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Masterpieces of the 19th

Source: Singapore Piano Shop & Music Book Online Shop   Published: 9/29/2019 10:15:40 PM   Clicked: 1133

Masterpieces of the 19th-Century (Solo) Piano

Beethoven: Piano Sonata #8 in C minor (“Pathétique”) (1798) – Gulda, Gould, Gillels, Gelber, Pollini
Beethoven: Piano Sonata #21 in C (“Waldstein”) (1803-1804) – O’Connor
Schubert: Piano Sonata #14 in A minor, D.784, op. posth. 143 (1823) – Lewis, Ashkenazy
Schumann, Études symphoniques, op. 13 (1833-1838) – Arrau
Liszt: Transcription of Beethoven's Symphony 6 (1838) - Dalberto, Katsaris
Liszt: Années de pèlerinage (esp. “Dante” Sonata) (1835-1842) - Ciccolini
Chopin: Ballade #4 in F minor, op. 52 (1842) – Ashkenazy
Liszt: Harmonies poetiques et religieuses (S 173) (1847) - Amoyel
Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor (S 178) (1853) – Ucbasaran, Hamelin
Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24 (1861) – Katchen, R. Serkin
Scriabin: Piano Sonata #2 (“Sonata-Fantasy”) in G# minor, op. 19 (1897) – Pogorelich

Schubert: Piano Sonata #14 in A minor, D.784, op. posth. 143 (1823)
When people think of Schubert's great piano works, they think of his final ones: #19, 20, and 21 (D958-960).
A quick caricature: Schubert's genius is with the melodies (often multiple within a movement); Beethoven's genius is what he does with his. Beethoven never seems to run out of ideas how to vary things. Schubert never seems to run out of new singing melodies. That, I grant, is a caricature.
Schubert opens the 1st movement with a powerful melodic strand -- and it is repeated again and again with only modest variation throughout the movement. It is an expression of deep yearning, even anguish. The liner notes by Roman Hinke in this Harmonia mundi edition say:
"The principal theme of the first movement, as it makes its entrance, seems a meagre rough sketch, harmonically puzzling and counterpointed by a lyrical second theme in the dominant that, like a mere vision of an idyll, a mirage, remains without consequence in formal terms. Energetic intensifications and sharp dynamic contrasts bring this movement close to Beethoven and creat an omninous mood that also irradiates the following Andante." True, perhaps, but there is a searching and quite beautiful lyricism, even tenderness, that punctuates and indeed holds the first movement together. The liner notes read all this as autobiographical -- as telling us something about Schubert's personal life.

If there could only be one composition by Liszt, I would it be the b-minor Sonata, it represents a singular fusing of bravura writing/playing with intellectual substance.
Liszt's Harmonies Poetiques et Religueses. this series of pieces is, simply put, quite wonderfully poetic and religious. When it's dense, it excites and enraptures, when it's spacious it gives the mind free reign to wander and wonder. While not being rigorous, it sprawls not in chaos but in refined style.
Liszt's Sonata in B minor, like the dismantling of conventional sonata form for a four-movements-in-one, with the entire work being also in sonata form, making a great example of double function. It's also in cyclic form, which is one of my favorite forms because I get to follow the metamorphosis of the themes. It also has a beautiful ending that is more sincere, rather than Liszt's usual grandiose and loud finales.
Liszt's transcription of Beethoven's Symphony No 6 (Pastoral) performed by Michel Dalberto, it isn't very trendy to like Liszt's transcriptions, but this was one of the main ways that Beethoven's symphonies (and some other works, including Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique) were diseminated throughout northern Europe in the years before recorded music. Liszt's transcriptions are genuine works in their own right and I often listen to one as a real alternative to the full symphony because they get you to listen to (and hear) a really familiar work in a different way

Chopin - his Ballade No 4 in F minor, this is a long piece, sort of mysterious. There seems to be an imaginary audience of intimate friends in the composer's vision, and the music sounds "shy" and "self-conscious" - therefore it swings from being calm to being hysterical very quickly. It's this alternation of stasis and cataclysm that makes this music Romantic IMO - there seems to be a very immediate connection to some deep or eternal knowledge. It's like a storm coming into your living room.

Liszt's Piano Sonata in B minor (S. 178) (1852-1853).
My favorite performance is a recent one by Marc-André Hamelin (Hyperion, 2011)
Here's a commentary on the work by Ted Libbey (“NPR Classical 50,” NPR, Oct. 13, 2009):
“In this vast, single-movement composition, Franz Liszt achieved a synthesis of symphonic and sonata forms that has never been surpassed for its cogency, scope and imagination. He managed this in a work that demands the utmost from the performer in musical as well as technical terms, a work that in the best of accounts can spark a powerful emotional experience in the listener.
It is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees in this piece. The writing is so virtuosic that the long-range relationship of motives and harmonic regions to an overall plan tends to be indistinguishable. But the plan is there, and it is superbly well executed.
On one level, the work is a single-movement sonata lasting half an hour, with an exposition in three broad key areas: a development, a recapitulation and a coda. But it can also be perceived as a four-movement symphonic structure, with the standard features of an opening allegro, an andante, a scherzo (in the form of a fugue) and a finale. To make both of these schemes work, Liszt relies on the technique of thematic transformation upon which so much of his music is based, developing the work’s entire thematic material from a constellation of cells presented in the opening measures. In the foreground at any given time, there is great diversity of texture and character — enough for a true multi-movement work — but in the background, there is tremendous unity.”

I'll mention Franck's "Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue," composed in 1884. It's one of those wonderful and unexpected works that doesn't fit in well with its time, and certainly can't be identified with a school: a decided once-off (though critics--starting with the composer's wife!--have found it too conservative and backward-looking). It concludes with a terrific fugue, in which appears material from the earlier movements. My favorite part, though, is the impossible-to-play chorale that many professionals nevertheless manage to pull off. I like the humming, haunting bass-notes throughout. The whole thing is dark and Bachian--but ultimately all Franck!

Schumann's Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), Op. 82 (1848-49) consists of nine short pieces similar in style and spirit to the composer's Kinderszenen (1838). "Eintritt" (Entrance) features unusual, asymmetrical phrasing. "Jäger auf der Lauer" (Hunter in Ambush) is an exciting, technically challenging piece in the cast of a typical nineteenth century hunting song. The difficulties of "Einsame Blumen" (Solitary Flowers) lie in maintaing balance between the two distinct voices in the right hand; otherwise, it is simple and melodic. "Verrufene Stelle" (Haunted Spot) evokes an air of eerie mystery with passages in slow dotted rhythms, while the fast, tricky triplets of "Freundliche Landschaft" (Friendly Landscape) create a surprisingly poetic effect. "Herbege" (At the Inn) presents a variety of material that requires great sensitivity to balance.
The best-known and most striking piece of the set is "Vogel als Prophet" (The Prophet Bird); its cross-relations, incomplete melodies, and extreme delicacy of texture create a weirdly beautiful atmosphere. "Jagdlied" (Hunting Song) is the second of the Waldszenen in this style and the example more typical of the genre. Rapidly repeated triplet chords both lend the piece rhythmic drive and pose a substantial technical challenge. The concluding "Abschied" (Farewell) is a touching song without words. Waldszen may rightly be regarded as Schumann's last really fine keyboard work.

The sixth nocturne, dedicated to Eugène d'Eichthal, is widely held to be one of the finest of the series. Cortot said, "There are few pages in all music comparable to these." The pianist and writer Nancy Bricard calls it "one of the most passionate and moving works in piano literature."
Fauré wrote it after a six-year break from composing for the piano. The piece begins with an emotional, outpouring phrase, with echoes of Fauré's song cycle La bonne chanson. The second theme, at first seemingly tranquil, has what the composer Charles Koechlin calls a persistent inquietude, emphasised by the syncopated accompaniment. The initial theme returns, and is followed by a substantial development of a gentle, contemplative melody. A recapitulation of the principal theme takes the piece to its conclusion. Copland wrote that it was with this work that Fauré first fully emerged from the shadow of Chopin, and he said of the piece, "The breath and dignity of the opening melody, the restless C sharp minor section which follows (with the peculiar syncopated harmonies so often and so well used by Fauré), the graceful fluidity of the third idea: all these elements are brought to a stormy climax in the short development section; then, after a pause, comes the return of the consoling first page."

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