Ghoulish Prokofiev: “Suggestion Diabolique”

There’s nothing more exhilarating than raw terror. If you aren’t convinced, take a moment and listen to Sergei Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique, the ghoulishly demonic final movement of the 1908 Four Pieces for Piano, Op. 4. It’s a thrilling ride, along the lines of Schubert’s Erlkönig. Opening in the growling lowest register of the piano, this music resides just on the edge of tonality. You can sense the young Prokofiev flexing his compositional muscles and rebelling against rigid rules and …

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A Brief Musical Tour of Catalonia

Catalonia was thrust into the headlines last week amid a tumultuous attempted referendum regarding independence from Spain. For centuries, the sliver of land on the Mediterranean, once under Moorish control and now home to 7.5 million people, has alternated between independent republic, French protectorate, and Spanish region. Anchored by its capital, Barcelona, Catalonia has developed its own distinct language and culture. All of this got me thinking about the music of Catalonia …

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Solitary Liszt

Supreme serenity still remains the Ideal of great Art. The shapes and transitory forms of life are but stages toward this Ideal, which Christ’s religion illuminates with His divine light. -Franz Liszt We often think of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) as a kind of nineteenth century rock star whose piano music is filled with dazzling displays of bravado and virtuosity. But there’s another more contemplative side of Liszt which seems to transport us …

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Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata: Saying Goodbye in Three Chords

Listen carefully to the three opening chords of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a. For Beethoven, these chords outlined the three broken syllables of the word “Le-be-wohl,” or “Fare-thee-well,” which he inscribed in the manuscript. If the music from Monday’s post is still in your ears, you’ll notice the tantalizing similarity between this opening and the three chords which open Brahms’ choral lamentation, Nänie -another “farewell” piece. Beethoven’s opening chords suggest the wide-open intervals …

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“No Surprises”: Christopher O’Riley Covers Radiohead

No Surprises, from the British alternative rock band Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer, has been described as “a lullaby of despair.” Its sweet, sensuous melody, laced with the delicate sounds of glockenspiel, meets lyrics infused with helpless desolation. The result is something which feels numbly detached. Recorded in a single take, the song pays vague homage to the Beach Boys classic, Wouldn’t it Be Nice. According to Radiohead singer-songwriter Thom Yorke, That childlike guitar sound set the mood for the whole …

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New Release: Shai Wosner’s “Impromptu”

In music, an “impromptu” is a short solo work which suggests the qualities of an improvisation. Impromptu is the title of a new album by Israeli-born pianist Shai Wosner. The recording, released on the Onyx Classics label, features music by composers ranging from Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Liszt to Ives and Gershwin. The Ives, set in three movements, are literal improvisations which were recorded and later notated. Gershwin’s charming and soulful Impromptu in Two Keys pulls …

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New Release: Arcadi Volodos Plays Brahms

Johannes Brahms’ three Op. 117 Intermezzos are a mix of serene, autumnal beauty, solitary introspection, and underlying sadness. Brahms wrote these solo piano works in the summer of 1892 with his longtime friend, Clara Schumann in mind. He described them as “lullabies of my sorrow.” The score is inscribed by a quotation from a Scottish poem from Johann Gottfried Herder’s Volkslieder: Sleep softly my child, sleep softly and well ! It hurts my heart to see …

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