(cover image by Celia Spenard-Ko)
It’s July again, and you know what that means.
Actually, you probably don’t.
Just another series, not really any different from all the other stuff I do, except that I pick themes along a different line. I’d not originally intended to do this at this point, but decided to run with it and now I can’t remember what I was originally going to do, so here we are.
When we think about the greatest works in the repertoire, whichever repertoire that is, there’s an understandable inclination toward the grand, the epic, because that is one way (of many) that a piece conveys weight and import: through scale. There’s the Hammerklavier sonata, the Liszt sonata, Mahler symphonies, Wagner’s Ring cycle, Beethoven’s ninth, etc. These works carry immense power, emotion, stories, messages, but an important aspect of that is duration, having the time to cover sufficient ground to be considered epic.
Some would say (and have said) that Mahler’s symphonies would be much “better” if pared down to about a quarter of their length, but that’s sacrilege.
So, then, the solo piano works we’ll be exploring this month are not epic in that sense. My original goal was to have no single movement/work/track exceed two minutes, but that proved difficult, so I bumped it up to three, which is still longer than I’d like, and even then, I think this month we’ll have a few that break the four-minute mark, but I had to bend the rules there.
The pieces are all suites or collections of works, and I did my best to avoid standard classical forms. There are no sonatas here; we’ll see a few preludes and etudes, but those are more labels and less definition of some internal structure. Individual pieces of a set, to clarify, will be very short, but the set as a whole, in 3 or 5 or 10 or 16 installments, may come to 15 or 20 minutes, depending on the piece.
We’ll start with Beethoven, and come right up to the end of the 20th century. The weekend chamber series will remain the same, with quartets or other chamber works only related to the series by virtue of the composers. We’ll try to see how even these small little amuse bouche type pieces can still be exceptionally satisfying, thought-provoking, artistic, and mesmerizing.
Because the pieces are so small, we’ll be doing four posts during the week, and one chamber work on the weekend. We’ll see a few of the composers twice, but only a few. Sadly, a few works I’d very likely have included in a series like this have already been discussed in previous articles, such as Boulez’s Notations and Stockhausen’s first few Klavierstücke, but some of those are likely beyond my time limit anyway. In any case, that’s what we’ll be doing this month, so stay tuned for that, and thank you so much for reading.