Eight Composers on Piano Roll

When you consider the piano roll, what kind of music comes to mind? Probably Scott Joplin’s elegant rags, or perhaps the exuberant swing of Tin Pan Alley. Interestingly, a number of less likely composers, from Mahler and Debussy to the 80-year-old Camille Saint-Saëns, were recorded on piano rolls in the early years of the twentieth century. In some cases, these are the only historical record of the composer’s playing. Additionally, they offer …

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Prokofiev’s Haunting First Violin Sonata

“Wind passing through a graveyard…” This is how Sergei Prokofiev described the hauntingly ethereal passage at the end of the first movement of the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor. Hushed, wispy scales rise and fall in the violin over a series of numb, ambivalent piano chords. This chilly passage, which is anything but definitive or conclusive, returns later in the final movement. It encapsulates the atmosphere of the Sonata, perhaps the darkest, most …

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Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto: The Greatest C Major Riff of All Time?

Musician, teacher, and producer Rick Beato shares some interesting insights into Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto in a recent video at his channel, Everything Music. He calls this passage from the first movement “the greatest riff of all time written with only the white keys.” It’s a stream of notes which seems as fluid and inevitable as any jazz keyboard riff- an unrelenting, anticipation-building, virtuosic romp, completely in white-key C major until one stray G-sharp sneaks in at the last …

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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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Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto: Music in Technicolor

Consider that iconic moment in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, when black and white, tornado-swept Kansas dissolves into the technicolor brilliance of Oz. With the help of a magical cinematographic slight of hand, Dorothy steps into a luscious dreamscape in which every tree and flower seems to be coated in an extra-glossy sheen. The film’s colorfully surreal middle section is bookended by the “real world” of black and white, which returns in the …

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Yuja Wang Plays Prokofiev

Following a brief vacation, Chinese pianist Yuja Wang gets back to work this week. She’ll bring two Bartok piano concertos to Rochester, New York: the First Concerto tomorrow night, and the Third on Saturday, with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Recently, I ran across her spectacular performance of another twentieth century masterwork: Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The clip below features Wang’s performance with Claudio Abbado (her frequent collaborator) at the 2009 Lucerne Festival. In this …

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David Bowie Meets Philip Glass

The groundbreaking work of David Bowie, who passed away earlier this week, left a profound mark on the world of rock music. But Bowie also influenced some of the twentieth century’s most important minimalist and experimental composers, and in some cases he was influenced by their work. In 1976, Bowie attended the European premiere of Steve Reich’s monumental Music for 18 Musicians. You can hear the circular, pulsating, mallet-driven patterns and rhythmic groove of Music …

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