After a period of “being still,” things are definitely in motion!
I am working hard to get the last four or five Rachmaninoff variations in shape for performance with only 15 days to go!
I have ordered 100 copies of The Beautiful Unnamed (finished!) to be given away at the recital!
I have ordered eight variations of the Classy Girl Cupcakes that we had at the recital in 2013. This year, they do not all look like roses (I played “The Rose Sonata” by Elizabeth R. Austin that year); in face the variations (you may try all) are:
- · raspberry truffle
- · salted caramel fudge
- · strawberry champagne
- · raspberry zinger
- · lemon pound
- · coconut angel food
- · orange cream
- · gluten-free whatevers
Invitations have been sent out. If you didn’t receive one, it’s because I don’t have your email. Consider yourself invited (Program Notes are below).
My morning glory seedlings have been planted. Though I still have to cover them up with burlap at night, they seem to be thriving. Hopefully they will bloom before August, though they rarely have.
It’s a challenge.
Here are the program notes. Come if you can!
Variations of Beautiful
Piano Recital Program—2:00, June 6, 2015
Wisconsin Conservatory of Music
1584 N. Prospect Ave.
Kathleen Dale, student of Stefanie Jacob
- · Toccata (Beata E Golec, 2007)
- · Toccata in E Minor, BWV 914 (JS Bach, 1712)
Un poco Allegro
- · Secret & Glass Gardens (Jennifer Higdon, 2001)
Intermission (ten minutes)
- Sonata Op. 109 (Ludwig v. Beethoven, 1820)·
Vivace ma non troppo, Prestissimo
Theme (Tema) (Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo)
Var. 1 (Molto espressivo)
Var. 2 (Leggiermente)
Var. 3 (Allegro vivace)
Var. 4 (Un poco meno andante ciò è un poco più adagio come il tema)
Var. 5 (Allegro ma non troppo)
Var. 6 (Tempto I del tema)
- ·Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42 (Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1931)
Var. I(Poco più mosso)
Var. II(L’istesso tempo)
Var. III (Tempo di Menuetto)
Var. IV (Andante)
Var. V(Allegro (ma non tanto)
Var. VI (L’istesso tempo)
Var. VII (Vivace)
Var. VIII (Adago misterioso)
Var. IX (Un poco più mosso)
Var. X (Allegro scherzando)
Var. XIII (Agitato)
Intermezzo (A tempo rubato)
Var. XIV (Andante come prima)
Var. XV (L’istesso tempo dolcissimo)
Var. XVI (Allegro vivace)
Var. XVII (Meno mosso)
Var. XVIII (Allegro con brio)
Var. XX (Più mosso)
thanks to Mark Franke, page-turner extraordinaire
Refreshments and signed copies of Kathleen’s new book, The Beautiful Unnamed, will be available in the dining room after the recital, where donations may be made to Jazale’s Art Studio. Jazale’s provides after-school art education to Milwaukee children without easy access to the arts. Donations can also be made directly on their website – www.jazalesartstudio.org
Toccata, Op. 1, No. 1, by Beata E.Golec
As I have done with other contemporary women composers over the past ten years, I found Beata Golec on the internet. Her 2007 CD entitled simply Beata E. Golec; pianist and composer , offered samples of her work. I was immediately taken with her “Toccata” written sometime in the early 2000s.Golec was a student of Judith Lang Zaimont, whose work I have also played.
When I listened to Golec’s cd selections on the internet, I was immediately drawn to her “Toccata.” When I wrote Dr. Golec and asked for the music, she generously provided it. At the same time I was playing another Toccata—Bach’s—written some 275 years earlier. Both toccatas were written when the composers were relatively young, and express a youthful energy.
The word “toccata” comes from the Italian toccare, which means “to touch.” Wikipedia tells us that a toccata is generally a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer’s [generally young!] fingers.
Golec was born in Glicwice, Poland, where she studied at the Karol Symanowski Academy of Music. She completed her graduate studies in piano performance at Eastman School of Music, and now teaches at SUNY in Geneseo, NY. According to her website (beatagolec.com) “Her first compositions were written at age 13, but the official recognition for her as a composer came three years later in 1997 when she received an award for ‘Fantazja Polska’ for piano and cello at the . . . All-Polish Composers Competition for a piece dedicated to Pope John Paul II.” Since then she has won several international piano competitions. Several of her compositions have been premiered at the annual Women in Music Festival in Rochester, NY (2005- 2011).
Toccata in E minor, BVW 914, by J.S. Bach
Complete disclosure: in my youth I associated Bach’s music with the gloomy organ music that was played before our dreary church services. However, thanks to my teachers, who wisely insisted that I learn to play at least some of his work, I have discovered the joy to be had playing Bach, even–perhaps especially–his works composed in minor keys.
In this unverified portrait of Bach, ca. 1712, about the time he wrote this Toccata, we see a man who was rapidly becoming known throughout Germany as one of the country’s greatest German organists. Organ pupils came to him from far and wide, and he was asked to test or dedicate many organs in various towns. One contemorary states: ‘His fingers were all of equal strength, all equally able to play with the finest precision. He had invented so comfortable a fingering that he could master the most difficult parts with perfect ease (using five fingers instead of the then normal three). He was able to accomplish passages on the pedals with his feet which would have given trouble to the fingers of many a clever player on the keyboard’. (baroquemusic.org)
The Toccatas BWV 910-916 date from Bach’s youth, during his earliest period of composition during the transition period out of youth into maturity. These toccatas do not have the formal structure of Bach’s later works, and instead are representative of the young musician’s imagination given free rein, coupled with his passion for writing in contrapunctal complexity. inkpot.com/classical/bachtoccatahans.html
Despite its joy and energy, in this music I also find emotions that would stem from Bach’s “frequent and painful encounters with death, which scythed through his family: neither of his parents lived beyond the age of fifty [Bach himself lived to be 65], and he lost twelve out of twenty of his own children before they had reached the age of three—well beyond the average, even at a time when infant mortality was ubiquitous” (John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, 2013).
Bach became perhaps “newest” for me, and the most emotional, in the “Adagio” right before the “Fuga” in this Toccata. The practice of “recitative” was unfamiliar to me: a style of delivery (much used in opera—to which I have also come late) in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech. Recitative does not repeat lines as formally composed songs do. It resembles sung ordinary speech more than it does a formal musical composition (Wikipedia). I greatly enjoyed playing this section, especially, with the feeling, imagination, and passion I had never before associated with Bach.
Secret & Glass Gardens by Jennifer Higdon
Of this piece, Higdon writes, “A journey of wonder and discovery, this secret garden reflects the paths of our hearts. It is a place of magical colors and brightly hued glass, where all is in view. The plants that grow there are like no other, in color and shape, and every turn of a corner brings new discoveries. The garden sweeps the viewer along amidst small, delicate details and full, grand shapes, carrying magic through all corners and at every step.”
I’m thinking that Higdon has read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s book, The Secret Garden, about a hidden, locked garden, which, in its secret cultivation by three children, eventually heals them all. Indeed, I think of children when I play this piece: their tentativeness as well as, if allowed expression, their openness to joy and fun. Within the “walls” of the similar opening and closing, one travels a long way, just as Higdon describes.
But getting there: the piece is amazingly difficult. It has taken me two years to learn, even to the rather limited degree and speed with which I can now intepret its challenging rhythms and unusal chord combinations. One of her few pieces for solo piano, Higdon says that “Secret & Glass Gardens” “was composed on invitation from the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. I wrote this work, thinking that quiet lyricism is often as hard to pull off as the technically difficult music that all of these pianists would be playing on their recitals.” In addition, more recently, in March of 2015, it was one of five required pieces (along with a Toccata by Bach!) for the Hilton Head Internation Piano Competition for pianists 13-17 years old—which is truly humbling!
Higdon is a major figure in contemporary classical music, receiving the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto and a 2010 Grammy for her Percussion Concerto. Higdon enjoys several hundred performances a year of her works, and blue cathedral is one of America’s most performed contemporary orchestral works, with more than 500 performances worldwide since its premiere in 2000. Her works have been recorded on over four dozen CDs. Higdon is currently writing an opera based on the best-selling novel, Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, to be premiered by the Santa Fe Opera in 2015. Higdon holds the Rock Chair in Composition at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press. (jenniferhigdon.com)
Sonata Number 30 in E Major, Op. 109, by Ludwig von Beethoven
I have an unfortunate history with this music. I once again thank my teacher, Stefanie Jacob, for having confidence in my ability finally to play this sonata, especially the sixth and last variation, which was nearly a deal-breaker for me, with its double trills.
After the initial “allegro/prestissimo” opening, this sonata consists of a theme and six variations. From the time I conceived the thought of this recital, I began writing about the significance of “variations” in my blog. See, for instance, http://kathleenanndale.squarespace.com/blog/2014/8/11/fooling-around-with-connections-and-variations-of-connection.html
Many composers have created variations on a theme, but then so have many poets. Why?
In her liner notes, pianist Zhu Xiao-Mei describes Bach’s famous “The Goldberg Variations” as being “like the water in a river. At the end of the work, the water continues to flow. It is at once the same and not the same. You have lived, you’ve understood something, everything is over and at the same time everything can start again. . . . It is the expression of life itself.”
Life consists of moments that embellish, magnify, and even change what we have come to think of as “the truth” about our lives. Beginning with one “truth”—one theme—artists of all kinds, as well as physicists and children, loosen it, play with it, shift it into a multitude of increasingly complex possibilities, freeing us from whatever is “stuck”or stagnant.
Playing the variations by Beethoven (in this sonata) and those by Rachmaninoff (see next note) makes me think of the famous lines from the end of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (themselves variations on a theme):
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
And, earlier in Eliot’s sequence, is this:
Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.
When each set of variations finally returns to its theme, it feels as if the theme has been transformed, deepened, by all of the stretching that it has been through since its first statement. Can not we, who are older, say the same of our own lives?
Eliot was 54 when he finished Four Quartets; Beethoven was 50 (seven years before his death) when he finished Sonata Op. 109. Though by today’s standards, neither was yet an “old man,” Eliot spoke as if he were:
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity….
During the last ten years of his life, Beethoven was completely deaf, and was involved in acrimonious family disputes, and yet he wrote much of his best work during that time, including this sonata, the ninth symphony (“Ode to Joy”) and the Missa Solemnis. How did he do it? Maybe because he did not get “stuck,” but kept exploring, reaching, as Eliot says, out “into the silence.”
Variations on a Theme of Corelli by Sergei Rachmaninoff
The theme upon which these variations are based, which sounds to me in its opening version like a sung prayer of petition, was not actually written by Corelli. Called “La Folia,” it was used by not only Corelli (1700) in HIS set of variations, but by other composers such as Franz Liszt as well. Its true origins seem to be unknown. (Wikipedia)
In a letter to a fellow composer soon after these variations were premiered in 1931, Rachmaninoff writes with sardonic humor, “I’ve played the Variations about fifteen times, but of these fifteen performances only one was good. The others were sloppy. I can’t play my own compositions! And it’s so boring! Not once have I played these all in continuity. I was guided by the coughing of the audience. Whenever the coughing would increase, I would skip the next variation. Whenever there was no coughing, I would play them in proper order. In one concert, I don’t remember where – some small town – the coughing was so violent that I played only ten variations (out of 20). My best record was set in New York, where I played 18 variations. However, I hope that you will play all of them, and won’t ‘cough’.”
(I don’t play them all either; three of them are labeled “this variation may be omtted.” It makes me wonder why he did that, but I have skipped them!)
Despite his above apologia, Rachmaninoff was considered one of the most accomplished pianists of his time, in addition to being a composer. Yet, according to Wikipedia, Rachmaninoff was sometimes criticized for the kinds of risks he took with composition. At one point before he left Russia, he visited Tolstoy,”who took the composer aside and asked: ‘Is such music needed by anyone? I must tell you how I dislike it all. Beethoven is nonsense, Pushkin and Lermontov also.’ As his guests were leaving, Tolstoy said: ‘Forgive me if I’ve hurt you by my comments’; and Rachmaninoff graciously replied: How could I be hurt on my own account, if I was not hurt on Beethoven’s?’”
I wish I had said that to Tolstoy!
In 1912, Rachmaninoff quit in protest from his position as the vice-president of the Russian Musical Society, when he heard that a musician in an administrative post with the organization was to be dismissed on the grounds that the musician was Jewish. Sergei Bertensson writes that Rachmaninoff took his position in the society seriously, “and for Rachmaninoff ‘seriously’ meant with moral as well as artistic seriousness: these were really fused in him.”
In 1917 he emigrated to America, having lost his Russian estate and livelihood in the Russian Revolution. He lived in America until his death in 1943, but was homesick, so spent summers in Switzerland, where he not only wrote these beautiful variations, but regained some of the inspiration he felt he had left behind in Russia. He and his wife became American citiziens in 1943, right before his death at age 69.
As he grew older, Rachmaninoff was less concerned with pure melody than with what’s called “coloring”, which is sometimes difficult to define as it applies to music. According to, once again, Wikipedia, “His near-Impressionist style perfectly matched the texts by symbolist poets. …the player must see beyond any technical challenges to a considerable array of emotions, then unify all these aspects.”
There was apparently a definite compositional change into the early 1930s, when Rachmaninoff wrote these variations, which “show an even greater textural clarity,… combined with a more abrasive use of chromatic harmony and a new rhythmic incisiveness.” Because he apparently possessed extremely large hands , he is said to have been able easily to “maneuver through the most complex chordal configurations.”
From 1943 to the present day, themes from his compositions have appeared in American movies and as the bases for popular American songs, such as “I Think of You” (sung by Frank Sinatra). In one perhaps apochryphal story that I love for its ironies, Harpo Marx once had Rachmanonoff unceremoniously tossed out of an adjoining hotel room because “some pianist” was making “too much noise”!
According to listeners, Rachmaninoff possessed a tremendous ability to make a musical line sing, no matter how long the notes or how complex the supporting texture, with most of his interpretations taking on a story-like quality.
It is this singing quality that still makes me catch my breath at the beauty of each of these variations, which take us through marvelous twists, turns, and hidden surprises before delivering us, once again, to the “same” theme, now, to me, a prayer of gratitude.