What I Like About...
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
  Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort, Op. 23, No. 3
Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Track 36

Her name reminds us of a conflict from the early years of her life: her father's vision of her future challenged by Robert's interest in her future. This child of divorced parents, who made good of her father's influence as a piano teacher, became a devoted wife. And, most interestingly, would survive her husband forty years.

It is my impression that in those forty some years, the Wieck/Schumann argument far behind her, Ms. Schumann was in a unique place in music history. She had the support of two of her children and a few friends. With her friends, good health and remarkable piano skills she was able to use that time to become perhaps the first pianist to thoroughly delve into the repertoire her late husband left behind. The tune we have here is memento of her marriage and the belief she shared with her husband that music should not do anything without meaning.

What I like about her song, written when she was thirty-four, is the appearance of seconds in the third line of the poem. Because the piano part, written by one with as speedy fingers as Liszt, is so understated, the listener is not overwhelmed and thus more sensitive to a change from thirds to seconds and back again. 
Sunday, May 22, 2005
  Soon to return...

I've been preoccupied with the last few days of school and have been missing the blogsphere. I'll be back soon. Meanwhile, I posted the poem that was on my sidebar in order to have it in my archives. I also have a new poem for my sidebar.

By the way, should it be Side Bar or sidebar?

See you in a few days. 
  Some After time

Some After
time (when all
is done) id
be any
more and you
(without us)
reflect not
timeness but
endless si
content for
this will be
the moment
er all de
fenses and
and love are
gone. Without
this moment
has life been
and what is
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
  Dichterliebe, Op. 48, No. 7: Ich grolle nicht
Robert Schumann
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Track 35

She is the one wearing diamonds going around being splendid while you cry in your beer yet you pity her for being so lovely. This painfully familiar scenario set to music could almost serve as an anthem to many young men early in the lessons of love.

Appropriate for an anthem, our heroic composer has set these words in C Major with plenty upward leaps of fourths and fifths. The tune manages to move through the scale without losing reference to scale degrees Do, Mi, and and without become too obviously dependent on them. This balance is partly accomplished through an emphatic use of scale degree Ti which appears frequently but only once, and then very briefly, as a leading tone. Coupled with a strong bass line, the clarity of the tune allows the piano to indulge in plenty of seventh chords that do not resolve.

More significant than any pitch choice Mr. Schumann made in setting this declaration is his choice of instrument. The meaning of the poem is something a baritone singer would likely relate to, the pitches are easily found, and the piano is proudly supportive. It is the sound of the baritone voice, simply the sound, that takes center stage. 
Monday, May 09, 2005
  Dichterliebe, Op. 48, No. 1: Im wunderschönen Monat Mai
Robert Schumann
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Track 34

One of the many delights of serialism is the tension it can create between a few small groups of pitches. R. Schumann's first Dichterliebe, "In the Marvelous Month of May," opens with such tension in the context of triadic harmony and repetition. The effect is that of the smoky room in the cabaret theater. When we finally hear the pitch 'A,' thus realizing we are not in c-sharp minor and at the simultaneous moment hearing the singer complete his entrance on the word Mai, we are compelled to applaud.

I would argue, if called upon, that the ambiguity and relief of this introduction is more a result of the way the pitches stretch across a small range of the keyboard and the contrasting timbre of the vocalist than the harmonic vocabulary. In fact, I would go far enough to say that the harmonic vocabulary of this piece is effective because, though we have heard these chords before, R. Schumann is able to create the sense that these triads and sevenths are the unique result of the small groups of pitches he has set against each other.

Looking over Heinrich Heine's poem I am first reminded of the young Vanessa Redgrave frolicking through the gardens of Camelot. However, R. Schumann was a better reader than I. Understanding the implication of the last couplet, our heroic composer ends this brief masterpiece on a c-sharp seventh chord that abandons the listener four steps around the circle of fifths away from tonic. 
Monday, May 02, 2005
  Der Lindenbaum, Winterreise, D. 118
Franz Schubert
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Tracks 30-33

When he won his Pulitzer Prize, I think it was, Aaron Kernis remarked that it was a good thing composing worked out for him because he had no other skills (if memory serves, I read this in Strings Magazine, those few years ago). Things did not work out so well for Mr. Schubert and yet, while living the Bohemian life, he nonetheless understood his job as a composer and put in required hours. If poverty limited his creative effort at all it focused his talents on intimate, domestic music rather than music for large, expensive orchestras and opera companies. However, Franz's catalogue includes a fine collection music for orchestra and opera. And it appears his expertise in the small scale was a more a part of his creative world than a limitation. Mr. Schubert could probably have done well with more commercial success. At the very least, a longer life.

It is impressive that, while writing under the fiery shadow of Beethoven, Franz could contemplate a winter chill and linden tree. In this Winterreise one can hear a use of a sensitivity that would have been a model for our Promethiean Ludwig. That is a sensitivity towards the meanings of Major and minor chords that is particular to W. A. Mozart. Mr. Schubert understood Beethoven well enough to be inspired and not imitative. One wonders what it would have been like for Mr. Schubert to have lived more than a year past Beethoven's death.

In this ruminating song there is an upward triplet that stalls and falls in dotted rhythm (first heard at track 31). As this pattern repeats we are reminded that, for composers, there is no success and the only failure is quitting. 
In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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