May 29, 2020; 7:30pm
Bach: Partita No. 6 in e minor
Tempo di gavotta —
Brahms: Intermezzi Op. 118, Nos. 1 and 2
Ravel: Forlane from Tombeau de Couperin
Chopin: Ballade No. 4
It's always nice to learn a little bit more about what's going on behind the pieces (or at the very least, it's nice to have something to read when you get bored of the music...)
Bach — Partita for Keyboard No. 6 in e minor
This piece is actually a collection of seven (7) different movements (!) with an overarching thematic unity throughout the movements. I think this might actually be one of the longest partitas written for the keyboard, but I'm not too sure. It's definitely quite a dramatic and meaty work — perhaps the most so out of the six partitas that Bach wrote for the keyboard.
As you're listening along, I hope you enjoy the emotional strife, the varying moods, the lilting rhythms, the ebb and flow, and anything else you want to listen to. (Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.) If you listen carefully, you might be able to notice the common musical ideas that are shared between the movements. And if you spend many painstaking glorious hours analyzing these musical patterns, you might be able to write a music theory paper! (Seriously, I sometimes wonder whether Bach would have imagined that centuries later, we'd still be obsessing over the patterns in his music...)
Dramatic and emotionally rich, this movement might be my favorite of the piece. Actually, it's hard to pick favorites; each movement is special in its own way. Structurally, this movement is a fugue sandwiched on either side by free-flowing, quasi-improvisatory material. All throughout, there's a bubbling undercurrent of energy, tension, struggle, whatever you want to call it. It's definitely passionate, but angry isn't the right word. Angsty, perhaps. In the heart of the fugue, hiding within the midst of the drama, there lies a carefree, shimmering major-key oasis of utmost beauty. Ah. The wonder of Bach. Anyways, music is music, and words are words, so you will see for yourself.
A twisty and turny four-count dance where the two hands dance up and down the keyboard playing with fun rhythms. There's a sublime beauty to this dance, but for some reason, I've always found it vaguely apocalyptic. 🤔
A vigorous fast dance in three. The left hand lays a constant solid pulse throughout, while the right hand pounces all around and plays a syncopated blurry of fast notes.
Short and light-hearted. It's rather cute.
Ah, the heart of the entire piece: a slow (!), reflective dance in three, decorated with colorful flairs and ornaments. I feel like all the movements before this one lead up to here — a special timeless dance that spins, and spins, and spins. Is it a lament? A yearning? A hope for a new future? Only you can tell.
Tempo di gavotta
As we awaken from the slow trance of the Sarabande, we are not sure yet if we are asleep or awake, in this world or the next. In this hazy dimension we find a charming gavotta. To me, this dance is supposed to be elegant and fun (a carnival of angels?), but there's a slight mischevious flavor to the whole thing.
Pure energy. Or something like that. The musical motif to this movement is pretty funny (but also deadly serious!) — a series of two-note "huzzahs" that climb upwards and upwards. (Halfway through the movement, the melody turns upside down and climbs downwards and downards.) As each of the voices enter, their rhythms interlock perfectly with one other, and the effect is pretty spectacular; it's like people shouting back and forth at each other across a room, one right after the other after the other. And the energy propels forward this way all the way to the end.
Brahms — Intermezzi Op. 118, Nos. 1 and 2
Juicy German Romanticism at its finest. This is late Brahms, introspective, moody, and viscous. (Will the music undergo a glass transition as it is cooled further?) There are six pieces total to this Opus 118 set; I'm just playing the first two tonight. The first Intermezzo sweeps and surges and gurgles and splashes all over the place, only to fade into an A major mist. And out of the mist emerges the second Intermezzo — tender, nostalgic, and juicy. So juicy that when you indulge in the ripe fruit, the sticky juices splatter all over your face. So tender. So sweet. At least, that's the A part of the ABA form. The B part is another dimension entirely — a dream where you've woken up in a magical snow globe that's lost in time.
Ravel — Forlane from Tombeau de Couperin
Surreal, otherworldly, and French. It paints a soundscape utterly unlike anything else on this program; it is a dance in a different dimension of unreal harmony, where impressionistic chords flirt in and out of existence in a slow hypnotic lilt.
The Forlane is actually one of a set of 6 pieces, the Tombeau de Couperin, each of which is to the memory of a friend of Ravel who died fighting in the first World War. I think it is fitting. Let yourself be carried away by the entrancing, hyptonic soundscape...
Chopin — Ballade No. 4
A journey through time and space that explores different realms of sound, of emotion, of experience. After a hauntingly nostalgic opening, the main melody sings out in f minor in an understated, halting, and faintly reminiscent voice. As Chopin takes the simple idea and expounds on it further (as he always does), it eventually erupts and crashes down to unveil the second main theme — a calm, chorale-like chant, a moment of respite. From here we journey into uncharted lands, hearing tales of adventure, legends of times past, going here, going there, only to returning to the nostalgic opening, in the surprising tonality of A major — a friend in disguise! I think this is one of the most breathless moments in this piece, where time stops still and the music just floats there. After wandering some more, we return to the original f minor opening melody, before launching forward under a pulsating triplet rythm, revisiting our first theme, our second theme, growing and growing, eventually bursting into an explosive coda whose finger-tangling technical difficulty continues to torment generations of pianists.
Thank you for tuning in!