Would you sell your soul to play like this?

October 22, 2016 at 10:00 am

I’m a decent musician. When I see a pianist like this perform, I am floored. How can anyone play this fast while remaining accurate and expressive?

There’s only one way. They sold their soul to the devil!

It all started with Franz Liszt, who lived quite the life. He was by far the most talented pianist of his time, and pushed the instrument to new levels. He was also an international playboy and possibly the first musical superstar. But what really convinces me of his deal with the devil is that he joined a religious order late in life, perhaps as an attempt to buy out his unholy contract. Or, perhaps it was just an attempt to atone for his multiple affairs with numerous women in various European courts.

Perhaps, shortly after he sold his soul, Liszt regretted the decision and wrote his Totentanz – dance of the dead. This is a symphonic poem (a free-form style of composition which Liszt invented) which uses the ancient Dies Irae (Day of Judgment) chant (a popular chant for Halloween). It’s a spooky piece which shows off the legendary piano technique of the great master. The skill required to play this is inhuman … the devil has to be at work here!

Joking aside – these great pianists (and composers) are simply great, and have no unholy dealings; I celebrate them!

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Have You Ever Danced with the Devil in the Pale Moonlight?

October 14, 2016 at 11:43 am

Now’s your chance.

The Faust legend is a popular one, having been told by many different authors in many different versions throughout the centuries. In short, Faust sells his soul to the devil (Mephistopheles, or Mephisto) for worldly pleasures. Like many romantic composers, Franz Liszt loved this story, so much so that he wrote a Faust Symphony for orchestra as well as a handful of Mephisto Waltzes for piano (which, like most of Liszt’s piano music, are devilishly difficult to play). The most famous (the first) tells a story of Faust and Mephistopheles walking by a village inn; Mephistopheles starts playing the fiddle, and Faust seduces a young woman, before running off with her into the woods …

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A Modern Love Story

September 17, 2016 at 10:00 am

By “modern love story”, I don’t mean “Romeo & Juliet retold with contemporary characters” – I mean “a prostitute lures a lecher to be robbed and murdered, but the lecher is magical and won’t die until his lust is fulfilled.”

When Béla Bartók‘s ballet “The Miraculous Mandarin” was premiered in 1926, it was quickly banned for its questionable morals. But it was cool to be intense, politically charged, and controversial back then – after all, this was the era which included the rise of facism and communism, American prohibition and speakeasies, and all kinds of varied fringe arts ranging from elegant, traditional-sounding neoclassicism to clunky, forward-looking futurism. Time has eroded this ballet’s edgy effect – after books like Lolita or movies like Pulp Fiction, the story of the Miraculous Mandarin feels pretty tame:

A woman dances to lures victims into a room where they are robbed by three bandits. Eventually, a Chinese man comes, and he jumps on the woman in lust. The three bandits attack him and stab him, but he won’t bleed. He begins to glow with an eerie light. The woman realizes what is happening, and orders the bandits off the victim. He jumps up and embraces the woman – his lust fulfilled, his wounds begin to bleed and he dies. Ah, love.

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