ROADS - A listeners guide
Press play and have a read while l take you through all of the tracks on my debut album ROADS. There is a little bit of background information on each composer and a few listening tips for you to watch out for! I really hope you enjoy listening and please get in touch to let me know which track/s you love! Máire xo
1. Cecile Chaminade ‘Automne’ Concert Étude, Op.35, No.2 (1857-1944)
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. Chaminade’s 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.
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.
It was hugely important to me 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.
I spent hours researching pieces by female composers and in the middle of my search l came across a gem – a short piece by Chaminade that really moved me. l believe her music undoubtedly deserves a wider audience and I feel strongly that she is a female composer who deserves to be admitted to the pantheon of great French Romantic composers.
2. Kapustin Variations, Op.41 (1937)
Nikolai Kapustin is a Russian composer and pianist. ‘Kapustin is a classical composer who happens to work in a jazz idiom.’ He uses jazz idioms within formal classical structures to fuse these musical influences in his works. His piano music is filled with an infectious spontaneity and while it sounds improvisatory and dazzlingly creative, the music is fully and meticulously written out for the performer.
Born in the Ukraine, Nikolai Kapustin learned to play the piano and then went on to the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Alexander Goldenweiser, the legendary teacher of many Russian pianists, including Dmitri Kabalevsky. While on his path to a career as a virtuoso pianist, an unexpected thing happened: Kapustin fell in love with American jazz. This was during the 1950’s in the Soviet Union, a turbulent era where jazz was frowned upon. Kapustin however, managed to carve a successful career as a jazz performer, both as a solo pianist and as a member of a jazz quintet.
Among his works there are 20 piano sonata, 6 piano concertos, several works for solo piano and for 4 hands and 2 hands, a violin concerto, 2 cello concertos, several piano trios & string quartets, a piano quintet and compositions for orchestra and big band.
Kapustin’s Variations date from 1984. This piece takes a basic musical idea through a series of evolutions at different tempos and in varying moods. The opening section which is marked Medium swing, introduces and briefly extends this main idea. The music leaps ahead at the Doppio movimento, where Kapustin changes tempo and becomes increasingly agitated until it arrives at the romantic Larghetto, an expressive and beautiful interlude that Kapustin marks “Swinging just a bit.” A brief, blazing Presto catapults the Variations to a fiery close.
It was important to me to include some composers on my album who are alive today and l absolute love the dazzling spirit of the Variations. This was one of the very first pieces l decided to include on ROADS.
3. Bach Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue in d minor BWV903 (1685-1750)
Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most famous composers of all time and shaped western classical music as we know it today. The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is one of Bach’s best known works and it is an extravagant work of virtuosity and bold harmonic structure.
Bach was the youngest child born to a city musician in Eisenach, Germany. Having been orphaned at the age of ten he then lived with his brother for five years. After this he moved to Luneburg to finish his musical training. Bach went on to work extensively around Germany composing for the church and various German Princes. He spent years travelling between Arnstadt, Malhausen, Weimar and Leipzig enriching the established German music style. Between his time spent in Weimar and Leipzig, Bach spent six years in Kothen having been hired by Leopold, Prince of Anhalt - Kothen. It was here that he was given support by the Prince to write more secular music and with this encouragement he composed the Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue in d minor.
Originally composed for harpsichord, this piece is often played on the piano. It is one of Bach’s earliest works which demonstrates virtuosity and expressiveness. It opens with a dramatic ascending and descending scale and this powerful statement develops into rhythmic repeated patterns and intricate scalic passages. The Fantasy becomes freer and expressive with ornamented recitative melodies. To the listener it might seem that the Fantasy is entirely chromatic and at times atonal, but Bach maintains tonality with the use of conventional cadences. Finally a fixed tonic pedal leads to the grand introduction of the Fugue.
The Fugue begins very strictly with a subject built on two ascending minor thirds filled in chromatically. The Fugue has three main sections and the main theme is heard eleven times. The Fugue gets its rhythmic drive from the countersubject which begins in bar 8. The Fugue grows and grows until the intensity is too much and with one final flourish the work ends on a triumphant D major chord.
This is a piece that I’ve never let go. I learnt it many years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. ROADS wouldn’t be complete without a work by Bach.
4. Sebastian Adams 2016.1- Two 1916 Pieces (1991-)
I. Fireworks II. Aftermath
This work is inspired by one of the stories from Joe Duffy’s book, Children of the Rising which tells the tale of three young children breaking into a toy shop off Sackville Street in Dublin and stealing fireworks. Sebastian composed a two movement response to this story. He masterfully captures the element of thrill in the first movement depicting the fireworks blasting into the sky. Listen out for the soliders marching and the bombastic artillery firing. The second movement is a tragic aftermath alluding to the death of the three children who died on the streets of Dublin. The very final bars of the second movement remind me of a child's musical jewellery box winding down until it eventually stops. The final chord brings us a moment of peace and hope with a touching major chord.
This deeply moving work poignantly contrasts the innocence of youth with the brutality of war. It is a beautiful commemoration of the 'un-sung' heroes of the revolution.
I commissioned my good friend Sebastian Adams to compose this work as part of M.Mus degree concert project entilted ‘Spiorad na Saoirse’ (the spirit of freedom) in August, 2016. ‘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. 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 my debut album.
5-8. Ginastera Piano Sonata No.1 (1916-1983)
I. Allegro marcato
II. Presto misterioso
III. Adagio molto appasionata
IV. Ruvido ed ostinato
Following on from Track No.4 we move from 1916 Dublin to 1916 Buenos Aires where Argentine composer, Alberto Ginastera, was born. 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 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 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 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.''
Ginastera’s work is 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. 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 (Tracks No.5-8) 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.''
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.''
This sonata is a physical and mental workout for me. The constant fiery and rhythmic energy is contrasted with captivating lyricism and makes for an exhilarating performance! The Argentine flavour of this work makes me crave an adventure to Buenos Aires to experience this music first hand.
9. Ligeti Etude No.13: ‘The Devil’s Staircase’ (1923-2006)
The peak of pianistic virtuosity is reached in the penultimate track of ROADS. ‘The Devil’s Staircase’ was inspired by Ligeti’s experience of a spectacular storm while staying in Santa Monica, California, creating in his mind a vision of endless climbing, a wild apocalyptic vortex - a staircase almost impossible to ascend.
The Hungarian composer Ligeti composed a cycle of 18 études for solo piano between 1985 and 2001. They are considered one of his major creative achievements and they have become one of the most valuable and important twenty-first century repertoire for developing pianists’ technical and musical skills. These études combine virtuoso technical problems with expressive content, following in the line of the études of Chopin, Liszt and Debussy.
‘The Devil’s Staircase’ is the longest and the most dramatic piece of the 18 etudes. Ligeti used several techniques in order to express fear and tension. First of all, he used ascending chromatic scales and recursive musical spirals to reflect infinite motion and endless repetition. The piece continually moves up and down (a reference to endless climbing) creating the illusion of relentlessness. Half-way through the swirls of madness Ligeti writes “wild ringing of bells” in the score. The bells ring in various rhythms, dynamics and registers while the dynamic ranges from ppp to ffffffff (8 F’s). Here ‘The Devil’ is at his most vulnerable.
This is a thrilling, haunting piece with a staircase that is (almost) impossible to ascend. Within the madness there is absolute clarity. The final surge of drama with the last chord leaves me breathless while playing. This is a piece which stays with me long after I’ve played the final chord.
10. Rodgers & Hammerstein (arr. Stephen Hough) ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music is one for the most famous musicals with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. When it was released as a movie in 1965 it took the world by storm, earning five Oscars.
The musical tells the story of Maria, who takes a job as governess to a large family while she decides whether to become a nun. She falls in love with the children and their widowed father, Captain von Trapp. Captain von Trapp is ordered to accept a commission in the German navy, but he opposes the Nazis. He and Maria decide to flee from Austria with the children.
Many songs from the musical have become standards, such as ‘Edelweiss’, ‘Climb Ev'ry Mountain’, ‘Do-Re-Mi’, the title song ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘My Favourite Things’.
This arrangement of ‘My Favourite Things’ by pianist Stephen Hough was released in 1991 as part of an album called ‘Virtuosic Encores’.
I couldn’t think of a better piece to close ROADS. Musicals have always had a special place in my childhood memories. Everyone has a piece that they remember. This is mine!