Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sara Davis Buechner - "That's Pathetic!"

American-born and trained (Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music) pianist Sara Davis Buechner gives an enlightening lecture-demonstration on the ubiquitous Beethoven Piano Sonata in C Minor, op. 13, known to every living organism as the "Pathetique" Sonata (and might I add, one of the few sonatas to which Beethoven attached a "nickname".)
EVERY PIANO STUDENT who loves the "Pathetique" (and who doesn't?) MUST watch this.  She gives an enlightening talk about the origins of this sonata, and its connection to the Mozart Sonata in C Minor, K.457.

And speaking of "living organism", that might be an offbeat way to describe Buechner's playing.  Intensely powerful, often athletic, everything she does is backed up by a tremendous, disciplined technique and total immersion in the style of the music being performed.

Her recordings of "byways in the piano repertoire", such as piano music by Rudolf Friml, Miklos Rozsa, and neglected American "lady composer" Dana Suesse, are enjoyable listening.  Ms. Buechner has also edited some music for Dover, including a volume of the wonderful and neglected music of Russian composer Anton Arensky.

Let's take a look at her pedigree (cribbed from another website):

Education: Juilliard School of Music, NYC, diploma; Manhattan School of Music, doctorate in music.

New York University, faculty member; University of British Columbia, School of Music, assistant professor, 2003–.

Awards: Gold Medal, Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, 1984; Bronze Medal, Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, 1986; Deutsches Schallplatten Preis, for recording of piano concertos by Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxmann, 1995.

YEP.  a BRONZE medal in the TCHAIKOVSKY competition.

An abridged list of her recordings:

Piano Music of George Gershwin, Connoisseur Society, 1994.
Henry Martin: Preludes and Fugues, GM Recordings, 1994.
The Paradine Case: Hollywood Piano Concertos, Koch International Classics, 1995.
Bach-Busoni Goldberg Variations, Connoisseur Society, 1997.
Rózsa: Complete Works for Solo Piano, Koch International Classics, 1999.
Stephen Foster: Complete Piano Works, Pro Piano, 2002.
Piano Music of Rudolf Friml, Koch International Classics, 2004.
Joaquin Turina: Mujeres Españolas, Koch International Classics, 2004

SO...  Why have we Americans so overlooked one of our own? 

She was born David Buechner.  That's why.  Read more here.

Our loss is Canada's gain. 

Americans are becoming more accepting of public figures who are gay, lesbian, or transgender.  But it seems that the Classical Music world, even with its disproportionately large number of LGBT performers, listeners, and fans, are slow to accept its own. 

Here is Sara's story, in her own words, from an article published last February.

Sara Davis Buecher has lived her life with dignity and courage.  And she deserves our attention.  And more bookings in her native land.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"My teacher" performs "my music"

My college teacher Susie Francis Dempsey (a recurring "character" in the tales I spin here) recently celebrated a birthday.  I don't know which one; I'm a musician and can only count to four.

This video of Dr. Dempsey performing my "Arietta" (2006) was made in 2009, when she performed it in a studio recital.  Yours truly caught it on his Flip camera (remember those?) and a precious (to me, anyway) memory was saved.

The little "diva nod" before she started is priceless.  I think I told her I needed a moment to make sure the Flip was up and running.  She was ready for her close-up, Max.

Since she has retired from college teaching, she is teaching privately in her home studio - see my previous post for a scene from her studio - she is performing more frequently - which is a good thing.  Of course I am biased, but I have always been enamored of her singing tone, and it is something I have tried to pass on to my students.
Happy belated birthday, Dr. Dempsey.  You have left a legacy in the many musicians you have taught in the Southeast - as a piano teacher, and as a fabulous theory professor at Jacksonville State University, to many music educators in schools today.  You are still touching lives today, and hopefully for years to come.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Claude Debussy, himself, plays "The Engulfed Cathedral"

If you're still not convinced that scholars such as Maurice Hinson are correct as to how Debussy's "The Sunken Cathedral" should be played, here is INCONTROVERTIBLE EVIDENCE.

Here is a piano roll of the work made by Debussy himself.

Some argue (convincingly) that piano rolls aren't necessarily a complete picture of a performance.  It is true that the tempo can be tampered with, and like present-day recordings, missed notes and uneven passages could be "fixed".  But once the tempo is set, it stays. 

This explains the rather unorthodox combined time signature of 3/2 and 6/4.  Some sections are played with the half note as a beat unit, some with the quarter note as the beat unit.

Record collectors state that it was "played correctly" on recordings until Walter Gieseking recorded it (wrong).  In fact, I have an early Arthur Rubinstein recording where he plays it like this.

Let's stop arguing the point and play it the way the Master did.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A lesson from my first teacher - from beyond the grave

I enjoy leafing through old piano music, especially music that was studied, scribbled upon, and obviously cherished by its former owner.  Sometimes those markings can give us new or overlooked insights into the piece, or perhaps a solution to a nagging technical problem can be found.

I have always loved Bartok's set of Rumanian Folk Dances, although I have never performed them.  I cherish my old Lili Kraus recording on a Parlophone 78 rpm record, and admire the recording by Zoltan Kocsis with what I presume to be his own "concert variants".  The notes are not that difficult to cover, but there are some awkward spots, and it seems that Bartok put a marking of some kind on at least every other note.  Finicky, finicky.

The reason I have never performed them is in the very last line, the conclusion to the whole set.  There is a right hand passage that imitates the double stops of the violin, holding the upper voice while the lower voice darts around in sixteenths. I have never been able to play this smoothly and up to tempo using the printed fingering.

This past Saturday I went to an estate sale.  The estate was that of my first piano teacher, Myra Williamson.  Before the sale, her children (my cousins) had generously allowed me to have a generous amount of her music, and her old International Library of Piano Music now has a place of pride in my living room.

Between her death and her estate sale, more music was found - her volumes of Chopin in the Schirmer/Joseffy edition, some contemporary music, and a copy of the above-mentioned Bartok. At first, I thought the bold "Lili Kraus" script on the cover was an autograph.  When I opened it, I realized it was her teacher's handwriting, probably a recommendation for listening. The score was lavishly marked, "Myra Keeble" signed on the cover, and notations throughout the score in Myra's and her teacher's handwriting.

While waiting for a student today, I sat down and read through this favorite work, feeling a little comforted by seeing Myra's precise script.  Dance after dance, and then when I got to the last page, my Waterloo:

And there was The Fingering.  A message from Myra, from beyond the grave.  Either she devised a fingering more appropriate for her small hand, or her teacher gave it to her.  And it works for me as well.  So it won't be long before this piece is securely in my working repertoire. 

Thanks, Myra.  I miss you.  Your old music ain't gathering dust no more.

I'm trying to get back to blogging, my friends.  It's difficult.  My desktop computer still isn't fixed, and this netbook is not conducive to all the cutting and pasting I used to do to add hyperlinks in the text.  But this is a start.  I had to get back in the pool.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mama's Song

As my regular readers know, my mother passed away last December after an extended illness, and I still haven't really gotten out of that cloud yet.  You can read my December 2010 post about her, and our musical connection, here.

Late last night (July 6), I finally finished one of those projects that we had planned to do together. Mama wrote a song years ago, as a young girl.  It may be better to say that she "made it up", since she could not read or write music.  The name of the song was "In the Arms of Jesus", and to my knowledge there were never any words.  A phone conversation in August 2011 with my aunt LaVelle Langley affirmed my belief that there were no words to the song.  Also, Aunt LaVelle recalls hearing Mama play it often, which is something that my brother and sister do not recall - understandable since they did not spend as much time with Mama at the piano as I did.

I wanted to make videos of Mama's playing while she was still able, but she had "camera fright", and arthritis got to her before the COPD-related dementia did.  The touch of my Baldwin grand was too heavy for her to play comfortably.  I had promised her for years that I would write "her song" down.

That finally happened last night after a practice session with an old friend, the Liszt Sonetto 104 del Petrarca.  I tinkered with Mama's song for around an hour, and decided to give it a new voice.

After I wrote it out, I decided to make a "demo" video to share with friends and family on Facebook.  The original plan was to make another video for YouTube (and this blog) after church Sunday, on a better-regulated instrument.  This Baldwin grand, my pride and joy (and a college-graduation gift from Mama and Papa Doug), has not been tuned since nineteen-eighty-something - one of the few "downsides" of living in the country is finding a reliable tuner/technician. 

In the end I decided to post this "rough video" after all. This is where I had most recently heard her play her version, on this piano in this room, and this is a rare opportunity for me to let you in Mama's living room for possibly one last time as the estate is settled, as our family home may not stay in the family.   With five bedrooms, three bathrooms, and eleven ACRES of yard, it is far too large for me to maintain on my own.
Here it is.  I have left her tune as is and recast it in "my style", rather than in the hymn-like chordal way in which she played it.  I have retitled it "Mama's Song".  Why?

We all have different religious beliefs, but we all have, or have had, a Mama.

Why the link to this book?  Although it has nothing to do with music, it always reminded me of Mama - I loaned her my copy and she read it, and enjoyed it very much.  Also, author Rick Bragg grew up in Jacksonville, Alabama and studied at Jacksonville State University at the very same time as me, so I remember well the places he describes in this book.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A reader in Australia searches for a sad bird

Letters, I get letters...

Michael in Melbourne, Australia writes:

I heard "Sad Bird/Pajaro Triste" on the radio some time ago and later saw your video of one of your (very talented) students playing it. Anyway could you forward publication details for the piano sheet music as I have been unable to find it?

Anyone who compliments one of my students is a friend of mine.  

The piece "Pajaro triste" is by Federico Mompou (1893-1987) and comes from a collection entitled "Impresiones intimas".  (I have also seen it spelled "Impresiones intimes".)  The original Union Musical Espanola (imagine the tilde) edition of the complete set costs mucho, mucho dinero, but is available from your favorite music dealer.


People who wish to have this one piece are in luck.  It is included in the Alfred anthology Keys to Stylistic Mastery, Book 3 by Dennis Alexander and Ingrid Jacobson Clarfield.

It is beautifully edited, with performance suggestions, and of course the rest of the collection is very valuable for teaching and repertoire purposes.  This volume currently sells for $9.95.  I recommend this series highly, as well as another similar series by the same two writers/editors, Keys to Artistic Performance.

There are many complete surveys of Mompou's music available on CDs, including those by Martin Jones (full-price) and Jordi Maso (budget label, but thoroughly enjoyable).  Mompou himself recorded much of his music in the later "stereo LP" era so we can hear how he interpreted it.  But for an all-around "sample disc", no one has beaten Stephen Hough in this repertoire.  I have posted an Amazon link to this CD, and it is available on iTunes as well.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Let's go back in time - to 1899, and meet (and hear) Alfred Grünfeld

It's time we became reacquainted with this man.

Pianist Alfred Grünfeld (1852-1924) was born in Prague, studied at the Kullak Academy in Berlin and eventually moved to Vienna, where he became a popular teacher and performer. He was court pianist to Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany. He knew Brahms, Strauss and Leschetizky.

Based on extant concert programmes, Grünfeld was a pianist of intellect and virtuosic abilities. Famed Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick said of Grünfeld, "He is a musician beyond criticism; in public and in private one of the best known members of Vienna society, and the greatest favorite with all musical people.  By his brilliant playing as well as his sweet expression and gay humour, he understands to perfection the art of charming his listeners in Vienna."  That's high praise from a notoriously tough critic.

He performed many of the major works of Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Schumann, Schubert and Brahms, often including new works by composers of the day, such as Grieg’s Ballade, Op. 24. His brother, cellist Heinrich Grünfeld, was equally well known and made some recordings as well.

He was a prolific composer, mostly of shorter character pieces, and effective transcriptions. He toured extensively in Germany, Russia, Scandanavia, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and even the United States.  He recorded extensively, as early as 1899 (on acoustic Berliners).  So why is he forgotten today?

Actually, record collectors never forgot him.  But most pianists think of him as a "salon artist", whiling away the time playing salon paraphrases of this and that.  But he also recorded works by Brahms, Schubert, Grieg, and even something as "modern" as Debussy's "Golliwogg's Cakewalk"!  On these discs it is evident that his style was elegant and charming, just as Hanslick notes.  A pearly tone and tranlucent quality comes through on these recordings, even the earliest ones.

Here I present one of the rare 1899 Berliner recordings (alas, not mine) of the Grieg "Papillon", op. 43 no. 1.

His "Soiree de Vienne", op. 56 is still in the repertoire of pianists such as Evgeny Kissin, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and even Lang Lang has been known to pound insensitively through it.  There are videos of many of these on You Tube, but let us see how Der Meister played it.  If it sounds familiar, it's because it is a transcription of waltzes from Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus".

From my collection.  Recorded c. 1905.
Scores of Grünfeld's works may be found at IMSLP by clicking here.  The score for his best-known work, the above-performed Soiree de Vienne, is still under copyright in the United States and can be purchased through the link below.