Adam Bernstein's Blog

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Grieg’s Lyric Pieces and Songs

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

Grieg’s work is always a little strange to me- he seems so refined in the small details and yet very clunky and old-fashioned in the bigger picture.  I enjoy the key modulations he uses and think they’re very original, but the rhythms he employs are rarely particularly noteworthy.  However, there is a definite beauty in the simplicity of his work, and as I listen to Sviatoslav Richter play Op. 43, No. 6 “To Spring” I can’t help but smile.

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Mussorgksy’s Pictures at an Exhibition

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

To me, this piece only really exists in the orchestrated version by Ravel.  The opening theme of the promenade should only truly be played on trumpet and accompanied by a brass section- to think of pianos playing the parts seems disconnected from the original intentions behind the music, as backwards as that may seem.  The piece is very interesting because it follows such a unique architecture- the use of paintings as inspiration for each piece lends the collective whole a certain uniqueness and adds a layer of intrigue.  Each movement has a definite character which doesn’t quite follow predictable patterns, yet doesn’t stray from the norms of the time, which is very refreshing.

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Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier (Act I)

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

I always consider Strauss in a much more serious light, so a comedic opera strikes me as unusual coming from the author of Also Sprach Zarathustra and Death and Transfiguration, though it is reminiscent of Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.  The music has a sort of buoyancy which reminds me of Johann Strauss’ waltzes, which have a wandering quality as well as a general lightness.  The work is surprisingly sparse in accompaniment for a German opera, and seems more Italian in style- the orchestra provides a tonal base but rarely shifts harmonically in ways which are not suggested by the vocalist.

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Wagner’s Parsifal, Act 3

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

Wagner’s music is very difficult to for me to grapple with on a number of levels-  his music is obviously extremely important in a historical context, and though I don’t appreciate most of it I expect that at some point in my life I will love it.  His operas are the most extreme forms of orchestral composition I can think of (with the possible exception of Mahler), and he is one of the most imposing figures in musical history.  Following his mind is very difficult, but very rewarding, and Parsifal is a solid example of his writing style- the chromaticism which gives him so much harmonic liberty combined with the heavy lyricism of his melodies, carried by brass and accompanied by low strings, create a unique texture for his chorus and soloists.

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Verdi’s Don Carlos, Act IV

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

Though I’m sure it would be more impressive in person, Don Carlos did not resonate strongly with me.  I rarely enjoy opera, so I’m not surprised, but I do love Verdi’s compositions- the grandiose over-the-top style of the music is very dramatic, but rarely is it surprising in terms of progression or orchestration.  I was surprised to see that it was revised so many times over such a long period of time, but I can’t imagine sitting through a 4 hour opera so maybe that was a good call.

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Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for Violin and Piano

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

I haven’t heard much of Clara Schumann’s original work before, so it was a nice change from her husband Bobby.  The piece has a certain maturity to it which makes sense, given that the piece was composed towards the end of her life, but nevertheless is surprising.  It reminds me of R. Schumann’s compositions in many respects, but with a certain attention to the timbre relationship between the two instruments at play.  The sonority of the fingers sliding up and down strings while pulled by hair seems exceptionally well placed with the accompanying percussiveness of the piano.

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Rossini’s William Tell, Act 2

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

The piece starts with a beautiful solo section from the winds which is one of the most famous sections of classical music.  Though it is difficult to approach from a serious musical perspective when the piece has been played out of context so often, the music is quite beautiful and deserving of the fame the piece has received.  The interplay between flutes, oboes, and clarinets is lovely, and the trumpet fanfare which announces the next theme is well deserving of the fame it has received.  It’s very satisfying to hear the whole thing, but I don’t know if I would actively seek it out for listening.

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Rossini’s La Cenerentola

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

The overture to La Cenerentola is an enjoyable piece, very lively with a wide range of themes which are all enjoyable and original.  The piece is a great example of classic Italian opera- very fluffy, nice melodies, but not a lot of real grit.  I loved the different lines repeating motives and themes, and the orchestration was very satisfying, though it is a little surprising that the story was changed from a fairy tale to a more realistic version.

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Schubert’s Trout Quintet

May 20th, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

Schubert’s Trout Quintet is an interesting piece- as a bassist I am always welcoming of additional chamber material for us to play, and I appreciate the option.  However, I find that very often the bass line is not particularly interesting or original- at a time when Beethoven’s use of counterpoint in the lower voices was widely recognized, Schubert chose to stick with a more standard form.  This choice is understandable given that the material is taken from a song, but is disappointing nonetheless.  In my opinion, the music is pretty, but it is not an outstanding piece of music

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Missa Solemnis in D Major, Op. 123

March 1st, 2011 by Adam Bernstein · Uncategorized

Beethoven’s Op. 123 initially struck me as a substandard representation of Beethoven’s genius, so I was shocked to learn that he considered it his favorite composition.  The piece does not exemplify Beethoven’s brilliant counterpoint, the orchestration is predictable, and the rhythms lack the usual vivacity and enthusiasm of Beethoven’s work.  The one trait which I find truly stunning is the sonority of the piece, and I’m sure this is what drew Beethoven to the work as well- each solo line is allowed to swell and produce the most beautiful tone possible, and the entire piece was written with the concept of creating beautiful sound.  Because the composition is so simple in many other areas, there is less to distract from the simple beauty of a major chord, produced as fully as possible from every instrument available.

The reason I find the piece so interesting is that it is such a late work- written at around the same time as the 9th symphony, this piece exhibits none of the complexity and verve which is apparent in every moment of Beethoven’s final triumph.  The 9th begins with suppressed furor, the pianissimo unsustainable as the orchestra swells, and the orchestration varies from sparse to as thick as possible from second to second.  The Kyrie, on the other hand, opens with a forte chord from the full orchestra, then backs away as the harmonic progression slowly builds and ends with a perfect authentic cadence, at which time the chorus is introduced, and the soloists begin.  Any major shift in harmony or dynamic is precluded by a horn call or another cue which softens the change, and even rhythmic changes are very clear-cut and never rely on an unusual rhythmic device (such as short-short-short-long from Beethoven 5, the infamous Beethoven 7 8th -16th 8th).

Though the piece is beautiful, it lacks what made Beethoven’s music so great- the element of conflict which generates such strong emotion.  Perhaps because it is so much less tumultuous Beethoven was able to find more peace in composing and imagining its performance.

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