« previous episode | next episode »

Thursday, October 03, 2013

This week, Reflections from the Keyboard considers Richard Wagner with piano transcriptions of his work written by Liszt, Busoni, Gould and more. We’ll see if you like your Wagner piano-ized instead of vocalized and orchestrated.

By age 15, Wagner didn't know anything about compositional rule and barely had any skill as a piano player. To learn more he enrolled in composition lessons at the University of Leipzig, but six months later he left feeling bored and still claimed to know nothing about music. The program begins with a piece composed shortly after those lessons ended, an original for two hands which dates back to 1831. It’s a very conventional polonaise for four hands in D Major that bares no relation to Wagner's later work.

Other transcriptions on the program include two by Franz Liszt: "The Spinning Song" from Wagner’s first truly mature opera, The Flying Dutchman, and "Liebestod," performed by Vladimir Horowitz. Also featured is an arrangement of the beautiful "Träume," composed by a once well-known Liszt student, August Stradel. Glenn Gould’s own arrangement of the Prelude from Die Meistersinger is featured. Louis Brassin’s very clever transcription of "Ride of the Valkyries" closes out the episode.

Program details:

Richard Wagner: Polonaise for Four Hands in D Major
— Pier Paolo Vincenzi, piano.

Richard Wagner (arr. Franz Liszt): "Spinning Song" from The Flying Dutchman
— Louis Kentner, piano.

Richard Wagner (arr. Glenn Gould): Die Meistersinger Prelude
— Glenn Gould, piano.

Richard Wagner (arr. August Stradel): "Träume"
— Juan Guillermo Vizcarra

Richard Wagner (arr. Franz Liszt): "Isolde's Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde
— Vladmir Horowitz, piano.

Richard Wagner (arr. Ferruccio Busoni): "Trauermarsch" from Götterdämmerung
— Cyrprien Katsaris, piano.

Richard Wagner (arr. Louis Brassin): "The Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre
— Chitose Okashiro, piano.

Comments [6]

Silversalty from Brooklyn

If you look too closely at what is appreciation of music or likely many arts, the logic breaks down somewhat. Consider how for piano music we have our favorite pianists and their sound or perhaps more specifically, their performance on a particular day and time. But why should we be dependent on that and why should composers?

With the invention of the metronome Beethoven went about adding timing information to his works. what if he could have programmed the instruments to play exactly as he intended. That's already possible with the piano. I've read about a piano that can record every aspect of a player's input and exactly reproduce that output over and over. Eliminating the physical player is very likely trivial. Have the piano play exactly as the composer wants. Better, have the piano play exactly as the listener wants (with broad stroke adjustments on the original player piano "piano roll").

Gould touched on this while recording. He would play a piece and have slightly differing interpretations of some of the parts. He realized that whatever he chose for the final recording was only based on his mood at the particular time. He lamented that he wished listeners could have access to all his variations of a piece and assemble the combination that they preferred, and vary it as their mood varied.

Ironically, this to me is something that Gould supposedly hated about live performance - the meat market aspect. I go a step further and say that wanting to hear Gould's (or e.g. Horowitz's) recordings is just a variation on the meat market aspect. We want that human touch, at least with the musical instrument.

But if the ideal is the most pleasing sound, why need the human touch unless it's the meat that we crave.

Sure, variations are part of creativity and new beautiful sounds and beautiful art, but why have those variations dependent on people secondary to the original art - the piano players rather than the composers or composition code rewriters. I'm using broad thoughts so I'll narrow it down a bit. Why can't every composer be the equivalent of Liszt or Rachmaninoff - tops in both composition and performance? It's not as if I'm asking 'Why can't the best song writers be the best singers?' It's already possible with the piano and not an electric synthesized audio piano - a concert grand with sensors and actuators.

Do we want to hear beautiful music or beautiful music with a bod attached? You know, like Milli Vanilli.

Oct. 06 2013 10:44 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Let's remember that GEORGE GERSHWIN'S RHAPSODY IN BLUE originally scored for solo piano without orchestral accompaniment was orchestrated by FERDE GROFE, that WAGNER'S WESENDONK LIEDER originally written solely for voice and piano was orchestrated, the TRAUME by WAGNER and the other four songs orchestrated by FELIX MOTTL, and that MOUSSORGSKY's PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION has been orchestrated by LEOPOLD STOKOWSKI and at least 6 other conductors. The obvious reason is to achieve a wider range of "colors" and wider dynamic potentials. i was at Columbia University's music program when ARSHKANAZY invented the MOOG which introduced an new "electric"[sic ! ] excitement. So, as an opera composer myself, I also can assume that new and viable instrumentations can proffer n ew views of the original composition. www.WagnerOpera.com; www.ShakespeareOpera.com and www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com

Oct. 06 2013 02:37 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Insitute, Boonton, NJ

When one realizes that practically all composers test their compositions at the piano and despite its limitations it's a rorshack impression that has some validity. Organs can provide the extensibility of a held note/chord. I am sure Bach and Cesar Franck appreciated that option. Wagner at his famous coterie gatherings wherein he played and "sang" at the piano his most current compositions, achieved his intentions. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer ["Shakespeare" and 'The Political Shakespeare'], and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. Later this month, I am performing my fourth in my ten solo concerts in a series of ten concerts DVDs titled "THE GREATEST LOVE SONGS OF BROADWAY MUSICALS, THE MOVIES AND THE GRAMMYS."
The venue is the New Life Expo at the New Yorker Hotel at 5 PM on Sunday October 27th. The full S series will be obtainable commercially on 10 Valhalla Records DVDs on Friday, February 14, 2014, saint Valentine's Day.

Oct. 06 2013 10:10 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

WAGNER - Götterdämmerung (Nikolay Lugansky) video -

Oct. 03 2013 07:37 PM
Brunnhilde from NYC

One of my favorites is not listed..."Gotterdaemerung" arranged by, of course, Liszt and played by Nikolai Luganski........unbelievably fabulous! Hopefully WQXR might consider it some day soon.... I saw the 16 minute video of him playing it. Not only was I swept away by his playing....but I think I'm in love with him now!!! :-)

Oct. 03 2013 01:17 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Nice to have the program in stereo this time. Marked, easily noted improvement in quality.

Regarding the lack of a piano's ability to hold a note (a weakness in transcribing Wagner like sources) I noticed a new design for an electronic piano that has that capability. I wonder if it can do vibrato, something Gould asked his piano tech to implement - only to be told it was not possible.



Vibrato seems very possible -

Oct. 03 2013 09:46 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.