Saturday, March 25, 2023

Mozart C major Piano Sonata, K545, now in D major for String Quintet or String Orchestra

[Transposed into D major]

You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP (via the transcription tab).

Mozart entered his 16th Piano Sonata into his catalog in 1788, and indicated that it was a piece for beginner pianists. It wasn't published until 1805, fourteen years after Mozart's death. I was really surprised to see how well its charms transfer to strings when transposed into the string-friendly key of D major. I hope my affection for this piece is contagious, and hope that someone might share a video of a performance online.

Thursday, March 23, 2023


When I encountered Scarbo the dwarf in Steven Millhauser's "The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon," the second story in his 1993 Little Kingdoms the other day, I thought immediately of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit. I guess Steven Millhauser was thinking of it as well.

And today in the last novella in the collection, which is presented as an analysis of a series of paintings (some of them portraits) Robert Schumann's opus 9 "Carnaval" and his opus 12 "Fantasiestüke," musical portraits and collections of images themselves, made an appearance. Also today Rat Krespel (otherwise known as Councillor Krespel) in "The Cremona Violin," one of my favorite E.T.A. Hoffmann stories, got his portrait painted in prose by Millhauser.

I am one happy reader these days.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Getting from one note to the next

I can basically understand how well a person plays their instrument within the span of two or three notes. It is not any kind of super power, and I do believe that most people who listen to music do, on some level, have a similar experience.

As a musician making the journey from one note to the next can involve a world of experiences. Not all notes are created equally, and sometimes getting from one note to the next does not even involve a change of pitch: it involves a change in timbre, articulation, or dynamic level. String players use their bows and fingers, sometimes in steps with the fingers of the left hand (sometimes, as in the practice of going up stairs, taking two steps at a time), and sometimes in shifts up or down on the same string, or complicating the matter and using the bow to cross to a different string. Wind and brass players use their tongues and the mechanism involved in controlling the the airstream. Sometimes getting from one note to the next is a lovely journey, and sometimes it is a dangerous one. Sometimes it leads to a predictable place, sometimes to a nice safe resolution, and sometimes it leads to an obscure place with unpredictable resonance.

Lately I have been waxing poetic about this concept to my string-playing friends, who sort of humor me. I mean it seems so obvious . . .

Yesterday I was explaining it to a student, and was shocked to see and to hear that she actually understood what I was talking about. It felt good to be "heard."

I rememember back in the days of record players with speeds lower than 33 1/3 (I think I had one with a 17 r.p.m. speed). I probably ruined a few Rampal records when I listened to them at half speed. His slowed-down records were a minefield of clumsy maneuvers along the path from one note to the next. Julius Baker's slowed-down records were neat and orderly, with notes like little soldiers wearing hats, walking in lockstep.

So I have been enhancing my practice with as much awareness as I can to the way one note leads to the next, and the way one note leads to the next, and the way one note leads to the next, and the way one note leads to the next, and the way one note leads to the next, and the way one note leads to the next, and the way one note leads to the next, and the way one note leads to the next, and the way one note leads to the next.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Letters as a source of history

My father sent me an envelope full of letters that I wrote to him during my time in Schladming (1980 and 1981). I was in my very early twenties, very forthcoming, on my own in Europe with my first job, and very full of myself. I read them through, put them in order, and put them back in the envelope. I put the envelope in a drawer. I'm not interested in reading them again, but they might interest a grandchild some day.

Or not. My handwriting is the same (how I wish that the Geha fountain pen I used exclusively at that time still worked), but I do not feel much kinship with the person who wrote those letters. A lot of growing can happen in forty years. To anyone reading this post who knew me at the time, I sincerely apologize for the many stupid things I must have said and done during my young years that I didn't write about in my letters home.

This letter incident mixes nicely in my mind with a little bit of interaction I had with an unidentified-here-but-otherwise highly-regarded musicologist (I'm not saying how long ago) concerning a well-known composer of the vast pre-internet past. This musicologist believes that a sometimes-identifying characteristic about this composer that some think of as culturally important is not really important, because sources (like letters) do not say anything about the connection this composer has to a particular cultural institution. I pointed out (in person--not in writing) two instances that point to what could be an important connection for this composer and her/his family to the (unnamed in this post) cultural institution. The musicologist had never thought about either item. If they did, it would challenge their whole thesis, and nullify the direction and focus of their scholarship.

If the only thing that survived after my demise was this packet of letters I wrote to my father forty years ago, nobody would know much about the adult person that I have become. This blog, a public record of my comings and goings, interests and projects, and bits of reflection on parts of my past that I choose to share, will, hopefully, give my grandchildren a better picture of the kind of life I built for myself as an adult. There was a lot I didn't write about (see the last sentence of the first paragraph) in my young adulthood that I would rather not remember. And if I didn't commit those events to paper with my Geha pen, nobody would know about events and associations in my past that might be significant enough to me not to be able to forget, and important enough for me to keep to myself so that they are never revealed. Please don't ask. I won't tell.

If I lived during a time when it was extremely dangerous to practice or be associated in any way with a particular religion, like Judaism, I would probably not write letters about it. I would confine my interactions concerning that matter to conversations with people who would also feel the need to keep their association with Judaism undocumented. Consider the conversos who practiced Judaism during the Spanish Inquisition. I would probably be very careful about my written communication if I were a non-communist in Soviet Russia.

I have thought often of under-documented relationships of the past, particularly the musical ones. I imagine that Mozart and Haydn spent a lot of undocumented time together in Vienna. I imagine that Schubert and Beethoven had an undocumented private friendship as well. There were also a great many interactions that these four composers had with other friends, musical and otherwise, and zillions of things we will never know about them. So much of music history seems to be stitched together from this (personal) letter here, that program there, somebody writing about meeting someone somewhere, and the occasional photograph or portrait.

[Consider Ethel Smyth's account of meeting Augusta Holmes when she showed up unannounced at her home. Smyth described Holmes as a "hag." Smyth didn't know that Holmes was very sick with cancer at the time. Smyth expected a woman of glamour and found a human being who was suffering from a very human disease. Smyth's impression is one that endured for a long time. Now that we are able to hear and see some of Holmes's music and know more about her life from other sources, we have the ability to make our own impressions.] 

 I believe it is what people who write music, make visual artwork, and write poetry, prose, and scripts (plays and movies) put in their work is what matters most. Letters can be fun (sometimes), but I think that a body of music is the best window into the mind of a composer. Actually, when all is said, done, practiced, rehearsed, and played, it is the only thing that matters.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Millhauser’s creation speaks of genius

From From the Realm of Morpheus
For genius—outrageous and daring genius—inventing its own laws—and sustaining all others—expresses itself completely within those laws.