Saturday, August 19, 2006

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

Written in a Nazi prison camp, Olivier Messiaen's Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps- "Quartet for the End of Time"- is a set of seven meditations on eternity and religion, ranging from deeply disturbing to exaltant. The piece premiered to fellow prisnoers of war in 1941. Messiaen scored the piece to suit himself and three fellow prisoners, who together played piano, violin, cello, and clarinet. Each instrument gets a time in the spotlight; the third movement belongs to the solo clarinet; the fifth sees the cello in the lead role; the seventh, the piano; the eighth, the violin. The movements range from unsettling atonality to an almost Shostakovichian harmonic language, especially in the fourth and fifth movements.
The Quartet for the End of Time, appropriately, is especially innovative in use of time; notes retain their values (quarter note, eighth notes, etc.) but in some movements the time signature is absent, leading to a lack of a pulse. In other movements, the tempos are so slow that notes seem to be held forever. The End of Time could have a double meaning- the Apocalypse, and the end of conventional musical time signatures.

Messiaen: Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps

Luben Yordanoff; Albert Tetard; Claude Desurmont; Daniel Barenboim

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Problems with Bartok- Solved!

Bela Bartok- sonata for two pianos and percussion

Look here for information on the piece and its preformers.

Many thanks to Bishop.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dmitri Shostakovich Part III

I've mainly focused on the Shostakovich string quartets to celebrate his 100th birthday, but for today we'll take a little detour into one of his best symphonies, number eight, named the "Stalingrad" symphony by Soviet leaders. Written in 1943, its tragic, disturbing nature led top Soviets to ban it and for fellow Russian composer Prokoviev to speak out against it.
The first movement is of Mahleresque proportions, almost half an hour long. My personal favorite movement of this symphony is the third, in which the "war machine" can be heard in a heavy, driving, staccato line that is passed among the instruments, growing more and more powerful, until the timpani receives it in one of the most intense moments in music. Following that is a quiet, bleak passacaglia that conjures for me the image of dead bodies on the battlefield after the fight.
Solo winds feature prominantly throughout the piece, especially at the end of the last movement, where instead of ending triumphantly, the symphony fades away in a quiet C major.

Shostakovich Symphony No. 8- Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink

Thursday, August 03, 2006

John Scofield: A Go Go

I'll be frank: I can’t stand modern jazz guitar. (Sorry, Pat Metheny fans…) Perhaps it’s something in the tone of the persistent, excessive reverb, or perhaps it’s the self indulgent, showy style. That being said, I love John Scofield’s “A Go Go,” and have ever since I was a child when my mother would play it on near-constant rotation throughout the day.

John Scofield is at his absolute best, which means that fans of Steve Vai should skip this one. His guitar playing never overpowers anything and, though technically and musically inspired, is far from showy. “A Go Go” is not jazz. If anything, it’s funk. Simmering, instrumental funk. The album cover would have you believe that sole credit goes to Mr. Scofield, but just as much – if not more – credit belongs with the other three players on this album: John Medeski on keyboards, Billy Martin on drums, and Chris Wood on bass. These three players comprise, of course, the well-known jazz trio “Medeski, Martin, & Wood,” a veritable pillar of brilliant, funky music. When coupled with John Scofield on “A Go Go,” his sparse playing helps keep the sometimes frenetic playing of MMW in check, and in turn Medeski, Martin, and Wood help to elevate Scofield’s album out of “guitar jazz” status. Enjoy!

John Scofield: A Go Go

PS: I'm back, too! This is what I saw when I looked out my tent flap:

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I'm Back!

I could look out of the practice rooms and see this:

It was hard to leave.

But I'm back and posts will start again soon.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Alexander Borodin and an announcement

Though immensely talented as a composer, Alexander Borodin was a well-known chemist by trade, and saw composing as a fun little diversion. This is unfortunate, because Borodin's musical output is relatively small, leaving you wanting more. His most famous compositions are his second string quartet, the opera Prince Igor, and his second symphony.
Borodin was a member of the Mighty Handful of Russian nationalist composers, and this symphony is indeed very Russian, especially the first movement. He always had a flair for writing beautiful melodies- the first movement and nocturne from his second quartet come to mind- and one of the most beautiful appears in the third movement of this symphony, an altered folk tune with a gracefully shifting meter.

Alexander Borodin- Symphony No. 2
Rotterdam Phil., Valery Gergiev

There's a reason I posted the Borodin symphony. I will be playing this entire thing very soon, as part of the Northwestern High School Music Institute(I'm only 17). I'll be on the Northwestern campus in Evanston, Ill. for a good five weeks, starting Wednesday, so Masterfade will be on a rather long break. That is, unless anybody else decides to post again.

I will try and post once more before I leave, but if I don't, thanks for your support and interest in this little blog.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cesar Franck (1822-1890)

Once ignored by most, Cesar Franck is only now earning recognition for being an immensely talented Romantic composer. Franck, a Belgian who spent much of his life in France, was a proficient pianist and organist; he wrote many important works for the organ repertoire and gave up a virtuoso career to live a modest life as an organist for a Paris church. Characteristics of Franck's music include cyclic form, chromatic movement, and constant modulation. As a composer, Franck didn't mature until late in his career, and his fame is based on a relatively small batch of pieces: the most famous are his Wagneresque symphony, the epic Prelude, Chorale and Fugue for piano, and his Piano quintet of 1879.

This Piano quintet is very progressive and difficult for its time; the pianist at the premiere was the more conservative Camille Saint Saens, and he loathed the piece so much that he didn't even wait for applause at the end of the performance and stormed off the stage. Franck's own wife hated the piano quintet, which was nothing like normal delicate French music; this piece, especially the last movement, is as dramatic and intense as any of Wagner's works. I just recently bought the recording of this, and it is already among my favorite pieces of Romantic chamber music.

Cesar Franck- Piano Quintet

Ludwig String Quartet
Michael Levinas, Piano

Monday, May 29, 2006

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Paul Hindemith was among the greatest 20th-century composers, as well as a music theorist and renowned violist. While Bach provides the contrapunctal inspiration, Hindemith's harmonic language, especially in this piece, is more like early Schoenberg.

Mathis der Maler, an opera made into a symphony, is one of Hindemith's most popular works. The opera was about a master painter in the sixteenth century named Matthias Grunewald: "The painter abandons his studio to make cause with the Peasants' Revolt, thus turning against his patron and employer, the Cardinal Archbishop of Mainz. The difference between the ideals for which the peasants are fighting, and the reality of their behaviour in war, sickens the painter. He is beset with doubts, resolved only when the Cardinal makes it clear to him that by wholehearted devotion to his art can the artist best serve the cause of his people." (Andrew Porter)

Hindemith wrote this while living in Nazi Germany. The premiere of the symphony was in 1934, but due to the subject matter, the opera had to wait another four years for its premiere, in Zurich.

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler
von Karajan and the Berlin Phil.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

The Hungarian composer Bela Bartok the first to successfully combine Western classical music- his influences range from Brahms to Debussy to Schoenberg- with folk music from around the world, creating a very unique, rhythmic style. He wrote this in 1937, with himself and his second wife in mind to play the piano parts. The very dark mood of the first movement is juxtaposed with the bright and bouncy third movement, where the xylophone has a major role and where folk influences are most clear. The piece is very accessible for a Bartok, especially when compared to some of his seemingly impenetrable 12-tone works.

Bela Bartok: Sonata for 2 pianos and Percussion
John Simms, James Avery, Pianos
Thomas L. Davis, Percussion

Sunday, May 14, 2006

War of the Romantics XII- Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)

A pupil of Saint Saens and a mentor of Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Faure was a transitional figure in musical history; as Beethoven did with Classical and Romantic music, Faure similarly straddled the Romantic and Impressionistic labels. Claude Debussy and Ravel, the first full-fledged Impressionists, certainly pick up where Faure left off.
In these solo piano pieces, generally from the latter half of Faure's career, both the Romantic inspirations and the Impressionistic harmonies are evident. I am reminded of Brahms in Faure's use of "large scale syncopation" (Wikipedia), and of Mendelssohn in Faure's beautiful melodies- especially in his earlier Romances sans Paroles, a tribute to Mendelssohn's Songs without Words. But in Faure's nocturnes, influenced by Chopin, there are harmonies unlike any other in the Romantic era; ambiguous, hazy, and very Debussian. His Nocturnes No. 7 and 8 of 1898 are unbelievably radical for 19th century music, by any standard. Overall, Faure uses a romantic framework to advance his very forward-looking impressionistic ideas.

Included are:
Nocturnes 7-13
Preludes 3 and 9
Romances sans Paroles 1-3

Jean Martin- Faure Nocturnes Vol. 2

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Via Crucis Re-upped

I got a request for Via Crucis by Franz Liszt to be re-uploaded, since the link expired, so here is the album on rapidshare. If you missed this the first time around, I strongly recommend you check it out, as it is one of my all time favorite pieces.

Part One

Part Two

Sunday, April 30, 2006

War of the Romantics Part XI. Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Bruckner is a sort of missing link in the chain of German symphonic composers, who is now rarely mentioned because of the amazing capabilities of those who came before and after him. The line started by Haydn had evolved through Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms, with radical composers like Berlioz and Liszt doing various other things. Bruckner followed the path of the former romantic composers, basing his compositions off of Beethoven's 4th, 7th, and 8th Symphonies; 4-movement works rich in romantic ideas and harmonies, but lacking the more descriptive programme-music favored by Liszt and Berlioz.

Brahms had based his 4 symphonies off of the model left by Beethoven, and changed a little from the existing model. Bruckner took what was left by Brahms, and again changed a little, this time making the orchestra larger, the harmonies more chromatic, the emotion more intense. He also adopted habits of Wagner in writing brass-heavy music and by including Wagner Tubas in some of his works. Needless to say, Brahms and his followers were irritated by this out of their hate for Wagner. Still, like Brahms, Bruckner was preoccupied by the greatness of his predecessors, and so he adopted a more conservative style. Just like Brahms tried to perfect what Beethoven created, Bruckner tried to perfect what Brahms created. The result is a well developed musical style stuck somewhere between Brahms, Wagner and Mahler.

Bruckner's style did not really evolve like other composers, so his early symphonies are similar to his late ones(they were all equally horrible during his lifetime), but his late ones are the most well known, with the 7th, 8th, and unfinished 9th being the most popular. Though not as revolutionary as other composers, Bruckner's style did carry into the music of Richard Strauss and especially Gustav Mahler.

The sound quality of this recording is a touch too old for my taste, and it was most likely in some hall, and not in a good location for recording. Still it has some good things to offer, despite the sound quality.

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E Major

Salzburg Festival, Wiener Philharmoniker, Szell - Sony Classical

Please comment, I can post Bruckner 9 if anyone out there is a Bruckner fan. If not, I'll just move on to other stuff.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Igor Stravinsky

Born into a world of Russian classical msuic, Igor Stravinksy made his mark in his homeland but left for France as a young man. His previous compositions won him a spot composing ballets for Serge Diaghilev's famed ballet company. The Firebird (1910), Stravinsky's first prooduction for the company was an imediate sucess and was soon followed by Petrushka (1911). His next work, however, has become infamous in its own manner. The audience attending the premiere of the Rite of Spring (1913) reacted rather violently to the new work and proceded to riot the streets of Paris.

I give you here the Firebird which follows the story Tsarevitch Ivan. Here is are the main points of the plotline as written by the Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Tsarevitch Ivan, out hunting, spies the glittering Firebird in Kastchei's enchanted garden and, drawn to her cosmic energy, traps her. They dance a powerful pas de deux as she struggles in his grasp and finally wins her freedom, leaving him a magic feather with which he can recall her strength in his time of need.
A group of young Princesses—Kastchei's captives—enters the garden to dance in the moonlight, and Ivan and the loveliest Princess are drawn to one another. They communicate their new love as they perform a folk dance with her companions. With the approach of the dawn, the Princesses return to the castle, warning Ivan to escape before Kastchei appears.
Not yet understanding the power of the enemy, Ivan tries to follow. He is threatened by Kastchei's monsters, and incurs the wizard's wrath. The Princesses return, and Ivan realizes fully the danger to the woman he loves. Remembering the magic feather which will summon the Firebird to his aid, he waves it, and she reappears to help him drive off the monsters and Kastchei.
The exhausted Ivan and the Princess reconfirm their love, and the Firebird prepares them to face their last difficult task—the destruction of Kastchei's evil soul. As Ivan breaks open the egg that contains it, new life is liberated, and love triumphs over evil.
Her mission accomplished, the Firebird—somewhat sadly—relinquishes Ivan and the Princess to the future that awaits them. In the presence of well-wishers, children, and flowers, the new Tsar and Tsarevna are crowned as benevolent leaders of the regenerated world.

In 1919, Stravinsky wrote a suite of the music from the Firebird to be performed without the ballet accompaniment. While both versions are commonly used in performances today, I can only offer the 1910 version for your listening pleasure. There are few differences between the two with most of the music identical in each rendition.

The Firebird (1910)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Sorry about the recent absence of posting. I think I can speak for all Masterfaders when I say we've been busy as hell. I expect posting to pick up again after next week.

The works that Johannes Brahms wrote for organ are not well known. His output for organ was small, but it spanned almost his entire composing career. The first preludes and fugues on here are from the mid 1850s, probably from around the time Brahms, still a young man, wanted to make a living as an organist. Brahms did not want these published, but they escaped destruction and are rare surviving examples of pieces that Brahms was not happy with; they show his amazing potential more than anything else.

The last work, the opus 122 11 chorale preludes of 1896, is the last thing Brahms ever wrote, and is among my favorite pieces of his entire output. Brahms wrote them partly as a reaction to his intimate friend Clara Schumann's death, and partly as a recognition of his own impending death. The conservative Brahms always drew inspiration from JS Bach, and on Bach's preferred instrument his influence is unmistakable. However, these melancholy, reflective pieces are most definitely Brahmsian; his characteristic 2-on-3 hemiolas and barline-transcending rhythms abound. It is obvious when one listens to these pieces, especially the final chorale, O Welt, ich muss dich lassen, that Brahms knew he hadn't long to live- as the organ drops to pianissimo at the end of the piece and sings one last beautiful F major chord, I picture a tearful goodbye from the greatest Romantic composer ever.

Robert Parkins- Brahms complete organ works

(To accompany his last musical work, the picture above is the last ever taken of Brahms, in 1896)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Erik Satie

Not many people can take credit for helping found three different artistic movements. The Dada, Impressionism, and ambient music movements all owe a great deal to Erik Satie, as you'll see. (The drawing to the right: Erik Satie, by Pablo Picasso)

Satie can be viewed as the complete opposite of Richard Wagner; his music, instead of being extremely grand, long, and climactic, is directionless and short. Satie's harmonic language is unlike anyone else. He would recieve lessons from well-known teachers, but if they told him to fix an unconventional element in his style, he would only ask, "why?" Many see Satie as a precursor to the Dadaists; his music and behavior could be very absurd. He wore only velvet suits for a period of time, and only ate white food. He titled the second piece he ever wrote "Opus 62" and hardly ever used bar-lines in his compositions. His works are full of ridiculous jokes, including a piece on this disc that begins "ending" about half a minute before the actual end of the piece (You'll know what I'm talking about if you hear it.)

Satie was a staunch anti-Wagnerian, and when he met a young Claude Debussy, he inspired him to avoid Wagner's path. Debussy and his contemporary Maurice Ravel heeded Satie's advice, started writing formless, quiet, Satie-esque pieces, and began the movement known as Impressionism.

Satie's anti-Romantic style can be best heard in his "furniture music," intended for nothing else but background music- Brian Eno credits Satie with being the first ambient composer. His Gymnopedies are considered by some to be furniture music, but were not meant to be; they are just beautiful examples of rhythm and melody taken to a bare minimum. Claude Debussy was so impressed with Satie's Gymnopedies that he famously orchestrated them, but I prefer the intimate solo versions on this disc.

Pascal Roge- Satie: Piano Works

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More Wagner

As promised, here is more Wagner, the winner of the poll. This is Wagner's popular opera, Die Walkure (The Valkyrie) made famous by the pictured Apocalypse Now scene. This opera premiered in 1870 as the second part of his massive Ring cycle of operas, which is based on old Germanic characters and legends. Unlike Beethoven, one Wagner piece is more than enough for a post; Die Walkure requires four discs to hold it.

Die Walkure: Act I

Act II, Part I (Disc II)

Act II part II (Disc III)

Act III (Disc IV)

Vienna Phil., Georg Solti

Birgit Nilsson as Brunnhilde
for more information on soloists, etc. check this link

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Winner...

The poll is closed, and the winner, surprisingly by no small margin, is Richard Wagner. I, personally, was betting on Tchaikovsky and hoping for Liszt, but Wagner won in a blowout. Thanks to those who voted, and we will begin to post Wagner soon.

Please continue to leave comments if you like what you hear or if you have requests.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Back in February, Sam was good enough to post the Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor. Antonin Dvorak, however, wrote more for solo cello with orchestra. As Sam already wrote about Dvorak, I won't repeat his the basics.

In 1891, Dvorak went on a tour of Czechoslovakia, performaing in 39 cities with his good friends Ferdinand Lachner, violin and Hanuš Wihan, cello. Dvorak had written several pieces for violin but he badly needed cello music so he transcribed a piano duet from his Op. 6 toa solo for cello and piano. Klid ("Silent Woods") Piece for Cello and Orchestra was the result and eventually, Dvorak transcribed the piano part for orchestra.

Following this tour of his homeland, Dvorak left for the New World of America where he composed his 9th Symphony, "The New World Symphony" and a year later, the cello concerto. As he was working on the symphony, Dovrak was also writing another cello solo, entitlted, Rondo for Cello and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 94.

This post was originally intended to be an April Fool's joke. I had wanted to post Justified by Justin Timberlake for a long time, just as a joke and this seemed like the best time to do it. I coudlnt upload the entire album so I just put together a questionable pieces. Enjoy...

Friday, March 31, 2006

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

The father of atonal music and developer of the twelve-tone system, Arnold Schoenberg is arguably the most influencial of any 20th century composer. After Schoenberg, the centuries-old necessity of a tonal base was thrown out the window. Schoenberg, however, began his career following the footsteps of Mahler and Strauss, and in 1898 created one of the most beautiful pieces of late Romantic music with Verklarte Nacht (Transfigued Night, inspired by a poem of the same name.) This piece was avant-garde without being atonal; the extreme modulations and heavy dissonances- sometimes flirting with atonality- make it clear that Schoenberg didn't intend to stay on Mahler's path. However, this piece for string orchestra is a lush, melodic, and profoundly lovely farewell to the Romantic world.

Op. 4- Verklarte Nacht- von Karajan and the Berlin Phil.

Schoenberg progressively began experimenting with atonality after Verklarte Nacht, and by 1908 was composing completely without key. This 1928 piece, Varitaions for Orchestra, is a perfect example of a twelve-tone work. Each of the nine short variations has a very different character to it, from sparse and hushed to bombastic and brash. It's never easy to listen to atonal music for the first time, but I think that this would be a good piece to begin with. It may be incomprehensible, but is not chaos.

Op. 31- Variations for Orchestra- von Karajan and the Berlin Phil.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wotr- Poll #2

A new update is below this.

You know the drill; we'll post tons of stuff from the winner of this poll. So who do you want this time?

Pick your favorite!
Franz Liszt
Camille Saint Saens
Peter Tchaikovsky
Richard Wagner
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Free polls from

The deadline will be next Sunday.