St Andrew's Episcopal was the site of the Goldberg Variations. Sadly the Yamaha is trapped in the transept, but the acoustics of this church are superb for piano, unlike many other big liturgical churches, and who knows, maybe it sounded better from there projected from the lower ceiling. Bach would have been able to tell us. according to his son CPE, Bach was an expert on church acoustics, and as organ consultant could tell a church where best to install this or that set of pipes. The Nekrolog, or obituary, is still one of my favorite music-historic reads, for the insight into the real character of Bach. very little exists in his own words..
Foxdale Village in State College was the scene of the next performance of Cosmopolitan Pianist. This ballroom has a glorious Steinway D with terrific action. It's the ability to play as soft as possible while hearing every note that does it for me with the D.
the program covers for this Poets of the Piano tour are a high resolution photograph of a calligraphy piece by Cheryl Jacobsen in Iowa City. the paper is hand-made at the university of iowa center for the book. she also created a 'Gospel of Jesus' for the Jesus Seminar, written on vellum ;and is currently preparing a one-of -a-kind Beowulf with both anglo-saxon and english on historically appropriate goatskin.
this piece i used for the cover, is calligraphy with acryllic and gold leaf highlights.
This is a live, not note perfect performance of Louis-Moreau Gottschalk's ballade, La Savane.
Gottschalk was a unique figure in Classical music history, because he was an America, born in New Orleans, who conquered the capitals of Europe with his virtuoso pianism. Chopin apparently told him he would be the 'king of pianists.' Sadly he died young, just a little older than Chopin, at the age of 40 from a quinine overdose, trying to treat the yellow fever. Quinine should always be enjoyed responsibly.
Not only was he exotic in that he was American, but his Creole heritage added another level of flavor. He inflected his music with Creole and Puerto Rican sources, and was surely the only person in Classical music doing that in the mid-19th century.
While his music has all the hallmarks of the Romanticism and cinematic piano writing of the time, he was never able to develop his art to the degree of Chopin or Liszt, and for me, some of his music that must have been charming at the time now sounds pretty dated.
This piece, La Savane, is subtitled Creole Ballade, and is apparently based on a Creole song, "Pov'piti Lolotte." It's really a set of variations on that tune. Most people hear 'Skip to my lou' but the minor key gives it the haunting atmosphere. The ballade itself is a story of runaway slaves, trying to escape through the swamp; they die and are transformed into menacing oak trees. Hence the ghostly quality of the variations.
I programmed this piece for 'The Cosmopolitan Pianist' specifically for concerts in Louisiana, but it was just too popular, and so am still playing it on the road. It's a bit of a novelty item; there's very few recordings, and of well-known pianists I've only heard Eugene List and Lambert Orkis play it.
terre haute is a town a little over an hour from indianapolis and was the site for the next Cosmopolitan Pianist. the recital hall is gorgeous if a little zealously air-conditioned and the steinway D is superb with new hammers and dampers.
after the concert i met Bill Hughes, who was on piano faculty there for 40 years. he told me that in 1968 he was drafted for vietnam, and his temporary, two-year replacement was Anthony Smetona, my formative teacher in my cleveland years. they never met in person. it was Anthony's name in my bio, that brought him to the concert.
i didn't realize till later, that my idolized view of Anthony was not shared by the wider musical community in cleveland, and the realization of how wide that gulf was still haunts me today. every appearance of his name is like a mirror i can't help peer into - but dimly. still dimly.
i had planned to scrap the Gottschalk 'La Savane' after baton rouge but it proved too popular, and played it again.
today was the recital at LSU, featuring music of three students, pictured, and composer and longtime professor Maestro Dinos Constantinides. after intermission was the goldberg variations..
i was thrilled to find Dinos' variations on a greek theme, a solo piano piece, written in a totally pianistic, creative, and colorful way. this concert was at his invitation, and with pleasure i learned the music of his advanced students, which i hope to post but do not yet have the recording.
LSU is a beautiful campus, spanish - inspired architecture, and very homey. i went one day to the music library for some light reading on pavanes and galliards, and the music librarian came to my desk to tell me i had a phone call. ok then. i was raised to be silent in libraries but i guess this is the south. you answer the phone when they call. it was the music school and it was my rehearsal time.
the goldbergs are a piece that bring an eccentric and committed audience out of the woodwork, and sort of go with everything and nothing. i hope the composers were inspired by the depths bach traveled, for such a huge range of variety.
the cosmopolitan pianist is a program featuring music of national identity: adopted nationalities (godowsky's star-spangled banner), appropriated ones (bach italian concerto and liszt spanish rhapsody) and what i call 'psalm 137' pieces: composers in exile writing in their native language (chopin mazurkas, dinos constantinides greek variations, even gottschalk creole ballade).
baton rouge itself is an american city with a european and caribbean heritage. if anything i get that caribbean heritage is more prominent, but there's a conversation between the two. my program was about that general idea, of all the ways one culture can be expressed through another. the central european way of composing, especially for the piano, and the theory involved, was the meeting point for music sourced from very foreign places. chopin didn't just write mazurkas in a strict style, he adapted them to his internationalism and to some degree his audience.
that exotic flavor must have sold in paris in the 1800's because gottschalk brought his mildly creole - puerto rican musical memories there, and was a smash hit. his music hasn't aged as well as liszt and chopin, but you can still feel the drama.
as an encore i played the 'turkish' rondo of mozart, and the crowd went wild.
here's the live performance of chopin's mazurkas op24:
'Poets of the Piano' is a concert series, or brand, or concept, that has been my focus for the past five years. It started in Pittsburgh, when I needed a memorable title for a class I was teaching at the Osher Institute connected to Carnegie-Mellon University.
This class was a lecture-recital, featuring a very wide range of piano music knit together into four one-hour programs. Because the repertoire was so diverse, I thought I needed some umbrella ideas to tie everything together and make a bigger statement, something inspiring and informative.
'Poets of the Piano' comes from the liberation of poetic forms from any specific words, and the re-creation of story-telling drama in piano music. I'm struck by the historical footnote of Chopin's Ballades, which originally were published as 'Balladen ohne Worte,' or ballades - without words. People needed to be told, I guess, that they didn't get to sing along.
Beyond that, lots of literature crept into piano music from the 19th century on, and that's a rich topic for exploration, because it represents an intersection of culture, and often a translation of effect, from text to music. I think it's possible to get a deeper understanding and love of music, by getting a feeling for these things.
So 'Poets' was born, and under the general series of 'Poets,' I created lots of themes - The Cosmopolitan Pianist, showcasing music of international ambition; 'Songs of Night, Love, and Morning,' with serenades, aubades, Liebesträume, whatever; 'Phantasmagoria,' music of imaginary creatures or atmosphere, with some satanic pieces; 'A Night at the Theater,' all transcriptions from the stage, from Classical times till today. That sort of thing. They are just ways to experience music written across continents and centuries and styles, as kin.
So now, in the Fall of 2018, 'Poets' goes on tour, to 25 American cities, from September to December. There are four programs: 'The Cosmopolitan Pianist,' 'A Night at the Theater,' 'Phantasmagoria,' (starts on October 31) and 'Acts of Faith.'
In addition to those, whenever I have the chance, I'll play Bach's Goldberg Variations, a cult classic that always brings a devoted audience out of the woodwork. You might think it's a lot of work, and you're right, but I do the work so you don't have to. You can see the events in the tabs above, and see what you missed under 'Archive.'
Follow here for a travelog of the tour, I hope to post pictures, sound clips, and a general diary. If I'm in your city please don't hesitate to contact me through the website and say hello.
In Toni Morrison's first novel, she rhapsodizes on Cholly's unfortunate life, writing that only a musician can tap into the primal feelings he suffered, that words alone weren't up to the task. But her novel captures something that music cannot, that is the depth of time.
Thr Bluest Eye is written in waves of biography, the outcome already known from the beginning, but each character getting a carefully remembered history and clear line of development independent of the linear action. We go back in time to read about Cholly and Polly and Geraldine and Soaphead and others; their back stories interrupt the flow but give the context of the present time. even though the narrative is broken up like this, it's all woven in, and the characters in our eyes gain depths of experience and time.
i can't think of any opera where the linear narrative isn't the main driving force. Even in reflective arias that don't push forward the action, we never see characters back in time, only as they are presently and how they develop. Opera moves from present point to present point. Is it able to have a structure like this book?
in any case I see a lot of parallels to Faulkner here: writing about the poorest people with the richest prose, for one. The scene of Pecola going to the market combined with the scene of her going to Soaphead's brings to mind Dewey Dell in As I Lay Dying and her silence at the pharmacy, and her feelings of ostracization there. The mad dialogue at the end brings to mind Vardaman and his naive, run-on thoughts. The rape, incest, subjugation and poverty are all familiar to readers of Faulkner.
If you can read Korean, my concert of Quentin's music at Carnegie Mellon University has an online review for your pleasure. Enjoy.
some of you have been inquiring about the Arsenal Duo recording from Stambaugh Auditorium in March. we were scheduled to make a studio recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, as well as Virgil Fox's arrangement of Bach's Come, Sweet Death in May but due to scheduling conflicts that has been rescheduled. Those two pieces will be recorded in late September at Stambaugh and hopefully available for release a couple of months after that.
When I was a young piano student I had a very inspiring teacher, who was always pushing me to the edge and beyond of my limits. A small suggestion from him would lead me into a frenzy of concentration. Once he suggested I learn Schumann's Carnaval, and I memorized the entire piece in two days, practicing after school until dinner.
I absorbed a lot, and memorized fast, but even for me that was a feat, though I was so enthused with the music that I didn't question or examine it until much later. Every movement in Carnaval has a title, some from the Commedia dell'arte, some from his private imagination, some people from his real life, or some dance or scenario. They all lend themselves to visualization, and as separate characters or moods, they are easy to distinguish. It was this visualization that allowed me to absorb the music so fast, and even now when I play it, I can see the characters in the Lodge, the house where I learned it.
Unbeknownst to me I was using the memory palace technique, sometimes called method of loci. It came up only a year or two ago on the Diane Rehm show, and I knew it right away! It involves spatial memory and weird imagery. Take any object, or in the case of music a starting point and a finishing point, attach to it some image that is conspicuous, and put it in a room, or in a tree, or coming out of a sewer grate, or floating in a cloud. There on that object is attached to your memory in a certain way, and to recall it, you only need to picture part or all of your scene - the location, or the strange image.
Schumann did the work for you in Carnaval, if you have enough imagination to tack onto his titles. But the spatial memory is also crucial; there are endless places to use as your memory palace.
anyways recently I read the miraculous novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the story of Henry VIII told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, his most powerful servant. Her interests lie in how Cromwell obtains and uses his power, and a skill that sets him apart from his other competitors at court is... The memory palace!
Mantel conjectures that that as a guerrilla soldier in Italy he learned the technique, which came down from Simonedes in Greece and Cicero in Rome, and therefore had a command of faces, facts, figures, land entitlements, conversations, intrigues, whatever, that he could recall for his own purpose at any time. It's worth quoting a passage:
later, when Cromwell is discussing a duke with someone, the issue of their land entitlements comes up; a "spider scurries from under the chair and supplies him with a fact." And there he has the exact entitlements, and when they were given.
definitely the memory palace is a function of his character, and a source of his power, in the book. I think it also contributes to the particular fast pace of the story, and it's situation in time. This book comes to life through its use of the present tense, but also the passage of time: events are always attached to Saints days, or liturgical seasons, and occasionally to fixed dates. cromwell's memory gives the current time texture, and in effect ties everything together, since we see it all from his point of view. It's as powerful a literary device as a practical one.