A monumental work for solo piano that is not just for listening to in the Christmas season: Messiaen's "Vingt Regards"
I have been listening a lot in recent days - albeit in small sections as the work is about two hours in length - to a magisterial work for the piano by Messiaen. This unquestionably important landmark of 20th-century piano music is called Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jesus (Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus). Understandably because of its extreme difficulty and its sheer length, it has received few recordings since its first performance given by the composer's wife, Yvonne Loriod. She made her own recording in 1956 under her husband's supervision. Two more recent recordings standout, by Pierre-Laurent Aimard (a former pupil of Loriod) and Steven Osborne; both of these are more than 20 years old. Osborne, by the way, is a fabulous performer of French piano music in general; watch this recent video (I can't stop watching!) of his recital of the Debussy Etudes in Wigmore Hall in London. There is a recent recording, though, of great beauty by Bertrand Chamayou, and he also frames the work with short pieces by composers writing in tribute to Messiaen, a very interesting idea. Here is an article from Interlude which describes the work a little. I also have enjoyed these pieces by Takemitsu, Kurt, and especially the first one by Anthony Cheung (I really want to learn this one!) Listen wherever you stream music....apple, spotify, etc. I am curious as to what you will think about Vingt Regards.
Please watch this video of Martha Argerich performing the Ravel Piano Concerto in g Major at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. You can see close-ups of her hands in the wonderful videography in the first movement; then in the second movement, you will hear a beautiful example of balancing sound between melody and accompaniment!
I'm sure it is no surprise to my students that I have regarded the playing of Martha Argerich so highly. I missed a chance to hear her perform live in the Musikverein in Vienna (no tix available; went to the hall anyway and was at least able to see and hear her play from a small screen on the wall in the gift shop....oh dear, how sad!) I did get to hear her perform in Cleveland's Severance Hall a few years ago, playing Prokofiev duets with Sergei Babayan.....I will never be able to tell you how thrilled I was that you got tix for us, Kate!). Anyway, this morning I happened upon a recent performance in a youtube post playing the first work I ever heard her play on record - the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto. Please listen here to a live performance in Buenos Aires (she is from Argentina). The sound is somewhat meh, but I am grateful to be able to see and listen, nonetheless! Let me know what you think!
Anyone know the term "Lisztomania"? According to a Wikipedia article, "Lisztomania or Liszt fever was the intense fan frenzy directed toward Hungarian composer Franz Liszt during his performances. This frenzy first occurred in Berlin in 1841 and the term was later coined by Heinrich Heine in a feuilleton he wrote on April 25, 1844, discussing the 1844 Parisian concert season. Lisztomania was characterized by intense levels of hysteria demonstrated by fans, akin to the treatment of celebrity musicians today – but in a time not known for such musical excitement.
Lisztomania is a 1975 British surreal biographical musical comedy film written and directed by Ken Russell about the 19th-century composer Franz Liszt. The screenplay is derived, in part, from the book Nélida by Marie d'Agoult (1848), about her affair with Liszt." All of these references are interesting, but my favorite new reference is in this fun, interesting video done by Ben Laude with Tonebase. Some speedy fingers here, no doubt!
Have you seen today's Google Doodle? It highlights Oskar Sala, a physicist and composer and early pioneer in electronic instruments. Here is a good video to introduce you to Oskar playing on the Trautonium. Sala worked on many film scores with this instrument, and created the non-musical soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. He received many awards for his film scores, but never received an Oscar. In 1995 he donated his original mixture-trautonium to the German Museum for Contemporary Technology. If you find this quite interesting, as I do, you can read lots about early electronic instruments! I am rather fond of the sound of the "theremin", have you ever heard of it? Check it out, and let me know what you think!!
One of the many pianists that I admire today is Jeremy Denk. I have suggested to many of you to watch the marvelous videos of Jeremy performing some of the Bach Goldberg Variations on Apple music. I find his focus and concentration, his thoughts when he describes so compelling. Jeremy has a book called Every Good Boy Does Fine; I have on order and am looking forward to reading! I recently watched a video of an interview with Jeremy discussing "why practice matters" on CBS Sunday Morning (I link it here for you). Jeremy is a witty writer, as well as a pianist, and I have read many of his Blogs on his website. Jeremy is also a MacArthur Genius Grant awardee; no slouch there! And I highly recommend a recording from 2012: Ligeti/Beethoven. He plays the very thorny, but amazing etudes by Ligeti, coupled with the last Sonata No. 32 by Beethoven. Seek this one out, and let me know what you think!
In celebration, Bruce Liu, winner of last summer's International Chopin Competition, performed a beautiful recital on March 1 (dedicated to the victims of the war on Ukraine). He played some of my very favorite Chopin works, and wow, how he played! Bruce's program included the Nocturne Op. 27 No. 1, the Rondo a la Mazur op. 5, two Ballades, the Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35, and he finished with the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, op. 22. I link the video here, but be aware that you will have to manipulate some timing! He doesn't actually walk onstage until about 7:00 minutes in, and there is a long intermission in the middle you can skip through. Please watch, listen, and enjoy. I have watch several times! Let me know how you liked this performance!
Wow! All I can say about the great Tiny Desk concert with Catherine Russell! Ms. Russell is a Grammy-winning vocalist with a fabulous satiny voice. She says that her music is influenced by the Black blues women of the 1920's. Her set highlights that influence with the tune: "He May Be Your Dog But He's Wearing My Collar" by vaudeville singer Rosa Henderson. Such fun!! Great musicians all around! Watch and enjoy! says that her music is influenced by
A few weeks ago as part of our studio's "Chopin Project" we discussed at great length the use of the pedal, particularly where Chopin is concerned. I spent time recently listening to a great, short podcast from tonebase Piano. It is Episode 5, entitled "The 'Sole' of the Piano", or Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Pedaling (but were afraid to ask). It is a brief history of pedaling from the industrial revolution to the digital age. I truly would love you to listen to this podcast because I think it is quite informative. Many different pianists are consulted for their opinions regarding, solely yours! pedal usage (although some of those opinions are not shared by me, all are thought-provoking). Let's discuss at your lesson, "solely" yours, AD
I was having just "one of those days" with my piano practicing last week - have you had those?! Nothing seemed to be going right, I was distracted, etc. I often listen to some favorite piano works performed beautifully by favorite pianists to inspire and motivate me to head back to the piano, and I happened to read an article about Ruth Slenczynska. I know her playing, and also had (but had "lost") a copy of her book, Music at Your Fingertips, which talks about practicing, repertoire, listening, and other topics (ask me about at your next lesson!). Maestra Ruth - at 97 - was just signed by Decca Records - I link an article here. Upon reading I wanted to reacquaint myself with her, so have watched and listen to videos, and I really want to share some of those with you in hopes that you will learn a bit about her! Madame Slenczynska, a child prodigy giving her first comet at four, is the last living pupil of Rachmaninov; she also studied with other of the finest pianists of the early 20th century, like Joseph Hofmann, Alfred Cortot, Egon Petri, Artur Schnabel. There is a lovely article in BBC news with several videos of her playing. I can't encourage you enough to take a half hour and watch this video I link on youtube with Ruth discussing her study with Josef Hofmann (and please listen to this video of his playing of the Chopin Ballade No. 1) and Rachmaninov....you will learn much, as I did! I was also fascinated with this video as Ruth discusses her experiences at the Paris Conservatoire as a child, and all of the people she came into contact with there. Ruth studied at Curtis Institute and some of her classmates became life-long friends, like composer Samuel Barber, pianists Shura Cherkassky and Abby Simon. Such a life in music!! Now, I am inspired to get back to work at the piano, and I think you will be too!