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January 24 edition
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this week's featured recording for 1.24.20
I. Galante-Minuetto from "Spanish Dances"
by Enrique Granados

 This week on the blog:    Friday, January 24, 2019

On location

One of the joys of playing the pipe organ is that each one is unique. That is true for pianos to some degree as well: each well made piano (particularly Steinways) have a unique sound. Last summer I had a chance to play the "Mr. Rogers" piano when it was still at WQED across from the studio where the show was taped. As I sat down at the piano I thought I'd play a little Mozart, but then suddenly "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" and the trolley theme came out. It was surreal, because it sounded so much like what I'd heard coming through my television as a child. It was the same piano, playing the same music. It was like recognizing a familiar voice.

Pianos aren't always that easy to adjust to, however. The action can vary considerably, meaning it might be a lot harder to get the keys to go down. In other cases, you can practically just breathe on them. One of the scariest moments of my career was sitting down at an unfamiliar piano on which I had had no opportunity to rehearse and having to begin the concert with a very very very soft chord which I had to calibrate just right by sheer guesswork. I am happy to report that on this occasion I got it right, and the atmosphere was set for a very nice recital.

With the organ there is an entirely new dimension, however.

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The resume of the young Mozart is well known--in fact, his exulted status as one of history's greatest composers (THE greatest by some standards), nearly rests on it. By the age of three he was picking out harmonious sounds on the keyboard. By the age of four he was writing pieces for piano and orchestra, and by the age of five he was touring Europe, playing for kings and queens. This last fact is beyond dispute; for the first two, we have the father's excited testimony. Leopold knew very well that people pay attention when a young child demonstrates skills that seem beyond the reach of many adults. He capitalized on the fact, asking the young Wolfgang to do things that were calculated to thrill his listeners, and lure them into awe over items that in many cases were not really so difficult to achieve as they might seem to non-musicians. Leopold's gambit was that his child could wow Europe by seeming to display a talent that came from nowhere; a pure manifestation of the Divine, needing no training and no effort. A clear miracle. And he seems to have believed it himself. When the child Mozart grew older, he found, in fact, that he had outgrown this market and people were much harder to impress. It was then that he wrote his greatest music, for this same fickle audience.

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Says you!

If a great composer says something, do we have
 to take his word for it?

One of the dangers of reading pianonoise is that you get encouraged to think. I mean really think, not think the way most people use the word most often, as in I think I'll have a sandwich or I think it's sunny out. I mean cogitate, think for yourself, puzzle it out, and if somebody is presenting an opinion, consider whether you ought to adopt it first before you click on accept. Read the fine print, figure out their agenda, try to find out where their ideas have come from, and whether or not you think they are still valid. It's not a popular concept, believe me.

And if that isn't obnoxious enough, we model it here by sometimes coming to blows with the august dead. For instance, here is a page about something Bach said and why he might have said it. And another one.

Bach didn't say very much, and he didn't generally explain himself either. Mozart, on the other hand, wrote a lot of surviving letters, had lots of opinions to share with lots of people, and as such is an authority on practically everything.

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The Gift to be Simple
part four of the "Flashy French Organ Toccata" Series


If there is anything that is obvious to the average listener of these Flashy French organ toccatas, it's that they have a lot of notes, and those notes go by fast. I'm going to use my powers of musical deduction now to leave you as un-impressed as possible. Far from convincing you that I am using musical magic to get my fingers to move that fast, I want to slow down the musical maelstrom and show you the outline behind those notes. We're going to do it in steps, by a kind of musical subtraction, taking away the superfluous notes a step at a time.

Here is, for instance, a bit of the Widor toccata. First you'll hear the opening bars of the right hand just as Widor wrote it,  using just a couple of  flute stops (already less impressive, isn't it? The volume is part of the piece's aura). Then I'm going to "subtract" the notes that do not change from group to group--that's most of them. The ones that are left in each group--three of them--, I'm going to play loudly on one manual, and for now you'll still be able to hear the remaining five notes in each group, played softly.

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