Listening Log 2021-2022

October 2021

Night on Bald Mountain

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was a composer from Russia. His mother was a fine pianist and was his first music teacher. He studied some of Franz Liszt’s pieces. He served in Russia’s military for awhile but still continued to make music.

Mr. Mussorgsky wrote many different types of music including songs, a famous opera called “Boris Godunov,” and a piano piece called “Pictures at an Exhibition” which was later orchestrated by his former roommate and friend Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. This piece, “Night on Bald Mountain” is a symphonic poem. This type of composition is meant to paint a musical picture in your mind. The conductor Claudio Abbado conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) in this recording.

September 2021

Liebestraum

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was a Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher. His first music lessons came from his father. Young Liszt heard violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini performing at a charity event in Paris for cholera victims. He was so inspired that he started practicing diligently to master the piano as Paganini had mastered the violin.

Liszt started composing music at age seven. He composed a lot of piano music including the Consolations, Hungarian Rhapsodies, Etudes de’execution transcendante, and Sonetti de Petrarca. He wrote some art songs (for singers), music for the church and symphonic tone poems. Liszt invented ‘tone poems’ which had a looser, freer musical form than traditional sonata form.

Much of the pianistic traditions we practice today come from Franz Liszt. He made piano recitals popular (and that’s an understatement). He started positioning the grand piano so that the lid opens towards the audience, giving them better sound quality as well as a side view to see a pianist’s technical skill. You could say that Liszt was just as popular as the Beatles in America. Fans would mob him when he appeared in public. You could think of him as a piano rock star who instead of playing crazy guitar solos jammed on the piano! He was a very generous man, giving much of the money he earned to charity.

In 1859 his son, Daniel died. A few years later his daughter, Blandine passed away. This was a very sad time for Franz Liszt. He decided to become a monk but still continued to make music.

The pianist performing this recording of “Liebestraum” is the great Artur Rubinstein. The title is German and means ‘love dream’.