Monday, February 27, 2006

Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata

The arpeggione is an instrument which is obsolete nowadays. Pretty interesting instrument which is somewhat like a cross between a cello and guitar. Fretted, the instrument is played with a bow and tuned to the guitar. Back in the early 19th century, Schubert wrote a sonata for the arpeggione and piano, in an attempt to promote this instrument.

Written in November 1824, the Arpeggione Sonata is one of his many late compositions which candidly reflects this Austrian composer's volatile emotional state due to the effects of the syphilitic infection which he had contracted. This composition is such a gem in itself simply because it is the sincere reflection of how this one of the most gifted composer had felt in the last years of his life. This fact alone gives meaning and a deep emotional value to every single note and chord which is written.

This sonata was written two years after the dreaded disease had set in. The music exhibited the same cyclothymic characteristics as the effects felt by Schubert from the onslaught of his venereal disease. The more I listen to this music, the stronger the emotion of melancholy I feel. Somehow, it seems that Schubert, in the midst of his physical and emotional pain (probably from the social stigma associated with syphilis), laments the transience of life and reminisces the good times which he had had.

One feature of this composition which strikes me upon the first hearing were the various almost unexpected changes of mood throughout the music. At the same time, I'm well amazed at how Schubert had the magical musical ability to blend those extreme diverse emotional moods into a seamless music composition of the highest quality.

Though Schubert had immense respect for his contemporary Beethoven, the intensity of those emotions in his music isn't conveyed through to the listeners by intense drama found in Beethoven or Mahler's music, but his own unique poetic style. His lyricism and poetic qualities shines through even in the maddest moments of his music, touching the listeners in the most special way.

And of course, this gem, will soon be in my repertoire. I just can't resist learning this piece of music, no matter how technically challenging it is for my instrument. I'm surprised that they actually have the first movement of this music in the ABRSM Grade 8 syllabus. The almost 10-minute movement can easily be technically and musically more challenging than the rest of the music in there.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Homenaje Écrite Pour Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy

This piece of music represents one of the first modern compositions written for the guitar by a non-guitarist in the twentieth century - renowned Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. The work revealed his admiration and affection for Claude Debussy with its persistent habanera rhythm as heard in the latter's Puerta del Viño from his Preludes (Book 2) and a quote from La Soirée Dans Grenade to end the piece.

This modern music captured my attention quite some time ago with her ability to evoke the most colourful scenes of Spain, tinted with the pallet of French impressionism. The analysis by Suzanne Demarquez summed this masterpiece up pretty decently:
Falla's piece is a funeral dirge, a symbolic threnody, so frequent in Spanish poetry, influenced by the musical essence and spirit of his departed friend. Its harmony rests on the fundamental fourth of the typical - and so beautiful - chord of the guitar, E-A-D-G-B. Falla places a short rhythmic phrase on this fourth, a kind of muted and bitter lamentation which resounds like a knell throughout the piece. Several echoes of Ibéria (a symphonic poem by Debussy) form the beginning of a theme, a brief motif in triplets marked by the characteristic chromaticism and the augmented second. The special resources of the guitar are skilfully exploited through the arpeggios, very open chords, glissando scales, punteado effects and octave harmonics.
And of course, Demarquez describes this most beautiful ending section which...
sets in bold relief, like a brief ray of moonlight, the clear appareance of a textual citation of the habanera motif, evoking La Soirée Dans Grenade. It is followed by a brief pause. The knell sounds for the last time and gradually fades away in the silence.
How apt has Demarquez put it. Though this piece of music that lasts just slightly over three minutes, listening to it is a heart-stirring experience as the emotional intensity of this music manifests itself by grabbing your full attention.

And of course, this masterpiece will soon be in my repertoire... =)