Album Release

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter's Eve

It’s winter’s eve, the last day of autumn. 
Winter’s eve and the Christmas tree was bought and decorated today.
Winter’s eve and a new baby was born in the village last night.
Winter’s eve and the close of my first full season back in France, a new chapter of life in many ways. 
Winter’s eve I’m feeling the weight of time around me, around people I love. 
Time... an instance, a pattern, and the indefinite continued progress through existence. 
Seasons... one way we figure and observe time passing before us. 
Autumn... the season when crops are gathered and leaves fall. The season after the long days of warm summer and the season before winter’s rest. 
“... Unless a seed of grain goes into the earth and dies, it is still a seed and no more; but through its death it gives much fruit...”
Seeds must die to continue living... 
The Earth must settle itself slowly into winter’s rest... 
What begins as a lively and active time of harvest becomes a spectacle of color, dancing itself slowly to sleep. Autumn Dances... Danses d’Automne. I think this is what the project will be called. 
Thank you, whoever you are, for reading. Thanks for letting me ramble about these Autumn pieces. There’s still so much to discover and write about. One piece in particular, Danses d’Automne by Bernard Andres, is going to wait a few months to appear in the blog, as I am planning to meet him and play this piece for him for his feedback and insight in the coming months. So excited!
The ideas keep coming, of which I’m glad. 

But for now, Autumn is slipping to sleep. 
Winter’s eve. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tchaikovsky: Autumn Song

Coldness in Berlin last week during a visit to my friend Ari and her sister (and baby Max). Christmas Markets, glüwein, tons of sugary temptations, coffee, and snow. I think I came out one too many for wieners consumed. 

Short visit to Berlin last week... it is NO LONGER Autumn there, wow. No leaves on the trees. Fresh snow every morning. Buuurlin. Lots of Christmas markets, Glüwein, sleds, mittens, and sugary snacks. 
There are, however, 6 remaining leaves lingering on the tree outside my bedroom in Cabris... and two more autumn pieces I’ve been wanting to blog about. I’m going to try to get them in before this chapter closes and winter officially begins... going by the books, that would be December 21st. 
This blog entry looks at Tchaikovsky’s “October: Autumn Song.” 
It’s amazing to me how some composers are able to start and finish a work in one single sitting. It happens in different ways in all kinds of music. Beck created the entire album “Sea Change” in one week. Mozart apparently composed the Overture to Don Giovanni in 3 hours. This piece is a taste of the same.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikowsky (Russia, 1840-1893) wrote a piano solo for each month of the year, each one  of them created in a single day (as the story goes). He was commissioned for this cycle by a monthly musical journal in Saint Petersburg, Le Nouvelliste (Why is this in French?) for 1876.
There’s a great quote about this commission from his friend and colleague listed in the Urtext preface:
“Tchaikovsky accepted the commission and carried it out with his habitual punctiliousness. He himself found the task very simple and inconsequential, and in order to maintain the prearranged delivery schedule he instructed his servant to remind him about the commission on a particular day each month. The servant followed this order to the letter and reminded him each month on a particular day: ‘Peter Ilyich, it’s time for your shipment to St. Petersburg’. Peter Ilyich then sat down, wrote the piece in a single sitting, and sent it off. Despite the obvious nonchalance of its creation, the cycle of piano pieces cam off magnificently.”
I imagine him finishing up his coffee, sharpening his pencil, sitting down to the piano, and quietly searching within him for the inspiration to produce these short pieces. 
The original publisher/editor was the one that added the subtitles and threw in little epigrams by Russian poets... “October” has the subtitle “Autumn Song” with an epigraph by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy:
Осень, осыпается весь наш бедный сад,
Листья пожелтелые по ветру летят...
Autumn, falling down on our poor orchard,
the yellow leaves are flying in the wind...
I can see that image when playing this piece- an orchid being tossed around by the autumn wind in slow motion. “Andante doloroso e molto cantabile,” with a dose of lament and sorrow. 
I first came across this piece when searching for Autumn tunes long before this project became official. The intention was to transcribe it for harp and publish it in dedication to one of my students back in West Texas- Katherine Kappelmann. She’s been gracious to bear with many drafts and editions over the past months. 
It’s such a transparent and expressive piece--- and lays so well on the harp! There were only 2 notes that had to be nixed somewhere in the B section; I was a dollar short in the C natural category.
Full moon tonight, and clear skies here. Making out a moonlit orchid in my mind. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Automne by Marcel Grandjany

It’s another drizzly morning here and I’ve got my coffee in hand, thinking about these last weeks of autumn. 
There have been a couple of blog posts so far that mention composers and artists that have created a work for each of the seasons- a series. This one describes a piece by a composer who wrote only for autumn...
Marcel Grandjany (1891-1975)
Automne... 1 movement/ 4 pages/ 3 minutes
Written (in New York I think) around 1927 for his student Barbara Blumenthal (never heard of her)
I love this piece because it’s a typical example of Grandjany’s writing: rich 7th and 9th-chords, haunting melody, COLOR through harmonics, glissandos... whether “simple” or “difficult,” Grandjany’s music is profound and pleasing. Never imposed. Gentleman-like. 
Grandjany was a French-born harpist and organist who spent much of his life in the United States. Words that I associate with him are:
Marcel Grandjany
Henriette Renie (his teacher)
Alphonse Hasselmans (his teacher)
Julliard (professor)
Montreal Conservatory (professor)
Manhattan School of Music (professor)
Sensuous (in performing and composing)
Spatula-like fingertips
American Harp Society (founder)
Carlos Salzedo (his “rival” colleague)
I’ve been reading a lot of Autumn poetry and came across this one. For me, it reflects the idea and atmosphere of this piece. Enjoy :-) 
My November Guest by Robert Frost
My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise