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!


A “Homeroom Quickie” for the ages

September 28, 2016 at 10:15 am

I learned the term “homeroom quickie” from my high school Latin teacher. Whenever a large paper or project was due, inevitably among the carefully typed and prepared papers there was one which was hastily scribbled in pencil on line paper, ripped out of a 3-ring binder. The students who turned in these quickies usually did so either with their faces shamefully pointed to the floor, or with a carefree attitude of “yes, this IS my project I’ve been working on for weeks.” It was always easy to identify a homeroom quickie.

Imagine my surprise as an adult to find out that homeroom quickies typically grow up to become office quickies. Take, for example, the Samuel Barber‘s Violin Concerto. Barber was given a due date of Oct 1st, 1939, as the piece was supposed to be premiered in January 1940. Barber, however, failed to turn in the assignment on time; like any good quickie, though, there was a good excuse. He had begun the work in the summer, while he was in Switzerland – but the impending war caused a delay while he fled Europe. Nonetheless, by mid-October he had turned in two of the work’s three movements. With the clock ticking, the premiere approaching, and the violin soloist getting very nervous, the pressure was on to produce quickly. In late November, Barber whipped off a very short, very fast, very difficult finale to the concerto.

With just a little more than a month to learn and prepare this piece, the violinist rejected the work, gave a long list of criticisms and suggested edits, and ended up performing Dvorak‘s concerto instead. Barber stuck to his guns and didn’t edit his work, which was a good thing, because his concerto has since become a staple of the American Art Music repertoire.

So this “homeroom quickie” might have received an F from a teacher, but in the long run, A+. And, if ever a piece sounded like a desperate student trying to frantically write a twenty-page-paper in just three minutes, it’s this one.



Happy Fall!

September 23, 2016 at 10:26 am

Fall is here – and to celebrate, here is the iconic fall composition, “Autumn” from Vivaldi‘s “Four Seasons“. What more is there to say?

Actually, there is more to say. Julia Fischer is awesome!