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 Post subject: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Sun Sep 11, 2011 8:38 pm 
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I've been working on this piece, on and off, for about 15 months. I was going to play it in a concert last year, but it wasn't ready and consequently I didn't get the chance to give it a public airing until now. I'm still not 100% happy with it, but I suppose it is quite tricky. The performance was a little frustrating - I had virtually no warmup time of any significance on the piano as the venue was rescheduled at the last minute - and there were people wandering in and out of the church hall, including up and down the central aisle :!: during the performance (very distracting to have that in your peripheral vision during all the crazy jumps at the end of the piece and I don't think I'm flattering myself to say I would have been more accurate without that going on). Anyway, I'm annoyed about that, enough excuses - time for something about the piece.

I'm presenting this mainly for two reasons:

Firstly because it's a very obscure composition which I have a lot of faith in musically and would like to share. There is very little time or respect given to Sigismund Thalberg's virtuoso paraphrases (of which he wrote dozens) nowadays, though he was a celebrated virtuoso and rival to Liszt in his time. A lot of his works are fairly typical of the time (he sits probably somewhere between Herz, Kalkbrenner et al and lesser, throwaway, Liszt) and often quite derivative, Kenneth Hamilton saying in his book "After the Golden Age": ".. numerous compositions (more impressive, admittedly, in their keyboard command than in other aspects of their inspiration)". This one I believe to be on a higher level; I find it both effective and skilfully written. I don't feel that it is a paraphrase in the grand Liszt manner but one in a more restrained, classical style and often surprisingly intimate.

Secondly I would be genuinely grateful for comments on the sound quality. I recorded it with my intended future recorder and microphone combination (though not on my piano of choice - it was in the previously intended venue which became unavailable at short notice.) There has been no post-processing or editing done - I would be so tempted to edit a few spots and tidy up some rough spots if I had the option but my rehearsal recording is on a different piano with different equipment and I think the effect would be rather odd :lol:

Here's video of the performance; an mp3 is attached below.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sADEtVnAvWM

I profoundly wish that Earl Wild had extended his list of lesser-known composer recordings by adding this piece (he was the man, imo, for pieces such as this which require a combination of elegance and bravura); as it is I can, for comparative listening purposes, only find this on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMnz_FzDGUk (pf. Hiroshi Takasu, from a CD recording, and imo it is highly eccentric).

Thanks for listening, and any comments and opinions would be most welcome.

Verdi-Thalberg - Fantasy on La Traviata


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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Sun Sep 11, 2011 11:59 pm 
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Wow - another 'biggie'! Sounds and looks very hard! All those octaves and then that very long trill....man, that would just kill me! What fingers did you mostly use on that long trill, Andrew?
Anyway, I think the sound quality is very good. Can you please tell us what kind of recorder you used?

This is on the site. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 12:18 am 
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pianolady wrote:
Wow - another 'biggie'! Sounds and looks very hard! All those octaves and then that very long trill....man, that would just kill me! What fingers did you mostly use on that long trill, Andrew?
Anyway, I think the sound quality is very good. Can you please tell us what kind of recorder you used?


It IS hard :D especially the coda, which is an absolute killer to when you first start on it and as hard as anything I've ever looked at (almost). I strongly suspect the alternate chordal section represents Thalberg trying a bit of compositional oneupmanship on Liszt, saying "you can write as many alternate chord/octave effects as you like, but I can get a melody in there too!"

With the trills, I was using a combination of 12, 23 and 13, changing fingering every time the trill note changes (and occasionally within the trill). You absolutely have to alter the fingering during the passage a) to get clean changes from one note to another and b) to avoid fatigue. My trills aren't perfect either; there are a few moments where the long chain of trills stops momentarily. They are actually a serious technical problem, because the most important thing (I think) to make sure of with them is to make sure they don't overpower the soprano melody and that happens very easily if you're not careful.

I recorded it with an Edirol R-09HR (my equipment) and a borrowed pair of Rode NT05 mics, which I'm inclined to purchase if listeners concur with my feeling that the sound is good. The piano was a 7" Yamaha, not my favourite make, but I've played on worse.


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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 1:26 am 
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Hey Andrew,

I really enjoyed that. You gave a very fine performance and the applause was well deserved.

I agree that this is a reasonably well crafted paraphrase. Once in awhile some pure romanic schmaltz and bombast is fun. It did seem that a couple of times he ran out of transitional ideas and would resort to the dominant arpeggio. I was expecting a lounge singer at any moment :lol:

It is too bad that some of these arrangements have been pushed aside. A lot of it is probably due to the purists about mid-20th cent. But we forget that this music served an important purpose. First, composers like Verdi did not write "classical music" or "romantic period music". They were writing contemporary music for the audiences of the day, and they were hoping to write popular music. Not everyone lived in or near the cultural centers with easy accessibility to opera and symphonies. Therefore the touring pianists with their paraphrases and arrangements could bring this new music to the masses. It is not unlike the modern covers of one groups music by other artists. In an era without sound recording, iEverythings, and YouTube, this, and the resulting sheet music were the primary means to widely disseminate what we would come to call "classical music".

Thank you for your performance and I look forward to hearing more.

Scott


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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 3:31 am 
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Well, that explains why the sound is familiar to me; I play on a Yamaha grand everyday, and I have been using my Edirol 09 for about five years now. Except I don't have external mics. Maybe one day....You are getting a good sound here.

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my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano
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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 11:50 am 
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RSPIll wrote:
Hey Andrew,

I really enjoyed that. You gave a very fine performance and the applause was well deserved.

I agree that this is a reasonably well crafted paraphrase. Once in awhile some pure romanic schmaltz and bombast is fun. It did seem that a couple of times he ran out of transitional ideas and would resort to the dominant arpeggio. I was expecting a lounge singer at any moment :lol:


Thanks. I don't have too many problems with his dominant arpeggio transitions because they make compositional sense to me; on the first (less convincing imo) occasion (4.33) he's taken the r.h. ornamental figuration and moved towards the dominant and at the moment of transition echoes it in the bass. Second time around (7.33) he's taken care to put a passage before the arpeggio which presages the figuration to come, which I find rather effective. It's ironic that you should mention arpeggios, because Thalberg was the originator of an effect where the melody is shared between the hands and ornamented with arpeggios. Typically it involves Beat 1: lh plays bass note establishing that it is the beat, rh plays melody; for the remainder of the bar rh plays arpeggios or other figuration and lh takes over melody. Repeat until audience is happy :wink: An example of this effect happens (with octaves rather than arpeggios) starting from 2.48 in this piece. There are many examples of it being done with arpeggios in Thalberg's music: so many in fact that, after initially having caused a sensation with it, he became mockingly known as "Old Arpeggio" in certain circles. Here is a good example, and his most (in)famous piece of writing :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlSLs_eEE7M (sorry for using my own playing to demonstrate!). I don't know whether his almost studious avoidance of trademark arpeggios in this piece is a reaction to such criticism.

RSPIll wrote:
It is too bad that some of these arrangements have been pushed aside. A lot of it is probably due to the purists about mid-20th cent. But we forget that this music served an important purpose. First, composers like Verdi did not write "classical music" or "romantic period music". They were writing contemporary music for the audiences of the day, and they were hoping to write popular music. Not everyone lived in or near the cultural centers with easy accessibility to opera and symphonies. Therefore the touring pianists with their paraphrases and arrangements could bring this new music to the masses. It is not unlike the modern covers of one groups music by other artists. In an era without sound recording, iEverythings, and YouTube, this, and the resulting sheet music were the primary means to widely disseminate what we would come to call "classical music"


Yes, agreed with all of that. A certain attitude developed in the mid-20th c that these pieces are disrespectful to the original; in reality I would argue that the composer is actually reflecting his love for, and enjoyment of, the original.

Liszt certainly used his Wagner arrangements as a mechanism for promoting Wagner's music; I have however always found amusing the statement which I've read in a few sources that his paraphrases enabled casual music lovers to purchase the scores and then play the music in the comfort of their own homes (i.e. as a predecessor of the gramophone). The technique level of the average Parisian must have been quite something!


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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 11:58 am 
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pianolady wrote:
Well, that explains why the sound is familiar to me; I play on a Yamaha grand everyday, and I have been using my Edirol 09 for about five years now. Except I don't have external mics. Maybe one day....You are getting a good sound here.


Your recordings sound good for no external mics. I'm happy to use the Edirol on its own for recording practice sessions but I'm not particularly happy with the overall sound in terms of using it as a finished recording; I find it a bit lacking in body and sonority. I have the Roland external mic for the Edirol but I'd criticise it similarly. The Rode NT5s aren't prohibitively expensive either (c. £250 for a matched pair) so I'm really rather impressed with them.


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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 3:13 pm 
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I find this a case of huge talent and effort wasted on a very shallow piece of music. IMO Verdi's melodies are not very good to start with (though I acknowledge they have a sort of popular appeal) and I don't feel like Thalberg does anything worthwhile with them except piling up tons of notes and creating hair-raising difficulties. I guess I just don't like this kind of music, unless the tunes and transcription are very good. Can't criticize on the performance, there seem to be quite some little slips which could probably be excused if the spirit is there (not sure if it was, though).

I keep wondering if you never tire of this repertoire Andrew ? I can recognize the technical challenge, it's probably more fun and useful than practising Hanon, but don't you long for something more intellectually stimulating ?

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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:01 pm 
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techneut wrote:
I find this a case of huge talent and effort wasted on a very shallow piece of music.


Why thank you! I think.. :wink:

techneut wrote:
IMO Verdi's melodies are not very good to start with (though I acknowledge they have a sort of popular appeal) and I don't feel like Thalberg does anything worthwhile with them except piling up tons of notes and creating hair-raising difficulties. I guess I just don't like this kind of music, unless the tunes and transcription are very good. Can't criticize on the performance, there seem to be quite some little slips which could probably be excused if the spirit is there (not sure if it was, though).


Yes, on balance I prefer Bellini's melodies. I think what you say about the tons of notes and difficulties probably reflects poorly on my performance; in my ideal world the balance between melody and ornamentations would be better and the melody would be more predominant; ideally the difficulties wouldn't be noticed (hence my comment about Earl Wild earlier in the thread - I think he was an absolute master of this type of piece). I'm annoyed about the slips; the performance circumstances didn't help, and an hour's retakes + edits would probably sort the bulk of it out, but that option wasn't available and is a hazard of live performance of this type of piece, I guess.

techneut wrote:
I keep wondering if you never tire of this repertoire Andrew ? I can recognize the technical challenge, it's probably more fun and useful than practising Hanon, but don't you long for something more intellectually stimulating ?


I absolutely adore this repertoire - it is great fun and has probably developed my technique considerably (though in a very skewed manner), but there is a limit to how much is worthwhile (even to me). I've been doing an in-depth exploration of it over the past few years, and I'm starting to run out of pieces which appeal to me (still got a few left however!) I've adopted a somewhat self-indulgent attitude of only playing music that a) I care about and b) nobody else is likely to play; because of my focus on this area I have neglected other worthwhile semi-forgotten romantic-era music not of this genre, and I regret that. I was going to learn the second Liapunov concerto and/or his ninth transcendental etude plus Op. 8 Nocturne, and I feel a little bad about putting it on the backburner for the time being, as to me he's the best neglected composer of that time. It will probably amuse you to learn that my teacher (who is probably by now a touch exasperated by my interests) insisted, for pedagogical reasons, on me working on the Bach Italian concerto slow movement.. in depth, bar by bar, and with almost pedantic focus on accuracy of the ornaments.


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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:16 pm 
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Now you're talking :) I would much sooner spend lavish effort on a Liapounov piece than an overblown opera transcription like this one. Such gorgous music. Get the move on ! The transcendental etudes are not played all that often really. I'm always surprised Hamelin hasn't done them yet. Probably too easy for him :o

And what about Godowsky transcriptions, is that not up your alley ?
And you play Alkan, who creates even more hellraising difficulties and churns out even more toms of notes than List and Thalberg together, but I feel that is mostly for a good cause, and it's musically more substantial than Thalberg et.al. Not sure if he wrote any opera transcriptions :?:

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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:31 pm 
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techneut wrote:
Now you're talking :) I would much sooner spend lavish effort on a Liapounov piece than an overblown opera transcription like this one. Such gorgous music. Get the move on ! The transcendental etudes are not played all that often really. I'm always surprised Hamelin hasn't done them yet. Probably too easy for him :o

And what about Godowsky transcriptions, is that not up your alley ?
And you play Alkan, who creates even more hellraising difficulties and churns out even more toms of notes than List and Thalberg together, but I feel that is mostly for a good cause, and it's musically more substantial than Thalberg et.al. Not sure if he wrote any opera transcriptions :?:


I'm quite sure I can't play all the Liapunov's etudes; some are hellishly difficult. I've had a look at some Godowsky, but in some ways it doesn't appeal. Hard to quantify why but there is a certain intellectuality about his writing which slightly puts me off (I'm on the side of music being a sensual beast, as opposed to an intellectual one, though I understand I'm simplifying things grossly here.)

Alkan I've imposed a moratorium on. I've come to realise that my previous efforts in this area were valiant amateur efforts and no better. I want to revisit some of the Op. 39 etudes, but I have to do it with a completely different attitude to the one I approached them with last time. My technique is better than when I last looked at them, but I now understand just how ridiculously difficult they are and won't be attacking them from a position of naive optimism this time. Btw I think Alkan's opera transcriptions are really not terribly good; had a look at them and am not convinced he understood the genre. The ones on material from the 18th c maybe work better but they are not especially to my taste. I do however very much like his Haydn symphony slow movement transcription, but I've always viewed Alkan as what you get if you put Haydn and Liszt in a blender. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:45 pm 
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andrew wrote:
I'm quite sure I can't play all the Liapunov's etudes; some are hellishly difficult.

Yea verily. I'd have thought that would be no problem for you.

andrew wrote:
I've had a look at some Godowsky, but in some ways it doesn't appeal. Hard to quantify why but there is a certain intellectuality about his writing which slightly puts me off
Which is exactly why I love Godowsky - though I much prefer his original music to his transcriptions and elaborations. I'd like to pretend being an intellectual beast, mwuhaha :mrgreen:

andrew wrote:
but I've always viewed Alkan as what you get if you put Haydn and Liszt in a blender. :)

A bloody mess, you mean ?
In many ways he reminds me of Schubert. Pastoral innocence changing to desperate insanity in a blink. I find it most fascinating. Though admittedly some of Alkan does not rise above more notespinning.

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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 6:20 pm 
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There are at least a couple of the Liapunov etudes which not only can't I play, I find it hard to imagine anyone playing them! e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puLzA_RW67Y

Incredible.

techneut wrote:
In many ways he reminds me of Schubert. Pastoral innocence changing to desperate insanity in a blink. I find it most fascinating. Though admittedly some of Alkan does not rise above more notespinning.


Yes, Alkan is a very interesting composer, and there is a lot of obtuse humour in his music. I once got hold of an edition which had copious commentary notes by Raymond Lewenthal, which was absolutely fascinating. Comme le Vent is probably a prime example of notespinning, though it's superior notespinning. Compare (if you dare) Herz's Fantasy on Non piu mesta from La Cerentola, very typical of the time. :twisted:


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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 7:10 pm 
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andrew wrote:
There are at least a couple of the Liapunov etudes which not only can't I play, I find it hard to imagine anyone playing them! e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puLzA_RW67Y

Incredible.

Huh, yes. His ultra-sleek and ultra-fast recording does nothing for me though. With all respect to both Hough and the composer, I find this a rather irritating piece in Hough's formidable hands.

andrew wrote:
Yes, Alkan is a very interesting composer, and there is a lot of obtuse humour in his music. I once got hold of an edition which had copious commentary notes by Raymond Lewenthal, which was absolutely fascinating.

I have that book too. Amusing insights by Lewenthal, from a time he was almost the only one caring for Alkan. These days it sounds just a little attention-grabbing.

andrew wrote:
Comme le Vent is probably a prime example of notespinning, though it's superior notespinning.
I don't like that piece at all. Hollow virtuosity, inspiring mindless playing like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dn1HbYqmN5g.

andrew wrote:
Compare (if you dare) Herz's Fantasy on Non piu mesta from La Cerentola, very typical of the time. :twisted:

I don't know about that one. Not likely I would like it...

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 Post subject: Re: Thalberg Fantasy on La Traviata, op.78
PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 9:33 pm 
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techneut wrote:
andrew wrote:
There are at least a couple of the Liapunov etudes which not only can't I play, I find it hard to imagine anyone playing them! e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puLzA_RW67Y

Incredible.

Huh, yes. His ultra-sleek and ultra-fast recording does nothing for me though. With all respect to both Hough and the composer, I find this a rather irritating piece in Hough's formidable hands.


I like Hough as a pianist, but prefer Kentner in this piece; couldn't youtube link it though!

techneut wrote:
andrew wrote:
Comme le Vent is probably a prime example of notespinning, though it's superior notespinning.
I don't like that piece at all. Hollow virtuosity, inspiring mindless playing like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dn1HbYqmN5g.


I looked at it, and what a mess! THAT is exactly the reason I currently steer clear of Alkan, because it happens so easily. R.h. articulation is very ropey in places. I was surprised, because I've seen the same user's Chemin de Fer and Allegro Barbaro and thought they were very creditable, particularly for an amateur. They are also much better pieces, if you ask me.

techneut wrote:
andrew wrote:
Compare (if you dare) Herz's Fantasy on Non piu mesta from La Cenerentola, very typical of the time. :twisted:

I don't know about that one. Not likely I would like it...


You wouldn't. :D


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