b Riding East

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Liszt Wiegenlied S. 198

It snowed two nights ago. More snow is expected this week. It's such a pretty time of the year. I was looking out my bedroom window yesterday morning and noticed not just the leaves but all of the crows, migrating south for the winter. Nature's cycle and time continue.
I'm working on several Brahms Op 76 (but lack enough time for them), some Bach Sinfonia (all full pieces and each one a gem), and a new piece I'm writing. I somehow stumbled across this Liszt lullaby. So I decided to spend a day on it and record it, after insisting my daughter, Sabine, learn it too.

I believe the piece is Liszt's own piano transcription of his last orchestral tone poem, "Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe" ("From the Cradle to the Grave"), composed in Rome around 1881/82, near his 70th birthday. Aside from his frequent travels, including to Rome, I believe Liszt was mostly living in Weimar at the time, and possibly wrote the piano transcription there. Liszt had an accident where he fell down the stairs in a hotel in Weimar in July 1881, which dramatically impacted his health and outlook.

It's a simple piece yet shows Liszt's creative side, his unusual form, his willingness to step through unexpected chromatic modulations and harmonies, and his use of motivic fragments in place of melodies. Hints of impressionism? Most of all I love the ambiguous sense of perceived time. I can't decide if I'm in the present looking back at a remininsence or actually experiencing that same remininsence. I find myself floating between the two perspectives. Similarly, the close of the piece doesn't quite resolve the tonal ambiguity of the open, despite ending where it began, on the mediant. The last bars invert the gesture of the opening bars, 3-5-6, this time 6-5-3, with the submediant, A-minor, in focus once more. I'm reminded of migrating crows and the changing colors of the leaves.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Étude-Tableaux No. 4

I finally finished my next work in the set of Études-Tableaux piano pieces I'm composing and performing, modeled after Rachmaninoff's own sets. Here I continue my study in polytonality, except this time use whole tone scales throughout. It seems whenever anyone uses whole tones it must be a reference to Debussy? In this case, no, although Debussy's works are often present in my mind. Instead I was attempting to manage the perception of time, noting that whole tone scales float somewhat. The absence of semitones creates challenges of harmonic structure and progression, the motion towards a goal perhaps. Yet that was the point of using the whole tone scales -- avoiding the progress towards a given "goal". I do use ambitus to suggest soft modulations. The piece opens with both whole tone scales together before moving in and out of diatonic harmonies that eventually and finally resolve to the implied theme in A-minor.

I recorded the piece at my home here in Fairview, Wyoming on a Yamaha S400 piano. It snowed again last night.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Bach take ii + Chopin and Janáček

More piano recordings. I worked on the 4th and 18th Preludes and Fugues from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1. I also recorded a Chopin Etude and the second movement from Janáček's Sonata 1905. All of these works were shared with my piano studio at Stanford, where we continue to meet virtually to discuss and perform music together.

Bach Prelude No. 4 in C sharp minor

Bach Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor

Bach Prelude No. 18 in G sharp minor

Bach Fugue No. 18 in G sharp minor

Chopin Etude Op 25 no. 1 in A flat major

Janáček Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 - Smrt

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Bach Prelude and Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor, BWV 849

Relative to San Francisco, it's very quiet here in Fairview, Wyoming, especially in the early spring, as the aspen's don't yet have leaves to rustle in the wind, and the forest birds are just arriving from their winter sojourn. There were no jets flying over the valley this afternoon, and I heard no coyotes -- they only howl at night.  However, I did hear Peanut snoring again.

Amidst this mostly quiet afternoon, and following recordings of the Prelude and Fugue No. 18 in G sharp minor from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier Book 1, I worked on Bach's Prelude and Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor, also from Book 1.  I love the Prelude, so lyrical and inquisitive.  A real gem.  The Fugue is a tough -- one of the more complex pieces I've studied.  I imagine it will take time to truly understand the piece, all of the lines, the five voices in counterpoint, the masterfully developed and contrasting subjects, creating the fugue's austere, tender, yet tormented character.  It continues to grow on me.

We always learned in music theory class that you should prepare a dissonant note or chord, perhaps with a suspension, thoughtful voice leading, passing tones, etc.  Yet Bach, despite being the reference standard for tonal music theory, doesn't seem to care for such rules and uses unprepared dissonance throughout this fugue, starting with the second note of the subject -- B-sharp, the leading tone, which doesn't resolve to the tonic.  True to form, as we encounter the final cadence in bar 112, following a big dominant chord, we get a jarring and once again unprepared dissonant chord.  While Bach often uses the Picardy third to end a minor piece in the major key, here he introduces the E-sharp four bars early in a deceptive cadence, an augmented A-major chord (VI7+), first inversion.  Not expected.  When you look at Bach vertically, to me his music often seems more dissonant than, say, that of Ives.  Yet typically, within the context and horizontal flow of the piece, nothing sounds dissonant, as Bach manages to take our ears to many foreign lands that don't seem so foreign.  But not this time.

Here is the prelude, followed by the fugue.

Prelude No. 4 in C sharp minor

Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Bach Prelude & Fugue No.18 Book 1 WTC in G sharp minor BWV 863

While sheltering in place here in Fairview, Wyoming, I recorded the Prelude and Fugue in g-sharp minor, no. 18 from J.S. Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, Book I.

It's been such a difficult month -- my heart goes out to all those who are suffering or are sacrificing for the rest of us.  I can only imagine what it must be like to be working in the ER in NYC or in a distribution center or as a grocery clerk.  I feel very thankful for all of these people.

I'm also thankful that we can turn to music at such times.  I see so many people singing around the world on Smule.  It warms my heart.

I recorded the prelude and fugue on a Yamaha S400 piano.  It's soft and seems to work well for Bach.  I've actually been playing a lot lately, including quite a bit of Brahms.  I'm just trying to find the time to sit down, breath, and record.  The iPhone mic isn't great but will have to do.  Stay safe everyone.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Chorale No. 5

Remembering my father, again, I was reflecting with a close friend today on music I wrote years ago, including this piece, set to Psalm No. 6.  The piece was both dedicated and directed to my mother.  I'm not certain she cares for the piece as much as I do.

Here are the score and a piano recording of the chorale, which I just recorded tonight.

Chorale No. 5 (score)
Chorale No. 5 (piano)

I also include the text to Psalm No. 6.  The music is set to only the first six lines of the Psalm, which possibly makes some sense (or not) when you consider the change in tone and perspective of the Psalm after the sixth line.

Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?
Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.
Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.
Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.
10 Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Adagio Cantabile from Beethoven Sonata Op. 13 in C minor, “Pathetique”

After spending more time with Brahms and Bach this past year, I'm coming back to the early Beethoven sonatas, including Op. 7, Op. 10 No. 2, Op. 14 No. 2, as well as this treasure. I was probably inspired by my friend Andrew Rangell's new CD, a Bouquet of Beethoven.  BTW, do we still call them CDs?

I spent some time on this piece this week.  I didn't realize how fast I was playing until I listened to the recording.  Hardly an Adagio, it's difficult to "sing" at this tempo, but unfortunately, so is life for me.  I've been trying to slow down for the past few decades and haven't yet succeeded.  I dream of not rushing one day-- while playing Beethoven, while walking to Caltrain, while spending time with my children...

When I think about the frenetic pace of my life, I'm reminded of the time in 2005 when I stepped down from job/career and focused on composing full time.  One of the first pieces I wrote, before formally beginning my graduate studies at Stanford, was an orchestral set based on Dante's Purgatorio, which allowed me to explore this theme of life and time.  Lacking an orchestra, I used Cubase and "virtual instruments" to create recordings, which didn't seem so awful back then (oh might was I wrong).  Here are a couple pieces from that set, including "Calliope Arise" and "Femmina Balba II", which I more or less improvised on a keyboard that was plugged into Cubase to synthesize the cellos.

The Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, I, 1:12

    Per correr miglior acque alza le vele
To run its course through smoother water
omai la navicella del mio ingegno,
the small bark of my wit now hoists its sail,
che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele;
leaving that cruel sea behind.
    e canterò di quel secondo regno
Now I shall sing the second kingdom,
dove l'umano spirito si purga
there where the soul of man is cleansed,
e di salire al ciel diventa degno.
made worthy to ascend to heaven.
    Ma qui la morta poesì resurga,
Here from the dead let poetry rise up,
o sante Muse, poi che vostro sono;
O sacred Muses, since I am yours.
e qui Calïopè alquanto surga,
Here let Calliope arise
    seguitando il mio canto con quel suono
to accompany my song with those same chords
di cui le Piche misere sentiro
Whose force so struck the miserable magpies
lo colpo tal, che disperar perdono.
that, hearing it, they lost all hope of pardon.
PurgatorioXIX, 10:14

    Io la mirava; e come 'l sol conforta
I looked at her, and as the sun revives
le fredde membra che la notte aggrava,
Cold limbs benumbed by night,
così lo sguardo mio le facea scrota
so my gaze gave her a ready tongue
    la lingua, e poscia tutta la drizzava
And then in very little time
in poco d'ora, e lo smarrito volto,
straightened her crooked limbs