Archive for May, 2008


The Story of Liebestraum

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008
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I was in Vienna last week, the home of many of the great classical composers and musicians. I visited Mozart’s apartment where he lived for a couple years, and also visited Hungary where Franz Liszt was born.

Liszt was born in 1811 in the Kingdom of Hungary, which was then a part of the Hapsburg Empire. His nationality is often disputed, since many records were destroyed by the Ottoman Turks. Usually he is claimed as either Hungarian or German, though a small group recognizes him as a Slovak. Adding to the debate, his musical character is often described as French.

His father had dreams of being a musician, and he studied piano, violin, and guitar while attending university. Because of his poverty, he had to give up his musical lessons and was employed by Prince Nikolaus II Esterhazy. On several occasions he sat in with an orchestra on second cello, keeping his musical love alive.

Liszt’s father claimed that by the age of nine the boy had played through all of the works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others. He was forced to buy over eight thousand pages of new music by the masters so that young Franz could keep playing. In 1820 he played to an elite group of socialites who offered to buy his education abroad, but it took two more years before the prince would consider a leave of absence for his father.

Franz’s early lessons in Vienna were hard for him because his instructor forced him to learn proper fingerings. Liszt attempted to outsmart his teacher by telling his father the teacher was trying to show him illogical fingerings. Lessons continued after Liszt’s father realized his son’s trickery.

Early performances in Vienna established him as a child prodigy, but tragedy soon struck. His father’s sudden death and a failed love affair in France threw him into depression. He didn’t play or compose for a few years, until revolution took over Paris.

Travels and tours throughout Europe allowed Liszt to meet many noted composers and artists of the day. He had many love affairs and a few children as well. Eventually he ended up in Weimar, where he wrote the Liebestraum.

The Liebestraum is a delicate piece of music written in his own romantic style. Playing it requires dexterity in both hands and a grasp of sensitivity that takes time to master. No classical pianist’s repertoire is complete without the Liebestraum.

Liebestraum is German for “dreams of love.” The name Liebestraum is often used to refer to the third of the pieces, though it is actually the name of the entire set. The three parts are based on poems by Ludwig Uhland and Ferdinand Freiligrath. Each poem describes a different type of love: exalted love, erotic love, and mature love.

The third movement of the Liebestraum is the best known. It is also a reliable test of a pianist’s ability. At the time, a version of the Liebestraum for piano and high voice and another for piano two-hands was published.

Throughout his varied life, Franz Liszt created mesmerizing works, including the Faust Symphony and the Liebestraum. He is often called the greatest pianist who ever lived.

If you are a near-beginner but still would love to play and enjoy some of the classics, please check out Classical Piano For Beginners & Near Beginners

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Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ Still a Joy to Hear!

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008
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Between 1817 and 1823, Ludwig van Beethoven composed Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Opus 125 “Choral.” Nestled in the fourth movement of this classical masterpiece is ‘Ode to Joy.’ It’s a composition of exquisite beauty, which to this day continues to give pleasure to listeners of fine music.

Beethoven finalized this masterwork of symphonic construction in 1824. The Ninth Symphony was the last complete symphony he composed.

The Ode to Joy section of the music originates from a work by Friedrich von Schiller. This German poet, playwright, and historian wrote a poem entitled ‘Ode to Happiness’ in 1785. Beethoven, inspired by this poem, used it as the basis for Ode to Joy as the finale of his great symphony.
Beethoven’s attraction to Schiller’s poem began in his more youthful days. When he was twenty-two, he had a desire to put music to the poem. In fact, by 1811, some of the text of Ode to Happiness found its way into the sketches for Beethoven’s seventh and eighth symphonies.

Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770. He was the second-oldest child of Johann van Beethoven, a man of musical background himself. Johann was a court musician and tenor in Bonn’s Electoral court. Ludwig followed into music and gave his first piano performance in public at the tender age of eight.

For a short period, Franz Joseph Haydn taught Beethoven. The young Beethoven even had the opportunity to play for Mozart. By 1795 Beethoven’s reputation as an excellent pianist was solid. His talents as an improviser were impressive, and he had the gift of composing ‘off-the-cuff’ with flair.

Beethoven began to notice signs of hearing loss around 1798. In 1801, he wrote a letter to his friend Karl Ameda that stated:

“My greatest faculty, my hearing, is greatly deteriorated.”

When his Ninth Symphony premiered on May 7, 1824, he could not hear its performance. This first public performance took place in Vienna’s Karntnertorm Theater. Of necessity, Beethoven’s deafness required another conductor to direct the symphony orchestra. Beethoven did stand next to this conductor during the performance in order to give tempo directions.

When the performance ended, and the audience erupted with emotion and applause, Beethoven didn’t notice. He stood with his back to the audience, facing the orchestra, still regulating tempo. Not until Fraulein Unger, a contralto, had him turn around did Beethoven witness the reception to his masterpiece.

The symphony as a whole is the work of a musical genius who labored over every facet of it. The famous Ode to Joy choral melody involved nose-to-the-grindstone work by Beethoven. It developed over many years – draft by draft – until he deemed it right. Although written for solo voice and chorus, Beethoven did consider an instrumental only version of the melody.

Through the years, the Ode to Joy has been a source of inspiration to peoples and cultures around the world. During China’s Cultural Revolution, it received some distinction as a work that speaks of progressive class struggle.

It was the Ode to Joy that provided musical inspiration in Europe in 1989. That year, after the Berlin Wall came crumbling down, Leonard Bernstein performed the piece in Berlin. It was renamed Ode to Freedom, the word ‘freedom’ replacing the word ‘joy’ in the text. This beautiful melody filled the air to celebrate the end of the dividing wall between East and West Germany.

Today the music of Ode to Joy is the official anthem of the European Union. Its German lyrics, however, are not, out of deference to the many languages that make up the Union.

Ode to Joy remains a piece of pure art. It continues to give hope, inspiration, and plain old musical joy to peoples all over the world.

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How To Predict Which Chord Comes Next In A Song…

Monday, May 26th, 2008
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Wouldn’t it be nice if you could predict which chord would probably come next in a song?

I’ve got some good news for you.

It is possible. Not 100%, but somewhere on the order of 75% to 85% accurate.

That’s because music has FORM — like the skeleton that holds your flesh, muscles, and skin up. If you had no bones — no skeleton — your flesh and all the other parts of you would fall in a heap on the floor. Not a pretty picture. But because you DO have a skeleton, you are able to walk around and pretty accurately predict which way your next step will take you.

It’s the same in music. Music has FORM — a skeleton to hold it up, hold it together. And that skeleton is made out of chords — harmony — the tonal center of the song or piece.

Please go to the web page now:

How To Predict Which Chord Comes Next In a Song

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Easy Piano Classics For Beginning Pianists

Friday, May 2nd, 2008
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There are so many publications of easy piano classics out there that it can be difficult for the beginning pianist to know where to begin. Whether you are looking for paper-based anthologies from the store, or searching for music on the Web, it’s good to have a basic understanding of what you’re looking for. The history of beginning piano, in fact, is quite interesting, and involves many of our most favorite composers.

For Classical and Romantic era composers, a reliable and sometimes necessary way to earn one’s bread and butter was to teach a full schedule of young, budding pianists. Mozart, for one, probably taught his fair share of J.S. Bach’s instructional pieces — which were highly popular even then — but at some point, for such a brilliant and prolific composer, it becomes only natural to compose easy pieces of one’s own to use in piano lessons.

After all, amidst composing great, ambitious operas and symphonies, it’s easy to forget about the basics. Sometimes, even for genius composers like Mozart, working with simpler, more rudimentary music forms is one of the best ways to hone one’s craft. If a composer can’t write simple songs for piano, how can he write complex works for multiple instruments?

This is how we get so many of the easy piano classics still used to instruct beginning pianists. Such music luminaries as Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky composed countless works for this purpose, many of which, since their composition, have become well-known as pieces of music, not just as instructional pieces. This is only natural, of course. In my view, such brilliant composers as these were incapable of composing bad or boring music, even if they tried. Beethoven enthusiasts, for instance, will tell you that there is no Beethoven work that is not worth listening to over and over.

Today, many of the easy piano classics that we find in anthologies of all shapes and sizes have their origins in these instructional pieces by great composers. In most cases, each one of them is calculated for a specific teaching purpose, such as left-hand fingering, or learning how to play a certain type of chord or harmony. Often, these original purposes have been somewhat forgotten over time, but experienced piano teachers can usually get to the bottom of a piece’s original reason for existence.

Also, it’s important to remember that many of these pieces have evolved over time, with notes, instructions, and even modifications added by 200 years of heavy-handed publishers. Fortunately, once a given piece has been mastered as published, easy piano classics provide great opportunities for students to practice different dynamic structures and tempos. Plus, many of the chord progressions and basic melodies are perfect for improvisation, when a student reaches that level.

When considering which easy piano classics to learn, students are faced with a number of options. At stores and on Web music sites, you can find countless numbers of mixed anthologies for beginning piano, which contain pieces from famous Classical and Romantic luminaries as well as lesser-known but respectable composers from all eras of piano. For beginning pianists, it can be difficult to simply look at music and know if you like it, but a little experience — some trial and error — will make it easier to judge what you like.

Plus, if you know who your favorite composers are, there are plenty of beginning piano books devoted especially to single composers. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, in particular, composed more than enough easy piano pieces to fill several books. Also, you’re also likely to find adaptations of larger works — that is, pieces drawn from larger symphonies or operas, adapted by musicians other than the composer. These, of course, range from terrible to magnificent. As a beginning pianist, you must be prepared to buy some books that you will never use again after the first few attempts.

This is why the Web is such a great resource for beginning pianists. No longer is it necessary to buy entire, expensive books. Now, you can try out several different formats of easy piano classics before shelling out the money for paper anthologies and collections.

Plus there are wonderful DVD courses available for beginners that teach classics by the masters. For one such course, go to Classical Piano For Beginners.

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