MUSC Sp20 Ben Gambuzza Senior Piano Recital May 8th, 2020
Track listing to be updated
Frederic Chopin, Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47 (1841)
The “ballade” originates in the medieval heroic ballad, which was a narrative minstrel-song. Although this piece’s designation as “ballade” implies that the work is more interlude than showpiece, it is on the contrary an attention-commanding portrait of pianistic fireworks that has solidified itself as a warhorse in the piano repertoire of Romantic music. Chopin’s Ballade, the third of four, is not program music with a specific narrative (although it has been suggested that it mimics Adam Mickiewicz’s poem Undine), but there is a series of moods throughout: from nostalgia to romance to whimsy and, in the second half, from brooding suspicion to righteous anger and, finally, to (as Richard Taruskin has pointed out) a cabaletta-like finale.
The piece’s 6/8 time-signature means that the music is never static; it is always flowing. After an F major section of melody that serves to transition to the next episode, an A-flat major section proceeds which serves as the “connective tissue” between two more significant sections of the music. This section is characterized by a barcarolle-feeling of rapid right-hand sixteenth notes above a steady but melodic left hand. Both together evoke a Venetian gondola song. After this section, though, the melody which marks each contrasting episode returns in A-flat major, only to modulate to the angsty C-sharp minor section, in which the left-hand has restless sixteenth-notes while the right hand’s melody (the opening theme of the piece) struggles to find hope. Triumph is momentarily suppressed, as the primary melody meanders harmonically before resolving to A-flat major in the grandest of ways. One leaves the piece feeling as though one has sat through the drama of an entire opera compressed into the length of a popular song.
Franz Liszt, Consolation No. 3 in D-flat major, S. 172 (1850)
Like Chopin’s Nocturnes, Liszt’s Consolations (in German, Tröstungen) are placid and peaceful, with a quasi-religious atmosphere. This Consolation, the third in a published group of six, is strikingly similar to the Op. 27, No. 2 Nocturne of Chopin, who died the year before these Consolations were published. It is a piece that is significant for its rich textures and sparkling writing. The structure of the Consolation is straightforward. It begins in the luscious and oily key of D-flat major, its opening melody heard in one register and then repeated in octaves. It soon modulates to F-minor, followed by excursions to F-major, A-minor and A-major, before returning to the home key. The piece has a mournfulness that mingles with acceptance, mirroring the stages of grieving. Listening to the piece, though, we do not feel as though we are at a funeral, but rather in a dream.
Franz Liszt wrote 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies, all demonstrating the expressive capabilities of the piano, which had recently been improved during Liszt’s lifetime to approach the sonorous power of an orchestra. In addition to their virtuosity, the Rhapsodies illustrate the renewed interest of Romantic composers in the folk music of their cultural heritage, in Liszt’s case Hungarian.
Composed in 1847, this dazzling virtuoso work features a series of contrasting sections. The piece begins with a placid and distant introduction, influenced by the Eastern European hammered dulcimer, punctuated by two powerful ascending arpeggios. The first, lyrical section mimics the verbunkos, a Hungarian dance comprised of two parts: a lassú, made up of slow dotted rhythms, and a friss, featuring fast ascending runs of notes. This first section gives way to the a csárdás, another Hungarian folk dance with a similar slow and fast section.
Its dreamy quality is soon undercut by rapid eighth notes and chromatic scales running up and down the keyboard, all grounded by the dancelike beat in the left hand, and a move to the key of F-sharp minor. After a final flourish of chromatic runs in parallel major thirds, three heavy chords signal the last theme: a celebratory dance in F-sharp major. This dance gives way to left-hand octaves which delineate the rapid alternations of dominant and tonic, before the pianist strikes a final, full F-sharp major chord low in the piano, emphasizing the third of the chord.
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