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Category: Prokofiev

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, lV

Fantasy - Sergey Solomko



               Sergey Solomko




trying to find a quick piece, nothing

ostentatious, like a symphony, or a

concerto, nor even a sonata, that

would get in the way of my point, 

the difference between, by way of 

the intermediary, and transformational,

Chopin, Mozart and Prokofiev, I found

the fantasia, the only musical form

that was carried forward, among them,

during the intervening years, a good

hundred and fifty, Mozart, 1756 – 1791,

Prokofiev, 1891 – 1953, Chopin, 1810 –



what’s a fantasia, a musical form

consisting of one movement,

no breaks, but with, otherwise,

unlimited compositional liberties,

see above, only circumscribed by

the temper of the times


Western music has since its

Classical inception, and even

earlier, had a trinity of

commandments, that regulated,

even defined, what was meant

to be music, tempo, tonality,

and repetition, the history of

music in the West is the

chipping away at those



here’s Mozart, Fantasia in C

minor, K.475establishing the

form, but also the foundation,

the grammar, that aspirants

would follow in the footsteps

of so great a master, children

and grandchildren of their

erudite elder


Chopin followed, here’s his

Fantasy in F minor, Op.49,

in this instance, a historical

moment you won’t want to

miss, when Van Cliburn, an

enemy American at the time,

played it for Nikita Kruschev,

First Secretary of the Communist 

Party of the Soviet Union then, in

Moscow, and tempered thereby,

for an incandescent moment –

ticker-tape parades in New York

City ensued – the very Cold War


reliving it, I cried


the greatest difference between

Mozart and Chopin, I thought,

was volume, a consequence

of the development of the piano,

Mozart never gets as loud, also

tempo was much more expanded,

again a development of the piano,

neither was repetition with Chopin

so much in evidence, but shrouded,

less manifest


also Chopin wears his heart on

his sleeve, idiosyncratically


with Prokofiev, his Fantasia on

Themes from Scheherazade

tests tonality, gives us musical

conjunctions that are askew,

discordant, though completely

in syncopation with his own,

testy and unsettled, times


compare, consider, enjoy



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, lll

Flowering Garden in Spring, 1920 - Henri Martin


            Flowering Garden in Spring” (1920)


                     Henri Martin




violin sonatas, apart from a few notable

exceptions, are accompanied by, usually,

a piano


the violin, as do a great many other

instruments, can only play one note

at a time, the piano can play as many

as you’ve got fingers, a harmonization

is a valued component of any musical

composition, therefore the piano


here’s a violin sonata of Mozart, here’s

a violin sonata of Prokofiev, you’ll

recognize Mozart, he’s the one you’ve

already got in your bones, the one we

grew up with, however ephemerally,



Prokofiev is the other one


let me point out that Mozart is foursquare,

the music is straightforward, tonality and

pace, which is to say tempo, are never

eccentric, just delightful, while repetition,

another defining element of Classical

music, the recurrence of a theme, is

unmistakable, and often too often

reiterated, we get it, we want to

tell Mozart


Prokofiev is no longer any of those

things, but the underlying vocabulary

is the same, the rules set out by the

forefathers but extrapolated, turned

into unexpected, exotic flowers, just

as spring delivers its ever distinct,

and surprising, even astonishing,

blossoms every new year, see



we are so very blessed



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, cont.

The Stolen Kiss, 1788 - Jean-Honore Fragonard


        The Stolen Kiss (1788)


       Jean-Honoré Fragonard





if you listened to the couple of pieces I

recommended in my last commentary,

you would’ve indeed recognized, if

even only subconsciously, that the

first work wasn’t composed by the

composer of the other, that different

spirits infused either


a visual representation of the same

thing might be to juxtapose a

contemporary painting of the one

epoch with a corresponding painting

of the other


over a hundred years had passed

between Mozart and Prokofiev,

Mozart’s Piano Sonata no 18, K576

– his last piano sonata, incidentally,

he died a short two years later –

was written in 1789, the year of the

French Revolution, a still safe

distance from Vienna, where

Mozart could still cater to an,

however endangered, species


Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a contemporary

painter, 1732 – 1806, had been doing the

same thing, The Stolen Kiss, 1788, for

instance, a mere year earlier, see above


meanwhile, over a hundred years later,

inches only away from the First World

War, Matisse is doing in art what

Prokofiev is doing in music, taking the

temperature of his own time, Seated

Riffian (1911 –1912) – a Riffian, a Berber,

a North African tribesman – see below,

to corroborate Prokofiev’s equally

emblematic vision of their shared era


you can hear this in the music


mostly through the difference in the use

of volume, languorous softs, thunderous

louds, but also in the more expansive use

of pace, fast, slow, the rapidity of some

notes, the embrace, the extended caress,

of others, in the later composition


which, in a word, follows the development

of the piano from harpsichord to the

instrument we’re used to today


Mozart still had the harpsichord in his ear,

he was writing for the fortepiano, which

evolved, through the pianoforte, to the

piano we know of today, no flexibility of

pace, no flexibility of volume then, listen,

hearyou can hear it in the juxtaposition


we hear a lot more than we think we




R ! chard





Seated Riffian, 1912 - 1913 - Henri Matisse


        Seated Riffian (1911 – 1912)


                Henri Matisse



how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach

Music, 1895 - Gustav Klimt



            Gustav Klimt





how to listen to music if you don’t know your

Beethoven from your Bach


the first thing to do, I would suggest, is to stop

and listen, spend the time with the work you’re

listening to, it’s no different than spending half

an hour with a friend

but you have to be there, listen, as you would

with a friend, no cell phones


the next thing I suggest is to compare, put your

work up against a different composer, a

different interpretation, a different version of

the piece you have on hand

I learned this as I learned to tell one artwork

from another, while I turned European art

museums into personal art history classes,

spending hours comparing one painting

with another, doing so chronologically,

century after century, imbibing thereby the

history of Western art


it’s not necessary to know who you might

even be listening to, just listen, hear,

later the names will come


here’s some Mozart, here’s some Prokofiev,

for instance, you’ll tell the difference

instinctively, forget about the composers,

just surrender to the magic

here’s a poem which says more or less

the same thing


How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual

   First, forget everything you have learned,

  that poetry is difficult,

  that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,

  with your high school equivalency diploma,

  your steel-tipped boots,

  or your white-collar misunderstandings.


  Do not assume meanings hidden from you:

  the best poems mean what they say and say it.


  To read poetry requires only courage

  enough to leap from the edge

  and trust.


  Treat a poem like dirt,

  humus rich and heavy from the garden.

  Later it will become the fat tomatoes

  and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.


  Poetry demands surrender,

  language saying what is true,

  doing holy things to the ordinary.


  Read just one poem a day.

  Someday a book of poems may open in your hands

  like a daffodil offering its cup

  to the sun.


  When you can name five poets

  without including Bob Dylan,

  when you exceed your quota

  and don’t even notice,

  close this manual.



  You can now read poetry.


                    Pamela Spiro Wagner


music is also like that


R ! chard

Ji Yong Kim

as far as technical ability is concerned,
can it get any better, Ji Yong Kim knocks
it right out of the ball park

watch him render also transcendent, at
the Rubinstein International Piano Master
, a commanding, a riveting,