Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Major, BWV 868, Diego Ares

In a recent video clip for the Netherlands Bach Society, the Spanish-born harpsichordist Diego Ares discusses his lifelong relationship with the music of J.S. Bach: He is a wonderful life’s companion. You couldn’t wish for a better one. He is there when you are happy and also when you’re sad. He can comfort you when you are sad and he can lift your spirit. He is a great source of peace. A sense …

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Debussy’s “Rêverie,” Zoltán Kocsis

Rêverie (“daydream”) is music of the young Claude Debussy. Written in 1890, this atmospheric piece for solo piano anticipates the composer’s later works. At the same time, I hear a fleeting echo (perhaps coincidental) of Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Swan. As with Saint-Saëns, who downplayed his 1886 Carnival of the Animals suite as frivolity, Debussy later turned his back on Rêverie, writing to the publisher Fromont, I regret very much your decision to publish Rêverie. I wrote it in a …

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Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, “Appassionata”: A Turbulent Drama

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor is filled with volatile mood shifts, turbulent drama, and revolutionary fire. It was completed around 1805, during what is now known as the composer’s “heroic” middle period. Beethoven did not provide the familiar and apt nickname, Appassionata. It was added in 1838 when the German publisher, Cranz, created a piano duet version. The pianist Carl Czerny, a student of Beethoven, called this Sonata “the most perfect …

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Bartók’s Suite, Op. 14: The Percussive Piano

The piano music of Béla Bartók is filled with the hard edges and exhilarating, swirling motion of Eastern European peasant dances. It strips away Romantic embellishment in favor of something more direct, austere, earthy, and primal. The piano, with its hammer-striking mechanism, becomes a full-fledged percussion instrument. All of this can be heard in Bartók’s solo piano Suite, Op. 14, composed in 1916. In a 1944 radio interview, Bartók said, When this work …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541: Bright and Sunny

J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541 springs to life with a leaping upward triad. This simple motivic cell unleashes a playful, dancing musical line which opens the door to torrents of sparkling and boldly-spirited virtuosity. Filled with an infectious sense of joy and exuberance, BWV 541 is a sunny companion to the music we heard in a post that I published earlier this year, J.S. Bach and the Joy of …

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Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” in Two Shades

We explored Maurice Ravel’s magical 1917 suite, Le Tombeau de Couperin, in a previous post. Composed in the aftermath of the First World War, it is music that retreats into the graceful motion and elegance of Baroque dances such as the Forlane, Menuet, and Rigaudon. It pays homage to the keyboard suites of the French Baroque composer, François Couperin (1668-1733), while serving, simultaneously, as a memorial for friends Ravel lost in the war. When listeners commented …

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Ravel’s Sonatine: Crystalline Classicism Made-to-Order

Musical Competition: Compose the first movement of a Pianoforte Sonate in F sharp minor, not to exceed 75 bars in length. A prize of 100 francs will be given for the winning composition. This advertisement, placed in the Weekly Critical Review in March of 1903, was the impetus for Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine for solo piano. Ravel entered the competition at the urging of his close friend, Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi, a contributor to the short-lived, Anglo-French cultural publication. In …

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