Welcome to
      Home    Listen    Site Index    BLOG  


 "Getting there is all the fun!" -- an OLLI / UPITT class with Dr. Michael Hammer ([email protected])
@ Third Presbyterian Church (412) 661- 4710

WEEK FIVE: "The end is near"

music played in class:

Chaminade: Arabesque no. 1

Debussy: Arabesque no. 1

Debussy: Arabesque no. 2   not having had time to make a recent recording, I stumbled across this very old one from c. 2004, recorded with a single microphone. Sorry about the sound quality. Consider it an interesting historical artifact!

Schumann: Arabeske

   The "Wanderer" fantasy with pianist Julianna Avdeeva

a little background on The Wanderer Fantasy
another essay with a little more background

Back to School with Franz Schubert an essay about Schubert and musical craft (with a brief appearance by the Wanderer Fantasy)

WEEK FOUR: "Now you see it..." (thematic transformation)

Music played in class:

Debussy: Pour le Piano: I. Prelude

    Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with pianist Stephen Hough and the BBC Symphony. The famous Db variations starts around 15:30.

Clementi: Sonatina, op. 36 #1
   1 Allegro
   2 Andante
   3 Vivace
Satie: Sonatina Bureaucratique

   Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. Performance by Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1990)


WEEK THREE: "Just Messing with You" (musical grammar)

The Universal Language of mankind an essay about one very famous sentiment about music that maybe doesn't hold up.

Mozart's Musical Dice Game  go forth and compose! with plenty of links and information about this odd little exercise in music-by-assembly

music played in class: Schubert Sonata no. 1 in E Major, I. Allegro
                                Mozart, Sonata no. 17 in Bb, K. 570, first and third movements
                 (I've recorded the Schubert myself but it isn't ready to upload so I'll trust you to find another recording. They are out there!)

excerpts shared in class: Mozart "Jupiter" Symphony #41 (third movement trio, which begins with a two chords that normally go at the end)  excerpt begins at 29:23
                                    Haydn Symphony #90, movement 4  (the piece ends....and then doesn't)  excerpt begins at 23:47
                                    Beethoven Symphony #3 "Eroica" in which the 4th horn comes in a couple bars early (on purpose)   excerpt begins at 10:45

a piece not played in class, but related to the Haydn Symphony with the trick ending (I wish I had thought of this sooner, but here is a recording of mine from several years ago:)
                                    Satie: Dried Embryos movement 1: The Holothurian (is it over yet?)

New Horizons in Music Appreciation  listening to long pieces of classical music would be so much easier if they had announcers to interpret what was going on while it was happening. Here is Peter Schikele's classic sketch.

Sometimes it all comes down to how you interpret what you are hearing. In this comic, is "Just" a noun or an adjective? (is it a closing word/gesture or does it announce the arrival of the word it modifies? Pig is so confused.)

WEEK TWO: "Are we there yet?" (are we trying to get there? or is here good enough?)

This week we complicated the notion of listening as going on a musical journey by examining conflicting notions of form as unfolding of pre-concieved object vs. the notion of goal-oriented music.

music played in class (recorded by yours truly)

The First movement of the Bach "Italian Concerto" played in class

the Bach "St. Anne" prelude in Eb, also played in class, this recording from the organ at First Presbyterian in downtown Pittsburgh

Scarlatti: Sonata in C, k. 309   also played in class.

Paderewski: Menuet in G  Our "mystery piece" or you can hear Paderewski play it himself (from a movie) here

Die Wanderer, a song by Schubert which became the basis for his piano fantasy that you'll hear in a few weeks. Sung by the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with (also great) pianist Gerald Moore. The "Wanderer theme" occurs from 1:57- 2:50

the original German and translated English text of the song

something from Wikipedia:

"Der Wanderer" (D 489) [formerly D 493] is a lied composed by Franz Schubert in October 1816 for voice and piano. A revised version was published near the end of May 1821 as opus 4, number 1. The words are taken from a German poem by Georg Philipp Schmidt (von Lübeck). The lied is set in the key of C-sharp minor with the tempo marking sehr langsam (very slow) and the time signature alla breve. The piece has a total of 72 measures. Schubert wrote another lied entitled "Der Wanderer;" it is numbered D.649.

a little chuckle at Romantic despair, courtesy of the comics page.

WEEK ONE: "Play it again, Sam!" (Repetition as the key to form)


Vladimir Horowitz playing "Excursions" (note the "blues" movement at 2:58) A famous Russian virtuoso takes on his first set of American piano pieces. Did he do a good job?

Charles-Marie Widor playing his own toccata (at age 88!)        Widor was always complaining that organists played his piece too fast. Here's how he did it.

Pachelbel Canon             See if you can listen for the three-part canon, following the parts as they go from one instrument to another. It is not easy!

PDQ BACH: Concerto for Horn and Hardart  sometimes repetition goes a bit overboard. It can be funny, as in this humorous parody of classical music The joke in question starts at the 30 second mark.

At completely the other end of the spectrum, here is one of J. S. Bach's great masterpieces, the famous organ Passacaglia and Fugue, in which the opening pedal theme is repeated 20 times with alterations in the music above it, before heading for a climactic fugue. Next week we are going to delve into some Bach (not this piece, however) so you are kind of getting a head start!

If you really want to go down a rabbit hole, you should read about Erik Satie's piano piece "Vexations," a 90-second piece which is to be repeated 840 times. Marathon performances of the work have yielded some really interesting results!

Faure: Nocturne no. 4 in Eb        The last piece I played in class. This week we talked about how the opening melody comes back at the end. Next week we'll dive into some of the stuff that happens in between


Pianonoise is updated on Fridays. Most likely there are some articles and/or recordings that will have a connection to what we are doing in class. I'll put those up on the Friday ahead of the class so you can get a jump on them over the weekend if you want (they'll be up until two days afterward). Because the first week's articles come(came) down on the 22nd, I'm reposting them here.

the first has to do with the passion/appreciation debate:

Music Appreciation

first posted Sept. 5, 2012

I've never been a fan of the term "Music Appreciation," mainly because it sounds like it has a real PR problem.

I mean, this is the best we can do? Really?

Sounds like we're setting the bar a little low here, aren't we? We aren't hoping you'll actually like it, or be passionate about it, we're just hoping you'll build up a tolerance for it.

And yet, for decades, the terminology of choice in classrooms around the land to describe the curriculum to people who are often forced to have some kind of an encounter with music that does not come over the top-40 radio stations or is marketed at teenagers, is that strange little word: appreciate.

It sounds kind of academic, doesn't it? And just maybe, in the back of your mind, you are thinking about mom, who made you "appreciate" your vegetables when you were young or you wouldn't get any dessert.

read more

And a defense for various ways of listening to music:

                                                                                                 The Enjoyment Level (Oct. 15, 2021)

Back in grad school I shared a house with two roommates. We did not have similar personalities. One afternoon I was listening to a Beethoven Symphony and I heard something fascinating. Far from finishing the first movement with a few loud chords to announce that the piece was at an end (and drawing the last chord out for a long time to drive the point home), Beethoven instead hit the gas right through the final chord. When I realized that this rhythmic acceleration was a distant echo of the same rhythm that accompanied the opening theme of the piece it was another confirmation of how every moment in the symphony was connected to that central idea. Even the ending wasn't just tacked on, it too was what it was precisely because it belonged to this particular symphony and no other.

When I realized that 30 minutes later Beethoven ended the entire symphony with the same rhythmic gesture but at half speed, I felt the need to express my admiration at what for me was not only an intellectual discovery but an exciting, viscerally scintillating moment of revelation. My roommate was less than impressed. He just smirked and said that he understood music at "the enjoyment level."

I've always found that to be a bit annoying. It implies that any time one's brain is involved you can't really be enjoying something. It suggests to me that a person who processes music in only this way is basically using classical music like a warm shower, letting the water hit your skin and saying "ahhh!" which, while it is one valid approach to music, misses an awful lot, especially if that is the only way you know. And, as people often do when their experience is limited, it is often accompanied by a sense of superiority, because otherwise the speaker might have to admit that if they did a little work they would find ways to enjoy the music beyond their wildest dreams but because they are mentally lazy they are stuck having to take pleasure in the sound for the sound's sake, which can only get you so far, particularly if that is not what the composer is about in the first place.

There are penalties for this superficial relationship with music, though. My roommate quit his doctoral program soon after, finding it too academically demanding for his taste I suspect, and embarked on a series of orchestral auditions. That is a highly competitive field, and it did not help that his own playing was limited to being able to hit the correct notes at the correct time. A more thoroughgoing music understanding (and the inner excitement that comes with it) might have made his playing more interesting. As it was, none of the auditions was successful, and he eventually signed up with the Army to play in its band. I didn't get the impression that making a career of military marches was what he wanted to do, but it seemed to him to be his last option.

There has always been a vast anti-intellectual prejudice in great numbers of people. It is thought that the mind and the heart are enemies, and that if you process something with your mind you must be cold and unfeeling. The musical part of this is that musicology, music theory, structural analysis, research--all of these are impediments to just turning on the radio and blissing out when one of your favorite pieces comes on. For me, the head and the heart have always been linked. A discovery of the head is always a thrill. It is also practically helpful when it comes to interpreting the piece or writing my own. Why did Mozart put that chord on the second beat instead of the first? How is it related to what happens a page earlier? Music, when it is played, always has a sensory component, so after you have answered the question in words and concepts, you can hear it in sounds that appeal to some deep part of you that seems beyond either head or heart.

A surprise is still a surprise, although it helps if you have some idea what to expect (and the composer doesn't give it to you). A buildup and relaxation of tension can usually be detected by anyone, though an appreciation of harmony as well as volume can intensify the effect. Study and intuition can and do work together, so that when you hear a beautiful chord or experience a spectacular effect or sonority, you not only enjoy its local effect, you realize that it is what we have been longing for the entire symphony. A moment like that is wonderful not only because it exists but because of where the composer put it, at the moment when it is most deeply satisfying.

Understanding musical structure can unlock other doors as well; it seems to hint at other temporal experiences that sound like cliches in spoken languages. But to hear Beethoven climb out of a cavern of despair is something quite different than a greeting card. It can bring equanimity, emotional maturity, an appreciation of the long view. It is also sufficiently vague that insisting on having unlocked the true meaning of a symphony or sonata is usually dangerous and reductive.

There are, of course, those brain-privilegers  who do seem to be all intellect and no heart. If you can't feel the sting of Prokofievian candence or warm to the lushness of a Brahmsian sonority, or bask in a Mozartean rhyme, you have my sympathy. There is joy in simply hearing a beautiful sound, or to hear them piled one on another. But there are many enjoyment levels. Music makes us want to sing and dance. It is in this way basic to being human. But something else that is basic to humanity is the ability to think, to query, to investigate, to discover, to realize something you hadn't known before. To return to the familiar and notice that it isn't quite what you thought it was because you've changed even if it hasn't.

Music is thus fully able to accompany us on our journey through life.

comments powered by Disqus