Monday, March 21, 2016

March Composer of the Month: Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was truly the premier music superstar of his time. Known for his amazing technical ability and showmanship, Liszt rose to rock star like fame during the Romantic period. He became known for writing and performing piano pieces more difficult and showy than had ever been composed before, and he was the first pianist to perform solo recitals from memory.

Fame and fortune followed Liszt, but like many celebrities, Liszt lived a life of scandal. He toured and performed all over Europe beginning at age 12, and he was inspired by the great violinist, Niccolo Paganini. Liszt was also known for his “transcriptions” (transforming works originally written for other instruments into piano pieces.) In his later years, Liszt continued composing and took on students of his own. He studied composing very seriously and influenced many composers who came after him.

Liszt's best known pieces include his Transcendental Etudes, Sonatina in B Minor, Liebestraume, La Campanella, and Un Sospiro.

Here are two of my favorite of Liszt's more than 1,000 compositions for piano, La Campanella and Un Sospiro. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

January Composer of the Month: Aaron Copland

This month's composer is one of my very favorite!

Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York. Copland studied piano as a child and at age 20, moved to France where he studied piano and composition. In the mid-1920's he returned to the United States and began a long and fruitful career as a composer, conductor, and author.

Copland was an American composer through and through. He loved the idea of creating music that explored jazz and Latin American sounds and other music that he thought uniquely reflected American culture. He also composed a lot of music for films. Some of his best know works are: Piano Variations, The Dance Symphony, El Salon Mexico, A Lincoln Portrait, Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, and Fanfare for the Common Man.

During his life, he won a Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar, and was nominated for several Academy Awards. Copland died on December 2, 1990, in North Terrytown, New York.

One of his best known and loved pieces, Fanfare for the Common Man, is featured below. For full effect, turn your speakers up loud!

If you just can't get enough Copland (I know I can't), here's an additional selection. I'm sure you will recognize this one!

Monday, October 5, 2015

October Composer of the Month: Antonin Dvorak

     As piano players, sometimes it's important to look to the wider world of music for things we can learn. The beautiful melodies of Antonin Dvorak have a lot to teach us, and his music is fun to listen to! This month's listening assignment is the second movement (section) of Dvorak's famous Symphony Number 9, "From the New World."

     Dvorak was a type of Romantic composer called a "nationalist." A nationalist is a person who uses the melodies and rhythms of their native land to create new and expressive music. Dvorak encouraged others to use the unique music of their native countries to add to the world of music as well.

    Antonin Dvorak was born on September 8, 1841, in what is now the Czech Republic. As a young man, he learned to play the violin, piano, and organ. In 1874, 1876, and 1877, Dvorak entered and won the Austrian State Prize for Composition. Johannes Brahms served as a judge and was very impressed with Dvorak's work.

     From 1892-1895, Dvorak lived in the United States and worked as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. While there, he formed an interest in African American and Native American folk music. He believed that both of these styles of music ought to form the basis of America's own nationalist music. Dvorak was saddened and surprised by the mistreatment of African Americans and Native Americans and the prejudice he observed while living in the United States.

     Dvorak returned home to Bohemia in 1895, where he lived until his death on May 1, 1904. Dvorak is remembered to this day as a great musical master, an inspiring teacher, and one of the great composers of European music.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Get Ready!

It's almost time to get another year of piano lessons underway! Weekly lessons resume the week of September 14, and I encourage all current and interested families to attend my free parent orientation session at the Bozeman Public Library large conference room on September 10 from 7-8 pm.

I'm so excited to get the year underway! See you soon!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Genius of Maurice Ravel

Hello, students! For our last listening assignment of the school year, I'd like to introduce you to Maurice Ravel, a true Impressionist master and one of my favorite composers.

 Ravel was born on March 7, 1875, in France. He remains one of the best known composers of all time and is now regarded as one of the great Impressionist artists.

Ravel began studying at the Paris Conservatory at age 14 and continued there into his early twenties. During his long career he wrote music for all kinds of instruments, including some very famous works for the piano. Ravel loved to take pieces written for other instruments and rewrite them for the orchestra. His best known works for the piano include Jeux d'eau (Fountains), Miroirs (Mirrors), and Le Tombeau de Couperin (the Tomb of Couperin). Ravel's orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's piano piece, Pictures at an Exhibition, is widely played and well loved. Ravel died in Paris, France on December 28, 1937.
This year we've been studying some of the qualities of Impressionist music, and when you listen carefully you will hear many of these ideas in Ravel's music. Can you hear each of the Impressionist ideas we've studied in Jeux d'eau (Playing Water) linked below?
1) Dissonance - Notes that don't quite "fit" together.
2) Perpetual Motion - Motion that doesn't stop
3) Intervals of 4ths and 5ths
4) Large leaps between low and high sounds
5) Pedal effects that may sound veiled or blurry

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Big Music Words of the Week: Perpetual Motion

Hello, blossoming Impressionist experts! During the last several weeks in lessons we've been talking about "perpetual motion," an idea Impressionist composers used a lot in their pieces.

Perpetual motion just means movement that never stops. In music, perpetual motion gives the listener the idea that the music is always moving forward. Perpetual motion is created by using a lot of short notes, like eighth notes and sixteenth notes. Very often music with a lot of motion creates ideas of water, wind, snowfall, or other images found in nature.

This week's listening piece, "Une Barque sur L'Ocean" or "Boat on the Ocean," uses perpetual motion to create images of waves and moving water. This piece was composed by Maurice Ravel, one of the great Impressionist composers of the period.

As you listen, try to find places where Ravel uses both dissonance and perpetual motion together. Can you use his piece as inspiration for the piece about winter we're writing?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Big Music Word of the Week: Dissonance

Hello, students! This week many of you discussed the word "dissonance" during your lesson and what it means. Then we talked about using dissonance in your weekly improvisation assignment and what your parents might think of your musical creations. (Parents, you're welcome.)

Dissonance is a fancy word for playing notes together that clash, or at least don't sound lovely in the usual sense. Dissonance can be used to build tension in music or to express anger, excitement, fear, or sadness. Some dissonance, especially when it's used on high notes can sound quite lovely.

What emotions did you end up expressing during your improvisation this week? I can't wait to hear your ideas!

In the mean time, listen to Debussy's Feux D'Artifice for inspiration. This song is about fireworks! How did Debussy use dissonance to create his musical sketch and build excitement?