Mixes: Piano Songs

My Grandfather, Walter StanzThere was a time when many middle class families kept a piano in the house.  My mother grew up with a piano in her house that her father played.  My grandfather had courted my grandmother around the piano.  He was a personality.  When my parents were married and began preparing a home for a family, they invested in a piano because they felt like it was an integral part of family life.  Don’t get me wrong – neither of my parents are very musical and for most of my life the piano has kept quiet, tucked in a corner of our living room.  Nevertheless, it existed as a symbol of family and when my little brother and I pursued music in school, it seemed to play a role in our musical development.

Boasting a history that spans over 300 years, our “modern piano” is a product of several adjustments.  And the development continues – with recent technological advances, electronic artist Aphex Twin was capable of programming sequencers into the piano on Drukqs so that it would play itself – proving that even in a world capable of electronically produced sound, an acoustic piano still matters.

For me, what makes the piano so interesting is its’ ubiquity; it is an instrument that, despite being recognized and adopted by disparate styles of music – from classical music to popular music to jazz – produces a singular, iconographic timbre, with few exceptions (John Cage’s prepared piano, etc).

Contemplating this broad spectrum, I wanted to create a mix of my favorite “piano songs” within the classical and popular music side of the instruments’ use to draw a dialogue and potentially break down the walls that seemingly separate the two disciplines, just as Philip Glass attempted with Opening when he acknowledged that “Glassworks was intended to introduce my music to a more general audience than had been familiar with it up to then.”

The reflective introduction of Federico Mompou’s Impresiones Intimas seamlessly echoes into the opener of Sufjan Stevens’ critically acclaimed Illinois. Before long the echo transforms into an obsession as the piano ruminates through Philip Glass’ Opening and Library Tapes’ Fragment III until finding repose in Felix Blumenfeld’s hymn-like Prelude No.1. By adding a little shadow, Bad Temple, Erik Satie, and Aphex Twin all achieve a ponderous solitude – even though their backgrounds couldn’t be more different: a PA folk unknown, a French new music genius, and an IDM wizard. In one of my favorite songs of all time, Gabriel Fauré’s Prelude No.7 packs the emotional value of an entire album in a mere 41 measures.  And later, considering the world of “sampling,” or “quoting” as it is referred to in the classical idiom, Guelph, Ontario-based Memoryhouse pull from Jon Brion’s soundtrack to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and George Crumb’s performer in Makrokosmos is directed to interpret the piece “musingly, like the gentle caress of a faintly remembered music” as the composer daydreams Frederic Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu in C#Minor, Op. 66 (1834).  At last, the piano is exalted by Sigur Rós, reigning and ringing out long after the mix is over.

for Michael and David

  1. Impresiones Intimas: I (1911-14) / Federico Mompou (1893-1987), as performed by the composer from Complete Piano Works [Brilliant, 2004]
  2. Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois / Sufjan Stevens from Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty, 2005)
  3. Opening (1981) / Philip Glass, as performed by Michael Riesman from Glassworks [Sony, 1982]
  4. Fragment III / Library Tapes from Fragment [Kning Disk, 2008]
  5. Preludes, Op. 17, No. 1: Andante Religioso (1892) /Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931), as performed by Philip Thomson from Felix Blumenfeld: Complete Preludes and Impromptus [Ivory, 2000]
  6. Creatures of the Heart (Pt. 1) / Bad Temple from Creatures of the Heart [self-released, 2008]
  7. Trois Gymnopédies, No. 1: Lent et douloureux (1888) / Erik Satie (1866-1925), as performed by Aldo Ciccolini from Satie: Popular Piano Works [EMI, 2000]
  8. Petiatil Cx Htdui / Aphex Twin from Drukqs [Warp / Sire, 2001]
  9. Preludes, Op. 103, No. 7 (1909-1910) / Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), as performed by Kathryn Stott from Fauré: The Complete Music For Piano [Hyperion, 1995]
  10. Lately (Troisième) / Memoryhouse [unreleased, 2010]
  11. Makrokosmos, Book 1: Dream Images (Love-Death Music) – Gemini (1972) / George Crumb (1929-), as performed by Laurie Hudicek from Crumb: Makrokosmos, Vol. 1 & 2 [Furious Artisans, 2002]
  12. [Untitled #3] / Sigur Rós from ( ) [FatCat, 2002]

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3 Responses to Mixes: Piano Songs

  1. Megan says:

    1. I love Aphex Twin.
    2. My fave Faure piano piece is the 2nd Barcarolle:

    3. I saw a concert last night of the vo. 2 of Makrokosmos…a guest recital at LSU. It was beyond beautiful…but I was disappointed in the attendance…maybe 10ppl were there.

    Keep it up on the blog! 🙂
    -Megan Murph

    PS…the project I’m doing for art/music has totally changed and I feel like its all over the place…essentially its on the idea of mobility in musical form (Earle Brown, John Zorn, and many others), which was in many ways inspired by Alexander Calder: http://www.worthpoint.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/alexander-calder-the-star.jpg

    • lttlebrther says:

      Fauré has some really nice stuff…I also really enjoy his Dolly Suite and
      my friend’s stock ringtone was made from the “Berceuse”(!)…linked here:

      Good luck with your project! You may find this article helpful…

      “Visual Music” by Sylvia Smith and Stuart Smith, published in Perspectives of New Music (Vol. 20, No. 1/2. Autumn, 1981 – Summer 1982, pg. 75-93)


      • Megan says:

        Yea I totally did that Faure duet when I was a teenager! 🙂
        and I have that article, but thanks – hope all is well!!

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