Sunday, September 17, 2017

Project 366 - Pick Your Poison

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.


Piano… Violin… Again?!?

Today’s chapter serves as a modest attempt at veering away from the same old, same old. After all, in principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.

I could point to many Listener Guides in our series that feature instruments other than the piano and the violin: for example, we dedicated entire chapters to the organ and to voice. Peppered here and there I featured the trumpet, the Moog Synthesizer and even the dill piccolo.

To add to our “featured instruments”, we will add today the horn, the oboe and the guitar. The cello and viola are also added to the mix, though they are after all part of the violin family. Ditto for the harpsichord and tangent piano, which are after all ancestors of the modern piano.

Finally, you will find a pair of listener guides that feature the piano and the violin – after all, the repertoire is dominated by pages upon pages dedicated to those two stallworths!

Your Musical Guides

Listener Guide #109 – “Narciso Yepes (1927-1997)”: Considered one of the finest virtuoso classical guitarists of the twentieth century, Spain’s Narciso Yepes is featured as recitalist, soloist and arranger in this montage of guitar favourites. (ITYWLTMT Montage #254 – 28 July 2017)


Listener Guide #110 – “Ye olde keyboards”: Before the piano, there was the harpsichord, the fortepiano and the tangent piano. Listen to concerti featuring these old keyboard instruments. (ITYWLTMT Montage #242 - 10 Mar, 2017)


Listener Guide #111 – “Oboe Concertos”: The oboe produces a beautiful, sweet, haunting sound. When used as solo instruments the sound is sometimes described as a 'pastoral' sound. Different composers approached the oboe differently – as a violin substitute or as its own voice. (ITYWLTMT Montage #256 – 25 Aug 2017)



Listener Guide #112 – “Viola & Orchestra”: The viola has a rich tone, subtly deeper than its first cousin, the violin. Here we have a trio of works for viola soloist and orchestra by Hindemith, Hummel and Berlioz. (ITYWLTMT Montage #240 - 10 Feb 2017)



Listener Guide #113 – “Frédéric Chopin , Piaano sonatas no. 2 & 3”: A vintage vinyl recording from 1966, featuring Tamás Vásáry (Vinyl’s Revenge #9 – Sep 2015)



Listener Guide #114 – “Dimitry Markevitch on MP3.COM”: French-Russian cellist Dimitry Markevitch performs solo suites by J. S. Bach and a pair of cello sonatas by Beethoven. (Once Upon the Internet #31 – 18 Nov 2014)



Listener Guide #115 – “Violin and Cello”: Brahms’ Double concerto pairs the violin and cello. Completing our program are the Tragic Overture and Ravel's sonata for violin and cello. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #53 - 27 Apr, 2012)



Listener Guide #115 – “Mozart and the Horn”: Some horn and piano or orchestra music by Mozart, Czerny and Schumann. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 73 - 28 Sep, 2012 )



Listener Guide #116 – “Wolfgang Schneiderhan (1915 –2002)”: The main work features Schneiderhan in a 1952 performance of the BrahmsViolin Concerto in D, plus a pair of Beethoven sonatas from the 1952 set recorded with Wihelm Kempff. (Once Upon the Internet #48 – 12 July 2016)







Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Vladimir Ashkenazy (*1937)


This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.


Today’s edition of Vinyl’s Revenge contributes to a few ongoing threads – first, it continues a mini-series on the Tuesday Blog exploring Mozart’s Piano Concertos – in fact, it launches a look at an old Time-Life5-LP compilation of hiss “Late” Piano Concertos and, second, it features another pianist who “Moonlights” as a conductor.

In preparing for this post, I realized that Vladimir Ashkenazy turned 80 this past Summer. This Russian born and trained pianist came into prominence in the mid- to late 1950’s, following in the tradition of the great Soviet-era musicians such as Gilels, Richter, Oistrakh and Rostropovich. The latter three managed to develop an international career whilst remaining based out of the USSR, and it appeared that he would do the same; however, Ashkenazy left his homeland in 1963 not for the “artistic reasons” cited by most émigrés but for a woman—a stately blonde from Iceland named Thorunn Johannsdottir, who studied piano at the Moscow Conservatoire. To marry Ashkenazy, Johannsdottir was forced to give up her Icelandic citizenship and declare that she wanted to live in the USSR.

In his memoirs, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recollects that on a visit to London Ashkenazy refused to go back to the Soviet Union. Khrushchev mentions that Ashkenazy then went to the Soviet Embassy in London and asked what to do, who in turn referred the matter to Moscow. Khrushchev claims to have been of the opinion that to require Ashkenazy to return to the USSR would have made him an 'Anti-Soviet'.

In 1963 Ashkenazy decided to leave the USSR permanently, establishing residence in London where his wife's parents lived. The couple moved to Iceland in 1968 where, in 1972, Ashkenazy became a citizen. Later the family moved to Lucerne, Switzerland.

Ashkenazy has recorded a wide range of piano repertoire, solo, chamber and concerti. His discography is varied and in many cases authoritative – ChopinBeethoven, Mozart and the late-Romantic Russians (notably Rachmaninov and Prokofiev). Midway through his pianistic career, Ashkenazy branched into conducting. One of his earliest conducting endeavours was a solid complete Mozart piano concerto cycle (conducting from the keyboard with the Philharmonia Orchestra). Our first selection in today’s playlist is from that cycle, re-issued in the Time-Life collection I referred to up front.

Today, he performs almost exclusively as a conductor, with long-standing associations with the Royal Philharmonic, NHK and Sydney Symphonies. The complete album I retained to complete today’s playlist is an early digital recording with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Happy Listening!


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no.21 in C Major, K.467 ('Elvira Madigan')
Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano & conducting
Label: Time Life Records ‎– STL M01 (Disk 2, Side 2)
Format: 5 × Vinyl, LP, Compilation
Issued in 1973


Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried Idyll, for small orchestra in E Major, WWV 103

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Verklärte Nacht for string orchestra (1917; arr. from String Sextet, Op.4)
English Chamber Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conducting
Label: Decca ‎– 410 111-1
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album (DDA)
Issued in 1984

YouTube playlist - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...6Npko31_fnk65J



Friday, September 8, 2017

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

No. 258of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


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Today’s Blog and Podcast consider three piano trios and a piano rondo by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, considered today as somewhat of a secondary figure of his time, yet he clearly rubbed elbows with and gained the respect of the elite of the Classical period.

According to his Wikipedia page, Hummel was born in Pressburg, now Bratislava in Slovakia. His father, Johannes Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna and the conductor of the orchestra at the Theater auf der Wieden.

As a child prodigy in the 1780s he was Mozart’s favourite pupil. Hummel later studied in London with Muzio Clementi and befriended Joseph Haydn, who was in London at the same. Upon his return to Vienna in the late 1780’s, he was taught by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri. At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and also took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger, thus becoming a fellow student and a friend – a friendship that has its ups and downs though at Beethoven's wish, Hummel improvised at the great man's memorial concert. It was at this event that he made friends with Franz Schubert, who dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel

Hummel is known to many as the man who succeeded Haydn at the court of Prince Esterházy. In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment at Eisenstadt. Although he had taken over many of the duties of Kapellmeister because Haydn's health did not permit him to perform them himself, he continued to be known simply as the Concertmeister out of respect to Haydn, receiving the title of Kapellmeister, or music director, to the Eisenstadt court only after the older composer died in May 1809. He remained in the service of Prince Esterházy for seven years altogether before being dismissed in May 1811 for apparently neglecting his duties.

Hummel’s output as a composer includes seven concertos and numerous sonatas and solo pieces for the piano, to say nothing of works for various instrumental combinations, operas, masses, and other vocal music. His output of chamber music includes duo sonatas, piano trios, string quartets, a piano quintet (scored like Schubert’s ‘Trout’) and two septets with piano. He wrote no fewer than eight piano trios including the three we retained as the core of today’s montage; the first and earliest, a youthful essay published in London in 1792, the other two mature works composed between 1799 and about 1820.

In 1828,  Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte, which sold thousands of copies within days of its publication and brought about a new style of fingering and of playing ornaments. Later 19th century pianistic technique was influenced by Hummel, through his instruction of Carl Czerny who later taught Franz Liszt. Hummel's influence can also be seen in the early works of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann. The Hungarian-style rondo that completes today’s montage, contemporaneous to the earlier piano trio, might be described as a sonata-rondo since it has two main themes, the first playful and the second more lyrical.


I think you will love this music too

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

André Previn (*1929)

No. 257 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Tuesday Blog. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


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Summer is entering its last few weeks, and my two-month hiatus from the Tuesday Blog comes to an end with one of my “quarterly” montages.

The term “triple threat” comes up from time to time in sports and in performing arts as a very distinct form of praise to somebody who can hit for percentagehit for power and steal bases in baseball, or actsing and dance on the Broadway stage or actwrite and direct in Hollywood.

The primary subject for today’s musical share is himself a triple threat – as a composerconductor and pianist. We could also state his threat status somewhat differently as a man of jazzfilm and concert music.


In spite of a French-sounding name, André Previn (no accent aigu on the family name, I checked!) isn’t French at all – he’s born in Berlin, emigrated to America where, to make ends meet, his father gave music lessons at home. Young Previn studied piano, theory, and composition from the best instructors available, Joseph Achron and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and later conducting studies with Pierre Monteux. As a teenager Previn practiced piano up to six hours a day. 

Eager to help his family financially, he quickly followed up when he heard that the movie studio Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) needed someone to compose a jazz arrangement (a musical score). This led to writing more arrangements, at first sporadically and then more regularly, several times a week after school. Seduced by Hollywood's glamour, he signed a contract with MGM when he turned eighteen. 

His early career of orchestrating film scores at MGM led quickly to conducting engagements of symphonic repertoire and on to an international career as Music Director of orchestras as London, Los Angeles, Oslo and Pittsburgh. In the 1980s, he concentrated increasingly on compositions for the concert hall and opera. His own richly lyrical style underscores his love of the late Romantic and early 20th-century masterpieces of which his interpretations as conductor are internationally renowned.

Previn’s discography as a jazz pianist, classical pianist and conductor is impressive. I retained two of them in today’s montage both concertos featuring him as soloist and conductor. The first is of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 17 (with the Vienna Philharmonic) and the other is of Gershwin’s Jazz-inspired Concerto in F with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

To complete the montage, I added a solo piano composition by Previn – a series of short piano vignettes “Five Pages from my Calendar” composed in the 1970‘s.