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Beethoven: Piano Concerto #5 In E Flat, Op. 73, "Emperor" - 2. Adagio Un Poco Mosso
Alfred Brendel, Bernard Haitink, & London Philharmonic Orchestra
Beethoven: Piano Concerto #5 In E Flat, Op. 73, "Emperor" - 2. Adagio Un Poco Mosso

Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 5 In E Flat, Op. 73, “Emperor”, II: Adagio Un Poco Mosso

Performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Alfred Brendel on piano and Bernard Haitink conducting

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Funnymen In Technicolor (1934- 1937)
The same series of shorts that gave us these somewhat awkward leading men shots also featured cameos and skits from MGM’s comedy players (plus a couple of outsiders). Seen here are Joe E. Brown, Leon Errol, El Brendel, Andy Devine, a stooge-less Ted Healy, Robert Benchley, Harpo Marx and Buster Keaton.

Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959, 2nd movement (Andantino)
Franz Schubert/Alfred Brendel
Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959, 2nd movement (Andantino)

As featured in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Kış Uykusu (Winter Sleep), one of the the most haunting and impressive feats in recent cinematic history

Beethoven: Fantasia In C Minor, Op. 80, "Choral Fantasy" - 1. Adagio
Alfred Brendel; Bernard Haitink: London Philharmonic Orchestra
Beethoven: Fantasia In C Minor, Op. 80, "Choral Fantasy" - 1. Adagio

Beethoven - Fantasia In C Minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op. 80, I: Adagio

Performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Alfred Brendel on piano and Bernard Haitink conducting

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Beethoven - Diabelli Variations, op.120

In 1819, the publisher and composer Anton Diabelli started a collaborative project that invited any Austrian/German composer to participate in; a large set of variations on a short waltz he wrote specifically for the project. Being fueled by 19th century Nationalism, the project was called “Fatherland Artists Association”, and over 50 composers contributed a variation. For example, some larger names like Franz Schubert, Carl Czerny, and even from the [then] 8 year old Franz Liszt, as well as several “stars” of the day who aren’t in the standard repertoire [Moscheles, Kalkbrenner, Hummel, etc.]. Sure, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but it was for a good cause: Diabelli donated the funds to benefit orphans and widows of the Napoleanic Wars. But of all the composers that helped with the project, the largest and most important contribution comes from Beethoven. Written during his late period, the 33 Variations on Diabelli’s waltz has since been considered one of THE greatest sets of variations written in history, right next to Bach’s Goldberg. At the same time, the work is considered to be one of Beethoven’s most significant achievements because of what he does with the original waltz. It would be tedious to go through every single variation and point out what it’s doing, so at most I’ll give as quick a summary as I can. Beethoven pretty much ignores the main melody, and instead all of his variations are based on the structure of the work, the harmony, and the rhythm. For example, many variations only focus on parts of the melody, like the opening grace note, or the trill, or a single interval. In a way, it’s Beethoven showing off what he can do with very little material. The work is also full of contrasts in mood. Some variations make fun of the original waltz, with it’s banal theme and basic/limited use of the keyboard. Other variations contrast the humorous with extreme seriousness; a gorgeous choral variation, two variations that seem to be love letters to Baroque opera, one variation is a calm fughetta, a nod to Bach. One variation is in a canon, near the end is a short but epic fugue [like the fugal moments of his last sonatas], there are virtuosic variations, simplistic variations, the mood transforms as often as the music. Alfred Brendel said it best, "The theme has ceased to reign over its unruly offspring. Rather, the variations decide what the theme may have to offer them. Instead of being confirmed, adorned and glorified, it is improved, parodied, ridiculed, disclaimed, transfigured, mourned, stamped out and finally uplifted".

Listen

Schumann - Dichterliebe Op. 48, No. 1 - Im wunderschönen Monat Mai

German:

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,
als alle Knospen sprangen,
da ist in meinem Herzen
die Liebe aufgegangen.

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,
als alle Vögel sangen,
da hab’ ich ihr gestanden
mein Sehnen und Verlangen.

English Translation:

In the wonderfully fair month of May,
as all the flower-buds burst,
then in my heart
love arose.

In the wonderfully fair month of May,
as all the birds were singing,
then I confessed to her
my yearning and longing.

Performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone and Alfred Brendel, piano. Recorded in July 1985.

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Busoni - Piano Concerto in C Major

A mammoth, a sleeping Titan of the concerto repertoire…Busoni’s piano concerto is a rarely performed work that is strenuous for the pianist, the orchestra, and the audience all at once. At an hour and 15 minutes in length, it acts like a sinfonia-concertante, where the piano and orchestra are equally utilized. Actually, while the piano does have important structural aspects to it, the pianist overall is constantly struggling to play over the booming orchestra, to the point where the virtuosity goes unnoticed in comparison. That’s probably a major reason why we rarely see it in concert: it’s a beast to play, but the difficulty isn’t easily highlighted so it’s hard to “show off” to the audience. Written at the beginning of the century, the work isn’t like the shadowy and bleak works of his more mature years, rather it is an over-the-top unapologetic love letter to the grandiose decadence of late 19th century piano concertos. Here it might be adequate to say “Too many notes”. In fact, Alfred Brendel even said this work was “monstrously overwritten”. So why does it have a niche cult following? Why is it still being picked up [a mild resurgence in recent years I’ve noticed]? Despite the pianistic writing at times, the work is well balanced. It follows the structure as seen in the drawing that Busoni had conceptualized here in the video: a grand solemn temple in the middle, two busy vibrant gardens on either side, and then two polished ornate temples bookending the row. In following this structure, we start with a grand movement, opening as if in media res, with a Brahms like theme paired with Lisztian pyrotechnics and Beethoven drama. The next movement is a rushing scherzo that is somehow both heavy and rapid, defying physics it seems. The third movement is a large scale meditation of an operatic theme that is excruciatingly Teutonic with its modulating build up. The following movement is a heart racing tarantella, taking Italian street songs a la Rossini and making them as frantic and animalistic as possible, a build up that makes me think of wild animals stampeding out of a zoo and causing all kinds of havoc. After the insane cadenza and obligatory brass fanfare, we settle down a bit with a choral setting [yes, I forgot to mention this concerto has a choral finale] of a hymn to Allah from an early 19th century play by Adam Oehlenschläger, Aladdin.] The work ends in a stately coda. The constant use of climaxes, the blazing orchestra, the hyperactive pianist, it all comes together as an almost postmodernist parody of the Romantic piano concerto. I like to think of it as the story of a Liszt or Thalberg type showman pianist trying to show off to the audience fighting the conductor/composer who doesn’t have the work written with him in mind. I know I’ve probably been making fun of this work more than praising it, so here is the praise: it brings to mind the wonder of sitting in an audience watching a concert live, being awestruck and marveling at the abilities of the musicians creating magic out of sound before our eyes, both physical and mental achievements. This is a space of magic, of dreams, of adventure and exploration, of naivety that we wish we could return to.

Movements:

1. Prologo e Introito: Allegro, dolce e solenne

2. Pezzo giocoso

3. Pezzo serioso

4. All'Italiana: Tarantella: Vivace; In un tempo

5. Cantico: Largamente, “Die Felsensäulen fangen an tief und leise zu ertönen” [”Deep and quiet, the pillars of rock begin to sound"]

Piano Sonata In A Major, Op. 120, D 664 - II. Andante
Alfred Brendel
Piano Sonata In A Major, Op. 120, D 664 - II. Andante

Piano Sonata In A Major, Op.120, D.664 - II. Andante

Year/Date of Composition : 1819 or 1825 Summer (June ?)
First Publication : 1829 – J. Czerny
Composer Time Period : Romantic
Piece Style : Romantic
Instrumentation : Piano

By Composer Franz Peter Schubert

Alfred Brendel, Pianist