Saturday, August 16, 2014

Piano Society -- A Great Place for Pianists to Meet

I would like to invite all of the pianists here to visit the Web Forum "Piano Society". This is a group of people who enjoy playing piano and doing it well.  The group is international so you can enjoy learning about the musical experiences of people from Europe, South America, and other regions around the world as well as North Americans.

There is a very substantial library of recordings made by members over the years. Besides the standard repertoire, there is a lot available by composers of whom you may not have heard, but be thankful that you now have.

The forum contains a section to submit your own recordings for comments by members (both good and bad) that may also be placed in the library. There is a section for composers to submit their compositions for comments, as well as sections for various other aspects of piano music.  A newer section has been added for you to upload "Works in Progress" for comments that may help in your process of learning a new piece.  You will need to register to comment in these forums and to be able to submit your work.

Unlike boards like "Piano Street", standards for having recordings placed in the library are rather high (still keeping in mind that most of the performers are good amateurs) and must be approved by the moderators, they just can't simply be uploaded to the library.  The music is primarily "classical", meaning music that  Some of the older recordings may not be up to the standards expected today (the site has been around since about 2006).

If you are serious about piano, piano playing, and meeting other pianists from around the world, check this site out.  Here is the link again (it is also in the "Links Section" to the right):

Piano Society

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lodovico Giustini -- A Forgotten Yet Important Composer for Piano

Most pianists have never heard of Lodovico Giustini.  I first heard of him a couple of years ago when reading the book, Piano Roles: 300 Years of Life with the Piano by James Parakilas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). [Much of the information that I am sharing below is derived from this book.] Virtually all of his music is lost except for a few fragments of vocal pieces. The only surviving piece and the only one to be published was a set of 12 sonatas for a keyboard instrument.

Here is a link to the IMSLP scan of the first edition:
<Giustini - 12 Sonatas for Piano>.

And here is a YouTube playlist of all 12 sonatas recorded on a reproduction Cristofori pianoforte performed by Andrea Coen:
<Giustini - Sonatas for piano, performed by Andrea Coen -- YoutTube playlist>.

"So what is the big deal?", you ask.  These 12 sonatas are the first known pieces written specifically for the piano.  They were written in 1732 and predate any other work specifically intended for piano by about 30 years. These sonatas are ordered as a "sonata da chiesa" (church sonata)-- 4 or 5 movements ordered slow - fast - slow - fast.  They range in style from stern contrapuntal movements, through the dance movements of the day, into the modern up-to-date styles like the Style Galant.  These sonatas contain the terms piano and forte liberally sprinkled throughout, often being used against the grain of the music -- where full chords would create more volume, Giustini uses piano and where moving from a lower register would to a higher would cause a perceived decrease in volume, Giustini uses forte.  In the earlier sonatas, these markings are also used in an "echo" manner in identical repetitions, or to distinguish "question" and "answer" phrases. In the later sonatas, píu forte and píu piano ("louder" and "softer") to indicate a gradual increase or decrease in volume as we use crescendo and diminuendo today.

Giustini was probably not intending to create an idiomatic style for this new piano. Indeed, listening to the above recordings, when I first started listening, I thought that they had been recorded on a harpsichord.  I, of course, had in my mind the sound of the modern day piano and even some of the historic pianos that I have heard, which themselves sound to me closer to the modern sound than the older harpsichord sound. Yet, this piano had very much a harpsichord sound, so there would seem to be little need for a totally different style of playing for the piano. Rather, Giustini seems to be exploring and demonstrating the possibilities that this new "hammer harpsichord" could do that the other keyboard instruments of the day could not (O.K., the clavichord did have dynamics -- from soft to softest -- but it could barely be heard from any distance if someone was even breathing). These works help to show what could be done with the keyboard music of the day when performed upon the new pianoforte as opposed to the older plucked string instruments.

The fact that we even know about these sonatas and their composer, Lodovico Giustini, is in itself a miracle. The fact that these are the only known pieces to be published by this provincial man who spent his life in his small town of Pistoia (about 20 miles northwest of Florence in Tuscany) is also a miracle. I will address this in a later post. For now, let's see what we can find out about Lodovico Giustini.

[Much of the following is derived from Wikipedia. We all know that it is on Wikipedia that it must be true, right? No, I don't trust everything that I read on Wikipedia, but I find, particularly if the article is referenced, that it can be good place to start.  The article on Giustini cites the following references, although the author did not even include some pertinent information.  They are:

Edward Higginbottom, "Lodovico Giustini", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980.ISBN 1-56159-174-2

Jean Grundy Fanelli: "Lodovico Giustini", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed November 14, 2005), (subscription access) (Note: the articles in the two editions of Grove are by different authors, and each contains unique material)

James Parakilas, Piano Roles: 300 Years of Life with the Piano. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-300-08055-7. [Note: This is the earlier hard cover version of the one that I cited above.]

Lodovico Giustini, The 12 Sonatas for piano, ed. Dominique Ferran, 3 vol. Paris-San Diego, Drake Mabry Publishing, 2003.

Freeman, Daniel E. "Lodovico Giustini and the Emergence of the Keyboard Sonata in Italy." Anuario musical 58 (2003):111-30. [My note: This article is available on-line for download a t<Lodovico Giustini and the Emergence of the Keyboard Sonata in Italy>.]

Lodovico Giustini (12 December 1685 – 7 February 1743) was born in Pistoia, Tuscany, Italy (a town about 20 miles northwest of Florence) to a family of musicians which can be traced back to the early 17th century. This is of course the same year that J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti were born.

Giustini's father was organist at the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo. An uncle, Domenico Giustini, was also a composer of sacred music. Upon his father's death in 1725, Giustini became organist at the Congregazione at age 40 where he acquired a reputation as a composer of sacred music, mostly cantatas and oratorios. In 1728 he collaborated with Giovanni Carlo Maria Clari (27 September 1677 – 16 May 1754) on a set of Lamentations, which were performed that year [Note: there is a Wikipedia article and some of his music is available on IMSLP].

19 June 1732 he requested to be relieved of duties as organist of the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo in order to make a trip to Florence. He planned to arrive there on 1 July. By November of that same year he was back in Pistoia. It was during this time that he wrote the 12 Sonatas for Pianoforte. [Bartolomeo Cristofori had died in January of that same year]. [Note: this information comes from the Freeman article cited above.]

In 1734, Giustini was hired as organist at S Maria dell'Umiltà, the Cathedral of Pistoia. He held this position for the rest of his life and died in Pistoia, 7 February 1743.

In addition to playing the organ at the two mentioned religious institutions, he performed on the harpsichord at numerous locations, often in his own oratorios.

It should be said that 1732 was a momentous year for the pianoforte, now in its 30's. This was the year that its inventor, Bartolomeo Cristofori, died in January (although some sources indicate Jan 1731). This was the year that Gottfried Silbermann produced his first pianofortes in Germanay, after having acquired plans and a 1725 German translation of the 1711 journal article by Scipione Maffei announcing and describing Cristofori's pianoforte. It is also the year that Joao de Seixas, a Brazilian cleric and musician, visited Florence from July - October. [This connection becomes important as we look further into some "mysteries" surrounding these sonatas in a later post.] 

Some questions do come to mind. Was his trip to Florence the only time that he had left Pistoia? Was this his only trip to Florence up to that time? Had he had an opportunity to meet Cristofori before the latter's death? Was this his first opportunity to actually see, hear, and explore a pianoforte?

I will explore these and some other questions that arise in a later post.

If anyone who reads this has any corrections or new information, I welcome your input. I hope that you enjoy the music.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Project: Exploring "Art" Music from the Early 20th Century through the Present

During a recent discussion on a Facebook piano pedagogy group (actually about transcription, which became a bit confusing since the original poster asked "Do you teach transcription?", meaning do you teach your students to listen and write down music such as jazz solos, when some of us were thinking of the older meaning of transcriptions for a pianist meaning rewriting music from one genre, such as an organ, orchestra, or string quartet, to another genre, such as piano, trying to express the original intent), a few of us got side tracked into the "art" music of the 20th century to the present.  As I thought about this, I realized that I have not explored much of this music, particularly pieces written after the early 1970's.  To be honest, so much became almost incomprehensible and seemed like so much work without much benefit to me that I just gave up trying to listen to it.  Consequently, my exposure to 20th and 21st century is the commercial, pop styles.

I have decided that I need to explore this music and see if there are pieces and composers that I like, and further explore what I like about them and how they created the music.  In the process I am sure that I will find pieces and composers of whom I am not fond and will attempt to say what it is that doesn't turn me on, or completely turns me off, or makes me want to run away screaming and have a cocktail.  I invite commentary from my readers for both. You do not have to like what I do, and you are free to like what I don't. Particularly concerning the latter, your comments may give me new food for thought to re-explore these pieces.

A couple of people did give me a list of more recent composers to explore, which follows:

Witold Lutoslawski, Gyorgy Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Adams, Steve Reich, and Luciano Berio, Arvo Part, Nico Muhly, Ayaka Nishima, Kaija Saariaho, Thomas Ades, Gyorgy Kurtag, Meredith Monk, Ricky Ian Gordon, John Luther Adams, Marc Chan, Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, David Lang, Aaron Jay Kernis.

I have heard of a very few of these names, but other than Ligeti or Stockhausen, I have never heard any of their music. I I will work through these and if anyone has any others I will consider exploring them over time and as time permits.

I will label all posts (which will be seen at the bottom of the posts) as "Project: Exploring 20th and 21st century music".

To be a little organized in this, how will I judge and report about the works that I listen to by each composer?

I will report on my findings and feelings on the music of individual composers. Of course, my assessment and your assessment may be very different.  That is fine.  I figure that there will be an assessment of my initial impressions -- "Did I like the piece?", probably ranging from "Love it and ready to listen to more and explore further" to "hate it -- I need some Bach, Beethoven or Brahms and a cocktail to get it out of my head".  "Will I explore this piece and composer further?", which will be basically "yes" or "no".  "Do I hear any antecedents in this music?", in other words, do I hear an influence from another earlier composer or composition(s) and/or an earlier period style? Since this project is evolving, my criteria may evolve also.

If I explore a composer or composition further, I will report on my studies and understanding of the music.

Though, my goal is to explore the music of later 20th and 21st century, I am going to re-explore the earlier ones, such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Copland, Prokofiev, etc., to get a basis from which to judge later composers and to have a basis to judge whether or not they were an influence.  I am particularly interested to see how composers did, or did not change or style in relationship to the world events of the period (WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, the Cold War, 9/11....).  I have a theory in the back of my mind that major events such as these affect the way artists express themselves.

Let's see where this goes.  I do invite your comments.  I will say that currently this blog is fully moderated, in other words, I do have to approve your comments.  I promise that I will not reject comments because they disagree with me or anyone.  I am only moderating for civility in language -- no attacks on another or vulgar language.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Forgotten Clementi

Muzio Clementi - Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 34 No. 2
Vladimir Horowitz


For most of us, our only experience with Muzio Clementi lies solely in the sonatinas that we learned as piano students.  Most of have probably also heard about the great piano competition between Clementi and Mozart, which was declared a draw.  Mozart was full of vitriol about the decision while Clementi continued to admire Mozart and in fact was a publisher of Mozart's piano music in England.

Clementi was a very accomplished pianist and composer as well as a piano manufacturer, piano retailer, and music publisher.  His was one of the early horizontal industries -- he built the pianos, he sold the pianos, and he published the software (sheet music) so that people had plenty of music to play on his pianos.

Unfortunately, he gets little space in the music history books, I suspect because he primarily wrote for the piano with very little music on any other genre.

Here is a link to his biography on Wikipedia: Clementi Biography

It appears that he was a strong influence on Beethoven.  I have read where Beethoven advised Carl Czerny concerning Beethoven's nephew Karl's piano instruction, that Czerny should focus on Clementi piano sonatas over those of Haydn and Mozart.

The above piano sonata -- Op. 34, No. 2 (1793) -- may well have been an influence on Beethoven's "Sonata Pathétique" (Op. 13) from 1798.  The Clementi sonata begins with a slow introduction with extensive dotted 8th - 16th combinations.  It gives me the impression of a funeral march.  Unlike the Beethoven, this intro is in a kind of grotesque fugue, each entry of the subject/answer uses a larger descending skip -- (1) descending 5th, (2) descending augmented 5th, (3) descending 6th.  This introduction is later reprised as in C major in a style that reminds me of a tavern song in an opera.

As we know, Beethoven also begins with a slow introduction which he reprises later.  In fact from my extensive research of piano sonatas before this time (a quick glance through Mozart's and Haydn's catalogs of their piano sonatas) this appears to be the first piano sonata with a slow introduction -- at least by a major composer -- and the first sonata to reprise the introduction in the course of the movement.

There is some very remarkable music in this sonata and if you like Beethoven's sonatas, I believe that you will immensely enjoy this one.

Muzio Clementi - Piano Sonata in Bb Major, Op. 24 No. 2 Mvt. 1
"Allegro con brio"
Vladimir Horowitz



Though it is said that Clementi admired Mozart, he could have his moments of vitriol against Mozart. This sonata was written in 1781, about a year before his famous competition with Mozart.  After Mozart wrote "Magic Flute" in 1791, Clementi included a forenote on his reprints of this sonata stating that this had been written 10 years before Mozart's opera.  Listen to the above recording and you will understand why.  One can also ask "Did Clementi perform this sonata at the competition?"


I am in the process of searching for a good biography of Clementi.  He has often been denigrated for his alleged penury and his alleged mistreatment of John Field, both items that I only find mentioned in Ludwig Spohr's "The Musical Journeys" (I think -- I can't find an online copy, though I could have sworn that I had previously downloaded it).  I suspect that there is more to the story. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Links to a Music Dictionary and All of the Classical Sheet Music that You Could Desire

Here are links to a couple of web sites that can be of great help to musicians and students.

Dolmetsch Online -- Music Theory, Music Dictionary, Composer Dictionary, et. al.

Arnold Dolmetsch was a performer in the early 20th century of early keyboards and other instruments among other things.  He is probably best known for his book The Interpretation of the Music of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1915).  He was an early pioneer of the "Historically Informed" movement in music.  He was doing it before it was cool.

This site contains a substantial section on music theory (including everything that you might want to know about pitch standards through the centuries as well as different temperaments). There is also a substantial dictionary with terms translated to the European languages (often including the difference between American and British usages).  A basic dictionary of composers is also available.  It is light on content, but it does contain a little info of a number of obscure old and contemporary composers that I have been unable to find anything about elsewhere.

Added resources includes staff paper to print in a large variety of standard formats as well as some you may not known that you need (how about staffs on the right side of the page with space for notes on the left for a theory class?)

Dolmetsch Online

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library

I am still often surprised about how many musicians do not know about this great resource.  This is a library of music that is in the public domain.  In general this means that it was published before sometime in the 1920's, but most classical music that one might be interested in was written well before that.  This is a HUGE collection of scans of music from at least the Renaissance to the early part of the 20th century.  Available is the complete Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe as well as other editions, all of the Scarlatti sonatas that you could ever want, all of the Beethoven you could ask for, etc.  In many instances there are scans of manuscripts by the composers and other contemporaries.

Besides all of the known composers, you can find music from lesser known and forgotten composers. For example, we know that Alberti wrote a bass, but did he do anything for the right hand (he did).  I have even found the first known published piece written specifically for the piano -- Sonate Da Cimbalo di piano, e forte ... by D. Lodovico Giustini di Pistoia; Op. 1; published in Firenze, 1732 (about 8 years before Bach saw his first piano).

You can also search by genre.

It is a great place to find and try some different music by composers of whom you may or may not have heard.  I should add that it contains much more than piano music -- full orchestral scores and sometimes parts, string solos, trios, quartets, etc.

The home page displays new additions and language selection.  The composers page allows you to search music by composers.

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library - Home

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library - Composers

These links are also available in the link section to the right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Free Open Source Programs for Musicians and Music Teachers

Here are some open source programs for musicians and music teachers that are about as powerful as their name competitors at a fraction of the cost (like $0.00)

MuseScore - Music Notation Software

For music notation, MuseScore is great.  The current version competes well with slightly older versions Finale and Sibelius and they are working on version 2.0 which should stack up well against the newer versions.  Besides saving to its own format, it can export in various graphic formats, MIDI, and will create PDF files directly in the program.  It will also read and write MusicXML files.  The learning curve is about the same as the big names and, although the documentation is rather basic, it is among the best I have seen in open source and freeware.

MuseScore - Music Notation Software

Audacity - Audio Recording Software

Audacity is an audio recording and editing program.  You can record directly into your computer or you can import audio files from a recorder or even from the internet and edit them, add effects, etc.  It is multi-track. It reads and writes most major audio formats.  It does not include MP3 since that is a proprietary format, but there is a 3rd party add-on that will easily take care of that.  I use it to edit recordings that I have made with my recorder of myself at the piano or my church choir.  I can then edit, splice, dice, whatever to my hearts content.

Audacity - Audio Recording Software

Libre Office - Office Suite

Libre Office is the free open source office suite that allows you to free yourself from Microsoft.  It has all of the applications and functionality of MS Office without the cost - word processor, spread sheet, data base, presentation, drawing, etc.  It is extensible.  There is even an add-on that allows you to embed a MuseScore score directly into the document and edit directly re-edit it if necessary.  You don't have to save the score into a graphic format and then switch programs.  That is part of the reason that I included it here.  Great for the music teacher who wants to place music into a document for your students.  It reads and writes all MS Office file extensions as well as the open source extensions.  It will also read, edit (if un-protected) and write PDF files.  With the money that you save on MS Office you will be able to get that next piece of music equipment that you have always wanted.

Libre Office - Office Suite

These links are also available in the links section to the right.