Friday, 29 May 2009

Piano Recital (slightly messy)

After 5 days away from the piano touring round the north of the country visiting relatives and friends, we returned more weary than when we'd begun the "holiday". That didn't stop me attempting a piano recital at Ely Cathedral on Thursday lunchtime.

Debussy, Préludes (Book I)
I. Danse des Delphes: Lent et grave

Haydn, Sonata No. 29 in E flat major
Allegro molto

Debussy, Préludes (Book I)
II. Voiles: Modéré
VIII. La fille aux chevaux de lin: Très calme et doucement expressif

Haydn, Sonata No. 62 in E flat major

Debussy, Préludes (Book I)
XII. Minstrels: Modéré
The music of Claude Achille Debussy (1862-1918) is some of the most revolutionary in the history of Western music. His significant output for the piano is no exception, exploring new sound effects, extended pedalling, whole tone scales and other disruptions to the world of classical harmony. The first prelude (“Dancers of Delphi”) was inspired by an ancient Greek sculpture of three women that Debussy came across in the Louvre. It is a slow sarabande (a Baroque dance), showing his fondness for pre-classical forms. The second prelude (“Sails”) depicts the wind in the sails of boats at sea, and is almost entirely constructed out of whole tone intervals rather than the key-based scales that all sudents of music are drilled in. The eighth prelude (“The girl with the flaxen hair”) needs no introduction, as one of Debussy’s most famous works, while the ninth (“Minstrels”) is a composite impression of the composer’s many visits to Parisian cabarets to watch African and African-American performers in cabarets full of slapstick, song, tap dance, somersaults, drumming and general high spirits.

By contrast, Josef Haydn (1732-1809), whose double centenary is currently being celebrated across British and European TV and radio was a master of given forms, perfecting the classical sonata, string quartet and symphony. He was also an astute businessman, turning out hundreds of popular arrangements, folk tunes, choral extravaganzas and music for the rising middle classes to play in their homes. The 29th sonata dates from 1766 and mostly displays the restraint and poise typical of Haydn. All three movements are in sonata form, with the first two prepared to roam more widely in harmonic terms and the third to explore considerably more keys at high speed, not to mention testing the soundness of the piano’s mechanism in sets of repeated notes! Of course Haydn was never a slave to tradition (indeed with his large and surprisingly varied output he in many ways set the boundaries for that classical tradition) and in his final piano sonata, from 1794, he began to strain at the shackles that Beethoven would shatter just a few years later. In its grandness, its virtuosity and its unusual modulations this sonata competes with anything that Beethoven wrote, yet still retains the lightness and elegance of Haydn at his best. It is brimming with both deep emotion, especially in the slow movement, and humour – enjoy the bizarre pauses in the outer movements and the sudden explosions of joy.