Nathan Giglierano's Blog

An Oberlin course blog

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Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition

May 1st, 2011 by Nathan Giglierano · Uncategorized

I first played this piece when I was in High School, in an All-State orchestra. The version we played was arranged by one of Ravel’s composition students – and bore remarkable resemblance to Ravel’s edition – with the exception of a few strange climaxes that made more sense in Ravel’s orchestration.

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition follows his journey (including the promenade from picture to picture) around a gallery. One of the most famous parts is The Great Gate of Kiev – a drawing for a gate that sadly was never built. Now, whenever I hear The Great Gate, I think of this gate from the first college in the Americas (in Casco Viejo, Panama)

My good friend, Dan Knight (composer, pianist, Steinway Artist) has also done a piece of the same title. His pictures were from the University of Iowa art museum.  I was very intrigued to see his notes for his composition – standard pieces of paper, with a sketch of each painting – and short sentences containing musical ideas he wanted to convey when setting the piece to music. I wonder if Mussorgsky did the same thing.

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Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier

April 24th, 2011 by Nathan Giglierano · Uncategorized

Upon my very first viewing of the first scene,  I was a bit perplexed. A 1911 opera that begins with bedroom scene involving two women? “Wow!” I thought, “What a progressive opera!” A quick read of the synopsis revealed my ignorance, as one of the women was playing a young man.

With my newfound understanding of the plot – the next thing that occured to me was “Wow! What an incredibly large orchestra!” Strauss uses his orchestra to treat the ears to a musical extravaganza of exquisite textures, luscious colors and hereto-unfathomable complexity in the orchestra. There are no mass-produced arias in this music.  Each part is thoroughly planned, and executed in the most organic way.

Strauss really mastered the use of winds in his music. Often, I’m reminded of birds flitting, springtime animals – or flowers dancing in their newfound springtime life.

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Wagner’s Parsifal (Act III)

April 17th, 2011 by Nathan Giglierano · Uncategorized

Wagner’s Parsifal is a story about the Holy Grail. Unlike Monty Python’s version, this one lacks jokes about Frenchmen, and isn’t based around the knights of the round table. Instead, it is filled with dramatic Wagnerian music (as is to be expected).  The music is thick, and unrelenting – occasionally clearing up in moments of sheer beauty. The thickness of the texture is augmented by the fact that the only ones singing are low male voices. It must take incredible stamina to sing the role!

One of Wagner’s biggest fans was King Ludwig II of Bavaria. One of Ludwig’s most charming traits was the CRAZY he displayed at every turn. That, combined with an enormous disposable income lead him to erect some incredibly beautiful buildings.

Among them, Neuschwanstein castle is one of my favorites.

Another site of Ludwig’s dedication to the arts was Linderhof Palace. In an underground lake, a place caled the Venus Grotto was constructed as an illustration of the First Act of Wagner’s Tannhauser. (sorry my picture of it didn’t turn out). One of Ludwig’s first acts as king was to bring Wagner to Munich. His patronage essentially allowed Wagner to create his life’s work – music.

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Verdi Don Carlos

April 9th, 2011 by Nathan Giglierano · Uncategorized

The music for Verdi’s Don Carlo (I couldn’t find video for this one) is incredibly dark and pensive in act IV.  The serious music mirrors the serious content of the accusations, realizations and actions that occur in the act. The music is full of low male voices, and less frequently intervening female voices.

Though the plot is about Spaniards, and the original text was set in French – the opera still has the Italian Feel. Perhaps that’s because I listened to an Italian translation, but I think there is something very Italian still in the music (even thinking beyond the text). Verdi seems to bring thick textures, even though he is dealing with a relatively thin orchestra.  Something about the way the music sounds reminds me of the architecture in Italy.

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Fanny and Clara

March 20th, 2011 by Nathan Giglierano · Uncategorized

When one hears the names Mendelssohn or Schumann, it’s usually in reference to the males who held these names. It is important to also remember Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, and Clara Schumann.

The recording I listened to was on original instruments, and wasn’t the biggest fan of the violin in the recording (though I sympathize, because I know what it’s like to play with gut strings). Fanny Mendelssohn’s string trio is very interesting, and sometimes a little inconsistent. I feel like she underestimates the capabilities of the strings, while writing fantastic parts for the piano. (Likely because she herself was a pianist) I feel like that is always the case with non-violinists writing for the instrument, either that or they write for it as if it’s a piano. So many of Felix’s licks in his violin concerto would be 10x easier on the piano than the violin, because they just don’t fit in the hand.

Ok, sorry for the pianist rant. Many parts of Fanny’s Trio were incredibly beautiful. I especially liked the last movement, and the descending sequence about 40 or 50 seconds in to the first movement.  I found the tambre of the group and the piece to be a rich dark tan/light brown. I was reminded of a castle in Tuscany where I played a concert this summer. Here’s a photo.

The lighting wasn’t the best, but it was at night – so what do you want? Also – on a side note, I had the most amazing pasta dish here. Best I’ve ever had in my life – and I’ve had some goood pasta.

Clara Schumann’s romance is incredibly melancholy and exquisite. Even when it’s in a major sonority, it still has a darkness that is really appealing. I think her writing for the violin can still be a little awkward at times, but is much more fluid than Fanny’s.

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Rossini’s La Ceneretola

March 5th, 2011 by Nathan Giglierano · Uncategorized

Rossini’s La Ceneretola is basically a version of Cinderella. Instead of an evil Step-mother, we have an evil Step-Father – named Don Magnifico (what a great name, right?). In the music of the overture, we follow the typical Rossini format – starting out slow, transitioning to a fast theme, gradually growing to a grand crescendo for which Rossini is so famous.

I watched the Teatro Carlo Felice (2006) version on Naxos Video Library. The staging was very Italian – it reminded me of the old Italian apartment I stayed in this summer.

I was able to understand much of what was going on (my Italian is pretty good – but usually I have a hard time understanding words when they’re sung). I thought Rossini did a good job revealing what was happening in the music, as well as the text. The music for the singers is often virtuosic, (that’s called coloratura, right?) and very beautiful.

What more is there to say? Very enjoyable, good job Rossini!

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Schubert’s love of “The Trout”

February 27th, 2011 by Nathan Giglierano · Uncategorized

Schubert has many talents, first and foremost is his ability to create amazing melodic line. His lied “Die Forelle” does not disappoint. The form of this song is a modified stropic, with a varied 3rd verse – so Schubert reuses the same basic theme in nearly every verse. I think that Schubert is one of the finest craftsmen of songs, because every note is perfectly put in it’s place, and I shudder to imagine it sounding any other way.

Schubert’s other (perhaps less obvious, yet more impressive) talent is for accompanimental textures. Where does he come up with all of them?!? He writes millions of these lieder, and never repeats an accompanimental texture! (as far as I’ve heard) I really like the piano line in “Die Forelle” – if it was spring time, it would probably remind me of fish leaping from a pond in the last hours of the day, with a golden sunset reflecting in little bursts of light coming off the ripples on the pond. (I know this image is fundamentally flawed because trout live in streams, not ponds – however, the noise from the current in the stream is too disrupting for this vision). Of course, it’s not springtime, and all the fish currently living in Ohio are probably in a near frozen state at the bottom of whatever body of water they inhabit. Therefore, I have a new vision for what I’m hearing, (in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a very visual person) – the frozen bushes outside my residence hall, gently swaying in the last rays of a setting sun (during the winter, you take beauty where you can get it). I’ll provide a picture I took since I’m not providing a very apt discription.

Anyway, I just shot off on a tangent – what I really meant to get across is that Schubert is fantastic at creating interesting accompanimental figures!

To see the Quintet, I watched the documentary on Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim Jacqueline duPre and Pinchas Zuckerman.

The historical significance of this film is really cool, and I think every string player should see it. It contains some of the greatest virtuosi of the late 20th century.

Schubert’s amazing knack for accompaniment is constantly put on display in this music. He is always passing the melody around, and creating new bits for the other instruments to play. I recently saw Pacifica play “Death and the Maiden” – which was great fun. In their performance, every time one of them had the melody, he or she would seem to separate themself from the group, and the others left behind in the wake would band together creating this inseparable mesh of accompanimental goodness.

The fourth movement of the quintet is based on the leid “Die Forelle” (the namesake of the quintet), and is basically a playground for Schubert to have fun messing with the theme from his lied.

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Missa Solemnis

February 20th, 2011 by Nathan Giglierano · Uncategorized

The first thing that struck me when listening to Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” was the incredible beauty of the opening in the Kyrie. The smooth orchestral texture is complemented beautifully by rich, full chords.  When I closed my eyes, I was immediately transported to a cathedral I visited in Italy last summer.

Il Duomo di Siena

The Kyrie is very calm, expansive, and peaceful. Beethoven’s thematic material is very lyrical, however still contains the emphasis on shorter motives that I have come to expect.  Nothing shocking, at times I was reminded vaguely of Mozart’s “Requiem”.

The Gloria starts out at a much faster pace, with constantly moving string figures.  It is a multi-faceted movement, constantly changing mood and texture.  Finally, the movment ends in a frenzy (much the way it started) after 18 minutes of music.

The Credo begins with a quick orchestral introduction. The chord progression reminded me very much of the beginning of recits from Don Giovanni (an opera I played this summer).  I was really struck two minutes in with Beethoven’s use of the lower register of the voices.

I think the main thing that struck me about this music was the enormity. Beethoven’s Gloria is 18 min long, where as Bach Glorias I found on Naxos ranged from 3-5 min. Everything about this piece is BIG. The actual length is huge, the orchestration is grand, and the musical ideas are so large.

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