Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5: Summoning Mysterious Forces

Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5 arrived amid a six day burst of creative energy in December of 1907. In a letter, the composer’s wife, Tatyana Schloezer, reported, Sasha has already managed… to compose a fifth sonata!!! I don’t believe my ears, it is unbelievable! The sonata flowed from him in a kind of stream. […] What you have heard is nothing, the sonata is unrecognizable, it cannot be compared with anything. …

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Schumann’s Blumenstück in D-Flat Major: Vladimir Horowitz, Live in 1966

Robert Schumann described his Blumenstück (“Flower Piece”) in D-flat Major, Op 19 as “variations, but not upon any theme,” adding that “everything is interwoven in such a peculiar way.” Indeed, the brief solo piano piece unfolds in a series of dreamy episodes through which runs a common thematic thread. Following its initial statement, the opening episode fades into the background, and it is the second section of the piece which recurs as …

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André Watts Plays Gershwin: “The Man I Love,” “That Certain Feeling”

On a Sunday afternoon recital at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall in 1976, the late André Watts placed the piano music of Gershwin and Schubert side by side. A reviewer at the time noted that it was the habit of both composers, when at parties, to take a seat at the piano and dazzle attendees with their most recent music. The music of George Gershwin remained a staple of Watts’ repertoire. An …

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Michael Torke’s “Nave”: A Preview of “Sessions, 3 A.M.”

The atmospherically titled Sessions, 3 A.M. is the most recent project of American composer, Michael Torke. It is a collection of fifteen pieces for solo piano, performed by the composer. The first track, Nave, was released as a single earlier this month, and the full album will be available in November. In the nave of a cathedral, repeating structural columns rise to a vaulted ceiling and convey a sense of order and symmetry. …

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Remembering André Watts

André Watts, the celebrated American pianist, has passed away following a battle with prostate cancer. He was 77. At the age of 16, Watts made his national debut, performing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic as part of a nationally televised Young People’s Concert. Soon after, Bernstein invited Watts to perform on one of the orchestra’s subscription programs, where he substituted for an …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Minor, BWV 891: Stratospheric Stretto

Epic is a word that could describe Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 22 in B-flat Minor, BWV 891. The companion pieces come near the end of Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the manuscript of which is dated between 1739 and 1742 in the final years of the composer’s life. From the Prelude’s opening bars, a dense contrapuntal conversation unfolds. At moments, the imitative voices resemble a fugue. The real fugue arrives with …

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Debussy’s “Les collines d’Anacapri”: A Sunny Mediterranean Postcard

Claude Debussy’s twenty four Préludes for solo piano, composed between 1909 and 1913, are atmospheric snapshots. Each opens up an enticing new vista which draws us in with the immediacy and sensuality of the most vivid impressionistic painting.  Les collines d’Anacapri (“The Hills of Anacapri”), the fifth prelude from Book 1, was inspired by the Mediterranean scenery surrounding the town of Anacapri on the island of Capri. Debussy visited this location in the …

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