Listening Log 2020-2021

May 2021

Imperial March from Star Wars

John Williams (1932-present) is one of the most financially successful American composers. He was born in Flushing, Queens, New York. His father was a percussionist in an orchestra. As a young child John Williams studied the piano and eventually learned to play the trumpet, trombone and clarinet. Later his family moved to Los Angeles. As an adolescent he started composing pieces and orchestrating them (arranging them so an orchestra can play them). He served in the United States Air Force and started arranging band music and conducting during his time there. In 1974 he started a partnership with famous American film director, Steven Spielberg, composing the music for his first film, Sugarland. He would go on to compose many more scores for Spielberg’s films. In 1980 John Williams became the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. In 2009 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts in recognition of his musical compositions. You might recognize some of his music. He composed music for the first three Star Wars movies (IV, V, VI), Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Jaws, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and the 2002 Olympic Games.

In this video you will see John Williams conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, playing his own composition “Imperial March” from Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back. The form of this piece is A, B, modulation (changing to a different scale), A, coda (a special ending).

April 2021

Tchaikovsky – Old French Song

As we prepare for our upcoming performance workshop we are taking some time to focus on our observational skills. Please watch Justin’s recital video several times and write feedback on your form. Write specific, helpful comments for each category.

March 2021

Slavonic Dance Op. 72, No. 2 in E Minor

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was a Czech composer. At the time his country was called Bohemia and was part of the Austrian Empire. In modern times it is called the Czech Republic. He spent three years (1892-1895) in the United States. He was the director of the National Conservatory in New York. Antonín felt homesick and his secretary suggested that he visit a community of Czech immigrants in Spillville, Iowa. He took a three month vacation and enjoyed living among people from Bohemia for a while. The Dubuque Symphony even played his newly penned “New World Symphony” in a local high school gymnasium! The title “From the New World” refers to the United States, where the symphony was composed.

This original piano duet was inspired by Brahm’s Hungarian Dances. This piece is a “dumka” (pronounced ‘oohm-kah’). Dumkas are a type of traditional Slavic folksong that alternates between happy and sad sounding music. Dvořák’s compositions, Opus 72 and 46, were popular and helped increase demand for his music. This helped him financially. Due to its popularity this piano duet was later orchestrated and performed by an orchestra! Orchestration means adapting a piece of music so it can be played by an orchestra, choosing specific instruments for the different parts of the composition.

I hope you enjoy this emotional performance by pianists, Ellyses Kuan and Jonathan Roberts.

February 2021

Straight, No Chaser

Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) was a jazz pianist who had his own unique sound. He was one of the first musicians to experiment with bebop style and modern jazz techniques like dissonant (harsh, jarring) sounds, fast improv and unusual repetitions. Some of his most famous pieces are “Round Midnight” “Blue Monk” and “Straight, No Chaser.” He spent most of his life in New York City.

At the time it was very typical for jazz musicians to play in a band but Thelonious preferred to play in a jazz quartet. A quartet is four musicians making music together. For Monk’s quartet that often looked like a pianist, a bassist, a saxophonist and a drummer. He played with other jazz legends like Charlie Parker (saxophone), John Coltrane (saxophone), Miles Davis (trumpet) and Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet). In this recording we hear him play with saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Nate Hygelund, and drummer Paris Wright.

At first his music really wasn’t popular but by 1962 people started to recognize and appreciate his compositions and recordings. He landed a major contract with  Columbia Records. Today he is considered to be a musical genius. Not only was he a great musician but he also was a devoted father. He took good care of his children and changed many diapers.

January 2021

Sonata No. 20 in G Major, Op. 49 No. 2, 1st and 2nd Movements

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.

December 2020

Angels We Have Heard on High

“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.

November 2020

Deck the Halls

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.

October 2020

Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565

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.

September 2020

Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major – Mvt. 3

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!