Shadows and Light

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you can start here.

Today’s post borrows one of my older videos. This is a complete sonata by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the greats of the Classical era in music history (about 1750-1825). It’s a bit more music than I’ve put in most of my posts; about 10 minutes total.

We might think about Mozart’s music as stiff and refined, only for elegant audiences in fancy dress, but Mozart himself wouldn’t have agreed with that. He loved life and having fun. Sometimes he escaped too much into partying and drinking as a way to get away from the pressures of work and family: his father’s gargantuan expectations for him; his own young family’s needs; the intricate demands of the professional music world and the constantly-shifting expectations of the patrons he depended on for survival; the clouds of his own depression and fragile health. Brilliant and sensitive, but at the same time social and joyous, Mozart found life a constant balancing act that too often dissolved into struggle.

This Sonata in F Major, though, is full of joy. In it we get a taste of the Mozart who loved to laugh and, no matter what shadows were closing in on him, always found something to delight in. The first movement is full of assertive, warm energy. The second movement becomes sweeter and sadder, touching gently on the shadows. The third movement, though, comes back to joy, leaving us in that bright place at the end.

As you listen, let the music carry you on its emotional journey from light to dark and back into light. If you’d like, imagine a story to fit with that progression. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Finding Peace

I’m now making it a goal to share some music every day on the blog, as a break and mental boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you can start here.

Today’s piece is one of my favorites, by my favorite composer: the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 13, “Pathetique.”

The “Pathetique” is one of the most beloved and most often performed Beethoven sonatas. Even if you don’t think you know this second movement, you’ll probably recognize the tune. Beethoven wrote the sonata at the start of the major watershed time in his life, when he had to accept that his hearing was failing and none of the medical treatments he tried so desperately were going to reverse the problem. For Beethoven, his impending deafness felt like a death sentence. How could he keep making music, which was the only thing he’d ever wanted to do, the only thing he felt he was made for? And what was the point, if he couldn’t do that?

We know now, looking back, that Beethoven’s deafness was the gift that changed the course of music history. Feeling that he was working against time, Beethoven pulled himself out of his initial despair and spent the rest of his life laser-focused on creating all the music he could, and doing it his way: creating his own musical language to say only and exactly what he wanted to say.

Soon after writing the “Pathetique,” Beethoven had to accept that he couldn’t premiere his own piano works anymore, because his hearing let him down too much. This piece, written on the edge of his shift away from performance, was still a showcase for him, with its heroic and flashy first movement. In the lyrical second movement, though, we see another side of Beethoven’s personality. I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that this quieter movement let Beethoven express some of the deeper sadness and uncertainty he felt at this period of great change in his life, and that in it, he was reaching out for peace.

As you listen, let the music help you get at some of your own feelings during these confused and frightening times. Where do you look for peace? As always, if you’d like to share your thoughts, you’re welcome to leave a note in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Songs without Words, part 2

I’m now making it a goal to share some music every day on the blog, as a break and mental boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you can start here.

Today’s post features more music by Romantic-era composer Felix Mendelssohn. I’m getting into his collection of “Songs without Words”: they’ll probably take a few turns on the blog. The short videos below are both part of that collection. Each piece is around two minutes long.

I first started playing the Songs without Words when I was about eleven. My piano teacher only had me do a few of them before we moved on to focus on other things. These aren’t too difficult to play, but as I’ve gotten into them, I’ve started to see interesting challenges. Mendelssohn creates the feeling of a song – a singer with an accompanist – but instead of actually including a vocal part, he has the piano do both parts together. It can sometimes be tricky to create a clear melody over a busy but subtle accompaniment. You have to listen carefully, and sometimes “divide your brain” between the two parts.

Both of today’s pieces are gentle and meditative. The first one, in B minor, has a bittersweet, gently sad character. The second, in A Major, uses chords instead of moving notes in the accompaniment, and reminds me very much of a hymn tune. It’s not bombastic, but it’s warm and positive.

If you’d like, as you listen, imagine the “stories” behind these two Songs without Words. If they had vocal parts, what would the singer be singing about? What moods do the two pieces capture for you? As always, you’re welcome to leave a note about what you imagine in the comments. I love to read about what the music evokes for different people.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

A Little Light Music

If you’d like to catch up on the new project here on the blog, check out this post. The “One Bright Thing” project from January has returned and morphed a little. I’m now making it a goal to share some music every day, as a break and mental boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂

I’m “cheating” a bit with today’s blogpost, using videos I made a while ago. New content will arrive soon. This post features music by Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757).

These two short pieces are both sonatas. During Scarlatti’s time, the word “sonata” could mean anything the composer wanted it to: rules came later, going into the 19th century. Scarlatti decided to model his sonatas on popular dances of the time: minuet, sarabande, gigue, and others. These two pieces capture the light elegance of these dances.

If you’d like, as you listen, let the music conjure up a place. Maybe the place you imagine is linked to the music, something from that 1700’s time period, or maybe you think of another place you know well. You’re welcome to leave a note about what you imagine in the comments. 🙂

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

 

 

Beethoven: a character

(If you’d like to catch up on what the blog has been up to lately, check out this post!)

Today’s music is another sonata slow movement: the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastorale Sonata (Op. 28 if you’re keeping score).

If I had to pick a single favorite composer, it would be Beethoven. He embodied independence and determination. Faced with irreversible hearing loss that meant he didn’t know how long he could continue to make music – the only thing he wanted to do in life, or could imagine doing – he worked all the harder to develop his own musical language and express all his ideas while he could. The result: he changed the course of music history and influenced generations of composers after him.

This particular sonata movement is a study in contrast and expression. It starts out gently, even a little somberly, but quickly shifts to a bright and joking mood. It alternates lyricism with quick percussive passages, finally ending in the same gentle place where it began.

For me, this piece suggests a multi-faceted “character” of a person, a lot like Beethoven himself. If you’d like, as you listen, let the music conjure up a character for you. What’s that person like in looks and personality? How do they act? How do they talk?

If you’d like to share your imagined character, please tell us about him/her in the comments. Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Mozart Meditation

In the spirit of the new One Bright Thing project on the blog: a little space for your day. The music featured today is the slow movement of a sonata by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), one of the greats of the Classical era of music history.

Mozart’s style is often elegant and precise, the kind of writing Classical composers idealized. He also includes drama, humor, and deep expression in his works, even though on the outside they might sound straightforward. This sonata movement is a beautiful, lyrical short piece, both meditative and expressive.

Use the listening time to quiet your mind. If you’d like, as you listen, focus on a mental image that evokes peace for you. Maybe it’s an object, or a place, or a particular activity, like walking along a beach. Bring it to your mind and picture it in vivid detail.

If you have any thoughts about the experience, or would like to share the image you focused on, please post about it in the comments. 🙂

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Songs Without Words

Continuing with my “keep calm and make art” project, as a way to refill and replenish during these strange and stressful times. Today’s One Bright Thing post features more music, another three-fer.

These short pieces (each about 2 minutes long) are by German composer Felix Mendelssohn, who belongs to the Romantic era in music history (about 1825-1900). Mendelssohn wrote a collection of pieces he called “Songs without Words.” Songwriting was hugely popular during the Romantic era, but here Mendelssohn decides to do without the voice and create the whole “song” feel, melody line with rich accompaniment, using piano alone. In this powerful form of musical storytelling, Mendelssohn leaves the story (the poetry) entirely up to the listener’s imagination.

All three of these pieces are gentle and meditative. Use the listening time to quiet your mind. If you’d like, as you listen, consider what kind of story each piece is telling, or simply experience what each one evokes for you.

If you have any thoughts about the experience, or the stories that came to your mind, that you’d like to share, please post them in the comments. 🙂

Hope you enjoy. Visit back soon for more musical diversions!

One Bright Thing, revisited

So it’s definitely time I got back to this project. It seems like a good time to put some good energy out, and maybe offer a little distraction from all the stress of the day-to-day. 🙂

My OBT posts will most likely focus on music for a while. While pretty much quarantined, one of my goals is to play more, and push myself to record something I’m working on as often as possible (ideally every day). Recording makes me quite nervous, but I love sharing the music, so this is a good challenge for me!

Today’s music is a three-fer: a group of short pieces by German Baroque composer J. S. Bach. These are part of his collection of Two-Part Inventions. As you listen, you might notice that my right and left hands are in “conversation” with each other. One hand begins with a musical idea, which the other hand responds to, and they go back and forth through the piece.

I’m going to add a creative exercise to each of my music posts, for those who might like to brainstorm and play with creative ideas. As follows for today:

If you’d like, consider each of these three Bach pieces as an actual conversation between two people. What do you think they’re talking about? Where does the conversation begin, and where does it end? Does any kind of conflict get resolved? Is this conversation just a small part of a larger whole?

Let your imagination run with these. If you’d like, please post your ideas in the comments to share with me and other visitors. 🙂

Hope you enjoy. Visit back soon for more musical diversions!