Oct 23 edition

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Welcome to my website! Music can be a source of great joy, peace, puzzlement or even vexation! I've spent a lifetime listening to it, playing it, creating it, and sharing it with everyone around me. If you'd like to be one of those someones, come on in! Read, listen, think, and explore!

                                                             --the webmaestro, Michael Hammer ([email protected])
                                                                                   concert pianist, organist, composer, and teacher
Now playing on Pianonoise Radio

This week's featured recording   for 10.23.20

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Bwv 656

by J. S. Bach (?)   (1685-1750)

This week, a classic, the old Toccata and Fugue in d minor, which is THE halloween piece for many people. It probably wasn't written by Bach (perhaps there is your Halloween scare) but it is nonetheless an exciting piece to play, and to listen to. I often like to leave the beaten path, but this time we go right down Main Street with one of the most recognizable openings in music. But do yourself a favor and stay for the end. You won't regret it!

 There is an entire hour of similarly scary organ music to listen to this week on PianonoiseRadio.
Thoughts upon a Toccata

here's something to keep you up at night: what if Bach didn't really write his most famous piece for organ?

I've recently made a recording of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which you can hear by clicking the blue title at the end of this article. You'll recognize the opening: it's one of the handful of classical pieces that everybody knows, or rather, that they know the first ten seconds of, anyway. It will probably also remind you of something right away, too. I'm thinking of a certain autumnal holiday this week. This isn't because Bach wrote the piece with that in mind, it is because somebody in Hollywood thought the piece sounded scary and decided to get some yardage out of it. It's been making the rounds of the scary movies ever since, and poor Bach doesn't get any royalties.

Then again, there are some people who don't think he even wrote the thing in the first place, so why should he? Now, when I first played the piece as a teenager I assumed what I was supposed to assume. The piece was Bach's and that's that. I was also introduced to a group of little preludes and fugues that it turns out Bach didn't write either and now that I am older and know something about Bach's music and have a more developed sense of musical quality I can certainly see why people have their doubts because the pieces aren't really that good. The pieces are pretty slight anyway, so what does it really matter?

But to cast doubt on the Toccata? Now that's shattering.

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They Laughed when I started to Play

A couple of months ago, during a performance, I had one of those moments onstage where everybody was laughing at me. You've probably experienced something similar in your nightmares, only this was actually happening. And I loved it.

....It seems that artists have spent so much time trying to get the audience to behave decently (often by bullying them) that what results is a culture of fear, rather than respect. Keeping quiet because you want to understand and communicate with the music is not the same thing as being quiet out of the fear that if you dare to make a sound, people will look at you like a leper with hemorrhoids.

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You've no doubt seen that "official" portrait of Beethoven--quite serious, defiant, his eyes blazing thunderbolts to the heavens, his unruly shock of hair unkempt and wild, refusing to bow to mere conventions us poor mortals use, or a comb.

Is that the real  Beethoven? After all, he lived in the days before flash photography, and portrait painters could stretch the truth a little, and they often did, if their subject was rich, and ugly.

The truth is a bit complicated, as usual,...

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before you can't get that song out of your head you have to put it in there

When I was just starting music school I remember asking myself, "how does a concert pianist practice?" I figured I couldn't very well sneak into somebody's house and find out. But right away, my response to my own question was, "become one and find out!"
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