Philip Glass’ “Études”: Víkingur Ólafsson

Philip has often said to me: ‘I don’t agree with the way you play this piece, but it’s compelling, so I don’t want you to change it…’ – Víkingur Ólafsson, Breaking Glass: The Musical Journey of Víkingur Ólafsson Philip Glass’ twenty Études for solo piano, written between 1992 and 2012, continue in the footsteps of composers such as Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Rachmaninov, and Ligeti. On one level these Études (or “studies”) function as technical and compositional exercises. Glass has …

Read morePhilip Glass’ “Études”: Víkingur Ólafsson

Five Examples of Bartók’s “Night Music”

Strange, haunting, nocturnal sounds emerge throughout the music of twentieth century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. These passages, which are known as “Night music,” evoke the hum of insects and other distant murmurs we might hear in a lonely field on a summer night. Bartók held a spiritual reverence for “Nature, Art, and Science.” But the “Night music” doesn’t offer the kind of poetic tone painting we hear in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Instead, these moments contain something more vague and terrifying. They surround …

Read moreFive Examples of Bartók’s “Night Music”

Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5: Horowitz at the Met, 1981

Let’s finish the week where we began, with a powerful live-concert recording of the legendary Russian-born American pianist, Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989). This performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5 concluded Horowitz’ November 1, 1981 recital at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. Completed in 1901, the Prelude in G minor opens with the same kind of spirited march we hear in the opening movement of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Moments of soaring, heroic bravura are a reminder of …

Read moreRachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5: Horowitz at the Met, 1981

Happy Birthday, Vladimir Horowitz

Vladimir Horowitz, one of the twentieth century’s greatest pianists, was born on this date in 1903 in Kiev. Here is Horowitz’ performance of Schubert’s Impromptu for Piano in G-flat Major, D 899 at the Vienna Musikverein in 1987. (The city’s distant church bells can be heard briefly in the background). In contrast to Horowitz’ 1963 studio recording, this performance from the pianist’s final years seems deeply reflective and even lamenting. Schubert’s serenely beautiful melody is filled …

Read moreHappy Birthday, Vladimir Horowitz

Ravel’s “Mother Goose”: Entering the World of the Child

It has been said that Maurice Ravel saw the world through the eyes of a child. Although he had no children of his own, Ravel had a lifelong fascination with elaborate mechanical toys, and frequently read fairy tales aloud to the children of his friends. Two of these children were Jean and Mimi Godebski, the son and daughter of Cipa and Ida Godebski, a Polish couple who frequently brought together some of the greatest …

Read moreRavel’s “Mother Goose”: Entering the World of the Child

Chopin’s “Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major”: Krystian Zimerman

Frédéric Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60 feels dreamy and autumnal. Its serene, wistful, rocking rhythm transports us far beyond the Venetian gondolier associations we might typically expect in a barcarolle. Musical Romanticism is all about the moment, pulling us into the expressive pathos of a single chord. We get a sense of this mysterious process at work as this music unfolds, from the quiet, shimmering transcendence of this passage, to the shifting harmonic …

Read moreChopin’s “Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major”: Krystian Zimerman

Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2: Stephen Kovacevich

Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2 pulls us into a world of dreamy nostalgia, quiet longing, and majestic, serene beauty. It comes from the set of Six Piano Pieces (Klavierstücke), Op. 118 from Brahms’ “autumnal” late period. Listen to the way those unlikely first three notes set the entire piece in motion. As it unfolds and develops, you may sense that the music is “searching” for a way forward, attempting to find …

Read moreBrahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2: Stephen Kovacevich

Send this to a friend