Monday, 23 January 2012

Für Elise; no, Für Therese more likely!

Those who you have seen the comedy film Wayne's World where in a guitar shop, Stairway To Heaven is banned, may have a similar love hate relationship with Fur Elise. Perhaps the most popular, some may say overplayed piece of the piano repertoire. But perhaps, if you knew the story behind the piece, you would think differently, and perceive it more favorably.  "Für Elise“ WoO 59; is its identification in the Beethoven ouevre assigned in 1955, WoO in german translates to "without opus number" so it's a way of cataloging Beethoven's piano works that weren't officially published during his lifetime.

In 2010, PBS (Public Broadcasting Station) in the United States aired
Therese Malfati (Beethoven dedicated Fur Elise)
Keyboard conversations with Jeffrey Siegel which gave  a charming background to the infamous 'Fur Elise' piece.

Jeffrey Siegel, a Steinway artist and concert pianist presents this enlightening documentary. Fur Elise, I'm sure, every piano student knows it as well as their parents remarks Siegel. Is it a teaching piece for his students? No it isn't, as the piece was originally written in April 1810, as a private 'love poem,' not meant for publication. According to Siegel, 1827; 40 years later, in 1867,  the manuscript of "Fur Elise" was found amongst the private papers of Therese Malfati (1792-1851) (whom Beehoven was romantically involved with).

In fact, some scholars believe Beethoven even proposed marriage to her (who married an aristocratic landowner). When the piece was eventually published, the editor misreads Beethoven's writing and dedication and instead of the  name Therese, titles the piece Fur Elise (For Elise).


Further reading
ForElise Website (an entire website dedicated to Für Elise no less!)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Sir Anthony Hopkins: Actor, Composer, and Pianist

Srce (Classic FM)
The first link I had of Sir Anthony Hopkins and piano music was when I was watching his character Hannibal Lechter in the film Silence of the Lambs listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations, whilst later performing a gruesome act of violence. Little did I know until recently that the actor himself, is an accomplished composer, and pianist enthusiast. In, fact his love of music came before he discovered acting, at the age of 6, when he started piano lessons in Margam, Wales. According to ClassicFM, his mother had high hopes that little Anthony would be a famous pianist.

To this day, in his spare time, Hopkins enjoys reading, painting and continues playing piano (every day, in fact, if at home). His piano of choice is his very own Viennese Bosdendorfer (brand owned by Yamaha) grand piano. And the repertoire of choice? Hopkins enjoys playing works by  Bach, Scriabin and Chopin, "... not to impress anyone but to keep the co-ordination of my hands and my brain as I get older,'' he told the New south Wales newspaper.

 Hopkins, wanted to be a musician but didn't have the qualifications so he became an actor, instead, according to his interview with the Independent newspaper. In January, 2013,  74 year old Sir Anthony releases his compositions of orchestral works through the UK's Classic FM (world's biggest classical radio station) record label. So it's time for you to listen to some of Sir Anthony Hopkin's compositions, recorded by the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which include 2 of his Film compositions for the films August and Slipstream. His composition was featured on a Classical Brits Award winning album in 2012. Well done Sir Anthony!

Comment below and let us know what you think!

Further reading

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Thalberg, 3 hand piano playing - Fantasia on Rossini's Moses

Thalberg 200th anniversary
Mention the name Thalberg, to just about anyone, and they'll probably say ThalWho? 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Austrian composer and pianist Sigismond Thalberg's birth - January 8, 1812. Thalberg was a contemporary of Franz Liszt and even had a legendary piano duel with him. His playing was divisive, his technique and playing was admired by Mendelssohn but not so much by Schumann nor Chopin. Schumann even used the term 'a la Thalberg' do denote compositions with little musical depth. Storycompositions note the differences in taste perhaps between Thalberg and Chopin in this annecdote:
Chopin gave a recital of his own compositions in Paris, which Dreyshock attended in company with Thalberg. They listened with delight throughout the performance, but after the performance Thalberg began shouting at the top of his voice.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Dreyshock, in astonishment.
‘Oh,’ explained Thalberg, ‘I’ve been listening to piano all the evening, and now, for the sake of contrast, I want a little forte.’(William Mason, Memories of a Musical Life, 1901)
Thalberg's Legacy - Operatic Transcriptions
Thalberg's piano compositions were played by American piano students in the 1840s. Thalberg's compositions, mainly in the form of operatic transcriptions survive today.

Chopin (middle) + pianists  (Paris circle) J. Rosenhain, T. v. Döhler, A. Dreyschock, Sigismond Thalberg, Pierre E. Wolff, Adolf v Henselt and F. Liszt. src [Chopin Museum]

In 2011, the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt's birth, in addition to a Liszt recital, Liszt expert Dr. Kenneth Hamilton, author of After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance performed a recital in London's King's Place with the theme" How Sigismond Thalberg invented cocktail music: A Fantasy on Rossini’s Moses." [sheet music - IMSLP].  So let's here some of this light cocktail music, improvised and embellished 'hit tunes' of the romantic era.

 Thalberg's Fantasia on Rossini's Moses [Audio Only with Score]

Sigimond Thalberg, 3 handed piano player!
I'm sure many of you are familiar with Schubert's Impromptu in Gb, where the right hand produces an appegiated accompaniment to a melody with the pinky of the same hand, which sounds like two hands playing. Thalberg, I dare say, goes a step further, and plays appegios with both hands and melodies with both thumbs, therein creating an effect of three hands. You can hear this effect in the climax of Thalberg's Fantasia on Rossini's Moses. Just listen from time index 2:20 in part 2, and you can see on the score this fantastic technical and musical feat! Surrounding the theme with elaborate scales and appegios was a 'trick' Thalberg got from Parish Alvars, a famous harpist at the time, writes Moriz Rosenthal, In Words and Music.

  Thalberg's Fantasia on Rossini's Moses Part 2 [Audio Only with Score]

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Happy 70th Birthday Maurizio Pollini, Chopin Pianist Extraordinaire

Last year the piano sage blog featured an article: Chopin Piano Competition Winners - Maurizio Pollini Interview. 2012 is the year two legendary pianists Barenboim and Pollini (born 5th January 1942) celebrate their 70th birthday.
Maurizio Pollini Cartoon [srce:toonpool]

In 1960, the Chair of the International Chopin Competition, legendary Artur Rubinstein said of Pollini,  "that boy plays better than any of us Jurors". Pollini was the youngest at the time, age 18 to win the competition.
It was no mean feat too, Pollini beat piano greats Vladimir Ashkenazy and Mituko Uchida to secondary prizes, which is why The Guardian UK newspaper stated 'Pollini has few pianistic peers in the world today.'  

Let's relive the competition by viewing some rare footage of  Pollini at the International Chopin Piano Competition Performing Chopin Prelude d minor op.28 no 24

What's Pollini achieved since winning the Chopin Piano Competition in 1960? Wikipedia highlights some of his accolades and triumphs since:
His first recordings for Deutsche Grammophon in 1971 included Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka and Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata and is still considered a landmark of twentieth century piano discography. Since then he has been one of Deutsche Grammophon's leading pianists. His recording of Chopin's Etudes, Opp. 10 & 25, also under Deutsche Grammophon, won Pollini international acclaim. 
So it's great Pollini wasn't typecast into only performing works by Chopin, let's now hear
Pollini perform Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto (2nd Movement) with Conductor Abbado in Rome, 1967.

Pollini is also an exponent of modern composer Schönberg, especially his Opus 11 and Opus 19 works, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph he says:
 "they are among the works of genius composed in the first half of the 20th century. I like them enormously. I have always liked them. They have remained permanently in my repertoire, and I would like people to appreciate them." 
Pollini Performs Schönberg Op.19, 6 piano pieces