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Interview July 2017: 10 Questions with P. Malan

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Petronel Malan: Official Sites
Petronel Malan Site: Petronel Malan
Petronel Malan: Petronel Malan (Hänssler Classic)
Petronel Malan: Petronel Malan (Blüthner Pianos)
Petronel Malan: Petronel Malan (Twitter)
Petronel Malan: Petronel Malan (Facebook)
Petronel Malan: Petronel Malan (YouTube)

Petronel Malan: CD Albums
Petronel Malan: Transfigured Mozart
Petronel Malan: Transfigured Beethoven
Petronel Malan: Transfigured Bach


1. In 2006 and in 2008 you produced two beautiful, interesting and critically acclaimed CD Albums on Mozart and Beethoven: Transfigured Mozart and Transfigured Beethoven. What can you tell us about the origin and the story of these two CD Albums?

The Transfigured Bach recording was given to me as a project and I practiced and recorded it.

I did not do the research for that album.

When Hänssler Classic suggested I record a second CD, I started researching all the music and options to continue with transcriptions – and I found all the scores for Transfigured Mozart.

It happened to fall on the 2006 anniversary for Mozart and we decided to release in time for the anniversary.

I have always loved transcriptions, so it was a natural idea to record this music and since I discovered so many world premiere recordings, that happened almost naturally also.

As I was researching the Mozart, I started saving scores for future projects. I have a huge database of scores now.

So for my last 4 recordings, I did all the research for each recording.

I still have many lesser-known scores saved for future use for other recording projects. People also give me rare scores after concerts. So many scores I just received as a gift from a stranger after a concert!

… It is almost funny the two things people bring me most after concerts: Vintage dresses from their grandmothers… and rare scores. I love both things so I am always happy when people give this to me!

Petronel Malan plays Glinka’s Transfigured Mozart.

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2. We know you have in your concert repertoire also piano works by Haydn. What’s your relation with the compositions for piano by Haydn?

I have always loved playing Haydn.

It falls well on the hand and I think there are some absolutely beautiful music available.

People always know about Mozart, but the average person sadly doesn’t always know about Haydn.

Then I make sure to tell them that Beethoven studied with Haydn a bit, since he wanted to study with Mozart but Mozart had died. And Schubert was a pallbearer at Beethoven’s funeral. They are all connected.

What an amazing time to be alive and think that they all, all those great composers, had met each other!

Petronel Malan plays Haydn’s Sonata in C major Hob XVI/50, Mvt. I
Petronel Malan plays Haydn’s Sonata in C major Hob XVI/50, Mvt. II & III

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3. You are an official Artist of the most famous Leipzig firm Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH, one of the Big Four. What can you tell us about the distinctive quality of this piano manufacturer. And why and how did you choose their pianos? And what’s your story of collaboration with Blüthner?

When I walked into Skywalker Studios (George Lucas’ estate in California) to record my first CD, there were 2 pianos to choose from.

There was one of the most beautiful Blüthner Model 1 pianos and also another piano – which was also quite beautiful, but it didn’t have the sound and colour of the Blüthner.

So, I chose the Blüthner for my recording.

It was almost by accident that this happened.

After my first recording was nominated for the Grammy awards, they made me an official Blüthner Artist.

I then recorded my next 4 recordings in Leipzig, so that I would have easier access to Blüthner pianos.

They supplied not only the pianos but also the technicians for every recording.

Pianists will know how very important this is! I was really spoiled – and very lucky.

By recording in Leipzig, I now had choices of up to 5 Blüthners before every recording session!!

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4. You regularly organize Piano Masterclasses. What’s your approach in teaching to your students?

I don’t organize the Master classes… they happen mostly in conjunction with my concerts.

Usually, after a concert, I teach classes for local students.

I do not teach on a regular basis since I am usually traveling for concerts, so I have these classes to teach younger students.

When I was a child, I always asked every pianist I heard if I could get a lesson, but they mostly could not fit lessons into their schedule… which disappointed me greatly as a child.

So I made a point of being available for younger students after my concerts.
I’ve met some wonderful young talents and they have kept in touch through the years.

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5. Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.

For Mozart, it would have to be operas, but since I can’t sing at all and only listen to the operas, I’ll say the piano concerti… Absolute genius music.

For Haydn, probably string quartets, but again, I can’t play them so piano sonatas or variations?

I want to be able to play my favourite music myself, so it is hard to have something as my favourite when I can’t play it. That’s one of the reasons I love transcriptions so much – I can play almost everything and anything – even if it wasn’t written for me.

There are some exceptions, however: Second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony might be one example of something that doesn’t work on the piano… I have a few transcriptions of that movement but the solo piano doesn’t do it justice.

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6. Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?

No one specific comes to mind, but it is not something I am actively searching for.

For me, personally, I would say that great transcriptions based on music of this era would be something that I am always looking for.

I have fantastic friends who also collect lesser-known scores and we are always exchanging scores we find.

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7. Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency.

Transcriptions of works from the 18th Century!

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8. Have you read a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?

I usually read something about the composer as I am preparing for a recording project.

Before I recorded Transfigured Brahms, I read Jan Swafford’s book about Brahms. While I was researching and preparing for Transfigured Beethoven, I read The Last Master by John Suchet (@johnsuchet1 on Twitter!)…

I warn everybody before you read these books, that it will forever change how you view Beethoven not only as a musician, but also as a person.

I absolutely LOVED these books.

You will always look at Beethoven in a different way. The books are in 3 volumes and I hesitated starting volume 3, because I knew Beethoven was going to die and it made me quite sad. It is written as historic fiction – so the facts are always correct, but the conversations are made up.

I can not recommend these books enough to anyone working on Beethoven in depth.

Suchet writes with so much love and empathy about Beethoven, that it was only after reading these books that I truly realized Beethoven’s as a human being and not just as this historic figure who wrote great music.

Highly recommended.

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9. Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.

I will always love Amadeus, but you have to be aware what is legend and what is fact.

I did not really like Immortal Beloved but I need to see it again perhaps. It has been years.

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10. Do you think there’s a special place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music?

I try to visit composers’ graves whenever I travel.

Beethoven is easy because he is right next to Schubert and Brahms and Strauss in Vienna.

You can also visit one of the many places where Beethoven lived while he was in Vienna. I think in total he stayed in almost 40 different places because he was always having problems with his neighbours and landlords.

I visited Mozart’s houses in Salzburg.

I visited Bach’s grave in Leipzig and Chopin’s grave in Paris and Rachmaninoff’s in NY.

I went to Liszt’s apartment in Budapest and was allowed to play on his pianos.

I think these type of visits, are always good for how you view a certain composer.

And you can take them flowers and say thank you for enhancing our lives for the better!

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Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!

Thank you!

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Copyright © 2017 MozartCircle. All rights reserved.MozartCircle exclusive property. 
Iconography is in public domain or in fair use

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Interview June 2016: 10 Questions with J. Irving

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John Irving: Books, CDs and Links
John Irving: Understanding Mozart’s Piano Sonatas
John Irving: Josef Haydn – Piano Sonatas
John Irving: www.johnirving.org.uk
John Irving (VIBF – Valletta): vallettabaroquefestival.com.mt


1. You are one of the few MozartEra scholars and, at the same time, one of the few MozartEra performing musicians, who has also a direct experience of the real repertoire of the 18th century, beyond Mozart. According to your experience, what’s the real technical striking difference between Mozart and his father, Mozart and Vanhal, Mozart and Haydn.

In the case of Mozart and his father, what I notice most – especially as a performer – relates to control of movement within a measure or phrase. This aspect is perhaps more effectively felt than described analytically against the benchmark of musical notation.

In performance, the greater suppleness of rhythm that Wolfgang attains compared to his father (who published several rather good solo keyboard sonatas that I recorded a few years ago) is a factor that is unmistakeable the moment you consider how you might interpret phrase shapes.

Vanhal is a very fine composer, who comes much closer to Mozart in terms of the control of material in relation to overall structure. Vanhal achieves a distinctiveness of voice (especially in sonata forms) that few of his contemporaries matched; for instance, if you were to switch on the radio during a movement of Vanhal, you could immediately tell from the nature of the material exactly where you were in the course of the structure.

With Haydn, that is not so easy, as his exceptional command of musical material allows him to juggle ideas in unusual ways that go beyond typical expectations. For Haydn, musical discourse lies on the border between perception and expectation, creating an expressive field around which those two essentials of communicative possibility have to adapt in each piece! Mozart’s expressive parameters rarely work in this way, though he sometimes achieves nearly the same thing in terms of phrasing, for instance in the minuet theme from the Hunt Quartet, K.458.

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2. You have played an important role in the preparation of The Mozart Project – The First Interactive Book on Mozart for iPad (itunes.apple.com). What have been the great challenges and the great accomplishments, you experienced with this special work?

Looking back on this project, now the recipient of several international awards, including iBook of the Year and Best Musical Work in 2015, I think the main challenge was writing the front page chapter texts in such a way as to draw the listener into an unfolding story, and tempt them to explore the book’s amazing hypertext functionality (including multiple layers of audio, video and text that deepen the understanding). I regularly had to resist the urge to give too much explanation on the surface level, leaving that for the hyper texts. Another challenge was organizing the two chapters I wrote in such a way that their various sections could be independently read in almost any order. I greatly enjoyed being able to record quite a few audio and video performances with Ensemble DeNOTE (including three videos specially-filmed for this project) that hopefully give users an insight into period performance matters.

I think the book’s greatest accomplishment is its flexibility: addressing itself to any reader, whether familiar with Mozart, or coming to his work for the first time. That flexibility has now extended into a stage show, The Mozart Project Live! (johnirvingfortepianist.wordpress.com), supported with funding from Arts Council England, which presents a journey through Mozart’s chamber music in a combination of live performance and extracts from the original iBook.

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3. Sometimes, listening to Mozart’s Piano Concertos and then to Mozart’s Piano Sonatas and then to the other piano works by Mozart, a common listener perceive a sort of difference in the type of pianism, actually used by Mozart. What’s your opinion on this?

Mozart always had a keen sense of scale, as you would expect from a man of the theatre. The nature of material, along with presentational aspects including register and texture, rarely misfires because it was so closely suited to context.

So, the solo piano music was conceived for presentation in a domestic setting (in a Viennese salon, for instance), whereas his piano concertos were more public genres with a pronounced sense of occasion. After his death, concert traditions developed in ways he probably did not envisage, with music acquiring a social role as a species of civic entertainment, including such things as the rise of the solo piano recital, and the vaguely comical visual spectacle of a piano concerto presented on stage with a 9-foot Steinway grand pitted against a large orchestra being directed as if by a circus ringmaster-ac-lion-tamer brandishing a long baton, while simultaneously liaising with the soloist-ac-hero.

Given what became of Mozart’s intimate and rhetorical language within such settings, it is hardly surprising that modern audiences perceive apparently different types of pianism in sonatas and concertos! In fact, the urge to bulk out Mozart’s slender solo piano textures was felt surprisingly early, for instance in Louis Adam’s 1804/5 piano method for the Paris Conservatoire, perhaps with a view to rendering them more effective on Erard pianos, rather than Viennese ones. In all these cases, though, Mozart survived the experience!

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4. Your very first technical advice to the musicians who want to begin playing 18th Century Music in a more historically informed way.

Fundamentally, you need an open mind and an ability to listen. With that basic equipment, you are well-placed to let the particular instrument teach you how to play.

For keyboardists, that might be harpsichords, clavichords or fortepianos – sometimes interchangeably across repertoires. The flexibility of keyboard medium found on printed title-pages throughout the 18th century is remarkable, with both harpsichord and clavichord hanging on alongside the emergent and eventually triumphant piano for a remarkably long time. As has been repeatedly shown, even Beethoven can sound well on a large late 18th century clavichord (a medium that certainly discloses a debt to CPE Bach).

It’s always sad to learn of students who have been put off playing 18th century music on fortepiano, harpsichord or clavichord by their teachers, who wrongly believe that the different touch of these instruments will ruin students’ modern piano touch.

Yes, the touch is different, and takes effort to master. Speaking different languages also requires hard work and a willingness both to fail and adapt, but the effort is worthwhile because of the greater fluency of vocabulary that you gain through trying (including always a gain in sophistication in the speaking of your native tongue).

Above all, do not waste time thinking that your motivation to be historically informed means you are engaging in an act of authenticity, recovering the original sounds as Mozart heard and intended them. This myth is still common; regrettably it remains effective as a deterrent (see above, in relation to bad teachers).

5. Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.

Mozart: probably the Piano and Winds Quintet K.452, especially the descending chromatic scale in the finale when played on natural horn (chromatic here in a literal sense, since each pitch has its own unique colour characteristic – modern valve horns don’t come close!).

Haydn: Creation.

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6. Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?

I’d like to hear more Pleyel generally. His output is very diverse and deserves to be better known.

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7. Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency, especially thanks to your special experience as musician and as MozartEra scholar.

C.P.E. Bach’s symphonies – radical, and shocking!

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8. Beside your books, do you have in mind a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?

I think Charles Rosen’s The Classical Style remains at the top of my list, even after almost half a century!

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9. Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.

Malcolm Bilson’s DVD, Knowing the Score.

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10. Name a place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music.

Not what you might think, but my answer is Valletta: European Capital of Culture in 2018.

Our appreciation of 18th century music continues to evolve, and one of the most fascinating contemporary developments has been happening in the Maltese capital in recent years: the Valletta International Baroque Festival, masterminded by Kenneth Zammit Tabona.

Direct links to VIBF & John Irving at VIBF.

Using astonishing 18th century buildings as locations (including the spectacular Manoel Theatre), VIBF is developing our appreciation of both performing and listening to 18th century music afresh, in relation to spaces and acoustics that fire our musical imaginations.

Once again, this isn’t about some mistaken authenticity!

It’s a challenge to our creative imaginations to mould together the possibilities of instrumental sounds, historical playing styles and spaces to fashion something we’ve never heard before.

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So, dear MozartEra fans, you are all invited to these extraordinary rendezvous in the magnificent scenery of Valletta-Malta for a wonderful series of 18th century music must-be events from the Valletta International Baroque Festival to Valletta European Capital of Culture 2018! Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!

Thank you!

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Copyright © 2016 MozartCircle. All rights reserved.MozartCircle exclusive property. 
Iconography is in public domain or in fair use.