Saturday, June 14, 2014

Molto confusioso... Poco a poco de-obfusco... Lumos!

Ought art to be explained? Does a creator's clarification cheapen a work? This bugs me.
A lot.
A tater tot.
A turkey trot.
This post's begun to rot...
It's hard to move when it's so hot.

Anyway... There's an appropriate segue into the program* notes I wrote for my graduation recital, in case anyone cares for a foreign set of impressions.

From Julius Caesar: "But men may construe things after their fashion/clean from the purposes of the things themselves."

Toccata from Partita no. 6 / J. S. Bach
In his first few years as music director in Leipzig, Bach was tasked with writing four four-hour-long worship services’ worth of music, a program for every church. Six partitas (“entertainment pieces,” as Bach called them) resulted. Partita No. 6 is somewhat of a black sheep among the others, in my tentative opinion. Darker in color, introspective, and venerable, it rolls along with graceful viscosity (like maple syrup). The Toccata, an unusual opening to a partita, consists of a fugue bookended by two cadenza-like “frames.” In the arpeggiated chords, listen for the strumming of a flamenco guitar, and later on, the delicate pouring of oil. The fugue travels a desperate spectrum, sometimes peaking hopefully but temporarily before tumbling back into frustration. The final cadence, though, declares victory.

Sonata in Eb Major / Haydn
Papa Haydn is quite the jester. This particular sonata exemplifies cheeriness: the first section is lively, the second is sedated, and the third is as cute and coquettish as can be. Brief bouts of Beethoven-like mystery punctate every movement. Truthfully, I spent most of this past year in mellowish humor, and it was difficult for me to muster my usual giddiness for this piece. Yet a little bit of joy always manages to bubble to the surface.

Passacaglia / Handel-Halvorsen
Spanish: pasar = walk, calle = street. Short variations dancing on a solid ground bass. Johan Halvorsen, a Norwegian composer, took a harmonic seed from Handel’s Keyboard Suite No. 7 in G minor. More than a century later, Passacaglia for violin and viola bloomed.
For as long as I have known of this piece, I have longed to play it. Never did I imagine that my dad would one day play it with me, acting as a steady ground bass in music as he has been in my life.

Etude in f minor / Chopin
This little etude has been nicknamed by non-Chopins as “the ribbon.” Very fitting, as the right hand plays a continuous stream of sextuplets, while the left hand waves a ribbon of triplets. Like a pearl necklace, each note has its place (when I was little, though, my piano teacher told me that every piece I played was like a smile with several teeth knocked out--always imperfect. Hope that this performance presents a neater set of pearly whites).

Two Nocturnes
Chopin used to compose his nocturnes in sets of three, but Op. 27 marks his transition to contrasting pairs. These two nocturnes, in tense c# and dreamy Db, are enharmonic. From the same pitches, Chopin spins entirely contrasting stories. Both are sandwiches of sorts: the first is sad-happy-sad-serene, and the second is happy-sad-happy-serene (sad and happy corresponding to minor and major, respectively, not the exact atmosphere).
What I love most: when, with the change of a single pitch, minor turns to major, or major to minor, or some sound to another. Nocturne Op. 27 No. 1 brims with these turns, but makes us wait for them. In a desert of c# minor, E major refreshes the ear for a few brief measures.This nocturne is marked by musical gravity; whenever the melody ascends, the notes face resistance; when it descends, they fall simply, like feathers in a vacuum. Just like climbing.
Misha Galant linked his performance of Nocturne Op. 48 No. 1 to Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Little Match-Seller.” The image stuck with me, and I found that it fit this nocturne as well: a little girl lights her own wares to keep warm on winter’s night. Visions of her grandmother -- the only one who ever loved her -- and Christmas trees illumine the night. To sustain them, the little match-seller strikes every match, and they swell into a great golden conflagration. She freezes to death when the matches run out. Her soul is carried to heaven by her grandmother, away from ice and an empty belly. Grandmother pours light for the little match-seller, and the windows await her arrival.
Nocturne Op. 27 no. 2 is in Db Major, a key that in my head corresponds to the murky blue of the sky. The melody floats along without settling cadence-wise until the last page of the piece. The crabs in this picture scuttled over from Alfred J. Prufrock’s love song, but Nocturne belongs to another poem. We studied Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXVI at school, and I found that its tone, color, and meaning fit the Nocturne precisely. In the sonnet, love is called “the star to every wand’ring bark,” steadily bright even with the passage of time. In Nocturne, the left-hand accompaniment is the deep water, and the right-hand melody is the boat, which stretches toward a star every few measures. The illustration seeks to unite two poems -- one musical, the other literary -- into a constellation. Here’s the full sonnet for your enjoyment:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! It is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Waltz No. 3
My dear friend Vivian Wang premiered Robert Livingston Aldridge’s Three Waltzes just two years ago. That summer, she did all her practicing at my house, and I would bop about upstairs to the infectious rhythms of Waltz No. 3. Aldridge very innovatively employs constant hemiola, but in doing so makes this waltz utterly undanceable, unless you dance like Julianne Wey and me (like two ducks bouncing buoyantly on webbed feet). My image for this piece eventually evolved from two ducks to--very highbrowly--The Little Mermaid. First, Sebastian sets the tone on bongo-like seashells, while other fish swim in frenzied circles. There is a trance-like section in the middle, during which I assume Ariel undergoes her transformation from mermaid to land-dweller. At the recapitulation of the main theme, Ariel takes a few measures to regain her footing, then proceeds to party as she did in the sea.

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