Thank you for coming in out of the sunshine to hear some great singing in our last class of the season. Here are the videos we saw, beginning with Franz Schubert, who wrote roughly 615 songs in his short life. This is the beautiful memory song, "Der Lindenbaum," or "The Lime Tree" from his song cycle "Winterreise."
At my class on Sunday, May 21, we will hear the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore perform Schubert's "Der Lindenbaum." It's a memory song, recalling the gentle rustle of a lime tree in summer as the narrator trudges through winter. We'll also hear songs by Schumann, Wolf and Bolcom, plus a bunch of arias, because we can't leave out opera. This is a class devoted to the human voice and we will hear some wonderful singing. Hope to see you there.
We heard some wonderful music for the piano at my last class, April 30. Here are links to YouTube videos showing how composers have seized on the piano's chameleon-like qualities to create impressions of a shimmering fountain, exploding fireworks, a flamenco guitar, a rippling harp, a singer breathing long lines of melody, a three-part conversation and, finally, imitating the heft of a symphony orchestra.
In 1984, the Soviet Union boycotted the LA Olympics. As a cultural symbol of musical muscle, precision and American jazz, 84 pianists played George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" at the opening ceremony.
A clavichord from 1763:
A harpsichord, popular in the Baroque era:
One of three surviving pianos built by the piano's inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori:
No one plays a singing line as well as Artur Rubinstein in the Chopin Nocturne in D-Flat Major:
A fountain, in Liszt's Jeux d'eaux a la Villa d'Este:
As a flamenco guitar:
A three-part conversation in Myra Hess' famous arrangement:
A massive symphony orchestra:
I love pianos for what they offer: an enormous range of sound, the physicality of playing the keys, contact with some of the great works of music. Pianos also provide stories of their own. Because they last a long time, pianos go through a lot. Several years ago, I wrote a story about this for The Oregonian called "The Secret Lives of Pianos." Photographer Torsten Kjellstrand and I found a bunch of pianos that had great stories to tell.
We found a piano allegedly owned by Hitler's piano tuner. The piano Elliott Smith used to record several songs. A piano in the state penitentiary. A grand old Steinway presiding over Pioneer Courthouse in downtown Portland.
I thought of that story as I was preparing my next class on The Piano, scheduled for April 30. Here's how the story started:
They sit in courthouses and prisons. In Dumpsters and concert halls. In barns and family rooms.
Some pianos are sleek and supple, purebreds born for power and speed. Others squat in corners, shoved aside like old couches, their voices dull and out of tune.
Where have they been? In how many living rooms, bars or church basements? What have they seen? How many births, deaths, divorces, anniversaries? How many times have they played "Freres Jacques" or "Amazing Grace"?
Mystery -- along with 7,500 moving parts -- lies at the heart of a piano. Each one has a tale to tell, and we're going to share some of them with you. But owners don't usually keep track of where their pianos came from, so yarns take hold. Some are doozies: A note on a piano's flank that sits in a barn in Hillsboro:
This piano belonged to Adolf Hitler's piano tuner.
Here's the link to the full story.
Here's a mystery: The piano is a box of gadgets -- strings, rods, pins, hinges, levers, shanks, screws and iron. With 7,500 parts, it is a factory of sound. So, we ask ourselves: How does a contraption sing? This is the great gift of a piano — the point at which hammers and steel give way to the animation of feeling.
At my next class, April 30, we will explore the piano and the pianists who make magic with it. We will hear the piano as birds, fountains, fireworks, a harp, a singer's voice, a three-part conversation and striving to sound like an entire orchestra.
Here is one example: the piano as flamenco guitar. Spanish pianist Luis Fernando Pérez performs Isaac Albeniz's thrilling "Leyenda" ("Legend").
4 p.m. April 30, Classic Pianos, 3003 SE Milwaukie & Powell Blvd., Portland OR, $20, payable at the door. To register, call 503-546-5622, or email Peggie Zackery at firstname.lastname@example.org
I know it's only April, but I've been thinking about the next series of music appreciation classes and what I would like to offer. This is one of the most fun parts -- deciding what to include and how to connect the pieces so each class has a compelling theme.
Once again, Classic Pianos has been wonderfully generous in offering its recital hall for classes. Here are the dates, all at 4 p.m. on Sundays at Classic Pianos in southeast Portland.
Themes will include:
Musical mavericks: The murders and madrigals of Renaissance composer Don Carlo Gesualdo, and how Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Charles Ives, Lou Harrison and Steve Reich changed music forever.
Intimate conversations: The intricate art of chamber music in classic works by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Shostakovich and Messiaen.
Choral gems: The great masterworks, including Bach's Mass in B Minor, Mozart's Mass in C Minor, shorter works of Brahms, plus astonishing choral music from around the world.
Do orchestras really need conductors? Deconstructing the mysteries of the podium, with examples from Beecham, Toscanini, Furtwangler, Karajan, Kleiber, Celibidache, Bernstein and Dudamel.
David and Goliath: We explore the great concertos, where a single musician goes up against an entire orchestra, in works by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Bartok and Adams.
American majesty: What makes music American? We dive into the richness and variety of Stephen Foster, John Philip Sousa, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Terry Riley, John Adams and Portland's own Kenji Bunch.
Great singers: We admire the expressive and virtuosic singers who made their mark on history: Caruso, Corelli, Flagstad, Callas, Caballe, Price, Nilsson, Sutherland, Pavarotti, Bartoli, Fleming and others.
Folk-inspired music: Many composers, from Chopin and Brahms to Bartok, Astor Piazzolla and Osvaldo Golijov, found inspiration in folk music, transforming their work while keeping it grounded in the beauty of folk traditions.
Timeless Symphonies: Another deep dive into orchestral works we love, as we deconstruct Mozart's G Minor Symphony, Sibelius' Second and Copland's Third Symphony, which contains "Fanfare for the Common Man."
Please join us!
We heard some beautiful music, Sunday, and I want to thank everyone who came. This was an unusual class because this deeply reflective music can be difficult to listen to, one slow piece after another. Over our lifetimes, we build up associations with works such as Elgar's "Nimrod" and Barber's "Adagio for Strings" that can be painful and sad.
Thank you for sticking with me!
Here's what we heard:
Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony: Christian Thielmann conducts the Vienna Philharmonic: https://youtu.be/JNnuN8-wlwY
Franz Biebl's Ave Maria: Chanticleer performs: https://youtu.be/9WSbq3TCcd0
"Nimrod" from "Enigma Variations" by Edward Elgar: Colin Davis conducts the London Symphony Orchestra: https://youtu.be/aqvOVGCt5lw
Adagietto from Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony: Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic: https://youtu.be/Les39aIKbzE
"At the River" by Aaron Copland: William Warfield, bass-baritone, Copland conducts the Columbia Symphony: https://youtu.be/liIePs_-ULQ
Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber: Dover String Quartet: https://youtu.be/lKrxPTePXEQ
"Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" by Henryk Gorecki, David Zinman conducts the London Sinfonietta, Dawn Upshaw, soprano. We heard the second movement, starting at minute 26:48. https://youtu.be/Mcfy3UmnyDY
"In Paradisum" from Gabriel Faure's Requiem: Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Choeur Accentus, conducted by Laurence Equilbey. "In Paradisum" starts at minute 33:15. https://youtu.be/PnQl18sVyig
Just to change the subject from music for a moment, I wanted to mention a bike ride I'm doing with my brother, this summer. Nothing to do with music! Bear with me while I figure out how to categorize this under "Cycling."
Beginning in June, Martin, and I are cycling across the country. We start in Astoria, Oregon on June 18 and arrive in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Aug. 7. Marty and I started a bike blog about how we're training -- soggily -- and how we're fueling, gearing up and feeling about the ride. We hope you'll follow along.
I enjoyed talking about music of grieving to Dave Miller on Oregon Public Broadcasting's program, "Think Out Loud," yesterday. We had an engaging conversation about why sad music is pleasurable to listen to and the difference between sad music and grieving music. I think there are subtle distinctions. We also had time to hear snippets of some gorgeous music.
If you'd like to hear a preview of my class on grieving music, March 26, you can listen to yesterday's segment here.
Sad music can be some of the most beautiful in the world. And researchers are discovering why melancholy music has such a powerful effect on us.
In my next class, March 26, we will listen to music of the gravest beauty: The consoling serenity of "In Paradisum" from Gabriel Faure's Requiem; the rising heartbreak of the Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony; the nostalgia of the simple American folksong, "Long Time Ago" and the noble power of "Nimrod" from Edward Elgar's "Enigma Variations." Plus works by Bach, Schubert, Mahler and Gorecki.
Some scientists think melancholy music is linked to the hormone prolactin, a chemical that helps curb grief. The body prepares itself to adapt to a traumatic event, but when that event doesn't occur, the brain is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere to go.
We like to listen to sad music because it can amplify the feelings of sorrow and loss, says Tuomas Eerola, professor of music cognition at Durham University. These experiences often aren’t pleasurable, but reflecting on them can be therapeutic, he says in a story on Lifehacker. Melancholy, often thought of as a negative feeling, can actually enrich creativity.
People who listen to sad music may simply enjoy “being moved.” I know I am one of those people. I bet you are, too. In a recent study led by Eerola, published in Frontiers of Psychology, many participants who listened to sad-sounding music described feeling “intense, pleasurable, and yet sad emotions” all at once.
"Additionally, the same participants showed high levels of “empathic concern,” or the ability to empathize with someone’s perceived emotion while also feeling tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for them," writes Patrick Allan. "Basically, if you’re a highly empathetic person, there’s a good chance you feel a whirlwind of emotions when you listen to sad music -- and you probably find it enjoyable overall."
"Empathy is one of the most important skills you can develop because it can strengthen your relationships and make you a happier, more gracious person."
Come find out more, as we listen to these and other examples of powerfully beautiful music.
David Stabler is a pianist, writer, dad and cyclist. He's working on a novel based on his childhood years living in Africa and plans to ride across America with his brother this summer.