Maryam plays in Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall

Many performers and artists impose a certain extramusical meaning to their recital programs, in an attempt to draw the works together as a whole into one larger purpose. In cases in which such themes, as they were, are not naturally derived from obvious similarities in form, style, character, and so forth, this approach often seems contrived. And I think that’s precisely because most composers really have meant exactly what they have said: through the music, with no extramusical meaning necessary.

However, in performances that seek to involve multiple forces and collaborators for the purpose of an extramusical meaning, such meaning is the single source from which the program springs. The meaning is not only necessary, but almost unequivocally absolute and central to the program of works itself, however diverse.

And therefore the approach works in its opposite form: such an extramusical meaning proactively unites a diverse program unto one purpose because such a program is built with the intent of supporting such a meaning, as opposed to a flimsy defense of the works’ right to co-exist on the same page … for an audience … in one sitting.

Such rightful intent, or rather “intensity”, of purpose, was certainly exemplified by “Celebrating the 125th Anniversary of Antonín Dvořák; America is an Idea, not a Place” at Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall. At face value, this program could have been seen as a commemoration of Dvořák. It was, but it was so much more. Understanding so involved not only understanding Dvořák as a composer, but as an advocate for music education, and the future of musical thought. It would be best, or at least most honest, to copy a portion of the programs’s press release, which can be found here:

/ Antonín Dvořák, protégée, friend and collaborator of composer Johannes Brahms and musical heir to the tradition of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and many others, came to America in 1892. Dvorák was to initiate a revolution in America's thinking about its true artistic identity. Dvorák undertook this at the request of New York City's Jeanette Thurber, the creator of the National Conservatory of Music. This was the first American music school and one of the first institutions that brought together women, African-Americans, American Indians, and people of all colors, to create music at the highest level. His collaboration with the African-American singer/arranger Harry Burleigh and others proved that what Dvorák called a "great and noble school of music" could be created in America.

The original works Dvorák premiered at Carnegie Hall on Beethoven's birthday, December 16, 1893, at the very new Carnegie Hall, were his proof of that. That included his Symphony No. 9, "From The New World" at Carnegie Hall. Now, 125 years later, on December 18, 2018, the FFRCC will celebrate this epic moment in history, in Classical culture, and for America, on that very same Carnegie Hall stage.” /

I was honored to perform L.v. Beethoven’s Sonata op. 110 in A-flat major, as the invocation and epilogue of this unique musical drama. To be a part of this extramusical meaning: one that unites classical music’s past

Here I am the day of, rehearsing the sonata’s conclusion.

Full recording of the performance to come!

Beethoven and Liszt in Seattle

I had such a wondrous time performing in Seattle! It was my first time visiting the city, and I met many fascinating people, appropriate for a city rich in resources and innovation. I had a fabulous time presenting my lecture-recital on Beethoven and Liszt, and you can see me here practicing hard for it! … In addition to flying planes and eating spectacular Persian cuisine too delicious to be pictured …

Maryam Plays Liszt

In my lecture preceding a performance of Liszt’s Italian year of Pilgramage, I give a general overview of the many facets of Liszt’s career. While he is mostly (and rightly) known as a celebrity pianist and composer, he was also a very generous teacher, theorist, writer, and scholar. This overview is followed by a second, entailing his compositional output as a whole, and then, more specifically, where his Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgramage) fit in.

Franz Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage are suites for solo piano that demonstrate his characteristic compositional virtuosity and sophistication of emotional expression. My program presents the second and largest of the three years in its entirety, one inspired by Italian painting, sculpture, song, poetry, and literature, composed in its entirety between 1837 and 1849. While the musical details of the set should be clearly heard through my performance, the artistic inspiration of each is what I’d like to briefly explore as program notes below. In my performance, each work will be accompanied by a slide depicting the respective inspiration as I play. The sonnets will be read aloud.

I. Sposalizio

The first of the set is inspired by Raphael’s “The Marriage of the Virgin”. Characteristic of Italian High Renaissance, this oil painting depicts the marriage ceremony itself. Liszt’s work is evocative of this painting in its structure, but more importantly, it evokes the feeling of viewing the painting, rather than the painting itself. The work begins with a simple melody that transforms into music more complex. Liszt explores the nature of the Virgin, as pure, yet with tinges of sadness, perhaps even melancholy. A climax transforms Her into the likes of the Queen of Heaven, in all her beauty and power, after which Liszt’s music ends serenely. In its entirety, Sposalizio evokes the composure, balance, and symmetry of Raphael’s original painting.

II. Il Penseroso

Inspired by Michelangelo’s sculpture, “The Thinker”, which illustrates a man deep in thought, the listener finds the final, serene, E major chord of Sposalizio transformed into stark octaves Es heralding the key of C sharp minor. Il Penseroso is as severe and harsh as the stone from which it draws its inspiration. The work seems impenetrable to any outside influence, both rhythmically and emotionally, and it ends as starkly as it begins, with C# octaves in the bass. Interestingly enough, this work exists separately in in rarely performed longer version, titled “La Notte”.

III. Canzonetta del Salvador Rosa

The seriousness of the second work transforms artfully into the humor of the third. Aptly titled, this canzonetta is inspired by song itself. In spite of its credit to Salvador Rosa, an Italian Baroque painter, poet, and printmaker, many sources alternatively suggest Italian composer Giovanni Bononcini as the original source. Marked “Andante marziale", the humor here is characterized not only by the sharpness and edginess of dotted rhythm but by the text of the song. A man travels many places, but remains, in essence the same, a perhaps even philosophical quandary that offsets the lightness of the music to which it is set. The text is certainly an interesting parallel and perhaps even commentary upon Liszt’s own travels in this work, and perhaps even my own “traveling” in performing this set at various locations.

IV-VI. Tre Sonetti di Petrarca

These sonnets perhaps represent a second group within the set, if one considers the previous three as the first. As noted, the sonnets were inspired by Italian Renaissance scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca, often considered by many sources the founder of humanism. Liszt writes in his composition, “Ed il suo lauro cresceva col suo amor per Laura”, alluding to Petrarch’s lifelong passion and love for Laura, a woman who Petrarch is to have first seen in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon in the early fourteenth century. It is important to note that while a work like Sposalizio evokes the feeling of viewing the painting, and the reaction of the viewer, these sonnets are more direct musical compositions of the poems themselves. Indeed, Liszt copies these poems with their accurate-as-possible various translations as a preface to each in the Henle Urtext edition. I have re-typed them below exactly as they appear in the aforementioned edition, with credit to each respective translator. These poems are most clearly ones of love, love of various natures, and the feelings these natures evoke, from the raw to the transcendental. As was common in Renaissance poetry of the time, they feature interesting psychological twists and turns, so to speak, of the narrator’s perspective. These turns, and their psychological colors, are composed by Liszt in sound.

Sonneto 47

Blest be the year, the month, the hour, the day

Blest be the ceaseless accents of my tongue,

Unwearied breathing my loved lady’s name:

Blest my fond wishes, sighs, and tears, and pains:

Blest be the lays in which her praise I sung,

That on all sides acquired to her fair fame,

And blest my thoughts! for o’er them all she reigns.

(Translation: Lady Dacre, London 1859)

Sonetto 104

Warefare I cannot wage, yet know not peace;

I fear, I hope, I burn, I freeze again;

Mount to the skies, then bow to earth my face;

Grasp the whole world, yet nothing can obtain.

His prisoner Love nor frees, nor will detain;

In toils he holds me not, nor will release;

He slays me not, nor yet will he unchain;

Nor joy allows, nor lets my sorrow cease.

Sightless I see my fair; though mute, I mourn;

I score existence, and yet court its stay;

Detest myself, and for another burn;

By grief I’m nurtured; and though tearful, gay;

Death I despise, and life alike I hate:

Such, lady, dost though make my wayward state!

(Translation: John Nott, London 1879)

Sonetto 123

Yes, I beheld on earth angelic grace,

And charms divine which mortals rarely see,

Such as both glad and pain the memory;

Vain, light, unreal is all else I trace:

Tears I saw shower’d from those fine eyes apace,

Of which the sun ofttimes might envious be;

Accents I heard sigh’d forth so movingly,

As to stay floods, or mountains to displace.

Love and good sense, firmness, with pity join’d

And wailful grief, a sweeter concert made

Than ever yet was pour’d on human ear:

And heaven unto the music so inclined,

That not a leaf was seen to stir the shade;

Such melody had fraught the winds, the atmosphere.

(Translation: John Nott, London 1879)

VII. Après une Lecture de Dante, Fantasia quasi Sonata

“Après une Lecture de Dante, Fantasia quasi Sonata”, colloquially and especially among pianists known as “The Dante Sonata”, comprises roughly a third of the set, with the Petrarch sonnets and the first three works comprising a third, each. It is often performed as a stand-alone, and, from this particular set, most directly exemplifies the characteristic flamboyance and freedom of Lisztian writing. A prime example of program music, the work is most directly inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, a narrative poem describing visions of the after-life, travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Like Sposalizio, this composition is Liszt’s musical impressions of the literary work, rather than a direct musical narration of the work itself. Note that the title begins “Après une Lecture de Dante”, in other words, the composition is of the feelings and reactions “after” hearing Dante’s poem. Two main themes transform and progress throughout this composition, one of Hell, characterized by tritones, the Devil’s interval, and one more heavenly, of redemption, even of love. The drama in the work lies in how these themes interweave rather freely throughout through various pianistic textures. This final work certainly brings the set to a close; it is a transcendent culmination emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Hope to see some if not all of you all at one of my upcoming performances of this magnificent set!

On a program of Beethoven and Chopin

Welcome to my blog. This space is designed for personal detailing of upcoming programs, events, collaborations, music, fashion, and/or otherwise - as well as my musings on all of the above and more.

Here, a few words in regards to my Beethoven and Chopin program.

The next couple months feature this program on several different occasions, in partial or full form, and it is one quite close to my heart. I began these four significant works for solo piano each at a very different stage of my pianistic study and artistic development. It is of personal significance and marvel that they come together here in a one-hour presentation.  

This past Spring, I found myself absorbed in the works of Franz Liszt, in studying and performing his “Deuxième année: Italie” from Années de pèlerinage. It is a cycle inspired by painting, sculpture, song, and poetry of the Italian sort, in which Liszt reflects a nineteenth century view of the Italian Renaissance, of course through his characteristic compositional virtuosity and sophisticated emotional expression.  

The works of Beethoven and Chopin are as much staples of the piano repertoire as the programmatic works of Liszt, most especially those aforementioned. One would be hard-pressed to find a performing pianist or even an average piano student without an edition of the Beethoven sonatas as well as one of the ballades of Chopin. That being said, both composers’ respective sound and coloristic worlds differ entirely from that of Liszt. Indeed, it is in differentiating these contrasts that I find the potential for piano playing to be tremendously engaging and exciting. 

Beethoven wrote thirty-two piano sonatas, Chopin, four ballades. The two sonatas in my program,  op. 90, and op. 110, reside quite solidly in different periods of Beethoven’s compositional development. Scholars and musicologists largely agree on the division of Beethoven piano sonatas into three periods: early, middle, and late. Op. 90 is at the height of Beethoven’s middle period, as well as a significant product of his experimentation with two-movement sonata form - an experimentation which culminates in his very final sonata, op. 111. The two movements of op. 90 are clearly juxtaposed from an aural, and even visual perspective at first glance of the score. The first movement, passionate and restless, full of contrast and change, is contrasted by the second, a more easy-going, song-like movement in rondo form. This form, with its inherently repetitive principle theme, is a direct contrast, even foil, to the unpredictability of the first movement. Anton Schindler, a friend of Beethoven/s and one of his early biographers, reported that the original titles of the two movements were to be “A Contest Between Head and Heart” and “Conversation with the Beloved”, respectively. These titles certainly imply the contrast between the two movements of the sonata as a whole

By contrast, Beethoven’s penultimate sonata, op. 110, embodies a more complicated form as a whole. The first movement is somewhat of a composition on the art of composition itself: it is abstract and experimental in nature, albeit contained in radically simple first movement sonata form. The second movement is an unsettled scherzo, sharp and abrupt, leading directly into the third, which alternates two slow ariosos and two fugues. An arioso, less formal than an aria, is intimate in nature, and vocal, as an aria. By contrast, fugues are compositionally cold-blooded; the subject is introduced by one part, and taken up by others, as well as developed and interweaved among all part throughout varying textures. Op. 110’s first arioso gives rise to the first fugue, which descends in despair back to the second arioso, which, in turn, rises to the second fugue, and leads to the sonata’s triumphant conclusion. To me, as a performer and a listener, this demonstrates Beethoven’s faith in the human intellect, and ultimately, the human spirit, in overcoming any personal or existential strife. This is a faith obviously reflected in Beethoven’s very act of composing to his own end given his own life struggles.

I have not studied let alone performed all thirty-two Beethoven sonatas, but I have performed all four ballades. A ballade comes most visually directly from the English word “ballad”, which was a form of verse and narrative often set to music. Alternatively, the Italian “ballata” was a poetic and musical form in use from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Chopin ballades are distinctive from any previous literary versions. They are one-movement narrative works that have the important quality of being and feeling “staged”. That is, there is a conscious and compositional sense throughout the work that an epic narration, or rather, story, is being told. The greatest contrast among the ballades is between the two I perform within this program, the third and the fourth. The third ends joyously, even with humor. Its lightness as a composition is perhaps paralleled by the fact that, of the four ballades, it is the one with the tightest structural construction. The fourth ballade, by contrast, ends tragically. It is largely melancholic throughout; an important compositional feature to note that further differentiates the fourth ballade from the third resides in its use of subtle and complex counterpoint, which parallels the more subtle and complex emotional world of the work as a whole.

Interestingly enough, this circulated program was originally to be one of Beethoven and Schumann, contrasting the same Beethoven sonatas, op. 90 and op. 110, with Schumann’s very dramatic Kreisleriana, a work just as representative of Schumann’s solo piano writing, as the third and fourth ballades are of Chopin’s. Due to varying discussions with presenters, the romantic composer of choice became Chopin for now. With that being said, please stay “tuned”!