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Category: recitals to ponder

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, XV – what’s a rhapsody

Rhapsody of Steel, 1959 - Eyvind Earle

        Rhapsody of Steel (1959)

                   Eyvind Earle


so what’s a rhapsody

if you’ve been following at all my 

musical adventure, you’ll have 

heard by now several rhapsodies 


at first, I suggested that the rhapsody

was an evolution from the fantasia,

a piece of music in one movement

that allowed for any internal 

construction, but that, after the

Classical Period, became imbued  

with Romanticism, passion became 

a condition of music, mere technical

ability was no longer enough  


note that the audience was different,

rather than nobles who commissioned

artists to decorate their salons, the

burgeoning Middle Class was hungry 

for them to entertain, performers were

becoming the main attraction, not just

the background, see, for instance, 



but not only did rhapsodies spread 

from just one player to an entire

orchestra – see Brahms, then 

see Gershwin – but its essential 

structure, one movement, was 

challenged, see Ravel here, or 

Rachmaninov, whose rhapsodies 

are both composed of distinct 

movements, Rachmaninov even 

further refining his movements 

into variations, for years, I 

referred to his Rhapsody on a 

Theme of Paganini as his 



all this to say that a rhapsody is 

turning out to be not identified 

by its structure, its technical

parts, but rather by its intention,

a rhapsody is in the eye of its 

composer, like a nocturne, or 

a ballade


I’d thought that rhapsodies had 

been relegated to the Romantic 

Era, with the occasional later 



who, I wondered, could be

writing rhapsodies anymore


but here’s something, however

unexpectedly, you’ll be familiar

with, from 1975, Queen’s Bohemian

Rhapsodyin several movements 

– intro, ballad, opera, hard rock, 

outro – and including in all of them,

note, voice


all of which speaks of tradition

being a lot closer than one would 

think, ancestral, residual, but

defining, traces, like genes, 

however updated, however

posthumously interpreted,

pervade, infiltrate, pursue,



rhapsodies are in our DNA, it

would appear, for better or for 

worse, ever


here’s to them



R ! chard


how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, XIV – more rhapsodies

Rhapsody, 1958 - Hans Hofmann


    Rhapsody” (1958) 


         Hans Hofmann




now that you’ve heard New York in

Gerschwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and

Vienna in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody

on a Theme of Paganini, listen to 

Hungary, or rather its Gypsy

component, however rejected, 

reviled, at the time, but proud 

enough, resilient, to strike back 

with its infectious music, how

many times have we heard that

story before


Budapest doesn’t sound at all like 

Vienna, though they’re only mere 

blocks away, essentially, listen,

Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no 2,

in C# minor, he wrote nineteen, 

you’ve probably heard this one,

it’s in our DNA


here are a couple of Spanish

rhapsodies, meanwhile, if we’re to 

follow a national agenda, Chabrier, 

a name you’ve probably never 

heard before, but not so, I assure

you, his music, his España,

Rhapsody for Orchestra, is

written in our blood, listen


Ravel wrote also a Rapsodie 

espagnole, more French than

Spanish, to my mind, steeped

in its early Twentieth Century

Impressionism,  all textures,

soundscapes, not rhythms


Ravel makes up for it, though, in his

Bolero, perhaps the most Hispanic 

piece ever of all, you tell me


both Chabrier and Ravel, incidentally, 

were French, doing what Dvořák, a 

Czech, had done, would do, for 

Americans, honour their fascinating



Liszt, by the way, was Hungarian, his

rhapsodies were native, if profoundly

influenced by Vienna 


listen, enjoy



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, XIII – Antonin Dvořák

American Gothic, 1930 - Grant Wood

    “American Gothic (1930) 


                Grant Wood        




if you were able to hear the difference

in my last communication between

Vienna and New York in the two

rhapsodies I compared, contemporaries,

incidentally, you might be interested in

European composer, highly

underestimated in my opinion, who

bridges both cultures by composing a

tribute to the country that receives him,

gloriously, for a couple of years, before

he returns, homesick, to his beloved

Bohemia, which is to say, Prague,

Antonín Dvořák, don’t ask, 1841 – 1904


here’s his 12th String Quartetnicknamed

the “American”, listen, you’ll understand



here’s his New World Symphonyagain

you’ll understand why


fun facts, Neil Armstrong brought a

recording of it, the New World

Symphonywith him to the moon

during the first manned landing,

back in 1969, can you get more

cool than that


also, this particular version is from

Pyongyang, which is to say, North

Korea, which is to say, the audience

here is nearly as interesting as the

symphony itself, do they even

speak the language, if they grew

up on Chinese opera


do you



R ! chard

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

Funeral in the Snow near the Old Tower, 1883 - Vincent van Gogh

          Funeral in the Snow near the Old Tower (1883)


                        Vincent van Gogh


having introduced, however peripherally, in my

last instalment, Chopin’s Piano Sonata no 2,

it wouldn’t be fair to not present Beethoven’s

Piano Sonata no 12 to compare, they both

contain iconic funeral marches, written, even

if you have no interest at all in such music, in 

the blood of our Western culture, like

Shakespeare, to be or not to be, you’ve

heard the line, somewhere, even if you have

no idea what he might’ve been talking about


I don’t need to point out the dirges among 

the movements, the solemn bits, they will

impose themselves, whether you’re paying

attention or not



Beethoven and Chopin sound a lot alike,

Beethoven, 1770 -1827, is earlier, pushed

the Classical Period into the Romantic Era,

pretty well, astonishingly, by himself


Chopin, 1810 – 1849, gives us the pinnacle

of Romantic music


I tell them apart by their beat, Chopin is

always on, Beethoven is always off, his

schtick, his revolutionary spirit, Chopin,

rather, played for the aristocracy, in

their courtly salons, much like Haydn,

but that’s another story


you might notice also that the last

movement in Chopin’s sonata is

all texture, a precursor to the later

Impressionism, in all of the arts


Beethoven, however, always takes

you on a journey, never gives you

merely background, there’s always

a core, a foundational melody





R ! chard

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

Joseph Haydn, 1791 - Thomas Hardy

        Joseph Haydn” (1791)


                 Thomas Hardy





though I’ve focused especially, during

this introduction to Classical music,

on Mozart, a second great pillar of

that era is Haydn1732 – 1809


here is one of his 62 piano sonatas,

which expresses more than anything

you’ve heard here yet the definition

of what music was at the time, or

should be, tonality, as I’ve earlier

said, tempo and repetition were



listen for or the rigidity of the tempo,

the consistent melliflousness of

the melody, and therefore tonality,

and the repetition of all the

component tunes


I remember going to a drum recital

once, here in Vancouver, a guy was

expressing his artistry in a formal

venue, I was sitting in a forward

row, saw him set up his music on

his music stand, and I thought,

he’s going to have to turn the

pages, which he did, a drummer


that’s all I remember of the

presentation, but that was enough,

an entire revelation


in this Haydn sonata, the pianist

turns the pages of his score, back

and forth, an interesting visual

expression of the imperative of

repetition in that era’s music,

having to return to what had

been written on the previous



also note that trills abound


note too in the second movement,

the adagio cantabile, the sudden

introduction of arpeggios,

transcendent, as though angels

had just appeared


which prefigures the metaphysical

aspirations of the Romantic Period

which ensued, see, for instance, 



note also that we’re on fortepiano

here, a period instrument, a cross

between the harpsichord and the

modern instrument


thoroughly enjoy



R ! chard

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

Polonaise, 1934 - Konstantin Korovin


         Polonaise” (1934)


                  Konstantin Korovin



cause the pickings are slim among the

shared musical formats between Mozart

and Chopin, Mozart, for instance,

composed eighteen piano sonatas to

Chopin’s mere three, Chopin’s First

even having been more or less 

disregarded since for being promising

maybe, but not at all inspired, where

Mozart meanwhile also wrote 27 piano

concertos to Chopin’s only two, though

both, his, entirely mighty


Chopin, however, pretty well establishes

the nocturne, the scherzo, the prelude,

the étude, the polonaise, the mazurka

as musical forms, while Mozart never

establishes a thing, apart from his own

supreme talent


but here are a couple of fantasias that

they both share, Mozart’s Fantasia

no 3 in D minor, of four, Chopin’s

Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat major,

Opus 61, Chopin blending here his

fantaisie to the beat of a polonaise,

dance form of his native Poland,

see above


listen for trills in the Mozart, which

admittedly show up only near the

end of the piece, otherwise he

sounds a lot like, I’ll admit, Chopin


listen for arpeggios in the Chopin


a follow-up exercise in listening,

trills, notably, up against arpeggios


consider, enjoy



R ! chard

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

The Music Lesson, c.1769 - Jean-Honore Fragonard


          The Music Lesson” (c.1769)


              Jean-Honoré Fragonard




having spent too much time, perhaps,

giving context, from Classicism to

Romanticismin my last communication

brought on by the worlds that open up

to me when l Iisten to this kind of music,

rather than imparting specific information

about how to sharpen one’s aesthetic

sensitivity, about listening rather than

just hearing, this time I’ll get technical,

if you’ll allow, with the help of the same

two pieces, Mozart’s 16th piano sonata,

Chopin’s 3rd, how are they different,

how are they similar, how do they



first, similarities, they are both sonatas,

pieces of music consisting of more than

one segment of music, traditionally, three

or four, Mozart here has three, Chopin



Chopin doesn’t diverge from the trinity

of imperatives that Mozart set up

during the Classical period, tempo,

tonality, and repetition, the pace of

the music remains constant within

the parameters established by the

directions at the top of the page,

an adagio doesn’t change its beat

throughout the movement for either,

nor would an andante, a presto, an



this will change


neither does any element of the

music produce discords, tonality

remains mellifluous throughout

for both, lilting, harmonious ever,

even often, in either, enchanting


this will also change


and everywhere, a flight of musical

invention will eventually return to

its original source, and you find 

that you’ve come back from a sonic

adventure to home base, where the

whole thing starts all over again,

repetition, a condition considered

essential, until relatively recently,

to  the definition of music


this will also change


but how are they different


listen to the decoration, Mozart

applies trills to individual notes,

a flutter of adjacent tonalities 

to set the central one off, like

glitter, the twitter of birds

punctuating, here and there, 

the stillness of a forest


Chopin colours his entire

keyboard with arpeggios rather,

runs up and down the scales,

turning melodies into not only

delights, but stepping stones to

entirely other dimensions,

extrapolations from the original

tune, seemingly spontaneous

evolutions, the first burgeonings,

incidentally, of jazz, before returning,

notably, to his original air, much as

Mozart does, to his core statement,

fulfilling the Classical requirement

of repetition


here’s Mozart, trilling


here’s Chopin, arpeggiating


how to tell your Chopin from your

Mozart, how to sharpen your

aesthetic sensibility, listenlisten



R ! chard

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

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818 - Caspar David Friedrich


        The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” (1818)


                 Caspar David Friedrich




by now, if you’ve been listening,

you’ll probably easily tell your

Chopin from your Mozart, even

without looking


if not, the one who isn’t Mozart

is Chopin, the one who isn’t

Chopin is Mozart, cause you’re

likely to recognize the one if not

the other


here’s Mozart’s Piano Sonata

no 16 in C major, K. 545from

1788, which even Mozart

deemed “for beginners”, but

its very elementary qualities

suit, here, my purposes


here’s Chopin’s Piano Sonata

no 3 in B minor, Op. 581844,

some sixty years later, the

epitome of the Romantic Era


Mozart is Classical, the foundation

of the shape and sound of music

in the West, think of Oriental music,

Chinese, for instance, opera, as an

alternative inspirational direction


he sets, along with Haydn, incidentally,

the parameters of Western music, I

call it its grammar, tempo, tonality,

and repetition, its hallmarks, its sine

qua non, as we say in Latin, its trinity

of imperatives, its without which there

would be no Western music as we

know it


Romanticism, after two revolutions,

the French and the American, comes

along to turn all of that into literature,

prompted by the spirit of democracy,

the first expressions of it since Caesar,

Ancient Rome, where earlier,

everywhere, kings had ruled, and by

extension, even more autocratically,

the Church, for monarchs had

received, morally, and consequently

politically, from it, their mandates

from God


one man, one vote, even theoretically,

upended that entire metaphysical

construct, therefore Romanticism


everyone had a voice, everyone had

a story, the birth of the individual,

and of, by extension, human rights,

for better or for worse, see above


therefore Chopin


listen, Chopin is the new Jesus,

prophet, but for a new age 


stay tuned



R ! chard

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

The Potato Eaters, 1885 - Vincent van Gogh

            The Potato Eaters” (1885)


                   Vincent van Gogh




where do you start with Chopin, he is

in our Western cultural bloodstream,

as identifiable in music as, say, van

Gogh is in painting, you don’t need 

to be interested in any kind of art to

have not been given even only a

whiff of these iconic artists


nearly anything I might present here

of Chopin you’ve probably already

heard somewhere before, if only in



of van Gogh, well, he goes back in

the public imagination to at least

Vincent1971, the song, no one

doesn’t know about him, when I

heard it playing in Amsterdam at

the museum, with the first piece I

saw, The Potato Eatersdominating

the first wall, insisting on van Gogh’s

vision, his prophecy, his profound

compassion, I cried, I understood

what art is, see above


Chopin exerts a different kind of,

however equally potent, magic


Mozart might sound like Haydn,

Beethoven might sound like

Schubert, all of the Impressionists

sound like all of the Impressionists,

be they Ravel, Debussy, Satie, or

Saint-Saëns, to the untrained ear


but no one sounds like Chopin,

he’s, culturally, a North Star


here’s one of his nocturnes, the

moonlit one, in E flat major  


here’s a polonaisehere’s an étude,  

in English, a study, a finger exercise,

an iconic, here, prestidigitation


here’s an impromptu, his very,

indeed, Fantaisie-Impromptu, just

to get your categories going


consider its construction, having

some information already about

fantasias, a work of the imagination,

open to any experimentation within

the confines of one movement, with

an impromptu, something purported

to have been created on the spot,

also in one movement


the answer requires you to sharpen

your aesthetic pencil, always a

delight – an impromptu, a

spontaneous invention, a fantaisie,

a work of the imagination, how do

they differ, which part is a fantaisie,

which an impromptu, how do they

nevertheless coalesce


this exercise is the first step in






R ! chard

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

Waltz, 1891 - Anders Zorn


       Waltz” (1891)


        Anders Zorn




having brought up the idea of

longevity in my last communication,

the fantasiaa musical form that

lasted about 150 years, with hats

off nevertheless to the later Disney

classic, Fantasiaa tribute, which,

full of Classical music references,

followed in its spiritual mode, and,

after introducing Chopin, perhaps

the very representation of the

Romantic Era, that we carry, or

intuit, in our very bones, I thought

I’d talk about the waltz, a Chopin

specialty, where he created,

incontrovertibly, utter magic


who hears of the waltz anymore, an

antiquated curiosity, though even in

our not so distant blood we feel the

reverberations of its memory, the

throb of its still vibrant cultural

intensity, relevance, rhythm


tangos, incidentally followed, and

other intimate interactions, which

had been earlier frowned upon


the waltz had been the minuet,

the difference was the physical

contact, young nobles left their

aristocratic salons, however

discreetly, to frequent the

more liberal, if disreputable,

establishments – like to

speakeasies during Prohibition

– where they could explore the

new, licentious venues, as

young nobles, ever, would, for

the lure of intimate connection

with the partner


the waltz was thereby born,

couples touched, breast upon

breast, composers followed


Chopin was metaphysical, you

didn’t dance to his waltzes, you

experienced them, here’s his

Minute Waltz, Opus 64, no 1,

here’s his equally delightful

Opus 64, no 2, its companion


but Strauss ll, Johann l‘s son,

got all of Vienna to dance his, 

and everywhere else after, until  

the waltz fell out of favour 

somewhere in the 1950s, leaving

only its memories behind,  here’s          

his incandescent By the Beautiful

Blue Danubemakes you wish

you’d been there


in the one case, the waltz is

idealized, in the other, it’s the

waltz in action, listen, you can

tell the difference, you won’t 

want to dance, for instance, to 

Chopinthough you might give

it an ineffectual try, to Strauss

you’ll careen



R ! chard