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April edition
upcoming events:

April 30 7:30 p.m. @ St. John Capistran
                                    Upper St. Clair, PA
                          with Devin Arrington, Violin

a cool picture you apparently
                                  can't see would go here
This Week's Featured Recording: for Friday, April 16 

Concerto in G:  I. Allegro  

by Prince Johann Ernst of Saxon-Weimar/Arr. J. S. Bach


classic blog:   from  Friday, April 5, 2019
     (the blogger is on vacation this week)

Symphonic Birding

Beethoven is not particularly known for his programmatic music. When he did write a piece of story-driven battle music, "Wellington's Victory," it made him enormously popular for a while, but it is regarded today as one of his most embarrassing compositions.

He did, however, concoct a program for one of the nine symphonies. It is concise--in fact, it is downright terse if you compare it to the flowery, verbose plan of musical action left behind by the Swabian composer Hienrich Knecht, whose  "pastorale" symphony seems to have provided the inspiration for Beethoven's own. Sir George Grove speculated that Beethoven, seeing the advertisements for that symphony on the backs of Beethoven's own early piano sonatas from his Viennese publisher, thought he could do it better. And he did.

Beethoven's plan also evokes the natural world, an idyllic world of shepherds and babbling brooks, with a storm and a hymn of rejoicing at the end. What is interesting is how this unique foray into narrative-fueled music changed the way he wrote music.

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You play a note. You get a sound. Simple, right?

Not quite.

The piano was invented over 300 years ago, and while many inventions are improved upon over time, the piano managed to do something that hasn't been equaled by a keyboard instrument before or since. It is capable of responding to almost limitless varieties of human touch, producing sounds ranging in volume from thunder to a whisper and as many shades of sound as a gifted painter could produce on a canvas. Neither the instruments that preceded it (organ, harpsichord, clavichord, etc.) nor the modern day electronic keyboard which has replaced it in some places respond to the subtle imaginations of the player like the piano. It is not, however, such a simple matter to bring such a device into being.

When you depress a piano key, several things happen.

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I started programming my "Use your Imagination" piano recital from April of 2015 with a serious question in mind: what are the merits of "program" music, and how does a composer draw inspiration from something besides the interplay of notes and phrases? But things shortly began to veer off into the ridiculous.

That, obviously, is one risk of trying to make music tell a story; it is like unto concretizing metaphors, double entendres, bad puns, and all manner of linguistic tricks that start to wear thin after a while because the focus is on the language itself and not on what it is trying to point to beneath its dazzling surface.

And if Erik Satie's little escapade didn't warn you of that (though Satie was clever enough to recognize it), let's dive into a little Kotzwara.

I wrote about him nearly ten years ago, shortly after moving to Champaign-Urbana. An item in the news stirred him from his deserved slumber. Some folks were upset that a cellphone ringtone was topping the charts in England, and I wrote an article that suggested that this was hardly a new low in the annals of public taste. What I dredged up to support my argument was a piece of piano music called "The Battle of Prague," published in 1790, which went on to become a huge bestseller for half a century, and even got mentioned by name in two of Mark Twain's books, so embedded in the culture it was.

Kotzwara's battle piece was an early entry into a genre that was to glut the market for years after--the idea that the noise and glory of a great and messy enterprise could be represented by one only moderately talented player was an idea that sold a lot of music. Trumpet calls, canons, guns, were easy to imitate on a piano. Canons, particularly, didn't take a lot of practice. Mr. Kotzwara's piece turned out to be disappointingly polite: many of the other entrants into this kind of piece wrote loud, low clusters for the flat of the hands, the kind of thing that two-year olds naturally produce once they can reach the keyboard. 

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At the Top of the Chute

part one of the "Flashy French Organ Toccata" Series


"And they're all lining up for the start of the spring semester....they'll be running into gale force winds...it's really a beautiful day out there!"

It's always a good idea to have a strong opening. That's what each of today's panelists would tell me if they were still here to do it, and if they'd debase themselves by coming on this blog to being with. They are all very gifted French composers--were very gifted, anyhow. And they all knew how to lead with some arresting musical ideas.

This is something I could use right about now. The start of the "long semester" can be a bit daunting. While the fall semester seems short and intense, and usually involves cramming in a concert or two before the Christmas season, which runs from about Nov. 20 to the 1st of January, and includes every organization I work for putting on most of their shows for the year, the spring semester is less packed, though it seems to go on twice as long and largely takes place in the cold and dark of January and February and sometimes March. When it's not dark it's overcast.

I could use a new start, the sense of a fresh new beginning. That's where these consultants come in.

.... we'll let these fellows dazzle us with the loud and the flashy for a little bit, and by the end, we'll really know something about the institution of the French organ toccata.

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