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Prelude in D, No. 4 - Andante Cantabile
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)

I was initially going to use the podium to talk and feel important, but I'm too short and the podium dwarfs me so I'll just use this music stand...

I'm delighted to present this recital of Russian and Spanish music today, strung together by a series of utter coincidences.

For this gorgeous first piece, I wish I could tell you more than the fact that Rachmaninov only wrote this set of Preludes because he needed money...

Just kidding - I can.

This Prelude comes from a set that follows the traditions of many composers before - such as Bach and Chopin - of writing a collection of Preludes, but Rachmaninov elevated the genre: these preludes are notably longer and more elaborated than preludes have been before.

 

This piece is a stunning example of that - it follows many of the rules of 18th century style counterpoint in a highly polyrhythmic setting, intertwining melodies that requires several listenings to parse.

In my brief study of Scriabin, I found that, instead of making a futile attempt to give any context to the Two Poemes, it would be far more amusing to just list some fun facts.

  1. He had synesthesia, in which when he heard certain harmonies, he would also see colors.

  2. He had the ego the size of a planet, with which he tried to compose an orchestral piece called Mysterium, that would last seven days, with full confidence it would bring about the apocalypse. [He didn't finish it.]

  3. He was even shorter than ME. [5'2"]

Duex Poemés, Op. 32

I. Andante Cantabile

II. Allegro, con eleganzza, con fiducia

Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915)

Dmitri Kabalevsky was a composer more famous for his pedagogical [student] pieces, which were remarkably beautiful and exciting, while still being very accessible.

The following concerto was written for students as well - but perhaps particularly virtuosic students!

Please welcome my guest artist, Lia Criscuolo!

Cello Concerto, No. 1

1st mvt: Allegro

Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987)

Lia Criscuolo, cello

To conclude the Russian half of this program, and lead right into the Spanish half: a Russian composer who wrote a beautiful Spanish Serenade.

Mily Balakirev took a particular interest in exoticism, emulating the musical soundscapes of faraway places - one of the themes of the Romantic Era.

In this piece, aside from the hallmark Moorish-influenced Spanish harmonic patterns, Balakirev utilizes texture: emulating the sounds of the iconic classical guitar.

Serenata española (1902)

Mily Balakirev (1837-1910)

intermission

This half of the program centers largely around the autonomous community [a type of large state] of Andalusia, in southern Spain.

There's a humorous myth in pianist circles that the French wrote better Spanish music than the Spanish... I strongly beg to differ, but I will include Debussy's work for fair comparison. :)

This piece is from Estampes, a set of vivid dreamscape pieces.


La soireé dans Grenade translates to "The evening in Grenada", referring to a province in Andalusia, and employs distinctive and overlapping Spanish rhythmic motives. The drifting atmosphere ponders this distant celebration in Granada from a dream state.

Estampes, L. 100

II. La soireé dans Grenade

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

I finally began an exploration of Spanish composers, who [with the exception of Scarlatti] began making a significant musical output during the Romantic Era, fueled on by the pursuit of nationalism - an interest in celebrating one's own country through cultural references, usually folk song.

In the case of Spain, one of the most prominent aspects of the Spanish culture is the Flamenco art style - the fusion of dance and music, sampled in Enrique Granados' Doce Danzas españolas. The aspect of rhythm is given greater attention, whereas the rest of Europe at this time was more interested in further developing harmony.

The Fandango is a lively couple's dance, playing between quarreling, grandiose energy and tender moments.

The Andaluza is particularly famous on guitar, likely instantly recognizable, but was originally written by Enrique Granados for piano.

12 Danzas Españolas

III. Fandango

V. Andaluza (Playera)

Enrique Granados (1867-1916)

This last piece [officially on the program] comes from Isaac Albéniz' Iberia suite, the name referring to the Iberian peninsula in which Spain resides. The suite is a virtuosic masterpiece, often considered the most substantial of Albéniz' work.

 

El Puerto is another Flamenco dance - a Zapateado, inspired by El Puerto de Santa Maria - a seaport in the town of Cádiz. It's lively, pulling in all the aforementioned elements: Moorish influenced harmony, guitar textures, strong rhythms, dance, and adds a layer of vivid storytelling. The port is bustling with social activity, flashing from one scene to the next.

Iberia, Book I

II. El Puerto

Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)

Now... I started exploring Spanish music around this time last year because I came to two realizations:

  1. Spanish music is wildly underplayed in the classical world on piano, and is bafflingly poorly represented in the standard repertoire

  2. I realized my favorite style of jazz is Latin Jazz.

Spanish classical music is the closest thing I could get, because I cannot play jazz for my life...

...but not for lack of trying

Prelude No. 1

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Thanks for watching!