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Cory Hall, pianist-teacher-composer-publisher

A piano blog for your musical enrichment and instruction!

In Homage to Brahms: "Broken Intermezzo" for Piano

Peter Lanier

BUY THE SHEET MUSIC HERE: It was two years ago, in 2011, that I experienced my greatest activity as a composer. In April 2011 I composed a beautiful piano piece called Broken Intermezzo, where "Broken" refers to the separated or broken up sections and "Intermezzo" refers to the overall Brahmsian character of the music. Broken Intermezzo consists of two sections -- a melodic section with chords in the right hand and a folksy melody in the left hand (Section A), and a harmonic section that exploits four against three, 4:3, cross rhythms (Section B). These two remarkably contrasting sections, in A-flat major and its relative minor of F minor, fit together like a hand and glove. The overall form is almost entirely symmetrical, which provides the listener with sense of total completion and satisfaction. Even if one does not consciously analyze the form when listening to it, one inevitably experiences a sense of total completion. Here is a layout of the form:

A (all) -- B -- A (first half) -- B -- A (second half) -- B -- A (all) -- coda

Not only does the form fit into a satisfying symmetrical plan, but the musical ideas themselves offer a constant source of joy and accomplishment to the pianist. The folksy melody in the left hand of the A section reminds me of a couple of pop songs (such as John Denver or the Beatles), which wasn't intentional. I use the word "accomplishment" since the B section consists of a constant sequence of fours against threes, which every pianist knows presents a formidable technical challenge. However, these are not fast and virtuosic 4:3 rhythms, but rather slower and more melodious ones over a rich harmonic progression that requires much damper pedal. This section sounds a lot like Brahms. The chord progression here is the "Pachelbel Canon" progression but in a minor rather than major key (F minor). This famous progression is totally disguised in a minor key with 4:3 rhythms. In fact, had I not mentioned the "Pachelbel" progression here I am willing to bet most listeners -- even highly educated ones with music degrees -- would never recognize it.

I love contrast and my advice to aspiring composers is to use as much contrasting elements as possible within the same composition. Broken Intermezzo is an ideal example of just how effective contrast can be. Consider the two sections and their contrasting characteristics, especially the general dichotomy of "simple" vs. "complex":

A section: A-flat major, "melodic" in style, features "simple" melody, "mono-rhythmic" rhythms in melody of eighth-eighth-quarter, sparing use of damper pedal and clear textures B section: F minor, no melody featured, "harmonic" in style, uses repeating chord progression, "complex" 4:3 polyrhythms between the hands, liberal use of damper pedal and rich textures

After the two sections are stated alternatively seven times -- the number "7" traditionally symbolizing "perfection" -- a coda appears at the end which brings the piece to a peaceful conclusion. I love playing and listening to this piece and hope you do also. If you are a pianist and would like to purchase the sheet music, simply click on the link below!



Chopin's Great Étude in C# Minor, Op. 25 No. 7

Peter Lanier

Like all hardworking and serious classical pianists, I diligently practiced most of Chopin's famous twenty-four Op. 10 and Op. 25 Études during my university and conservatory years. I used to have grandiose goals of performing all the Chopin Études because I thought this is what all "real" pianists do. But as time went by and I became older and wiser, I became less interested in spending so much time practicing these works. Instead of being so preoccupied with conforming to the "classical pianist status quo" I began to explore the piano literature more and broaden my musical horizons. After graduating and embarking on my own, I seldom practiced Chopin's Études as I did in my school years. Many pianists contend that one is not a "true" or "real" pianist unless one is able to perform all the Chopin Études. It is not good enough to play just a few of them, but one must play ALL of them to be considered "worthy." I find this belief ludicrous, considering that at least four of the 20th century's greatest pianists -- Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Martha Argerich -- never recorded the Op. 10 and 25 Études. Martha Argerich is legendary for her Chopin playing and her rock-solid technique, yet she has never recorded all the Chopin Études. According to some pianophiles, Argerich isn't a "real" pianist yet! Moreover, the greatest Chopin player ever, Rubinstein, really wasn't so great after all since he never recorded the Op. 10 and 25 Études. Of course I am being facetious here, but I simply intend to point out that Chopin's Études may in fact be less than what pianists think they are. Call me a blasphemer, but I happen to believe the Études as a whole are Chopin's weakest compositions from a musical standpoint. For example, in my opinion the Ballades, Mazurkas, Nocturnes, and Impromptus are much better musical works.

YouTube first began in 2005-6 and I remember first viewing videos there around 2006-7. I noticed that the faster Chopin Études were beginning to be overplayed, especially Op. 10 No. 4. I remember playing this piece in my first public piano recital at 17 and how I loved it so much. However, for some reason it became offensive and "anti-musical" when I began to hear pianist after pianist upload it with the sole intent of attaining the fastest speed possible. I think it was YouTube and the overplaying of Chopin's faster Études that made me lose interest in them altogether. I am not a fan of speed in itself as a musical virtue. In my opinion, even "fast" pieces have limits as to how fast they should be played. Just to illustrate my point, consider the legendary Sviataslav Richter's "world speed record" performance of Op. 10 No. 4. To me, this is not music but rather a "speed fest":


My favorite Chopin Étude of all -- one of which I will never tire and one that will probably never become overplayed -- is the beautiful Op. 25 No. 7, nicknamed the "Cello Etude." It is one of the few slower Chopin Études. The study or problem in this piece is that of voicing, tonal control, pedaling, and overall emotion. I prefer a slower tempo than most other pianists and feel this extra stately and non-rushed tempo allows the music to "speak for itself." In my opinion this piece overshadows all other of Chopin's etudes because it is eternally beautiful music. I recently recorded it on YouTube to unanimously positive reviews and hope you enjoy it!


Clementi: Sonatina in C Major, Op. 37, No. 3

Peter Lanier

Out of the nine Clementi Sonatinas  I have recorded so far on YouTube -- the six in Op. 36 and the three in Op. 37 -- this is in my opinion the finest. I absolutely adore the Op. 37 No. 3 Sonatina with its tightly constructed sonata-allegro-form first movement and infectiously delightful rondo-form second movement. The majority of pianists are familiar with the extremely famous Op. 36 Sonatinas, especially Nos. 1-3; however, unfortunately very few are familiar with the Op. 37 set of three. In my opinion, the lesser known Op. 37 Sonatinas are even better than the more familiar Op. 36 Sonatinas, which still remain some of the most played classical piano works by students around the world. [youtube]

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) was a direct contemporary of the more famous W.A. Mozart (1756-1791). The two geniuses respected each other's mutual talent, although Mozart derogatorily joked about Clementi's playing style in a letter to his distinguished father, Leopold, in 1781. This famous duel in 1781 at the court of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II was declared a tie by His Highness.

The Op. 37 No. 3 Sonatina is in my opinion the most "Mozartian" of all the Clementi Sonatinas I have played so far. In fact, dare I say this -- but I believe this particular Sonatina is as good or better than anything Mozart could have written. It is first-rate music that calls out for serious pianists to play it. To all pianists, piano students, and teachers: I implore you to no longer ignore the unduly neglected Op. 37 Sonatinas by Clementi, and especially this one, No. 3. Long live Clementi!

Sincerely, Cory

"The Sycamore" by Scott Joplin

Peter Lanier

Here is my performance of a delightful rag that I have always loved. It is a shame that it is not played very often, since it is in my opinion the least difficult of Joplin's rags. It is extremely beautiful, melodious, and lyrical. For students struggling with more difficult pieces like  "The Entertainer" or "Maple Leaf Rag," I suggest learning "The Sycamore" instead as a stepping stone. For instantly downloadable high-quality sheet music for "The Sycamore", CLICK HERE! [youtube]