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Location: Tucson, with all the smiling ladies...

PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2007 5:47 am    Post subject: Leo and Nick's Classical Primer If a post contains some illegal issues you may abuse on it - just click Abuse and fill the form Reply with quote

Welcome to Leo and Nick’s Classical Primer...

I hope our posts will be informative and helpful in deciding and considering recorded performances in the realm of this great music...there is a lot to consider, and the whole idea may be overwhelming to some, but once you hear one work you are already prepared to face another and another composer. In this primer, Nick and I will keep our choices to a few works for each composer.

My grandfather taught me how to play violin...he got me started on fiddle tunes (including Turkey In The Straw and Grandma’s Red Stocking) and a lot of hymns. I even played some hymns with him in church a few times. In high school I played in the 2nd violin section in our school orchestra. I remember playing in a Mozart piece and feeling a spark of some kind, but it wasn’t until I saw Milo Forman’s Amadeus, when I was 16 years old, that I started to get obsessed with Mozart's music, which my grandfather called “longhair music” as he would laugh at my obsession...he liked his Beethoven though. My obsession was probably somewhat unhealthy, because all I did was check out Mozart records from the library and listen to this stuff for hours at a time. It wasn't long before I was checking out Beethoven, Tschaikovsy and finally Ives among others.

I remember one day in orchestra class, when Mrs. Workman had us try to play Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.4, with Charles Li, our “star” violinist, as the soloist. I had never heard the work before, but upon hearing the orchestra sight read it and hearing Charles attack the solo part, the energy in the room intensified...wow...each bar of this music took you to a new level of imagination, more unexpected at each turn. Mozart even wrote something interesting for the 2nd violin section to saw at while the 1st violins carried the main themes...like a conversation we were all communicating with each other...whatever was happening in the room, this was the real thing, but the orchestra couldn’t sustain the action and the piece fell apart, but a conversion was happening inside me.

I studied music theory during my first round of college, but I wasn't too focused at age 22 and I didn’t get good grades. I am not an expert on this subject by any means, nor have I studied every single great composer down to the last drop. I am not entirely objective and I tend to stay with my favorites, yet I love what I know and hopefully can lead one to a great recording of a favorite composer’s work.

I want to thank Nick for joining me here and I can’t wait to read what he will have to suggest on Mozart, Papa Haydn, and more...

Stay tuned...

Last edited by Leo on Fri Aug 03, 2007 7:31 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2007 5:54 am    Post subject: If a post contains some illegal issues you may abuse on it - just click Abuse and fill the form Reply with quote

The Question of “Realization and Interpretation”

Before going into this primer, I’d like to consider a point or two regarding the concept of “interpretation”. Recently, on the Mahler Board the question of interpretation came up. Barry Guerrero started the discussion by writing this:

I believe that the entire concept of interpretation is somewhat misunderstood, and badly abused by many folks. People speak of interpretations as though they were magic keys that unlock the classics for us. I think that just the opposite is true. Works that are "classics" remain classics, and endure a wide range of interpretations. But what is an interpretation? The concept of interpretation applies much more broadly to earlier composers. Why? Because they had put far less information into their scores as to how their works should be performed, and at what speeds, etc. As we move closer to our times, scores become much more specific on these issues. Mahler is a great example of this. If you've ever noticed, while Mahler performances encompass a very wide range of tempi - from very fast to very slow - the phrasing is nearly identical on most of them. That's because Mahler went as far as building the phrasing that he wanted, into the way he notated his rhythms. In that sense, his scores are almost "interpretation proof". Ironically, the one place that Mahler was rather open ended about things, was in regards to absolute tempo - what metronome marking - and in terms of tempo relationships: tempo modifications from one section to the next. But beyond that, Mahler scores are extremely specific about instrumentation, balances, dynamics, phrasing, etc.

Why am I mentioning all this? Because I believe that with Mahler - and many of the other "moderns" - you have to begin with "realizations" first. By that, I mean that performances and recordings need to observe all of the specifications that Mahler puts into his scores, before moving on to the more vague and subjective world of "interpretation". In other words, there has to be a sort of minimum standard before what somebody is conducting (or performing, from the other side of the podium) becomes real Mahler. After everything - or most everything - that the composer wrote gets "realized", it's only then that the "interpretation" can begin. In other words, a certain amount of interpretation IS inevitable, but only after you've observed what it is that the composer actually composed. When a conductor has gone against any of these specifications in the score, he/she had better be prepared to present something that enhances the work, and doesn't end up subtracting from it in the long run. In most cases of blantantly going against what the composer wrote, the composer was usual right in the first place. The recent James De Priest Mahler 5 is a perfect example of this.

(Here is what I wrote in response):

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter..." John Keats

Barry, I like your description of "realization first, interpretation second".
Mahler, himself being an imaginative personality with lots of ideas, probably knew how easy it was to succumb to subjectivity during the preparation of a performance, and during the actual performance itself. It appears to me, based on his detailed markings on all his scores, that the musical narrative was quite important. He obsessively detailed how the music must get from A to Z.

Perhaps another way of understanding "realization first, interpretation second" can come by considering a quote from the British novelist E.M. Forster in his describing the difference between "story" and "plot".

Basically, he writes that the story is a "narrative of events...plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality." Forster provides two examples of this:

Story: "The King died, and then the Queen died."

Plot: "The King died, and then the queen died of grief."

So Barry, when I read your concept of "realization first, interpretation second" I think of Forster's comparison. In a sense, I interpret your phrase thus:



In my view, a great interpretation has this 'causality' underneath the realization of a musical score, or story. It adds a plot, or 'cause' that lends meaning to the bare basics of the story.

The interpretation, plot or 'causality' of a musical composition is not always obvious and can be hidden. An interpretation stimulates "hidden melodies" atop the "heard melodies" of a realization (hence my use of Keats's quote above). The plot can consist of any cause; joy, grief, sadness, exaltation.

Of course, the realization can serve to keep the interpretation in check, like a story can do for a plot. For example, Mahler's 8th is written to be a celebratory work and not tragic. Therefore, Barry, I believe you are correct in finding the realization essential in every way.

In choosing performances of Mahler, I tend to really get into the more "plot" driven performances that threaten to overwhelm the "story" or realization of the Symphony. I really like that kind of tension or drama. I guess I am a "performer" driven collector. I even read the biographies of conductors. Yet, I am still watchful of Mahler behind it all, or I wouldn't be able to enjoy the kind of tension I usually gravitate to as a listener.

I happen to find this kind of "performer-driven" interpretation more in historical recordings. For example, Jascha Horenstein's Zen philosophy seems to cause a kind of eastern motivation in his realization's of Mahler, and it is interesting to discover how this interpretation effects the realization of the symphony. Otto Klemperer’s depression and 'immoralist' attitude at times completely overwhelms the music of Mahler (his former mentor). Great writers don't necessarily give away the motivations or causes of the stories they write, and that goes with a conductor as well. There is no way out of subjectivity in this case. Where there is a mystery, there is immediate interest. While listening there is no doubt I add "dots" that were never meant to be there, but in a way, that’s the beauty of perception. In a sense, those "hidden melodies" are what I bring to the score, based on what I imagine I'm hearing in the sound and interpretation.

I have a deep appreciation for all kinds of performances. At times, I feel the 'less performer is more' interpretations are the greatest performances of all and they are the hardest to achieve. Those interpretations are like the writing of James Joyce in his Ulysses. In this book Joyce just lays out the facts of the story and that’s it. His writing is all "protein and no fat" as Joseph Campbell says. The author here is completely out of the way. That kind of realization/interpretation is not empty, but tends towards the 'spiritual' (if I may use that word).

A paradox appears to come into play here, because whether a performance is full of personality--baggage or empty as a Chinese vase...we, as listeners, still add our own "hidden melodies" to the final product. Somehow we all arrive at the same room from different doors.

Barry answered me by writing:

Leo, all this is very well put. I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to stamp out interpretations. There's no point in wanting to do that. It's just that I find the term itself to be badly abused. In many cases, folks ascribe (is that a word?) something that they're hearing to "interpretation"; when, in fact, what they're hearing has nothing to do with a deliberate decision on the part of the conductor, and is merely a byproduct of some other incident or compromise in logistics, etc. This sort of confusion happens all the time. Interpretation is a term that's loosely thrown around by those whose livelihoods depend on multiple sales of recordings on the same standard literature, over and over. In other words, critics, for the most part. I see this at my work everyday. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So, I end up with humorless people who think that their lives are going to end, if they don't get the right interpretation that's going to unlock the secrets to some already well established classic. Nothing could be farther from the truth, in the most broadest sense. I try to encourage people to listen for themselves, but to also not get caught up in all kinds of weird sidetracks that really have more to do the habits of record collectors (and critics), than it does with learning about what makes a great piece of music tick. I don't know if any of this makes sense to you. But I think that it would, if you were in my shoes and had to deal with these people on a daily basis. Anyway, I think I've beaten my point to death.

In summary, when it comes to complicated orchestral music, it becomes all too easy for folks to confuse what is factual, and what is a subjective opinion. There has to be some kind of standard by which comparisons can be made, and that always begins with what the composer actually wrote. That may be too sober for some. But to ignore the composer as the starting point, means that everything can just be chaos and improvisation instead of interpretation. At that point, all that's left for us to talk about are our own emotions and reactions. That's almost useless in trying to communicate with others not just about what's good in music, but also what makes it tick.

(Barry made excellent points here, especially how it is up to the listener in deciding for him/her self and not get hung up on the critics and etc. That was pretty much the end of that discussion, and today, while reading a poster criticize conductors for being no more than a “speck of dust” next to the composer, I wrote this):

Music will necessarily always be a "relational" art, so if the music is to be heard instrumentalists and conductors will factor in the listening experience. The other option is to read from the score directly, as Arnold Schoenberg did, but how many can really do this nowadays? I prize conductors because, good or bad, they actually enter the consideration to the point of dedicating their lives to music as a career...I don't understand the "conductor as scapegoat" phenomenon that sometime occurs...criticism is of course fine and a part of the experience, but like many group related enactments of music or drama, it inevitably takes a kind of "director" figure to run the proceedings. I do not believe they are a "speck of dust” for bringing a great musical composition to life, which without the players, conductor or hall is only an object made of paper, ink and glue only existing conceptually, if at all. Good and bad performances contribute to the performance tradition and make life interesting.

The score, no matter how detailed, can never hold every key to the treasure, so I allow certain "ideas" or interpretations to be considered in judging a performance, and of course some ideas are more convincing than others. On the other hand, the score is the only context on which to judge the performance if we want to accurately review the performance. Still, there is absolutely no "perfect" way to perform a piece, nor is there a recorded performance that truly reveals a work in the exact way a composer had intended, so generalized complaints over this issue are not as interesting to me as a detailed comparison between different interpretations, or even a thoughtful paragraph or two on a listener's personal experience with a recording or work.

Okay, now with that said...on to the primer...

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2007 6:07 am    Post subject: If a post contains some illegal issues you may abuse on it - just click Abuse and fill the form Reply with quote

Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791)

Unfinished portrait of Mozart by Josef Lange, Mozart’s brother-in-law. Painted in 1782.

Here is my choice for the best place to start:

Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 21:
Malcolm Bilson (pianoforte) / English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner

**I will soon post the flac files to this album**

Malcolm Bilson

The music in these two concertos present so many possible worlds and levels of imagination that I feel this one album is enough to get started. If you have seen Amadeus you will recognize the d minor Concerto, and the second movement of the C major Concerto was made world famous in the film Elvira Madigan (1967), even Neil Diamond lifted the melody somewhat for his song Song Sung Blue.

This album also holds the best performances of these two particular works I have heard in my 20 plus years of listening to recordings of these two concertos. This recording is part of a larger cycle of Mozart’s complete Piano Concertos, all played by Bilson, Gardiner, and the English Baroque Soloists for the Archiv Produktion Label, recorded between 1984 and 1989. The producers and engineers really captured the unique acoustic atmosphere within the two halls used in London. The piano and orchestra seem to reverberate with no loss of detail, as a flock of birds may be seen within an atmosphere of autumn sky, full of light and windy shade pointing to the sun.

Everyone in the orchestra uses instruments built or replicated from instruments built in the 17th, 18th and 19th century time periods. Often I just sit back and dig the breezy, wheezy character of these woodwinds, as they are so well captured in these recordings. The gut made strings are very full of atmosphere; I just can’t find a better word to describe the feeling. Two of the pianos, or “pianofortes” used in this cycle were built by Philip Belt in New Haven (USA) and are replicas of Mozart’s concert pianoforte. The sound of this piano is different from a modern grand because there are no metal parts used.

And what about the performances? Stunning in my opinion. The energy of the orchestra is exciting and engaging, and the personality of the piano is wonderfully understated, thereby bringing a depth of consideration to the exchange with the orchestra. The timbre of all the instruments are well captured…one of the best features of this recording.

Even the album covers used in the individual releases and the box set deserve special mention, with feature illustrations by Maria Sibylla Merian from circa 1680:

From the Wiki, here is a quick run down the a history of this from of music:

As the piano developed and became accepted, composers naturally started writing concerti for it. This happened in the 18th century, and so corresponded to the Classical music era. The most important composer in the development of the form in these early stages was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart's body of masterly piano concerti put his stamp firmly on the genre well into the Romantic era.

Mozart wrote many of his 27 solo piano concerti for himself to perform (he also wrote concerti for two and three pianos). With the development of the piano virtuoso many composer-pianists did likewise, notably Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev, and also the somewhat lesser-known Johann Nepomuk Hummel and John Field. Many other Romantic composers wrote pieces in the form, well-known examples including the concerti by Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Edward MacDowell, Johannes Brahms and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Composers continually extended the scope of the piano concerto. For instance, Henry Charles Litolff explored the symphonic possibilities of the form, and Ferruccio Busoni added a male choir in the last movement of his hour-long concerto.

The few well-known piano concerti which dominate today's concert programs and discographies account for only a minority of the repertoire which proliferated on the European music scene during the 19th century. Critical opinion has often dismissed the bulk of the Romantic piano concerto repertoire for its vapid mediocrity (many pieces were slavish variations on opera tunes).


A classical piano concerto is often in three movements:

1. A quick opening movement in sonata form including a cadenza (which may be improvised by the soloist).
2. A slow movement
3. A lively finale in rondo or sonata form

Now, below I will post a small introduction to these works by Dennis Pajot:

K466 Piano Concerto in d-minor
By Dennis Pajot

Charles Rosen wrote: "The d-minor Concerto is almost as much myth as work of art.....it is difficult at times to say whether we are hearing the work or its reputation...". Keeping this in mind, I will give only the points of the Concerto from Mozart's lifetime, and leave the tens of thousands of words (interesting as they are) to others.

The Concerto is entered in Mozart's own work catalogue on February 10, 1785. It was first performed the next day at the Mehlgrube [in Vienna]. Leopold Mozart tells us in a letter of February 16 "The concert was magnificent and the orchestra played splendidly. In addition to the symphonies a female singer of the Italian theater sang two arias. Then we had a new and very fine concerto by Wolfgang, which the copyist was still copying when we arrived, and the rondo of which your brother did not even have time to play through, as he had to supervise the copying".

Mozart played the Concerto "most magnificently" again at the Burg theater [again, in Vienna] on February 15 at a concert given by Elizabeth Distler (a operatic singer who sang in Mozart's Davidde penitente the following month). He may have again played the Concerto on the evening of February 16 at a concert given by Gottfried Ignaz von Ployer--Leopold only reports Wolfgang "is again playing a concerto". It appears Mozart played it again on February 23, 1787 at Nancy Storace's farewell concert at the Kärntnerthortheater, according to a much later letter of Thomas Attwood.

Heinrich Marchand also performed the d-minor Piano Concerto at a public concert in Salzburg in March 1786--Michael Haydn [Joseph Haydn’s brother] turning the pages. Although not ascertainable, it is possible (if not probable) from the Mozart family correspondence either Marchand or Nannerl Mozart also played this d-minor Concerto in September or October 1786 in Salzburg. [See Chapter 29 "The Return of Heinrich Marchand" in Ruth Halliwell's book The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context for her excellent discussion on matters concerning Nannerl, Marchand and this Concerto.]

The d-minor Concerto K466 was first published by Andre in 1796.

We have evidence that Mozart played a fortepiano with an extra pedalboard at this concerts in February 1785. In an article in the 2000 Mitteilungen der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum Ingrid Fuchs quotes a letter from Johann Samuel Liedemann, a merchant in Vienna, from February 18, 1785: "...the Fortepiano maker Walther had augmented his Fortepiano with a Pedal. Mozart played the instrument and it produced a wonderful effect".

As I am in no way qualified to discuss this, I will direct those interested to this article and to page 223 of John Irving's book Mozart's Piano Concertos, 2003; and pages xiv and xv of the forward to the 1961 NMA volume which contains this Concerto.

We have no cadenzas from Mozart to this concerto. However many performers/composers have written cadenzas to K466--including famous artists as Johannes Brahms, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Felix Mendelssohn, Carl Reinecke, Clara Schumann, Bedrich Smetana and of course Ludwig van Beethoven.


K467 Piano Concerto in C (#21)
By Dennis Pajot

Mozart entered this concerto in his work catalogue on March 9, 1785; however on the autograph's first page he wrote: "Di Wolfgango Amadeo Mozart nel Febraio 1785". As an announcement for a concert in the Imperial Court Theater for Thursday, March 10, 1785 reads in part Mozart would play a "new, just finished fortepiano concerto", it is thought he started the Concerto in February and finished it on March 9.

Leopold Mozart remarked of this Concerto: "Indeed it is astonishingly difficult". The composition effort and the playing skill of Mozart can be gleamed from this letter passage of Leopold Mozart from March 12, 1785:

"We never get to bed before one o'clock and I never get up before nine. We lunch at two or half past. The weather is terrible. Every day there are concerts; and the whole time is given up to teaching music, composing and so forth. I feel rather out of it. If only all the concerts were over! It is impossible for me to describe the rush and bustle. Since my arrival your brother's fortepiano has been taken at least a dozen times to the theater or to some other house..."

This same letter by Leopold and the announcement for the Burgtheater concert of March 10 indicate Mozart no doubt played this Concerto on a piano which had a special pedal attachment: "He has had a large fortepiano pedal made, which stands under the instrument and is about two feet longer and extremely heavy."--Leopold Mozart. "....a new, just finished fortepiano concerto will be played by him, but also an especially large Forte piano pedale in improvising will be used"--concerto handbill.

The Concerto in C KV. 467 was first published in early 1800 by Breitkopf & Härtel, and then later that same year by Johann Anton André. Both editions claim to have been made from Mozart's autograph. According to J. Rigbie Turner's "A Note on the History of the Manuscript" in the Forward to the 1985 Facsimile of the Piano Concerto Nr.21 the autograph has a date on it of "16 May 1799 von Mad. Mozart", which apparently refers to its receipt by B & H. A written statement by Constanze Mozart of March 13, 1800 seems to verify this. However, if this is the case, then Constanze got the autograph back to deliver to André in Offenbach in early 1800. John Irving believes the Breitkopf edition was based on a manuscript copy made from the autograph, rather than the autograph itself.

If there are any thoughts or questions, please post...
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2007 7:11 am    Post subject: If a post contains some illegal issues you may abuse on it - just click Abuse and fill the form Reply with quote

I can't wait to get stuck into this - it's gonna be one of the great threads, i can tell. Thanks so much, chaps!
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2007 12:56 pm    Post subject: If a post contains some illegal issues you may abuse on it - just click Abuse and fill the form Reply with quote

Rock on, Todd. I would be interested in some of the vocal/choral works of these guys, too; i had a chorus teacher in HS who constantly challenged us with classical choral works by the masters, and to this day i love hearing that kind of music. I don't sing it anymore, but would love it if you could at least touch on that aspect of their compositions.
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