Simplicity

Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.

Frédéric Chopin

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Improvising Like Rachmaninoff

Today I am going to attempt to teach you how to compose or rather, improvise like Rachmaninoff. Here we go!

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I based my little composition off of two Rachmaninoff Pieces, Prelude in G Minor and Prelude in C Sharp Minor. Measures 1 to 4 are based off of Prelude in G Minor and measures 5 and 6 are based off of Prelude in C Sharp Minor. First of all, if you want any thing to sound like Rachmaninoff, you must compose in minor keys only. Get to know all your minor keys backwards and forwards! Next if you want to have that Russian Romantic Sound, dang out the piano with gigantic chords. It was known that Rachmaninoff had the biggest hand span on a piano, and wrote many pieces with these large chords reaching up to 13ths and crazy stuff like that. Another device that he used was the addition of the chromatic scale to the compositions. As shown on beats 2, 3, and 4 on measures 1 through 3, I augmented the chord such that the chord still has the minor 3rd and 5th of the tonic, but the root of the chord goes down chromatically a half step. It is very crucial that you use the minor 3rd and 5th in whatever key you compose or improvise in, you don’t want the piece to sound atonal if you are not incorporating these devices in. To fix this problem, I added a low G octave to reinstate the tonic whilst augmenting the chord chromatically. Lastly to make the music resolve to the tonic at the end, I used a device that Rachmaninoff used in Prelude in C Sharp Minor, the 6th to the 5th, and finally the tonic. Augment the 5th chord by raising the 5th a half step and or adding the major 7th to add some color end with a large chord expressing resolve. Work with different chords and colors but keep these things in mind. They will help you when you want to sound like Rachmaninoff!

Happy Composing!

Smetana – The Moldau

Today, I am going to talk a little bit about a wonderful piece of music that I stumbled upon recently, Bedrich Smetana’s The Moldau from Ma Vlast.

Although an amalgam of various music textures and moods that was sought as a Nationalist Piece to embody the Moldau River that runs through the Czech Republic, I see it more as a piece that adorns the humanistic element of nature. Now when I mean this element of nature, I am talking about the river itself.

The piece starts off in the beginning embodying the trickle of water from which the river starts. The waters gather in a larger quantity to form the Moldau. The beautiful theme that follows unifies the piece under its Romantic Era composition. It then according to program passes a wedding, a hunting party, then suddenly night falls. Smetana uses every bit of musical creativity to symbolize the smooth waters and the glistening moon. Definitely something dreamy. The sun rises and the theme is reinstated in its Romantic glory. The waters pass through an old castle which is reflected by the brass and slowly crecescendos to a huge end with a small trickle only to be bombarded by the final two chords that finishes the piece off.

Of course I didn’t get a nationalist feel while listening, just a naturist type. Sorry people of the Czech Republic.

Rachmaninov’s Piano

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An old and new kind of magic
Is the music of Rachmaninov,
A man of pain and purpose,
Who knew the grief of the heart,
And the power of the will.
I will listen and have my fill
Of chords of blood and sunlight,
Of anathemas in the night
Of the cries no one hears
Of the beauty, crystal cold,
Written in tears.

Here was a man who went to Hell
And was retrieved after three years.
Here was a man who –
Perhaps without a thought for God –
Was gifted by His Creator some of heaven’s
Greatest paeans and the prophets’ greatest laments.
Here was man who wrote from the depths of his soul
With dark, navy lines, profound and intense.

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March 7th 2015 – Daring Concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall: A Review

Credit: Josh Bustos

Probably as you know from my last post, I was very ecstatic about an upcoming concert on March 7th, last Saturday. And as a result, I was definitely impressed in shock and awe to what I witnessed. Fascinated and in awe, those two hours of music were the best two hours of my life. It was that amazing and impactful.

First off, the world premiere of Paul Dooley’s “Mavericks.” I prepared a bit for this piece of music before it made its debut. I read the background of the inspiration and the program from what available to me, and I was thoroughly impressed on what I heard. The piece was very grandiose in sound with rich harmonies and textures that embodies the feel of a theatrical performance, with a hearty contemporary feel that transports me to a place where the Northern Californian waves crash into the rocks. I felt this plurality of orchestration with the sounds of waves that just melt in your ears as you listen to the jazzy-like mood. Albeit, I was very impressed by Dooley, and look forward to listening to this piece again and dwelling into more works by this master. Bravo.

The second piece is my most favorite piece of music alive, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. An amazing feat by the equally amazing soloist, Valentina Lisitsa. I happen to know Valentina and became acquainted with her recently, and what an amazing person, virtuosic pianista, and energetic soul to ever witness live in concert. It was a first for me. Her generosity and loving heart provided me and my mother with two complementary tickets, smack dab right in front of the orchestra. That also added to the memorability of the event. The day before she was to fly in LA to go and rehearse with the AYS, but due to the crazy weather situation in the East Coast, her flight was postponed to the earliest time where she had to drive eight hours from one part of the country to the other just to catch the morning flight to LA, the day of the concert. Having not rehearsed with the youthful and energetic AYS, she creamed Rach 2, with the utmost perfection, plus with an encore of La Campanella. If you are reading this Val, you’re an amazing person and I am forever in your debt…

Shostakovich’s 6th symphony was too amazing. Most Russian composers at the time had two decisions. One, to stay in the country and deal with the Soviet Union and the downplay of Classical Music in Russia or two, to leave their home land and go some place else. Under a regime, everything is controlled, from what you watch, what you read, even what you hear musically or non musically. For an example in today’s standards, Rachmaninoff’s music is considered Russian Nationalist music that beautifies the Russian Soul with its minor tones and folk textures. When Rachmaninoff left Russia to the west, much of his music was banned from The Soviet Union when Stalin came into power. After the fall of the regime, his music bolstered to its familiarity as it ever so attained. Most musicians saw the downplay to Soviet Realism as a threat to the creative process, but Shostakovich had no problem. He did go through many different changes throughout his life, and a lot of music also downplayed to the regime. The first movement had many instances of various melancholies, but the second and third movements were energetic and happy at the end. You can certainly tell in the music that there is a slight distress, but everything is trying to become normal in terms of Stalin’s demands. The caged bird does sing, doesn’t it?

I also got to meet Valentina Lisitsa after, snap a few photos, and get an autograph. By the end of the day, I was happy as I could ever be. I am looking forward to more amazing events.

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Liszt

If it isn’t Rachmaninoff, then it is Liszt, or Chopin, or Shostakovich, or Rubenstein. Mostly after Rachmaninoff is surely Liszt. I felt most recently that I was listening and playing too much Rachmaninoff, I felt that I was blinding myself musically (if that is such a thing) somewhat but nevertheless. It’s something that I am quite guilty of.

There hasn’t been a piece of music in a while that has effected me in such a way that Liszt has. We all know that Liszt was one of the most virtuosic pianists of his day, and is regarded as an innovator of music. Because of him, pianos are now at the side when being showcased in a concert and how as he puts it himself, the prolific role of the conductor:

The principal task of a conductor is not to put himself in evidence but to disappear behind his functions as much as possible. We are pilots, not servants.

Liszt once regarded the many famous conductors of the day as conducting like a windmill: droning and of servitude to the orchestra. Liszt innovated the role of conductor, showing that conducting is not a role of being a show off towards the audience of a meaningless pont but rather as a the captain, in charge of directing the music towards its objective of being resolute.

Liszt embodied the feel of many composers of the Classical Era, but put his little twist of Romanticism using many folk elements and many elements from poetry plus his virtuosic pianism to create sounds of magic that have tested time and time again. It was in his style that greatly influenced the music of other Romantic Greats like Debussy, and Romantic Overdoer Wagner, haha. Ah Wagner, the only person crazy enough to overdo the Romantic Period by having a Harp Batallion and a String Batallion fight musically to the death. I’m going to shut up for now. In the meantime, Listen to some Liszt, played by Lisitsa!

 

Daring

This coming Saturday March 7, 2015 will be a special event for the classical music community in Los Angeles. It will be the world premiere of Paul Dooley’s “Mavericks”, a piece of music that tells the story of the waves of Half Boon Bay of Northern California, Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto performed by the amazing and talented Pianist, Valetnina Lisitsa, and Dmitry Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony.

I haven’t heard the works of Dooley, but I could imagine that the premire will recieve good reception on his part. The real reason why I will be attending is because of Rachmaninoff and Valentina Lisitsa. First of all, Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto is in my opinion the greatest piece of music ever heard by mere mortals. To keep myself from repeating myself all the time about it, let’s see what Jed Gaylin, the music director of Hopkins Symphony Orchestra has to say about Rach 2:

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 may be the most popular piano concerto ever written, but its opening tells a troubled tale. Dark chords mist over a repeating pedal tone, tolling like a death knell, growing in murkiness, increasing with ever more forceful attacks and volume, finally breaking free into tempestuous arpeggiated undulations as the orchestra plays its troubled, melancholic theme above. That famous opening appears to tell the terrible tale of Rachmaninoff’s own emergence from an alcoholic depression and writer’s block at the beginning of his brilliant career.

When he was just 19, the gifted Rachmaninoff wrote the piece that would launch his international fame, his Prelude in C# Minor. He had barely started his conservatory studies with the famous Tchaikovsky in Moscow. Beloved by audiences, that Prelude would become something of a bane to Rachmaninoff’s career, dogging his every steps as a concert pianist—the public would never let him finish a recital or concert without an encore of that famous Prelude. Rachmaninoff eventually came to refer to this piece as an almost dreaded “It.”

Soon after composing this Prelude, when all the world was adoring this young composer and awaiting more masterpieces from his emerging genius, Rachmaninoff unveiled his Symphony No. 1 in 1897. It was a terrible disaster. The audience hated it. Rachmaninoff remembered this as the most horrific hour of his life as he hid in a stairwell, hands clamped over his ears. Although today, his First Symphony is considered a great work, in 1897 it felt to Rachmaninoff as if all of his great hopes had been dashed.

His world came crashing down around him, as he was consumed by depression, excessive drinking, followed by almost three years of unremedied writer’s block. True, Rachmaninoff would be subject to melancholia and depression all his life, but this was the worst bout of them all. His family intervened and convinced the young artist to see an acquaintance who specialized in this type of perplexing problem – Dr. Nikolai Dahl of Paris – an internist who had found success in treating alcoholism with hypnosis. Beginning in January of 1900, Rachmaninoff and Dr. Dahl embarked on their journey back to sanity and creativity, by talking music, amending sleep patterns and eating habits, and repeating the hypnotic uplifting mantra: “You will begin your concerto . . . it will be excellent.”

By April the young composer was filling up with musical ideas far surpassing what was needed for a concerto, and a new dawn was breaking in his soul. By late 1900, what grew out of Dahl’s cure were the second and third movements of Rachmaninoff’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 2, and by the spring of 1901 Rachmaninoff had written the extraordinary first movement with its historical pathos, completing the work. Beyond grateful, Rachmaninoff dedicated the piece to Dr. Dahl.

The Second Piano Concerto is yet another work by Rachmaninoff that seems to defy criticism, and so it has been ever since its premiere – so perfectly balanced is its form and pace, so exquisite its themes, so dark and restless and yet so filled with invention and hope. After that bell-tolling introduction by the piano in the first movement, and its subsequent melancholic theme, Rachmaninoff then introduces a new theme, this one the obverse of the first, piqued in utter sensuousness. The first movement ends with a certain violent overbite, however, which makes the second movement all the more enchanting.

The second movement Adagio is strikingly simple and breathtaking. The flute sings a plaintive, rustic melody over bare bones piano arpeggios, creating a mood of far away dreams, of love remembered – which leaves us wandering in a lost reverie as the third movement sneaks in quietly, cleverly.

Within a few bars, Rachmaninoff has launched the last movement into a spirited scherzo march-like movement, full of pianistic and orchestral bravura and splashy effects. The Concerto comes to a perfect close –resolute, assured and brimming with good cheer, which is a wonderfully long way from the tolling torment with which the piece began.

He couldn’t of said it any better.