My Fund it campaign: Composer Alberto Ginastera

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

Hello again,

I am so excited that l have just passed the 75% mark on my Fund it campaign! I have another seven days left to reach my target.  Thank you again everyone, I'm getting more and more excited as the days go on. I can't wait to start recording!

So far I've given you French composer, Chaminade and Irish composer, Adams. Now it's time for Argentine composer, Alberto Ginastera, whose electrifying Piano Sonata No.1  will also feature on my debut album. 

 

Who is Alberto Ginastera? Emerging on the international music scene in the late 1940's, Alberto Ginastera, established himself as one of the mid-twentieth century's most distinctive compositional figures. Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires in 1916 and showed early promise as a performer and a composer. Within a few years of his admittance to the National Conservatory as an undergraduate, his music was receiving national acclaim in prominent performance venues.

Ginastera is the foremost representative of musical nationalism. His oeuvre covers all genres. His attractive output for piano skillfully combines folk Argentine rhythms and colors with modern composing techniques.

Ginastera worked actively as a composer and champion of new music despite considerable obstacles; his political views forced his resignation from positions at the National Military Academy and the National University of La Plata (he regained the this position after Perón's defeat). He retired to Switzerland after decades of teaching in Argentina's most prominent musical institutions and his last years were among his most fruitful. When he died in 1983, Mrs. Ginastera said that her husband's death was ''especially tragic because he so much wanted to compose more music.''

 

Describe his musical style... In terms of musical style, Ginastera's works can be divided into three periods that he called Objective Nationalism, Subjective Nationalism, and Neo-Expressionism. His early works belong to the first period. Ginastera uses Argentine folk and popular elements and introduces them in a straight forward manner.

From 1948 on, while in the US, Ginastera turns to Subjective Nationalism. He starts to use more advanced composing techniques however, he never gives up Argentine traditions. He composed Piano Sonata No.1 during this period. 

His Neo-Expressionist period starts approximately in 1958. In Ginastera's own words, "There are no more folk melodic or rhythmic cells, nor is there any symbolism. There are, however, constant Argentine elements, such as strong, obsessive rhythms and meditative adagios suggesting the quietness of the Pampas; magic, mysterious sounds reminding the cryptic nature of the country.''

 

Does his music sound familiar to other composers? Ginastera's music has often been compared to other composers - to Debussy for ''its vivid color and undulating vocal lines,'' to Bartok for its ''curious blend of savagery and nervousness,'' and to Stravinsky for its ''rhythmic litheness and neatly economical scoring.''

 

Why do l like to play this sonata? This sonata is challenging in a different way to the other works on the album. As well as being technically difficult with many hurdles to overcome along the way, the first, second and fourth movement go by so quickly. All three of these movements are a work-out, both physically and mentally.  In the first movement, the fiery rhythmic energy is contrasted with captivating lyricism and this makes for a very exhilarating performance (provided you hit all the correct notes)! 

 

Where did l first hear this piece of music? I was watching the BBC proms a few years ago on television with my parents and we heard the fourth movement of the Piano Sonata No.1 being performed. We all gasped: Wow! I'd never heard it before so l took a note of the piece, l studied it and here we are!

 

Here is another piece by Ginastera that I'd love to learn at some point. It is hauntingly beautiful - 'La Danza de La Moza Donosa' performed by Daniel Barenboim.

 

 

My Fund it campaign: Composer Sebastian Adams

                                                                            Sebastian Adams

                                                                            Sebastian Adams

Hi there!

Following on from my blog post a few days ago, l am now almost at 60% on my Fund it page! Thank you all so much, your support is amazing. As I explained in my last post, I am going to share the pieces l will be recording on my album...one step at a time! Up next is my great friend Sebastian Adams with Fireworks (2016), a work which was premiered at my M.Mus 'Spiorad na Saoirse' event at the TileStyle showrooms in August, 2016.

 

What was 'Spiorad na Saoirse' (The spirit of freedom)? I was required as part of my M.Mus degree to complete a concert project. ‘Spiorad na Saoirse’ was my artistic response to Ireland in 2016 and the marking of the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916, a seminal moment in Ireland’s journey to independence. My exhibition and recital was an act of remembrance; an opportunity to reflect by weaving together multiple threads in the exploration of Irish culture, inspiration and sacrifices.

 

How did the collaboration between myself and Sebastian come about? 'Spiorad na Saoirse' created a wonderful opportunity to work with a young Irish composer and premiere a work specifically for the project. Having collaborated successfully in the past, I had a positive feeling that we would work well together developing a work for ‘Spiorad na Saoirse’. As soon as l contacted Sebastian to ask him if he would be interested he said yes! (Thank you Sebastian!!)

 

Where did the idea for 'Fireworks' come from? As we worked together to decide on what aspect of the revolution to focus on, we narrowed it down to two possibilities: the children of the 1916 and the women of 1916. The tale of the children stealing fireworks on Sackville Street from Joe Duffy's, Children of the Rising, resonated with Sebastian. 'Fireworks' is a musical response to the children of 1916. It is a commemoration of the 'un-sung' heroes of the revolution.

 

What does it sound like? Sebastian composed a two movement response to the story. He masterfully captures the element of thrill in the first movement depicting the fireworks blasting into the sky. The second movement is a tragic aftermath alluding to the death of the three children who died on the streets of Dublin. 

 

Why do you want to include this piece on your album? A very simple answer: It is a brilliant piece and one worth hearing. I was also keen to include a twenty-first century composition and it is wonderful to be able to champion a fantastic, young talented composer on the album. 

 

Where can l find out more about Sebastian Adams or hear some of his music? Sebastian Adams (b. 1991) is an Irish composer who has been Composer in Residence with RTÉ lyric fm. He is founder and co-director of Kirkos, co-director of Fishamble Sinfonia and former chair of the Irish Composers Collective. Commissions include the Irish Chamber Orchestra, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra and many others. Click here to listen to some of his music. 

 

My Fund it campaign: Composer Cécile Chaminade

                                       Céceile Chaminade (1857-1944)

                                       Céceile Chaminade (1857-1944)

Hi Everyone,

With just over two weeks to go on my Fund it campaign, I am going to begin sharing the pieces l will be recording on my album!

What is it? The first piece l am going to share with you that will feature on the album is: Cécile Chaminade’s ‘Automne’ from her Six Concert Études, Op.35. It is hugely important to me as a  musician that l include a female composer on my debut album. I had an incredible experience performing in March 2017 as part of Accenture Ireland's International Women's Day performance at the Convention Centre, Dublin.  l was honoured to be there performing and celebrating #IWD17. It was an unforgettable experience and a reminder how important it is to champion women and celebrate their success.  

Why did you pick Chaminade?  l decided to include Chaminade because l believe her music undoubtedly deserves a wider audience and also because l feel strongly that she is a female composer who deserves to be admitted to the pantheon of great French Romantic composers.

How did you find 'Automne'?  Over the past few months, I spent massive amounts of time pondering over which composers I should include on my album and why. I browsed through recordings of Teresa Carreño, Amy Beach, Augusta Holmes and Clara Schumann. In the middle of my search l came across a gem – a short piece by Chaminade that really moved me. I knew instantly  that l wanted to include this piece on my album. 

(But who is she??) In the early 1890s, while many French male composers enjoyed flourishing moments of their careers, thirty year old Cécile Chaminade had already become a musical celebrity in France as the best-selling female composer at the time. Chaminade's major role models included Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, and Franck—all renowned composers of Romantic music whom influenced her greatly.  However her own unique musical voice emerged when she began writing smaller works for piano called character pieces. Her so-called “salon” pieces are the same kind of short works that Brahms and Chopin made popular. Chaminade's fame was widespread, especially among female fans in Europe and the United States. 

What does the piece sound like? The poetic mood of 'Automne' is in the Romantics' favored key of D flat. The main section features a hauntingly beautiful melody contrasted with cascades of thunderous notes evoking images of falling, windswept, leaves.

Where can l hear it? Watch out for a clip that will appear in the next few days on twitter @mairecarroll and my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mairecarrollpiano

 

This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman
— Ambroise Thomas

Week 8: Franckincense and Myrrh

Eek only two short weeks to go….my undergraduate degree is almost completed and l’m getting more and more excited to fly to Dublin for the big performance. Apart from a minor setback of tonsillitis (which has meant a week of antibiotics and a little more rest than usual) everything seems to be coming together. 

I’m looking forward to sharing my next blog post…it’ll feature a mini performance of the Franck Variations, not just with me but with second piano!

Probably my favourite recording of the Franck at this point: 

A little on the fast side but really beautiful and exciting!

Happy listening,

M x

P.S. Don't forget to book your tickets

Week 7: Franck in Love

A few weeks ago Irish composer, Raymond Deane, sent me a fascinating link entitled ‘Quintet of Discontent:  César Franck and Augusta Holmès’. It’s a rather short article but it makes reference to a woman named Augusta Holmès, who enjoyed popularity in the sophisticated circles of Parisian society:  

"Holmès, a naturalized French composer of Irish descent was rumored to have been fathered by the celebrated novelist and poet Alfred de Vigny’’. I was previously unaware of this Irish connection. It transpires that Franck was madly in love with his student Augusta Holmès who came to study privately with him in 1876. She garnered much attention at the Paris Conservatoire:

‘’Saint-Saëns, together with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and almost the entire male faculty of the Paris  Conservatoire, was passionately in love with Augusta. In fact, Saint-Saëns had numerously proposed marriage to Holmès, but had always been sweetly ignored.’’

Franck admired Holmès musical and artistic talent and found it difficult to ignore her beauty. His piano quintet was written with her in mind.  "Eyewitnesses report that he was getting highly emotional and enraged during the performance, apparently discovering some secret code or covert message in the score’’

The performance enraged both Félicité Saillot (Franck’s wife) and Saint-Saëns (the works dedicatee) for obvious reasons. 

‘’This intimate and scarcely platonic relationship inspired Frank to publicly disclose his feelings in the Piano Quintet, prompting a critic to quip “the piano quintet is, by any measure, not quite the sound that anyone would expect to hear from the organ-loft.’’

How interesting that Franck’s muse was of Irish descent!

Until next week,

M x

Week 5: Franckly Delicious

This week has been incredibly exciting.  It was the first opportunity I’ve had to rehearse the Franck with second piano.  This offers a whole new set of challenges. No matter how many hours l have spent listening to recordings and analysing the score, there is nothing quite like having the orchestral reduction played along with you. It is truly a fulfilling experience!!

I’m also lucky to have enlisted the help of an excellent pianist, Joseph Havlat, who has taken on the role of the orchestra exceptionally well.  Playing with the orchestral reduction shows up the spots that you thought you had firmly under control but actually still need some work. It is reassuring when you discover that there are a few places that you have been playing far too fast (a major relief) and then the shock when you learn that you’ve been coming in a crochet too late at a crucial moment (a bad habit!). Over the next few days I’ll be working specifically on the tempo switches in the C section between my solo and the 3 against 2 passages. As well as this, l will focus my attention on the dialogue between the orchestra and piano after l introduce the main theme.  

Stay tuned for next week’s blog featuring a video clip of some of my favourite parts of the Franck.

Forever Franck,

M x

. . .you will become what you practice...
— Susan Whykes, Whykes, Susan., Mind Over Matter (Author House, 2007), p.4

Week 4: For Francks Sake

Tensions are rising and my final undergraduate recital is just around the corner. I’ll be performing an hour long recital of music including: Bach Italian Concerto, Schubert Trockne Blumen Variations for flute and piano, Poulenc Sonata and Ginastera Piano Sonata No.1. I’ll also be up bright and early as the recital begins at the painful hour of 9 am!!

I’m struggling this week with memorising the Franck. There are numerous twists and turns and my dear César Franck was very fond of stating a musical idea and then changing one single note in the same pattern leading it from major to minor or vice versa. It is all very clever but it can make the running passages that fly by seem very dangerous. After the A section comes to a close, the piano introduces a murmuring semiquaver passage alongside the theme (now in the major) which is played by the cellos. Again the ideas are repeated once in the minor, then in the major until the piano and woodwind lead us to a silvery peaceful heaven like episode. Dreamy though it may be, I can’t be too relaxed… I wouldn’t want to take the wrong turn! 

Aside from the memory, the work requires a huge amount of stamina. There is hardly any break for the pianist once the piece begins. It is an obvious observation but now that the work is really coming together I’m more aware of this fact than before. Time to get back practising! 

Franckly yours,

M x

Mistakes are immensely useful they show us where we are right now and what we need to do next
— William Westney, Westney, William., The Perfect Wrong Note (Amadeus Press, 2003)

Week 3: Fancy a César salad?

The past week has been filled with French music not only by Franck but – Messiaen. I am performing Quatuor pour la fin du temps with KIRKOS Ensemble as part of the BLACKOUT series. This innovative series consists of three concerts which will be staged in complete darkness. A successful FundIt campaign has made this all possible!

A few days ago l came across a fascinating BBC audio clip which aired a few years ago.  It is entitled ‘Cesar Franck – Life and times’. In the clip Donald Macleod explores the life and work of composer Cesar Franck.  It offers insightful information into the struggles of the composer and how finally his creative genius flourished.

 ‘’Just about all the music by which César Franck is known today – less than a dozen major pieces – was written in the last 10 years of his life’’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/69802473-e361-4e15-bbd8-53fe83cd1587

Happy listening,

Máire

Week 2: Quite Franckly Fantastic

A week on from my first post and I have been engaged in all things musical. Today I participated in a masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music with pianist Kathy Stott, performing Schubert’s Trockne Blumen Variations with Kristan Swain on flute.  However, the Franck Symphonic Variations are always on my mind!

In my lesson last Friday, my teacher and l worked on the different tempi of the work.  As l previously mentioned there are three main sections: A serious introduction - A slow middle section of variations - An ‘Allegro non troppo’ section. We discussed various techniques and hand gestures that will help me to get the rapid finger passages at full speed and how I should practice the sweeping melodic lines that look effortless on paper but in reality require a lot of attention.

The works main structure is very interesting once you observe the first few bars of each main section. It begins with an idea (1), another bar with the same or slightly varied idea (1) and then comes a two bar response to it (2).  Therefore we can say it follows a 1 bar, 1 bar then 2 bar structure. Taking the opening entry of the piano:

 And the opening of the main theme:

Being aware of this 1 + 1 + 2 bar structure is crucial to the overall musical structure of the work. As the same material is constantly being repeated and varied, it must never sound the same a second time. Judging how to do this convincingly is challenging and requires a lot of spontaneity. The most important thing to get across, for any performer, is what you want to say with the music. For example: In relation to the beginning of the work which opens with  the stentorian, angry figure in the strings against the forlorn, drooping melody, (somewhat similar to the opening of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto) it is essential for me to decide exactly how l want the 1 + 1 + 2 bar idea to sound. Which bar should be louder?  How can l make the repeated version say more or less?  All of these are endless questions that require lots of thought and patience.

And with that I should get thinking!  Perhaps another recording of the work could help give me some fresh ideas. This week l have been listening to one of my all-time favourite pianists:  Alfred Cortot performing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Until next week,

Mx


Week 1: Let's be Franck...

Welcome to the beginning of my interactive journey with the fantastic Franck Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra. With exactly ten weeks to go until the big day (June 30th), it feels like the right time to get started. The notes are now under my fingers and the work is very much under way. In the coming weeks, I’d like to contribute a few of my own tips and my unique experience learning this (at times) challenging but thrilling work.  Most importantly, I hope to share my own personal enjoyment of the piece and document the build up to what I am convinced will undoubtedly be an incredible experience performing with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.

To get started, I’d like to introduce you to the Franck Variations and give you a very brief history of the work and its composer.

César Franck (1822-1890) was a composer and organist. Born in Liège and he studied at the conservatoire in Liège before going to the Paris Conservatoire in 1837. Franck was a very fine pianist, and made concert tours in his early years, but made his living at the organ, becoming organist of Sainte-Clotilde in 1858, where he remained until his death. From 1872 to his death he was organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Many of Franck's works employ ‘cyclic form’ (the use of one theme in more than one movement of a work). Some of the most popular of Franck’s works include: Symphony (1886-88), the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra (1885), the Prelude, Choral and Fugue for piano solo (1884) and the sonata for violin and piano (1886).

Franck's last work (and one of his greatest) is the Choral No. 3, in A minor. He is buried in Cimetiere du Montparnasse in Paris.

The Symphonic Variations is, in effect a piano concerto compressed into a single movement. There are three major sections within the work:

  1. A serious introduction with the beginning juxtaposing two ideas very much opposed in character
  2. A slow middle section of variations worked in a conversational manner between piano and orchestra
  3. An 'Allegro non troppo' (meaning fast but not overly so) dramatic section which concludes with a sparkling coda

    The whole work is knit together by the compelling use of themes we hear at the very opening of the work; A domineering fierce figure in the strings answered by a melancholic, descending melody on the piano.

    Interestingly, l discovered that the origins of the work date back to 1884 when Franck composed a work called ‘Les Djinns’.  This work had a difficult piano part that was performed at its premiere by Louis Diémer. He was an acclaimed musician who was known for his dazzling effects of virtuosity and his deep musicality. At that time Franck has promised to compose ‘’another little something’’ for Diémer. The world premiere of the Franck Symphonic Variations was May 1st, 1886 at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Franck was the conductor and Louis Diémer, the works dedicatee, was the soloist.

    I am currently listening to Emil Gilels recording of the Variations. (See below)

    Happy listening,

    Mx

    https://nch.ie/Online/RTENSO-Summer-Lunchtime-30Jun15