Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rushin' Russian piano music

I've always said that I have fortunate experiences with great and influential piano teachers. Whether it was just that their styles matched my abilities and interests as a student (therefore I instinctively liked them) or whether they were REALLY good (and I liked them) is part of the hazy mist of memory. BUT, I know I learned a helluva lot during periods when I took lessons. And, with the new baby Grand in the front room (now dubbed "BG"), I have played through much of my old and familiar pieces by now. So, I'm feeling the itch to learn something new.

Something else I often realize is how circular the flow of music is in my life (yours, too perhaps?). This next little story will--eventually--tie the above thought to the thoughts below. Trust me on that, and the coffee's kickin' in so we're good....

Anyway, in my classes that I'm teaching this semester, I require one student to present a Listening Post at the beginning of each class meeting. For the Pop Seminar, it has to be an example of "popular" music of any genre that falls between 1820 and 2008. Good examples so far, for sure. For the Romanticism class, the selection must exemplify one of the seven Dualities that we defined inherent in Romantic ideology. Again, any genre/style since 1820 or so.

Last Thursday, the Romantic student played a snippet of Shostakovich's 10th symphony. It's the part of the fourth movement when Shostakovich implants his initials--D (for Dmitry), S, C, H (in Russian) into the horn section and slams the audience with his own freed identity (it was after, finally, he was able to write as he wanted and not cater to the Soviet regime. What a refief!). The student suggested the Duality was Crowd vs. Individual. Good choice. And, what a piece! It sounds like he's taking the whole continent down with him...or maybe emerging from/hovering over its ashes....tough call.

ANYWAY, on the 45-minute ride home, I remembered learning some Shostakovich piano preludes a while back (a long while, actually, *sigh*) and seeing the complete book of them when I rearranged my front room in preparation for BG's arrival. But, I have not played through these pieces. Hmmmmm. When I got home, I searched my iTunes and CDs for Shostakovich music. I have puh-lenty, but haven't listened to them in while. Hmmmmmm.

While earning my Masters in Musicology and being aware that I would (eventually) attempt the PhD, I dabbled with the thought of honing in on Russian music studies. The fact that I'm an Americanist now? Well, I'm happy with that, for sure, but Russian orchestral/piano music has always drawn in my ear and piqued the historian in me since I first learned a few of Shostakovich's piano works way back when.

What I am going to attempt to do throughout the next few months is carve out time for yet another musical hobby, which is Shostakovich. I'm narrowing in on his piano Prelude and Fugue No. 5 in D Major from Op. 87 written in 1950. Having the BG begs me to do so. I am aware of several biographies/analyses of his life and works written after the bru-ha-ha of his (supposed) Communist ties and cultural influences of his music. So, I'll read those. And, I want to start collecting more audio. He's got lots of goodies out there. Hopefully an orchestra within reasonable distance of the Buff will perform something soon....fingers crossed.

This Prelude and Fugue in D Major is no easy feat. Shostakovich's music FLIES; it rushes with speed, agility, energy and passion. This particular fugue...when I look at the notes, it looks almost elementary in design on the page (If you can find a recording, I highly recommend it. Mine are performed by pianist Michaela Harel.). However, it is often a three-voice fugue (mostly two, though), so one hand is playing the subject while simultaneously playing the countersubject while the left hand introduces the subject again, and so on. It's crafted so damn well...but this sucker MOVES. The tempo reads 136/quarter note and the theme is in eighth-notes.....oy vey. But, as I listen to the recording, I can feel the energy it in and I want to play it. Simple as that. It will be worth negotiating new finger acrobatics and hours of practicing. I hope my neighbors are prepared for a little Russian in their dinner music...

So, in the 15-year time period since first playing the Prelude and Fugue No. 1 of Op. 87, I return to Shostakovich and will dust off the cobwebs around his music. I will thank my student this week for reminding me of the power of his works and reigniting my intrigue. And, of course, I'll continue as Momertator (see post from 8/6) and hope my little son doesn't mind learning about Shostakovich over the next few months (ha ha). I'm going to practice right now. I have 30-minutes. Then I have to open files for Chapter 2. As a piano student, I would play hour after hour. *SIGH* Eh, things change, yes? But, it appears that some things stay the same even if they are forgotten for a bit.

I think I'm going to like this...

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