often than not they give us the short pieces as an encore at the end of a concert.

The unitary work
Let us note, in passing, that there are two other pieces (some speak of three) by Chopin that fit perfectly into the style: a Prelude from opus 45, from 1841, and another in A minor without opus number, from 1843. But when it comes to performing "all" of Chopin's Preludes, even on record, the performers stick strictly to the work reviewed here: the 24 Preludes from Opus 28, whose duration in a recital does not reach 40 minutes, as happens with any sonata of the period intended to nourish the first part of a performance.

The brilliant China-born pianist Yuja Wang, treats us to the complete work in this recording at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, from a few years ago, during the 2016 - 17 chamber music season. A gem in every sense of the term.

The 24 Preludes Opus 28
Taken individually, there are Preludes to suit all tastes. Their length varies from a scant thirty seconds to five minutes and a little more of that one that could be considered long. In terms of tempo, there are long, or slow, or andantino, or molto agitato or vivace... as shown below.

00:00  No. 1 in C major, agitato
01:21  No. 2 in A minor, lento
03:14  No. 3 in G major, vivace
04:24  No. 4 in E minor, largo
06:12  No. 5 in D major, allegro molto
06:44  No. 6 in B minor, lento assai
08:36  No. 7 in A major, andantino
09:25  No. 8 in F-sharp minor, molto agitato
11:17  No. 9 in E major, largo
12:34  No. 10 in C-sharp minor, allegro molto
13:03  No. 11 in B major, vivace
13:42  No. 12 in  G-sharp minor, presto
15:05  No. 13 in  F-sharp major, lento
18:08  No. 14 in E-flat minor, allegro
18:57  No. 15 in D-flat  major, sostenuto
24:04  No. 16 in B-flat minor, presto con fuoco
25:09  No. 17 in A-flat major, allegreto
28:12  No. 18 in F minor, allegro molto agitato
29:09  No. 19 in E-flat major, vivace
30:41  No. 20 in C minor, largo
32:13  No. 21 in B-flat major, cantabile
34:01  No. 22 in G minor, molto agitato
34:47  No. 23 in F major, moderato
35:36  No. 24 in D minor, allegro appassionato

domingo, 6 de noviembre de 2022

Mozart in Italy, the first trip / Divertimento

Between 1769 and 1773, Mozart made three visits to Italy, accompanied by his father Leopold on all three occasions. The first trip was the most extensive. And also the most profitable if we only consider the number of commissions received by the young fourteen-year-old composer in the many cities they visited. They left Salzburg on December 13, 1769. After 15 months of sharing with the Italian nobility and the highest ecclesiastical dignitaries – for whom Wolfgang played the harpsichord and conducted orchestras –, father and son returned to Salzburg in March 1771, inebriated with Italian music and art.

Return to Milan
The successful tour soon reached the Imperial Palace in Vienna. And then it was decided to invite Wolfgang to write an opera to be performed in Milan in October 1771 to celebrate the betrothal of Archduke Ferdinand (son of Maria Theresa of Austria and brother of poor Marie Antoinette, who would later meet the guillotine) and Princess Beatrice of Modena. So a few months after returning home, the Mozart family had to leave again, this time for Milan, where they stayed for three months. The opera (Ascanio in Alba) was a resounding success, for Mozart was able to count on the best singers and the most outstanding instrumentalists who were delighted to take part in a work by the young Austrian genius.

The clarinet
Connected with those musicians, Mozart became aware of the preponderance in the Italian orchestras of an instrument that, apparently, the Austrian musicians did not recognize properly: the clarinet. And he set to work to correct the omission.
During his brief stay in Milan, Mozart composed two divertimenti in the style of the famous Italian divertimento. In both (in E-flat and B-flat), a pair of clarinets have outstanding participation, dialoguing, almost comically, with the English horns, the horns, or the bassoon.

Divertimento in E-flat major, K. 113
There are two versions of the work. One, dated Milan, November 1771, for two clarinets, two horns, and strings. The other, for wind ensemble only, excluding the clarinet, bears no date or place of composition. It is presumed that the first one obeys the Italian taste, written for the Milanese. The second is for his fellow countrymen since Mozart would not have had clarinets at his disposal in Salzburg. The discussion is ongoing. 

The first version is presented here, performed by the German C.P.E. Bach Orchestra, conducted by Hartmut Haenchen.

0:00  Allegro
3:17  Andante
6:20  Menuetto
7:51  Trio - Allegro

miércoles, 2 de noviembre de 2022

Franz Schubert, Military March No. 1

Along with the "Serenade" and the "Ave Maria", Military March No. 1 is probably one of Franz Schubert's most famous melodies. Popularly known by the simple title "Schubert's military march", it is the first of the series of Three Military Marches for piano four hands published in 1826, as opus 51, by Anton Diabelli in Vienna.
They are assumed to have been written at Szeliz Castle, about 150 km from Vienna, where Schubert spent the summers of 1818 and 1819, engaged as a musical preceptor to the daughters of Count Johann Esterházy, cousin of Haydn's protector.

The girls, Carolina and Maria 
There were two girls: Carolina, 13 years old, and Maria, 15 years old. With Maria, the lessons were more interesting as she showed a more advanced level than her sister, but by the second summer, the little Schubert began to take a sentimental interest in Carolina, who, of course, was now fourteen. But his proverbial shyness did not allow him to go any further. Nevertheless, his letters of the time to his friends in Vienna are brimming with optimism: "I am perfectly alive and composing like a god [...]", he writes in one of them.

The four-hand piano
As the teacher of two sisters, the compositions – written like a God – that could be of most immediate benefit to him were, of course, the four-hand pieces. So the military marches must have been heard more than once in the palace, Schubert accompanying one of the girls or, perhaps, leaning back in an armchair, listening to his pupils with an attentive ear, ready to correct, although with his eyes fixed on Caroline, I suspect.

Military March No. 1
Countless arrangements and versions have been made of the Military March No. 1 (catalogued today as D.733, together with the other two marches). It has been used in multiple TV and film formats. Among the most serious rewritings, stand out for their importance, the Grand paraphrase de concert by Liszt, and the "quote" of Stravinski in Circus Polka (ballet choreographed for dancers and elephants).

Marked allegro vivace and written in the key of D major, the piece presents the traditional ternary structure A-B-A, its final section a frank repetition of the beginning. It lasts about 5 min.
Presented here is the original version for piano four hands by the pianist duo Salim & Sivan.