Saturday, August 23, 2008

Concerto nº2 in A Major Lizst (1839)

Whilst being far less known then the nº1 concerto by the same composer this concerto is still a true master piece. This concerto in A Major (S. 125) is not so technically demanding as the first but it is much more a true concerto with an outstanding blending between the orchestra part and the piano.

This concerto was composed by the time Lizst was still mainly interested in his virtuoso carrier (1839-1840) which makes this concerto even more remarkable. Lizst revised the concerto at least four times to arrive to the final version of 1861. It was played by the first time by Lizst pupil Hans von Bronsart to whom the concert was dedicated in Weimar on the 7th of January 1857.

This concerto has a an original structure as it is conceived in a single movement with six parts that are played without interruption and it´s performance normally lasts around 20 minutes.

First Part (Adagio sostenuto assai)
Second Part (Allegro agitato assai)
Third Part (Allegro moderato)
Fourth Part (Allegro deciso)
Fifth Part(Marziale un poco meno allegro)
Sixth Part (Allegro animato)

We propose that you listen to this concert in the interpretation of Sviatoslav Richter. First fragment here, second fragment here and third Fragment here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Concerto nº5 op. 73 in E-flat by Beethoven (1809) named "the Emperor"

Because Mozart has 5 concerts in this list and because today I am in a Beethoven mood I will talk about Beethoven 5th Concerto for piano and orchestra and explain why I think it belongs in this list.

This concerto was composed in 1809/1810 in Vienna and it is the last piano concerto that Beethoven wrote. This concerto is dedicated to Archiduke Rudolf the highest ranked of Beethoven Patrons, one of Beethoven pupils and certainly the one which understood the best the fact that he has dealing with a genius. The relation between the two men always was one of mutual respect even though there are, it is true, several letters from Beethoven to Rudolf with lame excuses for not giving composition lessons previously arranged. Rudolf however understood this "artistic" behavior :-) ...

The period in which this concerto was written was not a easy one for Beethoven. The French army had just invaded for the second time Vienna and most of his friends had left Vienna with the court. Before addressing the work itself just a final word on the "nickname" of the concerto. This was not a name chosen by Beethoven. Knowing Beethoven tastes I suspect that he would not like it at all.

The first movement (Allegro in E Flat Major) of this concerto is profoundly innovator in that it creates a sort of mini-cadenzas (a cadenza is part of the concerto which is played by the soloist without accompaniment by the orchestra - generally a passage technically hard to master). We must also remember that this is the only Piano Concerto that Beethoven did not premiére him self being already completely deaf (the honor was for Carl Czerny one of Beethoven pupils). This may also be an explanation why Beethoven choose to write the cadenzas on the score to prevent pianists to insert their own. You can listen to it in the following videos: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The second movement is personally one of my favorites movements. At times one would say that we are listening to Chopin, and when talking about piano this is a compliment. On reflexion it is even better then Chopin since we have an orchestration know how that Chopin was not quite capable to achieve. Listen to this movement here.

The third movement which is played without interruption after the end of the second movement is rather exuberant and a clear contrast to the second. Listen to this movement here.

For this concerto I choose to show you an interpretation by Glenn Gould certainly one of the pianists we will be considering for the Ten Best Pianists. The orchestra is the Toronto Symphony directed by Karel Ancerl (also one of the maestros that will certainly be in the list of 10 best conductors). As you will be able to see from comments some of the listeners of these videos complained about the orchestra and even the pianist. Although respecting their opinion I must also say that it is rather unfair to judge some details on these videos as sound quality is far from Hi-Fi and some of the subtleness simply fade away ... so listen to this to have an idea (to see if you like it) but really nothing substitutes a true recording.

Also on this trend I am really sorry that cuts on the videos were made this way (10 minutes is the limit) but really I think the interpretation of Glenn Gould is worth the inconvenience.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mozart Concerto nº9 K. 271 (Jenamy) also called Jeunehomme

This concerto was written by Mozart (aged 21) in 1777 when he was stilll in Salzburg. This concerto follows the "classical form" of a concerto. This means three movements the first being generally an Allegro the second an Adagio or andante and the third again a quicker tempo. We will find this form frequently.

As a curiosity we can say that it has has been for a long time misnamed and called "Jeunehomme". In reality it was thought that this piano concert was intended to be played by a French pianist named "Jeunehomme" which could never be identified. Recently a musician Michael Lorenz in an outstanding research work discovered the reason why such person could not be found: The person did not exist or better phrased had a different name. In fact the concert was composed and dedicated to Victoire Jenamy (1749-1812), a daughter of Jean-Georges Noverre, a famous dancer who was one of Mozart's best friends. You can find an article describing this research here.

As far as the concert goes as I told you it has three movements and right from the scoring (the set of used instruments) its completely different from the latter concertos (some of which are also on this list) mainly because the wind section is far less developed.

Now just as short guide I will point out some of the parts I particularly like in this concerto. After all the purpose of this blog is to try to seduce you in liking classical music.

You can hear the first movement (Allegro, in E-flat major) here played by Mitsuko Uchida. This movement is interesting by the appearance of the piano almost in the start in a structure called question-reply with the orchestra. Just listen the 12 first seconds and we will be able to hear first the orchestra and then the piano, again the orchestra and the piano playing just like they were talking to each other.

The second Movement (Andantino, in C minor) which you can hear here (first part) is personally my favorite in this concerto. Just listen here (this movement is divided in two videos because the total length exceeds ten minutes) the passage between minutes 2:00 and 4:00 to have a glimpse on the ethereal nature of the melody.

The third movement (Rondo (Presto), in E flat major) starts off with an amazing piano solo that would set the trend for more then a century. Just listen to it here.

In this concerto the Japonese pianist Mitsuko Uchida has played with the Mozarteum Orchestra directed by Jeffrey Tate. The recording is from Salzburg 1989.

Do not forget that although You Tube is wonderful to enable us to listen and compare beautiful works of art and that it surely enables many more people to listen to absolutely historical recordings (We will be showing you some of these also), still the quality of sound is not the same as a good CD recording or a good digital copy bought in a digital music store. So if you liked this concerto I would advise you to go out and listen to it alive if you can or buy a good recording of it.

10 Best Piano Concerts

We are starting with a difficult category since from memory I can certainly think off more than 10 piano concerts that you just cannot avoid. As such for a start I will list a few more and put them all to your consideration and voting. In a couple of months we will perhaps be able to narrow this list to just 10, or not ... We will see ... So the big list of concertos is as such (by order of composition date):
  1. Concerto nº9 K. 271 in E-flat by Mozart (1777) named Jeunehomme* video sample here, full description here.
  2. Concerto nº21 K. 467 in C by Mozart (1785) sample here
  3. Concerto nº24 K. 491 in C minor by Mozart (1786) sample here
  4. Concerto nº26 K. 537 in D by Mozart (1788) named "the Coronation" sample here.
  5. Concerto nº4 op. 58 in G by Beethoven (1805-1806)
  6. Concerto nº5 op. 73 in E-flat by Beethoven (1809) named "the Emperor"**, video sample here, full description here.
  7. Concerto nº2 op. 21 in F minor by Chopin (1829-1830) video sample here.
  8. Concerto nº1 op. 11 in E minor by Chopin (1830) video sample here.
  9. Concerto nº1 op. 25 in G minor by Mendelssohn (1831) video sample here
  10. Concerto nº1 in E-flat by Lizst (1835) video sample here
  11. Concerto nº2 op. 40 in D minor by Mendelssohn (1837) video sample here.
  12. Concerto nº2 in A by Lizst (1839)
  13. Concerto nº1 op. 15 in D minor by Brahms (1859) video sample here.
  14. Concerto nº2 op. 22 in G minor by Camille Saint-Saëns (1868) video sample here.
  15. Concerto op. 16 in A minor by Grieg (1868) video sample here.
  16. Concerto nº1 op. 23 in B-flat minor by Tchaikovsky (1874-1875) video sample here.
  17. Concerto nº5 op. 103 in F by Camille Saint-Saëns (1895) named "the Egyptian" video sample here.
  18. Concerto nº2 op. 18 in C minor by Rachmaninoff (1901) video sample here.
  19. Concerto nº3 op. 30 in D minor by Rachmaninoff (1909) video sample here.
  20. Concerto nº1 op. 10 in D-flat by Prokofiev (1912) sample here.
  21. Concerto nº3 Op. 26 in C by Prokofiev (1917-21) sample here.
  22. Concerto in F by Gershwin (1925) video sample here.
  23. Concerto nº4 op. 40 in G minor by Rachmaninoff (1926) video sample here.
  24. Concerto in G by Ravel (1931) video sample here.
  25. Concerto nº1 op. 35 in C minor by Shostakovich (1933) video sample here.
  26. Concerto nº3 Sz. 119 in E by Belá Bartok (1945) video sample here.
So what will happen now is that I will take each one of this concerts and try to explain to you why I love them so much when needed with a bit of history or theory behind the scene but always trying to keep it simple. In the mean time you can of course help me out by commenting, voting and making new suggestions.

*This seems to be a bogus nickname as we will find out shortly in the detailed presentation of this concert.
** Another "bogus" nickname or at least one that does not reflect the opinion of the composer.

What is this blog about?

We will start off this blog by talking about piano concerts, but first let me explain with more detail what we aim for. The idea of this blog is not to be to hard to read. It will not require any musical education background although at times we will use some technical terms (we will try to explain them).
Another thing to keep in mind is that we are trying to seduce new people to like classical music. This way the pieces that I (we) choose for "best" also take in account this criteria.

You (the readers) can participate in this blog in several different ways. You can propose other pieces to be considered as best. You can defend one of the pieces already in the lists or even more interestingly you can propose an all new category along with your preferred list. I will be as liberal as possible in admitting new categories. For instance I will accept "Ten best violin players" or "Ten best musical pieces to seduce a boy(girl)friend" but I will not accept any categories that will in anyway be aggressive or disrespectful of any race, religion, ...

Also I will not accept "Worst" categories just because I respect too much any people who tries to make music. If its bad, okay, We have so much good stuff to talk about just let them be. Eventually they will improve.

As you might have noticed English is not my natural language. Although I try to be as correct as possible and spell and grammar checkers do help a lot I cannot promise that sometimes an error will not slip away. Please feel free to correct me. All help is welcome.

A final word of advise on my background. I am not a professional musician. I had some classical music education a LOT of years ago (some of it has somehow remained in my memory) but still I am NOT a professional nor do I intend to be taken as one. Music is a hobby to me and as such I have to rely on secondary sources of information. I will always mention them just as I will always mention the authorship of your suggestions (unless you ask me otherwise).

This said (I will probably complete this in the future) lets get to fun stuff .... The 10 best piano concerts.