Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Franz Liszt's "Dream of Love" Nocturne in A-flat No. 3

The Great Franz Liszt happens to be my favorite composer. I suppose it is odd that I have so few recordings of his music on my website! I am in the middle of working on his six Consolations, another Transcendental Etude, as well as some others - so hopefully I'll have a few more of his works posted within the next several months.
Although this is not a new recording, I've been thinking about Liszt's Nocturne in A-flat, "Liebestraume" (Dream of Love). This song is popularly considered a romantic piece in that it is a lover's dream. This, however, is certainly not the case. Liszt was a very religious and complex man. He was constantly struggling with his own character and analyzing and refining himself. The vast majority of his music is extremely deep and characteristic of his passion for religion and literature - particularly poetry. Many of his works were inspired by the written word. Liebestraume is one of those works. It was composed based on the text from a poem that has nothing to do with sensual love, but rather, revolves around the general human love that we should hold for one another. Here is a translation of the text for the poem after which this Nocturne was designed:
O Love
O love as long as e're you can, as long as e're you may.
The hour will come when by a tomb you stand and mourn.
Then see to it that your heart still glows and nurtures love,
As long as any other heart still beats in answering affection.
Whoever offers you his all, return your utmost for his sake,
And make his every hour a joy, and give no cause for grief!
And guard your tongue: and angry word can soon escape.
Ah me! it was not meant -
But the other, wounded, leaves and weeps.
--Ferdinand Freiligrath
You can listen to my recording of Liszt's Nocturne by using the media player below. This is an old, and frankly, poor recording. One of these days I will re-record it as my appreciation and understanding of the piece has deepened since this initial recording over 10 years ago.

The message of this poem, and subsequently the music, is not the immature twitterpation of a lovestruck youth; it is the unconditional love that neighbor must have for neighbor, that a parent should have for a child, a friend for a companion, and each of us should have even towards a stranger. Love and be loved! Speak good and not evil! Find joy in good companionship! These are the "dreams" being expressed in this work and I find it a glorious hope that our nation and world most certainly needs right now. As you listen again to Liszt's "Dream of Love" take a moment to reflect on the coming hours of your day and see if there isn't a way to strengthen your own love for your neighbors and help to realize the dream of love that so many of us share.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alternate Inperpretation of Bach's Prelude in E Major

Isn't music wonderful?! It is a form of art that is so dynamic - so living! As an artist works to interpret a piece of music he/she makes it their own. The music breathes and comes to life in a different way for each performer. This is one of the greatest joys in music - the endless depth and wonder that each composition holds.

I recently posted a recording of Bach's Prelude No. 9 in E Major. As I was learning this piece, I played it a hundred different ways and found that (like most music) it had some wonderful offerings despite drastically varied interpretations. Bach seldom indicated tempo and dynamics in his keyboard works and so it is left largely to the artist to decide. Obviously the experts of our day (and times past) have contributed their knowledge and opinions of how Bach's music should be played - but still, the artist is free to wander multiple paths.

To demonstrate how varied the interpretation of a piece can be I recorded an alternate version of the aforementioned prelude. One is very slow and legato, while the other is more upbeat and incorporates much more staccato into the music. Which one do you prefer and why :) ?

First version (download here):

Alternate version (download here):

Dedication to Chris and Georgia Frankel - Inspiration Amidst a Troubled Economy

It is hardly necessary to point out the troubled state of the world's economy. Within my own neighborhood I see friends and neighbors downsizing, foreclosing, and seeking unemployment benefits on a regular basis. I am grateful to have a job, a home, and to have been taught to be fiscally wise with my funds. Moreover, I am grateful that my wife and I have been blessed such that we can also help those in need. Unselfishness during a time of self-indulgence is exactly what we need to lifts hearts and console the down-trodden.

I was recently inspired by a story I read on CNN's iReport about a couple who give freely to those around them - not only through finances, but through their own home and time. You can read the story here. I hope that this story inspires all who read it to reach beyond themselves to help buoy up another. There are opportunities for selflessness and generosity at every turn and Chris and Georgia Frankel are a wonderful demonstration of this attitude.

I released a new recording of a Bach Prelude (No. 9 in E Major) yesterday without any dedicatory note. I would like to dedicate that recording to Chris and Georgia Frankel, the couple featured in the story I refer to above. They have extended their family to reach beyond their blood relatives and this beautiful little prelude is my way of saying "thank you" for being inspirations during troubled times.

Thank you for your examples; thank you for your generosity; thank you for your unconditional love; and thank you for demonstrating to everybody that love and good nature should be the root of our relationships!

Chris and Georgia, I must also add a "thank you" for the fact that you bring Mormon missionaries into your home for dinner on a regular basis. I am not sure if you are members of the Mormon faith, but I am - and I served as a Mormon missionary for two years in 1998-2000. Having been in the position of a young missionary, I know how much your generosity must mean to them. As missionaries, we provide the funds for our own missionary work and we are not paid or reimbursed for the service we provide. So a nice home-cooked meal from a loving family is always a heart-warming experience. So again, THANK YOU for what you are doing. I hope that you enjoy this recording of Bach's Prelude No. 9 in E Major - dedicated to you, your children, and all those to whom you have extended your home and hearts!

You may use the media player below to listen to the recording, or you can download a copy from here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bach Prelude No 9 in E Major

image courtesy of

J. S. Bach, arguably the greatest composer to have lived, produced an enormous volume of music. Among his most popular works for keyboard are the first and second volumes of The Well-Tempered Clavier. This is a set of preludes and fugues that cycles through all major and minor keys. Despite the fact that they are each titled "Preludes" and "Fugues" there is still room for so much diversity in style and music among the works. Take, for example, the Prelude No. 9 in E Major... this is a pastorale. A pastorale is often a work depicting something of a natural scene - perhaps a scenic view or other landscape. In earlier days, closer to the time of Bach it was often used to depict scenes such as shephards watching over their flocks. The pastorale style is indicated by the 12/8 time signature and the melody line moving in triplets.

You can listen to my recording of Bach's Prelude No. 9 in E Major by visiting my Lisztonian website. If you enjoy my recordings, be sure to subscribe to my iTunes podcast (free). Please also take the time to visit this page to see how you can help in the endeavor to share classical music.

Bach's Prelude in E Major:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Luiza Borac - February 14th, 2009

On Saturday evening I had the wonderful pleasure of attending a concert by Luiza Borac. The event was sponsored and organized by the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation. The performance included some of my favorite Schubert/Liszt Lieder transcriptions, the two famous Kreisler/Rachmaninoff transcriptions (Liebesleid/Liebesfreud), popular Chopin Waltzes, Strauss, and Copland.

The performance was spectacular. The program was designed artfully and I was impressed with the energy and technical skill that she exhibited throughout the entire performance. She even performed the Enescu Rhapsody No. 1 as an encore - which she executed as if she had an endless store of vitality.

She also provided the English translations to the Schubert/Liszt Lieder, which proved to be a highlight of the event for me! For several months I have been in love with "Auf dem Wasser zu singen" and yet I've never known what the song was actually about. Now I know! Here is the text for "Auf dem Wasser zu singen" translated:

In the middle of the shimmer of the reflecting waves
Glides, as swans do, the wavering boat;
Ah, on joy's soft shimmering waves
Glides the soul along like the boat;
Then from Heaven down onto the waves
Dances the sunset all around the boat.

Over the treetops of the western grove
Waves, in a friendly way, the reddish gleam;
Under the branches of the eastern grove
Murmur the reeds in the reddish light;
Joy of Heaven and the peace of the grove
Is breathed by the soul in the reddening light.

Ah, time vanishes on dewy wing
for me, on the rocking waves;
Tomorrow, time will vanish with shimmering wings
Again, as yesterday and today,
Until I, on higher more radiant wing,
Myself vanish to the changing time.

I also reaped the same benefit for two others that I enjoy: "Gretchen am Spinnrade" and "Erlkonig". I won't include the text for those here, but here are some links:
The evening was amazing and I purchased both of Luiza Borac's CDs that were available at the concert. I strongly encourage my readers to visit her website at: and consider purchasing one or more of her albums. I noticed that she also has an album titled "Wanderer" which I can only assume has the famous "Wanderer" Fantasy by Schubert - this is another one of my favorites!

Also, if you are near the Salt Lake area on March 17-18 then be sure to attend Roberto Plano's performance!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to Find a Good Piano Teacher

I've been trying to find a piano teacher for my daughter for the last 2 years and so far I've been unsuccessful. I don't feel as though this is because I am being extremely picky (although there is definitely a little of that), but rather, the timing is not right, the teacher's schedule is full, or it just doesn't feel like a good fit. A week or so ago I took her to meet a piano teacher in the area. After the meeting we had several great follow-up conversations via email. The piano teacher asked me a variety of excellent questions. Just in case my answers may be of help to anybody else I've decided to post the questions/answers on my blog. Although we decided not to sign on with this particular teacher, I appreciated the opportunity to vocalize answers to these questions. For now, we've decided that I will try harder to continue teaching our children myself until the right teacher comes along :) So here are the things that I am personally looking for and perhaps this might help a few other parents as well...
  1. What sort of teacher are you hoping to find for her? What things specifically are you looking for? What qualities and characteristics are you hoping she'll posses as a teacher? What expectations do you have of what will be accomplished during a typical 30-minute lesson?
    One of the most important things is that we find a teacher who will foster our daughter's love for music. She has a natural love for music of all kinds. She was born just days after my last public solo recital and so even in the womb she was constantly surrounded by the sounds of the piano. That continued throughout her childhood not only because I continued to study and record music but because my wife also loved to have music in our home. Piano, singing and dancing has always been a normal part of our daughter's life. So a teacher that can foster that natural love and harness it for her growth is paramount. So we have no expectations for a 30-minute lesson. Each day and lesson would be different and as long as the teacher shares a natural passion for music (and especially piano music) we would only expect that our daughter's love for music grow and be guided by additional skill and knowledge.

  2. What are your future "piano" goals for her? Are you hoping she'll become a concert pianist? Are you expecting/wanting/encouraging her to go on to study music in college?
    I believe very firmly that a life without good music is a life that has been robbed of one of God's most beautiful creations. At the same time, a life that has been pushed into this divine art so far that the beauty is replaced with bitterness is an even sadder tale. So long-term goals will be a delicate balance that we will need to find with each child. However, we do have a minimum standard; just as we will require all of our children to be able to read any average novel, we will require our children to be able to read any intermediate score. Beyond that, we will only help to guide our children as they decide on their own what role music (on any instrument) will play in their lives.

  3. Has she expressed to you what she'd like to do with her music? Has she shown interest in playing the piano, on her own, without your encouragement?
    One of the first objects that she reached out to while she was just an infant was the piano. She has always sat at my lap to play or danced to the sounds of the piano. Now that she is older we will find her standing at the piano or sitting at the bench just playing around and experimenting with the sounds of the piano - everyday. She loves to play! Several years ago I learned the A-major Chopin Polonaise and she just adored that piece. She would dance and play pretend and ask me to play it over and over again. That was about the same time that she started to ask me to teach her to play the piano. She has been asking at least a couple of times a month ever since.

  4. What types of experiences are you hoping that your piano teacher will provide for her? What things were you hoping to see in the teacher's program? Are you wanting your child to be in competitive performances? Non-competitive? Festivals? Would you be satisfied with a teacher who didn't offer these things in her program, even if you saw that your child was receiving a thorough education and was learning and progressing and developing a love of music?
    We don't really have any specifics that we are looking for except that the teacher be able to connect with her easily and that the teacher have an unquenchable passion for piano literature. If I were to take cooking classes, I would seek out a chef who loves food, who is always trying new things, and who has a talent for making others love and appreciate fine cuisine. If I were to study poetry I would seek out a poet who is familiar with fine literature of all forms (classic and modern), who actively composes, and who can instill a love of literature in others; and in both of these cases, I would need to connect with the teacher personally. I would expect something similar in a musical educator as well. Without a natural love and passion for the art and without a personal connection with the student it would be more difficult to share that common love for music.

    At this point, competition is not a concern. I believe that good competitions are extremely valuable for students because it encourages them to play at their very best. They teach discipline and broaden perspectives. Competition is a natural way to get a person to comprehend their own peak performance. That is a powerful tool that can allow a student to expand their capabilities even more. So a teacher who understands the true value in competition (not the superficial value) would be essential, but I would not expect our daughter to actually compete until further down the road (if she ever even wants to).

  5. What are your expectations of her in terms of the amount of time it should take for her to be achieving certain things, ie: advancing from one level of her method books to another, or playing a certain level of music, or performing in certain events?
    She is an extremely fast learner. She is constantly surprising us. So I don't really know what to expect from her. I am afraid to set any expectations for fear that I may either end up pushing or limiting her natural abilities. I would take the advice of one of my own past teachers and would simply try to "stay 5 minutes ahead" of her. That would be enough to keep her moving at the pace she is capable of. So if her teacher could "stay 5 minutes ahead" and dangle the proverbial carrot in front of her, then she would be able to progress at a pace that is naturally comfortable to her; and based on her past performance in other areas of her life, I imagine that would be substantially faster than the average piano student.

  6. During her younger years (about ages 6-7), she will need parental help for the first couple of days after her lesson (during her practice hours) if she's to achieve the most success possible. Are you willing to commit to spending whatever time is necessary to achieve the best success working with her at the piano?
    We already spend time each day nurturing our children's talents. My wife is especially wonderful in this respect. Especially where music is so important in our home, it would only be natural for us to commit time to her musical education on a daily basis.