Sunday, May 10, 2015

may 3 / shannia and gloria / piano duets

So happy to have undertaken this crazy little project with Shannia Fu, my old-new friend (click each title to listen to our performance, if you'd like). Steven Osborne's thoughts on collaborating with Paul Lewis on the Schubert piano duets and general four-handedism can be found both here and right here:

"Then there is the problem of timing. Piano notes have a very percussive start, which means that it is exceptionally hard for two players to make chords sound together - any discrepancy of more than one or two hundredths of a second is audible. This can be a serious headache for music which needs rhythmic flexibility." 

Thank you, Shannia, for teaching me teamwork.

Debussy, Petite Suite
Debussy had just emerged from studenthood when he composed the Petite Suite for four hands. Still settling into into a sound of his own, the composer pays homage to fellow Frenchmen with each movement. The first, “En Bateau,” cascades along a very Debussian whole-tone scale, but the protracted melody suggests intervention via imagination by Gabriel Fauré. The second movement, “Cortège,” carries on with a comicality characteristic of Bizet. Both movements are musical translations of poems of the same name by Paul Verlaine, Debussy’s favorite poet.

The final stanza of “En Bateau” reads:
Cependant la lune se lève / Meanwhile the moon sheds its glow
Et l'esquif en sa course brève / On the skiff’s brief course below,
File gaîment sur l'eau qui rêve. / Gaily riding the dream-like flow.

From textual and musical input, let the mind draw what pictures it will.

inhabiting a "Watteau-and-Fragonard landscape"
The cheerful “Cortège” involves a fine lady, her attendant, and an ape. As they promenade through Paris, the attendant and ape alternately sneak peeks up their lady’s skirt, resulting in an irresistible “skippiness” of melody. Pouches of conversation, evidenced in bass-treble echoes, punctuate the procession.

“Menuet” (Gloria’s favorite) and “Ballet” (Shannia’s jam) bear no connection to Verlaine’s poetry. “Menuet” is marked by moments of pleasant accessibility: certain harmonies follow the standard four-chord recipe for catchiness. Listen for the ceremonial drumming of gnomes. The “Ballet” is as insistent as it is idiosyncratic, with a pointy theme that slips seamlessly into a waltz (one once meant for humans, but overtaken by elephants). 

Shannia and I, being non-French, had in mind various scenarios involving sharks “in boat” and tinkling Christmas bells. We hope that the mingling of intended and intuited images inspires a few original impressions of your own.

Rachmaninov, 6 Pieces
Rachmaninov enables us to reminisce about our Russian piano teachers: Rosina Tenenbaum and Olya Katsman, mother and daughter, who lived on opposite sides of the same magnolia-lined road.

In his reminiscences, Rachmaninov wrote: 'All my life I have taken pleasure in the differing moods and music of gladly chiming and mournfully tolling bells. This love for bells is inherent in every Russian. One of my fondest childhood recollections is associated with the four notes of the great bells in the St. Sophia Cathedral of Novgorod, which I often heard when my grandmother took me to town on church festival days.'

Indeed, the “Barcarolle” and “Romance” ring with bellish resonance; the primo embellishes the secondo’s song. Both long in that rounded Rachmaninov way for resolution, climbing toward naught but a vesper resignation. The “Scherzo” and “Waltz” are kin in time signature and temper. “Scherzo” skids up and down the keyboard, and in an out of tonalities; musical motives similar to those in the film Anastasia add special color to the “Waltz.” Neither movement is truly sane.

Schubert, 2 Marches caractéristiques, D.968b
Schubert was 5’1” and therefore shorter than both of us. It is fitting that such a compact little man should compose such a compact little piece. When played in succession, the two marches are hard to distinguish -- the second, however, is far more adventurous in tonality, often “correcting” itself from B back to C. A lot of piano-banging is to ensue... Perhaps the sentiment behind these two “characteristic” marches is similar to that of “Bang Bang,” by Arianna Grande et al. Enjoy!

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