Piano Blog

2/22/19 Tchaikovsky's "The Seasons"

posted Feb 22, 2019, 8:48 AM by Steven Luksan

2/22/19 Tchaikovsky's "The Seasons"

Tchaikovsky is one of classical music's best-known composers, but when people think of his music, they generally think of orchestral masterpieces like his symphonies, ballets, or the piano or violin concertos. Tchaikovsky also wrote a lot of beautiful music for the solo piano, including a set of 12 pieces called "The Seasons" (each piece corresponds with one month out of the year).  This piece, "June - Barcarolle," is one of my favorites.  A barcarolle is a song traditionally sung by gondoliers (imagine the beautiful canals of Venice), but this barcarolle is unique, something that only Tchaikovsky could have created. 
Can you hear the rocking of a boat portrayed in this music?  

Haydn Keyboard Sonata

posted Feb 20, 2019, 7:04 AM by Steven Luksan   [ updated Feb 20, 2019, 7:05 AM ]

2/20/19 - Haydn Keyboard Sonata

Franz Joseph Haydn wrote extensively for the keyboard, but his music would not have been played on the piano as we know it today.  In Haydn's day, the harpsichord was still an extremely common instrument.  This music is now most-frequently performed on modern pianos, but this performance on a harpsichord is in keeping with the spirit of the 18th century when this music was composed.

What differences do you notice between a harpsichord and a piano? 
Here are a few hints of what to look for:  
-What color are the keys on the instrument?
-How many keyboards there are on the instrument?
-Listen to the sound of the instrument.  Does it sound different than a piano?  Can you describe how it sounds different?
-When notes on the lower keyboard are played, "coupled" notes on the upper keyboard are also engaged.  Notice how the sound is different when notes are played by themselves on the upper keyboard.


2/11/19 - Véronique Gens & Susan Manoff Perfom Hahn

posted Feb 11, 2019, 9:02 AM by Steven Luksan   [ updated Feb 11, 2019, 1:31 PM ]

2/11/19 Véronique Gens & Susan Manoff Perform Hahn

One of my favorite things to do as a pianist is to work with singers.  In classical music, songs written for voice and piano in English are known as Art Songs. (These songs will often be called Mélodies if they are in French or Lieder if they are in German.) This song, by one of the master composers of French mélodies, Reynaldo Hahn, tells the story of someone who fell in love, but wasn't able to stay with the girl he loved.  Notice how the singer tells the story, but it's the music played by the piano that makes the drama of the story come to life!

2/10/19 - Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

posted Feb 10, 2019, 11:36 AM by Steven Luksan   [ updated Feb 11, 2019, 7:24 AM ]

2/10/19 - Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

The American composer George Gershwin wrote the music for "Rhapsody in Blue" in 1924.  Lasting almost 20 minutes, this piece for piano and orchestra is a variation on the traditional musical form of the concerto. A traditional concerto is usually a piece for solo instrument and orchestra and is composed in three large movements or sections.  This piece mimics this form by framing a lyrical middle section with a more exuberant, lively section on either side. 
This performance features a young orchestra of college-aged performers.  Can you name the different instruments of the orchestra that are shown in this video?  


2/8/19 - Yuja Wang (Piano) with Andreas Ottensamer (Clarinet)

posted Feb 8, 2019, 11:25 AM by Steven Luksan   [ updated Feb 8, 2019, 1:26 PM ]

2/8/19 - Yuja Wang (Piano) with Andreas Ottensamer (Clarinet)

The piano is a perfect instrument to work together with other instruments!  In this video, you'll see Yuja Wang (one of classical music's biggest stars) performing a piece by the German composer Felix Mendelssohn along with clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer. Listen for the moments when the piano and the clarinet are playing the same melody together, and compare how that sounds to the moments when the piano plays harmonious lines that move independently from the clarinet.


2/8/19 - Ludovico Einaudi performing on a raft in the Arctic

posted Feb 8, 2019, 8:49 AM by Steven Luksan   [ updated Feb 8, 2019, 1:26 PM ]

2/8/19 - Ludovico Einaudi performing on a raft in the Arctic

In Seattle we are experiencing a series of winter storms with snow and ice covering the city.  It's sometimes easy to forget that other parts of the world are covered in ice year-round.  In this video, Italian pianist/composer Ludovico Einaudi blends beautiful piano playing with a political message and beautiful cinematography.  Do you feel like this combination of music and politics is successful?  Can you imagine playing the piano while floating on a raft surrounded by ice?! 

1/27/19 - Ketil Bjørnstad performing live

posted Jan 27, 2019, 3:12 PM by Steven Luksan   [ updated Jan 27, 2019, 6:39 PM ]

1/27/19 - Ketil Bjørnstad performing live

Ketil Bjørnstad is one of my favorite pianists and composers.  His music straddles the boundary between several genres, including jazz, minimalism, easy-listening, and classical.  In this live performance, he is likely improvising ("making up") the music that he is playing right on the spot.  You'll notice that not every note sounds "perfect." (For an example of this, listen closely at 1'30", when he plays a wildly ascending scale.  The top notes of this pattern sound a bit "off", but he keeps going and incorporates these notes into the continuous momentum of the music.)


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