Rameau Maître à danser William Christie

Rameau : Maître à danser with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants in the famed production at Le théâtre de Caen, from 2014,  still (just) available on Culturebox.  Notice, Maître à danser, not master of the dance but a master to be danced to: there’s a difference.  Dance is movement, formalized into art.  Dance encapsulates the values of the baroque, where art meant civilisation, refinement over nature, orderliness over abundance.  Rameau was a music theorist as well as a composer, his music shaped by the values of his time. The pulse of dance invigorates his music, and informs its intricate patterns.  We can hear it animate the music. Now, fortunately, thanks to extensive modern research, we can also watch music being danced to, in stagings that reflect the spirit of the period.

In this performance, Christie presents Daphnis et Églé  (1753), written as a private entertainment for Louis XV and his court at Fontainebleau, after days spent out in the forests hunting for game. Context is relevant. It also commemorates the birth of a royal princes, and dynastic continuity.  The King wanted to be amused, but the show also had to flatter his image of power.  Thus both pieces present Happy Peasants, acting out simple, innocent lives, their peaceful idylls made possible by the benevolence of the King.   

Daphnis et Églé that its basically a masque for dancing,  Daphnis (Reinoud Van Mechelen) and Églé (Élodie Fonnard), shepherd and shepherdess, are friends who gradually fall in love over a sequence of 16 tableaux.  Daphnis flirts with a stranger, singing a lovely air. Églé drags him away.  Cupid appears, with wings and a wooden bow and arrow.  Daphnis presents  Églé  with a bow. Later, heavily “pregnant, they embrace as happy peasants dance around them.  Van Mechelen and Fonnard are familiar names on the French baroque circuit. Fonnard’s particularly pert and dramatic  and Van Mechelen has good stage presence. The first performance of this piece in 1753 flopped, apparently because the singers were duds. Fonnard and Van Mechelen are good. They’re delightfully fresh.  But singing is only part of the dramatic whole, contrary to modern notions about the past.  There isn’t much of a plot, and what narrative there is unfolds in stylized symbols. In the final sequence, Églé carries a doll, representing a new born babe. Louis XV and his Queen, with their infant prince, would have been flattered.Contrary to modern assumptions, the singing, though beautiful, does not take precedence over all else.  Baroque values emphasized balance and natural order, ensemble not diva-ism.  Van Mechelen has a lovely passage “Chantez ! Chantez”, garlanded by woodwinds that sing like birds, bringing “nature” into the proceedings, and the idea of natural purity. The long dance sequences, punctuated by simple percussion, emphasize them orchestra over the singers.  Indeed, the chorus has almost as much to do as the singers.   

Daphnis et Églé works well when its slender charms aren’t overwhelmed by excess opulence.  Daneman’s staging reflects this innocence, A simple cloth is held up on sticks to suggest  peasant theatre.  Alain Blanchot’s costumes (organic dyed fabric?) show the shepherds and shepherdesses in what would have been normal 18th century costume for their class, ie “modern” for the time. Daneman has worked with Christie since their first Hippolyte et Aricie together some 20 years ago. 

This stylized simplicity is of the essence, since The King wanted to portray himself as father of his people, a populace too child like and naive to object.  Little did he know what would happen in 1789!
 Françoise Denieau choreographed. Each of these danced sequences represent a different type of dance. Fans of early dance will enthuse about the finer details, and the names of each type of dance, the arm arm movements and the position of feet.  Baroque dance stemmed from athletics aristocrats practiced to keep fit and to fence. It’s more stylized than 19th century ballet, and, serves the music. It isn’t over-elaborate, since the purpose of the piece was conceptual idealism.  It feels like hearing the score come alive. When the music takes precedence, there are some lovely moments.  The Three Graces appear, in skimpy flesh coloured chemises, their arms held in expansive gestures. A young man dances with them. I’m not sure “who” he represents, but his graceful agility is a joy to watch.  

I first heard Christie’s  Maître à danser  live at the Barbican in 2014, soon after the Caen premiere, together with another miniature, marking the birth of a second young prince, who would become the ill fated Louis XVI.  In London, I think we got a truncated version of the two pieces, but I can’t remember exactly.  Please see my other posts on Rameau’s Zaïs HERE. and on  Pigmalion and Anacréon HERE

Original Source: Rameau Maître à danser William Christie

Jonas Kaufmann Diana Damrau Wolf Italienisches Liederbuch

Add Jonas Kaufmann and Diana Damrau, Wolf Italiensiches Liederbuch, Goldner Saale, Musikverein, Vienna

Jonas Kaufmann and Diana Damrau singing Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch with Helmut Deutsch at the Barbican Hall, London.  Despite astronomical prices, tickets will sell.  Not for Hugo Wolf, but for Kaufmann and Damrau, a good team for music like this. Unlike most of the concerts in the Barbican’s Kaufman residency, this one is seriously interesting in musical terms.  Hugo Wolf will always be more specialist taste than populist, but this Liederbuch could be ideally suited to Kaufmann, whose sensually-charged, darker timbre should be pretty much perfect.  Wolf hasn’t enjoyed mega profile celebrity status for decades. Kaufmann and Damrau’s tour takes in twelve European cities, including Berlin, Vienna, London, Paris, Barcelona and Budapest.  Kaufmann and Damrau’s Wolf Italienisches Liederbuch is significant, so chances are that a recording will eventuate. It will be cheaper than shelling out big for tickets/transport ! haha !

For the Italienisches Liederbuch, Wolf used texts by Paul Heyse, whose translations of Italian and Spanish poetry appealed to German language readers, fascinated by “The Dream of the South” a potent theme in Central European aesthetics,  even before Goethe’s life-transforming visits to Italy.  Wolf was born in Windischgrätz in what is now Slovenia. Though the family was German-speaking, Wolf’s mother played the guitar and had Italian connections.  Dreams of the South cast a spell on Wolf, who would later go on to write the Spanisches Liederbuch and the opera Der Corregidor.  Significantly though, Wolf never actually made it to Italy.  When his friend arranged for him to visit during his last, troubled years, he refused to go, aware perhaps that nothing could quite match the Italy of his imagination.  The forty-six songs in Wolf’s Italiensiches Liederbuch form a panorama, each song an individual vignette.  Lovers pine for one another, thwarted by bossy mothers. Serenades, and songs about dirty old men dressed as monks ! Delicate songs of innocence, robust songs of flirtation, and songs of sheer wonder, like Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett die müden Glieder, where a man jumps out of bed to fill, the streets with song.  But not just to one girl. “So manches Mädchen hat mein Lied gerührt, Indes der Wind schon Sang und Klang entführt.” (many girls hear my song, even when it’s been blown away by wind and noise). Images of sunshine, and of the night, of warmth and a sensibility very different to uptight Northern morality. (and probably not much like strict Catholic behaviour, either.).

Each song is a miniature opera, telling a story, creating a mood. That’s why I think these songs were made for Jonas Kaufmann.  His voice has a smouldering, sexy quality which suits the slightly louche nature of these songs.  His Italianate looks don’t hurt, either !  As an opera singer, creating character with his voice comes naturally. Although these songs are Lieder, they aren’t as inward or as intellectual as many Lieder can be, so they can benefit from a more impersonal approach as long as the touch is elegant enough not to overwhelm.  Although Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau made so many recordings that the Italienisches Liederbuch is almost (not quite) associated with him,  the collection is also tenor territory.  Peter Schreier and Christoph Prégardien performed it many time, Prégardien sometimes adjusting the song order to group the songs into tighter units. So Kaufmann, with his baritonish richness could create the best of both worlds.

Because Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch depends so much on the interplay between the many different components in the collection,  in practical performance it needs singers who are  balanced enough to create a natural flow between their voices. Diana Damrau has done the Italiensiches  
Liederbuch before, so she’s a known quality.  The girlish brightness of her youth has warmed to a  maturity,  better suited to this collection, where so many songs describe a worldly wise woman with such confidence that she can chide her (many) lovers with mocking good humour.  Many of the “female” songs in this set reveal women as stronger personalities than men.  And as for Helmut Deutsch, he’s so familiar to Lieder people that we can “hear” him, just thinking about him.

Original Source: Jonas Kaufmann Diana Damrau Wolf Italienisches Liederbuch

Wunderhorn-haunted Mahler 5 – Jakub Hrůša, Philharmonia

Jakub Hrůša (photo Pavel Heinz, for IMG)

Many have wondered, “How Bohemian was Gustav Mahler?”. Mahler Symphony no 5 with Jakub Hrůša and the Philharmonia Orchestra paired with Beethoven Piano Concerto No 1 in C, op 15, with soloist Piotr Anderszewski at the Royal Festival Hall, London, might shed some light. Mahler grew up in German-speaking communities in what is now Bohemia/Moravia, so the question is valid.  Though German speakers dominated society in those times, and Bohemian received less deference, as a bright, sensitive child Mahler might have absorbed the sounds around him.  Although Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is not a Wunderhorn symphony, it still carries the vigorous vernacular of the folk traditions captured in Brentano and Arnim’s volume Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

Hrůša brought out the robust spirit that animates the symphony. Far from being neurotic, this is a symphony that celebrates life in its variety. It begins with a Trauermarsch, a funeral march, in measured steps.  Growing up in a garrison town, Mahler would often have seen soldiers in drill formation. Hence the marking “wie ein Konduct”.  Thus the baleful trumpet call, followed by trombones and tuba, and the steady pace. But almost immediately, something extra happened.  The fingerings on the basses brought out the “wood” in their instruments. Hollow sounds and very spooky, evoking the sound of skeletons marching through town in Revelge, the dead resurrected in macabre afterlife.  The high winds sounded like cries of anguish. It is also significant that Mahler experienced a dangerous illness before the completion of Symphony no 5.  He, too, had beaten death and could laugh in its face.  Hrůša’s approach is interpretively valid, making connections between this symphony and so much else in Mahler,  even to the quirky, dark humour of Symphony no 7.  A chilling last chord, to press the point.

This symphony was first performed with the Rückert song Um Mitternacht. In the silence of the night the poet hears his heart and realizes its beat separates life from death.The angular phrasing with which the second movement begins, underlined by “heartbeats”of the timpani, suggested the pulse of a body.  The trumpet plays a dual role. It propels forward thrust yet also stands for a single player, and individual in a larger group. A humble soldier, the human face of an army : part of the Wunderhorn ethos. In the fanfare and storm-tossed passages that follow, the trumpet leads on.  Here, an exhilaration reminiscent of Mahler’s Symphony no 1. But an “individual” emerges again in the violin, lyrical but distinctive.  The third movement moves from Scherzo to stillness. There are interlocking dialogues, between trumpet and horn, between horn and flute, solo violin and strings. This dynamic suggests variety : the proliferation of different stories in Des Knaben Wunderhorn, perhaps, but also in life itself.  Now the violin part dominates, leading into more mysterious territory. Winds call, and brass. Dense textures and shadows. The violins sang freely contrasting with angular brass, wooden percussion beating tension.  Are we hearing the sounds of the night, or the sounds in a dense forest? At moments, I felt as though the spirit of the Cunning Little Vixen had infused the symphony, enhancing it with the fertility and freedom which the Vixen symbolizes. 

Perhaps the Vixen lingered, too, in the Adagietto, with its natural, unforced tenderness.  The Vixen is a feminine presence, and “feminine” themes occur quite often in Mahler.  Hrůša placed the celli between the first and second violins and violas, so an almost imperceptible tremble added to the fragility of the moment.  As so often in Mahler, good times don’t last, though as in Nature, new life replaces old.  Thus the vernal freshness with which the Rondo-Finale began, developed with warmth, creating the spacious, summery freedom we encounter so often in Mahler.  Here, the rustling strings and rumbling percussion evoked a sense of dense, healthy undergrowth. It’s not for nothing that so much Central European mythology springs from an aesthetic in which the forest acts as symbol for the psyche.  With this firm foundation, the brass can call heavenwards. Mahler can conclude with vibrant flourish. The journey from death to life once again traversed, vigour refreshed and revived.  

Hrůša’s approach to Mahler is inspired and perceptive. It’s not often that structural connections are so well understood,and performance so earthy and vital.  This concert began with Beethoven  Piano Concerto no 1 op 15 with Piotr Anderszewski, well performed but with no particular relation to Mahler 5.  Beethoven Piano Concerto no 2 will be heard with Mahler Symphony no 1 on April 12th when Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia with David Fray as soloist. Will, the connections reveal themselves then ?  .

Original Source: Wunderhorn-haunted Mahler 5 – Jakub Hrůša, Philharmonia

Kung Hei Fat Choy – Donald the Dog

Kung Hei Fat Choy !  Welcome to the Spring festival, start of the Lunar New Year, Friday 16th February, this year.   This is the biggest celebration of the year, when families get together from all over the country and the world. Everyone feasts. To attract good fortune for the New Year, people display flowers and fruit and “lucky” objects like calligraphy and brightly coloured ornaments.  Since this year is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese zodiac, a lot of the ornaments depict dogs. Whole stalls selling toy dogs – soft toys, balloons, dancing toys and stuff for kids. I even saw someone “walking” a toy dinosaur, with wheels in its legs.  Above, a Dog who’s been on the streets in Shanxi province for quite a while.  Political commentary ? Aha ! Although people born in the Year of the Dog are generally loyal and trustworthy, those born as “Fire Dogs” in the more detailed 60-year zodiac have problems.  Like dogs, they obey and are controlled by others. They like money and comforts but don’t manage them well.  And in matters of love, they are, well, like hounds.  Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone, but….. !

Original Source: Kung Hei Fat Choy – Donald the Dog

Piano Teachers and Pedaling

In the cosmos of pedaling, where the “soul of the piano” is explored, I asked a few teachers about when and how they introduce students to the use of the sustaining or damper pedal.

Definition of Terms: https://www.pianocub.com/blog/3-piano-pedal-techniques-you-need-to-know

Legato/Syncopated Pedal

“In legato pedaling, the sustain pedal is pressed down after a note or chord has been played but before it has been released. It’s called legato pedaling because the pedal is used as a way to connect notes together and create the illusion of smooth playing. This technique is also called syncopated pedaling.”

The Direct Pedal

“In the direct pedal, the sustain pedal is depressed at the same moment the keys are struck. This is useful for accenting a sharp attack or giving a big chord some extra resonance.”

The Preliminary Pedal

“The pedal is pressed down before the first notes of a piece or section. This allows the piano to be at its most resonant when the keys are struck and creates a full, deep, and beautiful sound.”


Irina Morozova

I introduce pedal when students are ready. Usually it doesn’t happen until the second or even third year (with kids). I give them simple exercises for direct and late (syncopated) pedal and explain the difference. Pedaling is an extremely difficult subject to write about: It’s too complicated and subtle. But when students are ready to pedal, I expect them to do it perfectly so we work very hard on it, using more and more complex pedal tricks.

Rami Bar-Niv

I introduce pedaling when we get to repertoire that requires it and when the student can reach the pedal comfortably. I don’t use pedal extenders for small kids. I prefer that the student is first well-grounded in playing without the pedal.

When I teach the use of the pedal, I start with syncopated pedaling as “default” and later move on to various pedal techniques and uses as they are deemed necessary and required by the music.

I never mention the concept that pedal is used for legato playing even though it can help with legato at times. I view the pedal as enhancement and enrichment of the sound and as an aid in phrasing. The use of the pedal depends not only on the music that’s being played but also on the piano it’s being played on and the room it’s being played in.


Seymour Bernstein presents his views on pedaling with compelling demonstrations of actual exercises he enlists in the early years of study, continuing with a more complex mentoring/development of pedal techniques as students advance.

In vimeo format, Bernstein explains and demonstrates the history of the right pedal.

Seymour’s Introduction

We learn two startling facts: 1) Hairpins, (cresc. and decresc. markings), beginning with Beethoven, mean tempo fluctuations, and 2) In my opinion, the asterisks, following Chopin’s pedal indications, mean nothing at all. Along the way, I reveal important information concerning interpretation, all coupled with PowerPoint slides which show the points under discussion. It’s a must for all teachers and serious pianists.


In his book, The Art of Piano Fingering, Rami Bar-Niv explores finger pedaling as a technique applied to the same measures of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor (LH) that Bernstein referenced in his video trailer. Bar-Niv, then further probes the same work.

Bar-Niv: The tool of finger pedaling can be very helpful when playing without using the sustain pedal or when pedaling needs to be cleared if some extra resonance and overtones are still desired. It can also be very effective when we wish to bring out some extra-hidden voices/melodies in the music.


Kirsten: From my teaching perspective, the world of pedaling is filled with complexity. Mentoring students about how to use the pedal as an enhancement of musical lines, fleshing out colors and nuances the pianoforte affords, is an incremental journey. Attentive listening should be at its center, supported by technical and physical approaches that best realize what is an imagined sound image. The process of assimilating various dimensions of pedaling may take years of exposure to varied repertoire. And what might work for a Chopin composition in sound imagery terms, will not necessarily carry over to a Debussy Prelude. It’s our job as teachers to help sort through the varied tonal and atonal vocabularies of composers as we explore their works. By experimenting with pedaling options and exchanging ideas back and forth with our pupils, we foster mutual musical growth.


Irina Morozova

Rami Bar-Niv
Author The Art of Piano Fingering


Rami’s Rhapsody Piano Camp for Adults of all piano-playing levels in San Francisco, April 22-28, 2018.

Seymour Bernstein

Original Source: Piano Teachers and Pedaling

Hubert Parry Choral Festival, Gloucester

The Gloucester Choral Society host a choral festival honouring Charles Hubert Parry on the 100th anniversary of his death.  Parry was perhaps the finest British composer in the generation before Edward Elgar, and, as Director of the Royal College of Music, helped shape 20th century British music, in particular the music of John Ireland, Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams.  Parry’s Jerusalem is almost our National Anthem. But the song, like the poem by William Blake that inspired it, is all too often misunderstood. (Please read my piece on it HERE). Though born to privilege, Parry’s sympathies lay closer to Blake’s than to the Establishment. It’s fitting, then, that the GCS Festival begins with a Come and Sing Workshop  led by Adrian Partington, where singers of all abilities will be welcome to sing Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens, and other pieces like Ireland’s Vexilla Regis, Holst’s Turn Back O Man and Vaughan Williams’sa Towards the Unknown Region.

On Saturday, 5th May,  a gala evening concert will be held at Gloucester Cathedral, where the Gloucester Choral Society will be joined by the Oxford Bach Choir and the Philharmonia Orchestra in a programme that begins  with Parry’s I was Glad and ends with Jerusalem. Along the way, Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis, Holst’s Hymn of Jesus, Ireland’s Greater Love hath no Man and Parry’s Ode to the Nativity.  Earlier on, an afternoon recital with Ashley Grote, the noted organist, at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Gloucester  with Parry’s Chorale Fantasia on O God, our help in ages past, his Fantasia and Fugue in G and his Choral Preludes on Martyrdom and  Eventide plus organ music by Vaughan Williams, Holst and Ireland.  On Sunday,  Eucharist and Evensong at Gloucester  Cathedral will be celebrated with music by Parry,Vaughan Williams, and Howells

Perhaps the most unique event for true Parry devotees  will be the all-day study day on Monday 7th at Highnam, which isn’t generally open to the public except by arrangement. Highnam House was built in the 16th century, and extensively restored by Thomas Gambier Parry, the composer’s father, who built the Church of the Holy Innocents, a gem of Victorian architectural excellence. (There’s a street named after him in Gloucester). Professor Jeremy Dibble , Parry’s biographer and an authority on British music, will give a talk on Parry’s choral music. There’ll also be a recital, and an Evensong in the Church, which will include Parry’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimmitus, Vaughan Williams’s Antiphon and Parry’s Chorale Prelude on Hanover.

More details here from the Three Choirs Festival website

Original Source: Hubert Parry Choral Festival, Gloucester