Brahms’ Four Klavierstücke, Op. 119: Progressive Meditations

Johannes Brahms wrote the Four Pieces for Piano (Klavierstücke), Op. 119 during the summer of 1893 in the Upper Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl. The brief character pieces are among the final, autumnal works of a composer who had announced his official retirement three years earlier. They inhabit an introspective world, at times filled with wistful nostalgia. The Klavierstücke, Op. 119 are preceded by three similar cycles (Op. 116, 117, and …

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Christopher O’Riley Meets Radiohead: “Fake Plastic Trees”

The American pianist Christopher O’Riley discovered the music of Radiohead in 1997 with the release of the British alternative rock band’s landmark third studio album, OK Computer. Immediately, O’Riley was drawn to the songs’ sophisticated counterpoint and “sensual harmonies that you’d find in Ravel, a harmony, a chord that makes your hair stand on end.” O’Riley’s acclaimed solo piano adaptions of Radiohead songs are far more than simple arrangements or covers. Following the tradition of Liszt’s concert paraphrases, or …

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Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825: Music of “Spiritual Delight”

Published in 1726, the Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825 is the first of a set of six keyboard suites which J.S. Bach composed between 1725 and 1731. Following the English and French Suites, this music was groundbreaking, both technically and musically. Bach referred to it as his “opus 1,” and offered it “to music lovers in order to refresh their spirits.” Here, Bach is cast in the role of …

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Brice Montagnoux Plays Couperin: Offertoire sur les Grands Jeux

The French organist and Baroque specialist, Brice Montagnoux, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on April 27. He was 44. The cause of death has not been disclosed. In addition to performing internationally, Montagnoux served as professor of organ at the Conservatoire TPM in Toulon. In 2012, he became director of Institut d’Enseignement Supérieur de la Musique in Aix-en-Provence. Montagnoux is survived by his wife, Eva Villegas, a clarinetist. The two performed together frequently as a …

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Liszt’s “Vallée d’Obermann”: Vivid Encounters with Nature

Obermann, an 1804 novel by the French philosopher, Étienne de Senancour, centers around the mediations of a young, melancholy recluse who retreats into the Swiss Alps to probe profound and unsettling questions. The novel unfolds as a series of letters written by Obermann, the ultimate solitary, Romantic hero. Filled with longing, he is both enthralled and mystified by Nature. He asks, What do I wish? What am I? What shall I ask of nature? I …

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Remembering Radu Lupu

The great Romanian pianist, Radu Lupu, passed away earlier this week. According to his manager, Lupu “died peacefully in his home in Switzerland from numerous long-term illnesses.” He was 76 years old. In 1966, Radu Lupu was awarded the first prize at the second Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He went on to win first prizes at the George Enescu International Piano Competition and the Leeds International Piano Competition. Lupu’s playing was filled …

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Debussy’s “Bruyères” from Préludes, Book 2: Krystian Zimerman

Composed between 1909 and 1913, Claude Debussy’s twenty four solo piano Préludes are divided into two books. Unlike the Preludes of Chopin or J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, they do not form a sequential harmonic procession. Instead, they float ephemerally between traditional tonality and modal harmony, and the pentatonic and whole tone scales. They emerge as dreamy, atmospheric vignettes. Bruyères is the fifth Prélude from Book II. Translating as “heather,” it “evokes pastoral bliss, an Arcadian …

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