Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition

April 30th, 2011 § 0

I’ve always really enjoyed listening to this piece, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of listening to either Ravel’s orchestral version or the original piano version. (I can’t remember if it was last year or even earlier, but my friends and I went to see the Cleveland Orchestra perform pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy’s orchestral version of Pictures at an Exhibition. It was very interesting to say the least…sorry Ashkenazy, but I think Ravel’s got this one)

My favourite section is Baba Yaga (based on the Russian folk tale about a witchlike character who lives in a hut that stands on fowl legs.) I can just imagine someone being chased through the woods by this hag with gap-teeth. I like the fact that this suite is based on a group of paintings by Viktor Hartmann: it’s easier to form mental images while listening.

I never knew Mussorgsky had never received a formal “conservatory” education until I read about it in the textbook. I really admire that, and I think experimentation is such an important part of creating music. One could argue that a composer needs schooling to learn what is the wrong way to do something, but going to a music school is not the only way of learning. A conservatory education is good if the individual picks and chooses from the information given to him or her. Otherwise, I feel like there will be no room for creativity.

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Act I

April 25th, 2011 § 0

I always imagine Strauss’s music to be playing in the background on the record player of a large gathering of upper-class people in early to mid-20th century Europe. And what I mean by Strauss’s music is his waltzes, as that’s the extent of my knowledge of what he composed.

I’m so so glad we listened to this opera this week. First of all, I never knew Strauss wrote opera. And even though I love his waltzes, I never thought he could compose something so delightful and melodious that weren’t waltzes. In fact, I liked listening to Act I so much that I probably wouldn’t mind sitting through the entire 5-hour opera. The orchestra is so rich and large, complete with intricate textures in a non-Wagnerian way. Each part, be it vocal or instrumental, is carefully laid out and planned so that when all the parts come together, it creates a complex mixture of beautiful sound.

After listening to Act 1 of this opera, I will never again judge a composer’s abilities without having listened to the majority of what he or she composed.

Wagner’s Parsifal, Act III

April 17th, 2011 § 0

I was told earlier this year by a dear friend of mine that one cannot call him/herself a musician unless he or she loves Wagner. (He was very frank about it.) This statement saddened me a little, because, at least as of right now, I can’t really decide if I love Wagner’s music or not. I was introduced to Tristan and Isolde my sophomore year of high school, and I enjoyed it very much. However, I feel I don’t know enough about Wagner to decide quite yet.¬†What intimidates me is the density and length of Wagner’s music, but I gave Parsifal a try and listened to the entire work.

The back story is loosely based on the 13th century epic poem Parzival (about the knight Percival and his quest for the Holy Grail). Wagner started composing this in 1857 but did not complete it until 2 years later. As expected, there were many leitmotifs scattered here and there: the Communion motif and the motif of the Grail at the very opening of the opera, and Parcifal’s motif are repeated throughout the opera. The story itself is a great example of German Romanticism, as it contains elements of romance, heroic deeds, and fantasy. When I was listening, I tried to pay attention to all the nuances and thick textures in orchestration. In fact, I think the orchestra part is so full of little details it could stand on its own as a separate work.