Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827, Germany) is well known for his epic symphonies, concertos, string quartets and piano music. His sonatas are especially well-loved. You might have already learned that a “sonatina” is a composition with several separate pieces. The first one is usually exciting and fast and the second is more relaxed and lyrical. The finale (the last piece) typically is upbeat. Sometimes there are four pieces in a sonatina. Audiences don’t clap until all the individual pieces have been played. All of this information is true of “sonatas.” “Sonatina” means little sonata.
Beethoven had many music teachers. His father gave him his first lessons and then he took lessons with a man called Gottlob Neefe. Later he studied composition briefly with Mozart in Vienna but had to stop because his mother died. He was needed at home to help take care of his siblings. Later on he studied with Joseph Haydn and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger.
The pianist performing Sonata No. 20 is Daniel Barenboim. He really makes the music come to life. He’s listening carefully and shaping the melodies while making the extra notes softer. The contrasts in dynamics (forte piano sounds) makes the composition exciting. Notice the “whisper thumb” technique he uses for LH thumb at 0:47-0:55. Good technique helps you play with great artistry.
“Angels We Have Heard on High” is a very old French Christmas carol. The composer and lyricist are unknown. The Piano Guys arranged this melody for voices, prepared piano and snare drum paper. The main melody is “Angels We Have Heard on High” but actually this piece is a medley. A medley is a piece of music that combines several different melodies.
The Piano Guys: Jon Schmidt, Al van der Beek, Steven Sharp Nelson & Paul Anderson find many creative ways to make music! I hope you enjoy their playful arrangement.
This month we are sharpening our observation skills. Please watch Lysie’s Christmas Recital video several times and give her feedback on your form. Write specific, helpful comments for each category.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is one of the most important composers of the Baroque Period (1600-1750). In his day he was best known for his impressive organ playing. Bach built some organs. He worked as a court musician and for various churches as a musician, composer and director. He also was a private music teacher. In the 1800s musicians started to dig in to his compositions and they were recognized as masterpieces. Some of his most beloved works include: “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” “Brandenburg Concertos,” “Toccata & Fugue in Dm,” “Air on the G String” and “St. Matthew’s Passion”.
Last year we learned a fugue is a piece of music that has several melodies (or voices). It comes from the Italian word “fuga” which means flight. Toccata comes from the Italian word “toccare,” which means “to touch.” A toccata is usually a flashy piece that shows off a musician’s skill and quick fingers. Xaver Varnus plays “Toccata & Fugue in Dm” from memory with great dexterity and artistry. The rich sound of the organ just washes over you. He does not rush those powerful chords.
You’ll notice that the organ in the video is very different from a piano. It has many keyboards, has lighter key action and has many different buttons on the left and right panels. These buttons are called “stops” and they let the performer choose different sound effects. You can set different “manuals” or keyboards with different sound effects. Another very big difference is that while a piano is a percussion instrument (strings are struck by hammers) the organ is a wind instrument. When you press a key, air is sent through a metal pipe that vibrates at the right pitch. That is why the sound doesn’t fade away like a piano, but rather sustains as if you were singing a note.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was born in Hamburg, Germany and lived during the Romantic period. His family was poor but as a teenager he played the piano at local inns to help earn extra money. He studied the music of J. S. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and played music with his friend Eduard Reményi, a violinist from Hungary. Eduard exposed him to folk music from his country which inspired many of Brahms’ later compositions. He became friends with important musicians and composers Robert and Clara Schumann and lived with them for awhile. Robert Schumann wrote an article praising Brahms’ compositions and he became well known. There were two groups at that time, those that wanted the rich and robust traditions of the Classical period to continue and those that wanted to experiment more. Brahms loved the music of the masters he had studied so he was in the Classical Period group. Others like Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner were in the experimentation group. Brahms composed music in nearly every genre: choral music and songs, chamber music, symphonies, piano duets, piano solos, piano trios, a requiem, concerti and more.
This piece, Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, 3 – Mvt 3, composed by Johannes Brahms is considered chamber music. It’s not meant for a big performance hall like GBPAC. Notice how skillfully and softly the musicians play at times. It would be difficult to appreciate these subtleties from a 100 yards away. Chamber music is meant to be played in a smaller room for a smaller audience, perhaps in someone’s home. A piano trio is a piece for three instruments, at least one of them being a piano.
The musicians in this video are considered super-stars. People pay lots of money for tickets to their concerts. Emanuel Ax plays brilliantly. His passages almost sparkle. Yo-Yo Ma is the most famous cellist alive and Leonidas Kavakos is also very popular. I love to watch them playing together. You can see them communicating and looking up at each other, smiling and feeling the emotions in their music. They have excellent ensemble skills. I hope you enjoy their performance!