Listening Assignment- week of July 15-July 22, 2019

We are nearing the end of our very brief and incomplete survey of Beethoven’s life, legacy and music.  The music you will be listening to for this week and next, will be music written during what has come to be known as “the late period”, that being the years from 1812 until his death in 1827.  The music written during this time in Beethoven’s life was both looking to the past for inspiration, in particular the music of Bach and Handel, but he was also exploring new territory and writing music in a way that had not been done before.  The Ninth Symphony is a great example of implementing new ideas with the addition of choir and soloists to an orchestral composition.  After Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, other composers after him began to also add the vocal component to a symphonic work.

The first excerpt is from the Piano Sonata No. 31 Op. 110 in Ab Major.   It is in four parts and you can follow along with the music of this excerpt played by Vladmir Ashkenazy.  The last movement is a fugue, a form of writing that was very popular in the Baroque era.

The next two excerpts will be the Ninth Symphony.  This is a long work and so we are going to divide up our listening of this symphony between this week and next week.  Nearly everyone recognizes the very famous Ode to Joy that is from this magnificent work and in the first excerpt you will watch and listen to an unlikely musical event, but which illustrates so well how Beethoven’s music continues to speak to us and inspires.  The second excerpt will be of an actual performance of the Ninth Symphony which lasts over an hour.  Listen especially to the rather chaotic beginning with the open fifths grounding this work and pointing in the direction of creation and beauty out of chaos.  The first movement is about 18 min. long, the second movement about 12 minutes, so for this week listen to just those two movements but try to listen to them at least three times so that you become more familiar with them. Conduct along with the music and be grateful that Beethoven didn’t give up, he persevered, kept writing even when so much was against him and gave the world this wonderful music!

Listening Assignment- Week of July 9 -16, 2019

On a midsummer’s evening in 1801, Ludwig van Beethoven is seated at his piano with the moonlight streaming over his shoulders giving illumination to his pensive face.  As if in a trance, he begins playing the keys as the music which later becomes known as The Moonlight Sonata comes pouring out of his fingers.

True?  Not even close!  Beethoven worked hard at his composing and we have the record of many manuscripts that he wrote, scratched over and then started again, and again, and again.  The saying, “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” is very applicable in considering the compositions of Beethoven.  The Moonlight Sonata was given that name several years after Beethoven’s death by Ludwig Rellstab who commented that the music reminded him of moonlight reflected on the water.  Apparently others agreed with him and so the name stuck.  Beethoven called the work Sonata- quasi una fantasia; that is to say a sonata but not in the sonata allegro form but in a freer structure more like a fantasy.  As you listen to the first movement notice how the theme isn’t treated in the same way as many of his other sonatas, but rather seems to be more static and circular.  Another difference with this sonata is that the tempi of the movements is slow- medium- fast in contrast to typical sonatas which are fast- slow-fast.  The last movement of Op. 27 is particularly fast and furious and the gentle, calmness of the first movement is completely transformed.  Listen this week to all three movements of this magnificent work and imagine yourself playing it someday.  What is the form of the second movement?  How would you describe its character?  What is the mood/character of the third movement?

Listening Assignment- Week of July 1- July 8, 2019

This week you will be listening to music of Beethoven composed between the years 1795-1800.  This was an especially critical period in Beethoven’s life because of the deafness that began and continued to develop in these years.  Beethoven hit a crisis point during the summer of 1802 when he was 28 years old.  His doctor had advised him to go to the country to try and protect what hearing he still had so he spent the summer in a small town outside of Vienna called Heiligenstadt.  During that summer he wrestled with his physical condition and was so distraught by his hearing loss that he even contemplated suicide.  He wrote a letter to his two brothers, which in part was a will so they would know what to do with his belongings after his death.  Thankfully, this document has been preserved, and has come to be known as the Heiligenstadt Testament.  In it we get a glimpse into Beethoven’s thinking, can read his despair and how he resolved to continue life even with this devastating physical problem.  It is probably this struggle and ultimately how he determined to live on in spite of his challenges, that draw us to   Beethoven’s music.  And that struggle and triumph which is so evident in his music, still speaks to us today and continues to inspire.

Pathetique Sonata- The first movement has a Grave (slow and profound) introduction followed by an Allegro section.  The Grave section returns before the recapitulation.  How would you describe the emotional message of this movement?  Try to think beyond happy or sad.  Defiant? Triumphant? Despairing? Frightened? Angry? Furious? Courageous?


The next piece is the Piano Concerto No. 1.  Notice how the pianist is conducting from the piano bench.  What is the emotional message(s) of this piece?  Try to find as many descriptive words as you can as you listen to this glorious piece.

Listening Assignment – week of June 24- July 1, 2019

Beethoven was born December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany.  He grew up during a time of great upheaval in Europe as the established order of monarchies was beginning to fall apart and there were many wars and social displacement.  Remember this was the time of the American Revolution in 1776, and then the French Revolution in 1798 followed by years of the Napoleonic wars.  Beethoven was torn between wanting to be accepted by the aristocracy and sometimes pedaling the story that he was of aristocratic birth, and then on the other hand despising them and refusing to bow to the “way things are done.”  This tension, is definitely apparent in his music.

The first excerpt is the Sonata in f minor for piano, Op.2 No. 1, written between 1793-95. The dedicatee is Franz Joseph Haydn, with whom he had initially, a rocky relationship but eventually came to value and appreciate Haydn’s knowledge and skill.  Beethoven was only twenty-three years old when he wrote this brilliant piano work.  I’d like for you to listen to the Allegro (movement 1) and notice the clear sonata-allegro form structure on which this piece is built.  The return to the recapitulation is so exciting with the building upon first just one note in the LH and to which he then adds another and another until the opening theme comes crashing in again.  Also, listen to the final movement which is marked Prestissimo, which means very fast.  See if you can figure out the form of this movement.  The clip of the third movement is of a young man playing for a master class, which is like a public lesson, for the pianist Lang Lang- talk about pressure!  I think you will find it interesting to notice what Lang Lang notices and works on with the student.  The final excerpt will be of the Cello Sonata in F Major which was also written around this same time, 1796.  Listen to the pauses between phrases and how it “breathes” so beautifully.  The singing tone of the cello is a good model to have in your head when trying to play a legato, singing tone on the piano.















Listening Assignment – week of June 17-21, 2019

This week begins our six week exploration of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, though that will hardly scratch the surface of his enormous output.  The year 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven (1770) and an opportunity to focus our attention on this amazing composer, who against so many physical and emotional challenges wrote music that inspires and continues to speak to us today.

The first piece you will listen to is the very well known Fur Elise written sometime between 1808-1810.  The dedication, “Fur Elise,” has puzzled music historians who have tried to identify the dedicatee.  One theory is that the editor misread Beethoven’s writing and believe that he wrote, “Fur Therese,” referring to Therese Malfatti whom was a student of Beethoven’s and to whom he had proposed marriage.  Another theory is that the dedicatee was Elisabeth Rockel, a singer, whose nickname was “Elise.”  What we do know is that Beethoven was unhappy in love, and though he proposed marriage to several aristocratic women, he was turned down each time and never married.

While listening to Fur Elise this week, notice how the opening motive sounds as if it has been playing before we began to hear it and returns after parts B and C.  What is the tonality of this piece, major or minor or a combination?  When does it change?  Does the opening motive sound different after hearing parts B and C?  What is the character or emotional message?  Does it stay the same or change?  Why do you think Beethoven wrote the LH with so many repeated notes in part C?  What would that part sound like if it just had a whole note octave in the LH instead of the repeated notes?




Here is one more rendition of Fur Elise that may surprise you and certainly would have surprised Beethoven!


Another piece to listen to this week is the very famous and well-known Fifth Symphony- at least the first four notes are well known!  This piece was written during the years 1804-08 a similar time period as Fur Elise.  Beethoven’s hearing was continuing to deteriorate and though he was not completely deaf he was close to it.  We will discuss his loss of hearing more in next week’s post.  The excerpt is a humorous blow by blow account of the music as if it were a football game, but it will help you know what to listen for in this ground breaking symphony.

Listening Assignment week of July 30- August 5, 2018- Estonia

This week we will be listening to music from Estonia, a small country located in Northern Europe in an area known as the Baltics.  It is a country that has been occupied by many different nations, the most recently(after WWII) being the Soviet Union.  But it gained its independence in 1994 through the power of music. The people of this small country literally sang their way to freedom.  It is a remarkable story and you may want to learn more about The Singing Revolution, but below is a short clip to give you a sense of their music tradition particularly with singing.

The next clip is a piano composition written by Lepo Sumera, an Estonian composer who lived from 1950-2000.  He was the Minister of Culture during The Singing Revolution and had great influence in that remarkable part of Estonian history.  He is world-renowned composer of symphonic works, chamber, choral and piano compositions.

In this piano composition listen for the repeated patterns that he then sequences to different tonal centers.  Listen to the low bass notes which ground the piece. They are called pedal points.  And finally listen to how he uses decrescendos to affect the repeated patterns creating with sound the visual affect that happens when you throw a stone into calm water and watch the ripples that come from the initial drop.  This piece will probably “stretch” your ears a bit but keep listening to it every day and I think it will grow on you!

Listening Assignment week of July 23-29, 2018- Italy

This week we are traveling to Italy, a country known for its beautiful architecture, the development of many musical forms such as opera and wonderful food like pizza!  In the first two clips you will hear some of the traditional music of Italy.   In the first example see how many different instruments you can identify as I counted seven different instruments being used throughout the entire post.  In the second example you will see people dancing the Tarantella which is a fast-foot-work dance with a colorful history.  Some say it was the dance people did after having been bit by a tarantula which they would dance until they died and others claimed that if one was bit by the spider and you danced this dance it would keep you from dying.

The next two clips will be of two Italian composers, one from the Romantic era and one from the 20th century.   The first is music of Paganini who was a virtuoso violinist  (1782-1840) and composer of music for violin, and the other a 20th century Italian composer, Luigi Dallapiccola, who lived from 1904-1975.  You will hear the Paganini Caprice as the sound track to a short video, illustrated by some music-loving cats, created by the violinist who is playing,  and then to a composition written by Dallapiccola based on four of the Paganini caprices.  See if you can hear the caprice from the video in the sonatina- hint- it is the fourth part of the Sonatina.


Listening Assignment week of July 16-22, 2018- Japan

This week we will be listening to music from the island country of Japan.  There is a rich and varied musical tradition of Japanese music and the first clip will be the very well-known song – Sakura- played on the koto.  The Koto is a stringed instrument from the family of zithers and it came to Japan from China in the 7th and 8th centuries.  It is the national instrument of Japan.  If you play just the black keys on the piano you will create what is called the pentatonic scale.  This scale is used in the music from many asian countries including Japan and also is found in many spirituals.  The number of strings on a koto can vary; this particular one has 25 strings.  That would require a lot of skill and patience just to tune it!


Joe Hisashi is a contemporary (born in 1950) Japanese composer and musical director.  He is a prolific composer having written over 100 film scores and also piano music. He has been associated with the animator Hayao Miyazaki for many years creating the music for nearly all of his films.  Here is a clip of him playing  One Summer’s Day from the anime film Spirited Away.

Listening Assignment week of July 9-15, 2018- Spain

This week we are traveling to Spain, a country that, musically speaking, has done much to develop and enlarge music for the guitar.  Many composers who write music for other instruments have been inspired by and incorporated elements of the guitar in their music.  The first clip is of a modern day guitarist playing a very famous Spanish folk piece called Malaguena.  There are many pieces entitled “Malaguena” and in general when used it refers to a Flamenco dance style from Malaga, a region in the southeast part of Spain.


Domenico Scarlatti was a Baroque Italian composer who lived from 1685-1757.  I am including his music in our tour of Spain because he spent most of his adult life working in Spain in the court of Maria Barbara for whom he wrote many of his 555 keyboard sonatas.  Listen in the example below for the guitar-style elements with the repeated notes and arpeggiated figures.


This next clip is of the piece called Asturias, which is part of a larger work called Suite Espanola written by Isaac Albeniz, a Spanish composer who lived from  1860-1909.  He was a virtuoso pianist and a composer who incorporated many Spanish folk idioms into his music, similar to what Grieg did which Norwegian folk music that we listened to a few weeks ago.

Listening Assignment week of July 2-6 – United States of America

This week we are going to be listening to music from America since this week is the 4th of July.  The first clip is of Native American Indian music.  The wooden flute is used in many of the different tribes’ music but is especially associated with the Navajo people.


The next clip is of a square dance accompanied by the song Virginia Reel.  The music probably had origins in Scotland or Ireland and was brought to America in 1700’s.

The next clip is music from the Ozarks which is a mountain range that is in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas.  The instrument accompanying the singers is a banjo.


George Gershwin was an American pianist and composer who lived, mostly in New York City, from Sept. 26, 1898- July 11, 1937.  His compositions are sometimes hard to categorize as they move fluidly between what is considered the popular genre and the classical genre.  He wrote music for Broadway, one of his most famous musicals being Porgy and Bess.  He was influenced by jazz and incorporated jazz idioms into many of his pieces.  The three preludes in this clip all have jazz rhythms and harmonies but yet are in a more classical form.  See if you can figure out whether these pieces are in AB, ABA, or some variation on either of those.