I recently listened to an online livestream of the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra concert at Severance Hall, where they played Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony under the baton of Jahja Ling. And, of course, the audience applauded after the 3rd movement! Personally, I don't mind people clapping in between movements, but I know others may not think so. Thus I went on Facebook, and tried to find out what people think about that. The responses I got (which also made me realize I have many conductor friends...):
Is this a revival of an old trend? Views?
Disclaimer: this article was originally written for the debut episode of MuseCast, a new talk-show styled program at the Cleveland Institute of Music that debut in November 2016. I have since edited some of the content. This post is based solely on my personal experiences.
At the Cleveland Institute of Music, students are provided with plenty of wonderful opportunities to grow as musicians. Of course, we grumble about the coursework, the lack of practice rooms, and the cost of the education. But are we looking at the big picture?
I was at a liberal arts college for my undergraduate studies, and then at CIM for my masters. In between, and right now, I was out in the “real world”, so to speak, making a living as a musician! In a world where the arts are constantly facing defunding, students have to take advantage of all that a conservatory has to offer, beyond education, to stay viable in the “real world”.
Let’s take a look at what CIM provides - world class performers whom we study with; free tickets to a world class orchestra concerts; access to a wealth of musicological expertise at CWRU; and, limitless performance opportunities. As a student, it doesn’t get any better than that. While many students know well (and choose to come to a CIM because of) the high standards of the faculty, few utilize all these advantages. From hearing comments from peers over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that some do not even realize their loss. With the following remarks, I hope to debunk some beliefs, explain why each of the above is useful, and help encourage all students to form some long lasting habits that will be helpful post graduation. This, hopefully, goes beyond just Cleveland and can apply to many conservatory students.
Today, lessons with our teachers should go beyond the instrumental instruction. We should consider our teachers to be mentors, both in performance and in our musical careers, and there is so much more we can learn from them - how to present ourselves, how to market ourselves, and, more so, how to acquire jobs in today’s increasingly crowded music world! They must be doing something right if they have a job…
The Cleveland Orchestra is consistently ranked among the best in the world. In my time at CIM I have gone to countless concerts and expanded my knowledge of orchestral repertoire! Many times I’ve been stunned by colleagues who miss concerts because they need to practice. What better way to learn than to attend a concert? If musicians-in-training do not attend concerts, how can we invite others to watch us perform in the future? These concerts are beyond entertainment; after listening to, for example, the Bach B minor Mass, my knowledge of that piece goes beyond what I can learn from program notes and history books. I can describe the mass of sounds that come my way in Severance Hall, and the looks on the faces of the audience at the end of two hours of music. I become someone who has experienced music outside of a tiny practice room. I have experience that I can talk about with recruiters, conductors, and employers. This goes beyond Cleveland, as well! There are numerous top tiered orchestras within walking distance of a conservatory or college campus.
For every student who enjoys the history class, there is at least one who absolutely detests it. However, I challenge this. History may not change, but musicologists are still making discoveries about music and musicians that may shape interpretations. Musicologists are on the forefront of new music, together with composers, discovering the exciting new soundscapes that are created each day. They are the ambassadors of the musicians. Beyond history, they impart their knowledge of writing. When students, as musicians in training, can write about music, we can also better critique ourselves. We can then justify our tastes in music. And, if all else fails, we can become music reviewers!
Finally, I get to performing. Beyond the studio classes, degree recitals, and masterclasses, many conservatories offers numerous outreach opportunities. At CIM, there is an office that dedicates itself to placing students and faculty in these community performance venues (which was until recently helmed by one passionate staff member!) yet many times concerts were cancelled due to lack of musicians performing. Could it be that students are not taking advantage of these performance opportunities? Be they paid or not, performance opportunities like these are low-risk training grounds, preparing us for possible Carnegie Hall debuts. It frequently gets us up close with the audience and lets us talk with them. It shows us what might or might not work in a concert. It brings music to those who may not be able to go to concerts too! If we are working towards a performance degree, should we not be performing as much as we can?
A conservatory might be an expensive investment, and we do not see the immediate benefits of it, especially when we get our degrees but not a job. But, as students, have we taken advantage of all that is offered, especially at CIM, which can help in our future careers? Stop practicing, get out of your practice room, and do something useful!
I’ll just come right out and say it - I have two left feet. However, dance is perhaps one of the most important allies of music. Throughout history, records show that music has been written for dancing in courts, social functions, and even for the common folk. As the arts became more entertaining, dances became interludes in operas and concerts. Ballet eventually evolved to an entity of its own in the 20th century. But there are plenty of pieces written which allude to dances, but are not intended to be danced. What, then, of them?
Acknowledging the importance of dances, pre-classical composers such as J.S. Bach wrote suites for instrumental solos. The movements within such suites were titled as dances, be they sarabandes, gavottes, courantes, minuets, or gigues, just to name a few. Rarely, though, were waltzes in existence at that time. In suites, composers would utilize the rhythms and characteristics of the dances, and set upon the performer a task to imitate such movements while being absolutely attached to an immoveable instrument. Dance movements, such as minuets and contredanses, continued to prevail in instrumental and non-programmatic music throughout the 18th and 19th century, but rarely as a standalone work. Any waltzes written were far and few in between.
Carl Maria von Weber’s Invitation to the Dance (1819) finally took that title as the first instrumental waltz to be written. The waltz, though not meant to be danced to, contained a little story, making it a mini tone poem, a genre much favored by later Romantic composers. Much of the story happens in the slow introduction, where a young gentleman meets a lady and invites her to the dance. The waltz follows, and before too long it is the end of the night and the couple bid farewell to one another.
Frédéric Chopin’s book of waltzes, among other collections, stands out as an important repertoire choice among pianists. They are all written in the standard ¾ time, and were deeply influenced by Weber’s work, also containing right-hand centric melodies and standard Viennese waltz rhythms, even though they are not for dancing. Between 1824 and 1847 Chopin wrote nearly 30 waltzes, but only eight were published in his lifetime. Some additional waltzes were published posthumously. The Op. 64 set of three waltzes were the last to be published in his lifetime.
The first of the set is familiar to many. The Minute Waltz (translated from French) nickname was intended to mean that the waltz was a miniature one; although pianists have generally taken the unintended 60-second timing to be the real reason. (A typical performance lasts twice as long.) The flashy right hand melody dazzles the listener in a quick flourish, before the second waltz, in the parallel minor, changes the mood completely. The more contemplative second waltz breaks the standard ternary form of most of Chopin’s waltzes. It contains an additional recapitulation of the second section, which transforms it into a lopsided rondo. The final waltz is less well known, and completes the set in an attempt to seek a balance between the prior two waltzes.
Chopin’s influence as a pianist and composer was widespread. In Spain, young pianist Isaac Albeniz was emerging as a composer who fused Spanish idioms into his music, much like Chopin had done in Poland. The Autumn Waltz, published in 1890 as Op. 170, is one such example. This was written at a time when Albeniz was still assimilating the styles of the composers who came before him, and thus the traditional waltz accompaniment carries throughout the work; however the harmonies are definitely that of a Spanish identity. Little, however, is known about the peculiar title, or the work in general, which is overshadowed by many of his later, mature, and celebrated works. The waltz itself contains a slow introduction, three waltzes of varying forms, and a lengthy coda that recapitulates all the waltzes once more. Singing melodies are passed from one voice to another, and a melancholic feel carries throughout.
Maurice Ravel, a French/Basque composer, drew his influences from elsewhere. Looking further back to Franz Schubert, Ravel titled his waltzes exactly like Schubert - Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911). While Schubert wrote a volume of each kind of waltz, Ravel published his set of eight as one continuous volume, with an interesting quotation: “... the delicious and forever-new pleasure of a useless occupation.” Aside from the title and the time signature, the waltzes pay no further homage to the earlier composer. Ravel’s waltzes are both impressionist and modernist, which did not sit well with his audiences of that time. (During the anonymous premiere of the work, few guessed that the work was that of Ravel’s, and many thought the work to be a parody, or that of a lesser composer.)
It was the expanded soundscape that proved to be unpopular. Ravel eventually orchestrated the waltzes, demonstrating the colors he attempted to achieve in the piano. (Ravel would later, more successfully, realize his imaginations in Gaspard de la nuit.) Ravel was working on his orchestral tone poem, La valse, at the same time, and the similarities between these pieces are apparent. Even though Ravel started work on La valse in 1906, the bulk of the writing was done in 1920. Its premiere right after World War I led most audiences think that Ravel was commenting on the destruction of the European society and the Viennese ideals; however Ravel outright rejected that notion. Ravel had intended the work to be choreographed, and set it in a Viennese court in 1855, a time when the waltz was highly regarded in the European society. Ravel wrote a series of waltz melodies in separate episodes, which he recapitulated in the middle of the piece, before descending into a frenzy with frequent modulations, harsh harmonies, and an increase in intensity. The orchestral version of La valse became the last concert and non-choreographed waltz to be written, a century after Weber’s Invitation to the Dance.
Beginning the Beethoven cycle right in the middle is tantamount to diving directly into a tumultuous river. The Op. 30 sonatas (1801-1803) were set in a time where the composer’s personal struggle with deafness and the region’s struggle with political stability came to the forefront, and these tensions are represented in the music. Both the genre and Beethoven’s compositional style saw a shift in those few years.
Op. 30, No. 3 in G major still reminds us of the “accompanied sonatas” of the previous century. The opening figure is presented in its entirety in the piano, with the violin seemingly only doubling an octave above. (Is this an introductory figure or a theme? Beethoven only made its purpose clear with the figure’s insistent appearance in the development.) The sforzando interruptions of the violin are an early reminder that the violin is more than an ‘obbligato’ part, and it takes a more active part in the exchange of parts following the first presentation of the first theme. After a longer than usual transition, the second, stormy, theme begins unexpectedly in D minor, before a quick exchange of material between the two instruments resolve in the major. Interestingly, the second subject never appears in the development. The ternary-form menuetto and rondo finale continue in the same fashion of discourse between the two instruments, until the coda of the rondo takes a Haydnesque turn and appears in the flattened submediant after a dramatic pause.
Op. 30 No. 1 appears the most unassuming of the set, until one recalls that its original finale became that of the Kreutzer Sonata. However, hints of the expansive original finale are present. Both themes are uncharacteristically lyrical and introduced only by the piano. The use of the opening meandering motif in the development is disjointed and destroys the serene and pastoral mood suggested in the opening. The rondo-form slow middle movement is organized similarly. An unrelenting dotted rhythm pulsation accompanies the otherwise overtly lyrical theme. The variations that Beethoven added as a final movement to this sonata explore a variety of rhythms and techniques in both instruments. A sense of timelessness and mystery is achieved in the final two variations, one which has a long bridge with an extended use of a single dotted rhythm motif, and the other, a faster variation that uses repeated diminished harmonies to lead into the coda.
The most dramatic of the set, Op. 30 No. 2, was written on the eve of the Napoleonic wars. With the political revolution fresh in his mind, Beethoven penned this sonata in the C minor tonality that he saved for the most heroic and significant pieces. The entire sonata is littered with a march-like dotted rhythm, which first presents itself in the second theme of the first movement, and is used again in the scherzo - the only appearance of such a movement in this set of sonatas (the other sonatas each contain three movements only.) Dramatic silences abound in the outer movements. The piano introduces the themes in all the movements, but the violin is hardly lackadaisical in performance. Beethoven pushed both instruments to extreme registral, tempo, and dynamic ranges. Even the lyrical slow movement contains loud interjections near the end to remind us that the tranquility is a fleeting one.
With the composition of this opus, the classical tradition of accompanied sonatas is all but over. The Op. 30 set gives a concise and balanced view of the sonatas before and after - a summary of those passed and a preview of what is to come. In addition, these sonatas offer a bridge between Beethoven’s earlier sonata, and his next giant, the Kreutzer sonata.
The Op.30s will be performed Nov 8 - 10 in the greater Cleveland area and December 18 in Mt. Pleasant, SC.
As mentioned in the previous article, Beethoven’s Op. 30 set of three sonatas for piano and violin was written at a tumultuous time in Europe and the composer’s life, and this is reflected clearly in the middle sonata. While some sketches do exist, it is hard to discern whether the sonatas were written consecutively or concurrently; other than the fact that the finale of the first sonata was the last to be written. Beethoven’s original finale to Op. 30 No. 1 was deemed too impressive and removed before publication. (It was later recycled in Op. 47, the “Kreutzer”, where its large scale was balanced by the expansive opening two movements.) Beethoven replaced the finale with a delightful set of variations, which was not a common choice of finale genres in the 18th century.
Beethoven kept to a close classical structure with the variations, sharing the lyrical melody and its changes between the duo, and also including a minor variation as traditions dictated. The Allegretto tempo marking even seemed more Mozart than Beethoven. What sets him aside from his classical predecessors, though, was the exploration of violin techniques, abundance of articulations, and a particularly peculiar section of extended exploration of diminished seventh sonorities in the coda that seemed to go nowhere.
The opening movements of each sonata are all in sonata form, beginning by establishing the tonic keys of A, c, and G unambiguously. Such has been the practice of classical composers up to then, a practice that Beethoven begins to challenge in his next opus, the three piano sonatas of Op. 31. It is possible to trace a narrative between these two sets of works, with the earlier works set as a precursor to a newer style of writing in the Op. 31.
If the original finale to Op. 30 No. 1 was any indication, Beethoven was certainly itching to expand the sonata structure. While the sonatas do not get any longer (certainly not like the Kreutzer), they were certainly caught in a quandary of both backward and forward looking trends converge. In the first sonata, the opening theme consists of a meandering motif and a peaceful feel that resembles the Spring sonata; its variations, however, consist periods of contemplation that seem only to confuse. The second sonata begins with a sonata form that ends with a expansive coda; the extreme dynamics and maniacal presto in the coda of the finale reach far beyond any classical notions. In the last sonata of the set, Beethoven provided glimpses into his soundscape with the sudden shrieks of sforzandos in the violin; but the final movement is almost Haydenesque, with a surprising modulation at the end.
Perhaps this was the “end” of the classical era as we know it. The unexpected key at the finale of Op. 30 No. 3 (using the flattened submediant in the coda) paves the way to a tonal destabilization in Op. 31. (No. 2 of the set begins with a lengthened dominant chord that doesn’t confirm the tonal center; similarly no. 3 begins with a supertonic seventh and transverses through several diminished seventh chords before briefly cadencing in the tonic.) The fast tempos of the finales and surprising dynamics certainly surprise those whose ears are used to gradual changes of the previous century.
To begin a Beethoven cycle in the Op. 30 is a testament to the dramatic musical changes that mirror Beethoven’s life so closely. The Beethoven in 1801 was standing at a precipice (perhaps, literally.) And so is the Op. 30. The next (and final) article will offer a narrative traced by the first recital.
Join the Beethoven cycle - details at nina-sandberg.weebly.com/beethoven
Beethoven (1770 – 1827) wrote 10 sonatas for Piano and violin in between the years of 1798 and 1812, completing the bulk of which by 1803. This set of works continued the change in trend from the “accompanied sonatas” of the pre classical, and championed both instruments as equal partners in presentation. As influential a composer as Beethoven was, we cannot forget that he lived in Mozart’s shadow for years. The earliest sonatas drew upon Mozart’s mature Piano and Violin sonatas, while at the same time carved out a new and unique musical style. A man of whom Mozart had said “someday … will give the world something to talk about,” Beethoven furthered Mozart’s efforts to create chamber music through this genre.
It was obvious Mozart was not commenting on Beethoven’s skills as a violinist when he gave the afore-mentioned remark. Different accounts concur that while Beethoven did play the violin and viola in some chamber music settings, he was never quite the soloist that he became as a pianist. However, over his lifetime Beethoven was acquainted with the leading violinists of Europe who kept him up to date with the changes in the construction of the instrument. (Numerous articles have been written about the improvements in the violin with respect to size, shape, bow, the angle of the fingerboard, and string material, and how all these can be traced through violin sonatas of the time.) The late 18th century was a period of revolution, and instrument making enjoyed such a boon as well.
The Op. 30 sonatas (numbers 6, 7, and 8 in the oeuvre), was written between 1801 and 1802, and dedicated to the Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Beethoven reflected the multi-faceted revolution he was facing in his life well in his writing. The first, political, revolution was perhaps too obvious – Beethoven’s dedication showed his deference to the ruler whom he referred to as “an enlightened despot”, admiring his efforts at legal reform. A more violent revolution also unfolded in Europe in 1802. Whether by chance or by intention, Beethoven sketched out a turbulent second sonata of the Op. 30 set the day before the Napoleonic wars erupted. A personal revolution was seen in the Heiligenstadt Testament – Beethoven’s suicide-lament-turned-motivational letter that he wrote in 1802, convincing himself that he had to continue living despite his deafness as the world has not heard all of his music yet!
The set represented the change in styles of Beethoven’s compositional output, a time of great innovation while battling with the formal demands of the classical tradition. Historians would later place the Op. 30 sonatas in the middle period of Beethoven’s output. The next article will discuss more about the individual sonatas and their styles.
The first concerts of the Beethoven cycle will take place in Cleveland on November 8-10. For more information, please visit http://nina-sandberg.weebly.com/beethoven
There are several musicians who blog frequently about their performances, repertoire, pet peeves, and anything under the sun when it comes to music. I recently read a response to blogs on an Australian website about music (albeit an old article) -
The author discusses if musicians should be writing, and really, there is no good answer to this. Throughout history, though, numerous musicians (composers and performers alike) have been great authors. Robert Schumann is a particularly famous example, and his efforts have unearthed many other composers that we might never know today. In Schumann, his purpose in writing is an informative and slightly elitist one. He kept his fans and the public up to date with compositions and musicians in the area and abroad, and comments on "good" music.
In the 21st century, what is the purpose of writing about music?
In my musicology courses, we write about music the same way Schumann did. We comment. We pick out the composers and pieces we like. We seek out otherwise unknown musicians. And when we write about "old" music, we offer a new angle of looking at music. We discuss. We invoke emotions.
As a musician, I read to be informed. I read to keep up with current affairs in my field. And then, as an educator, I inform my students. And as I write, I want to continue to inform. As I work out a frequent blogging schedule, keep a look out on a series of blog posts about Beethoven. (I know, not my usual topic.) I am embarking on a Beethoven project that will take perhaps a few years to complete. There is plenty to learn about and from Beethoven, and what better way to keep myself informed and to keep all my information organized?
This is is a continuation of my response to a blog post on Norman Lebrecht's blog, slippeddisc.com, "Is this the Last Stand for the Printed Score?"
There are many comments already on the pros and cons for tablets/electronic sheet music vs printed music. Personally, I have used an iPad 2 from 2011 and then recently upgraded to an iPad pro. The picture above is from a Chamber Music Charleston concert in 2013, where we played chamber music from France. My piano duo performs entirely off 2 iPads.
It has been very convenient for me. I am a busy collaborative pianist, and before I made the switch to the iPad, I had copies of music in binders in my car; I've once brought the wrong music to a concert (thank goodness someone else had another copy.) I've asked soloists to not give me music because I was so sure I would lose it; I've had to check in a suitcase because the all the music I want to bring on a trip would not fit in a carry on. All these worries, some of which could be attributed to general care, have evaporated.
Of course, there was some getting used to. When I started using the iPad, I would plan out my page turns (tap on the first beat of the 2nd to last measure on the page). I have had to work through the screen glare problem, reflections off bright windows in the background of a church, getting an email on stage (stupid, I know..), cracks in the screen, and the pedal failing. That did not take too long, though.
In the tablet’s defense, the pedal has been more troublesome than the tablet over the past 5 years. As a collaborative pianist, I have enjoyed the convenience of having all my music along with me at all times. Outdoor gigs are a breeze too.
Yet – It is a responsibility to keep both my iPad and pedal charged all the time, and accidents have happened before. I have switched back to paper scores once because I couldn’t see (the reason why I upgraded). I know my eyesight has deteriorated over the years. I know I have been distracted by other apps when I practice, which is entirely my fault. I freak out once in a while before a big concert and double check that it’s charged, bring an extra pedal, etc.
I would say there are inconveniences with or without the tablet. Are we ready to move into an all-tablet culture? I don’t think so. Maybe in our lifetime, yes. For now, I guess, to each his/her own? And keep letting audience members ask “how do you use that!”
I'm so glad you dropped by! I have been encouraged by several friends that I should try blogging, and I'm finally trying it out. I don't know how frequently I will be posting yet, but expect to see writings about music, music education, concerts, and maybe other things that are interesting to me (which I hope will be interesting to you to!) Let me know what you would like to read about!
See you back soon!