Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Recital Revisited I: Moonlight Mashup

The MMmusing Recital has come and gone and was, I think, a big success. The audience seemed to enjoy the experimental first half and, though I generally dread the thought of posting live recordings, I think a few excerpts are worth sharing as examples of the innovative goings-on. Let's start with how the first half of musical mashups ended, with simultaneous performances of moonlight music by Beethoven and Debussy. The pieces are from two very different worlds (one German Romantic, one French Impressionist), but they have the same tonic, are about the same length, and are both mostly soft and rustling throughout with a regular flow of 8th notes in compound meter (12/8* vs. 9/8). They're also both quite familiar to many listeners, which helps with hearing the "counterpoint" and, yes, they're both associated with moonlight (whether or not Beethoven ever thought of his sonata that way).

I'd written before about combining two existing recordings, but those pianists didn't have to listen to (or ignore) each other. Here's how that experiment came out, with no cuts or tempo alterations, but with some judicious fading up and down of the separate tracks.

I've listened to it a lot and there are many seemingly purposeful moments that I like, including:
  • 0:06 Debussy's second gesture bounces perfectly off of Beethoven's downbeat
  • 0:17-0:24 Debussy waits for Beethoven's dotted figure to land before exhaling
  • 2:00-2:20 Wonderful combined harmonies, with Beethoven sitting on a pedal G-sharp and Debussy anchored first a fifth below on C-sharp (spelled as D-flat) and by the same G-sharp (spelled as A-flat) at 2:14. The R.H. quarter notes in Beethoven weave in and out of Debussy's arpeggios like lost souls on a cloudy night.
  • 2:53-3:03 Both works float about the same V pedal tone (again, G-sharp/A-flat) as they re-transition towards their recaps, reminding us that many works share the basic structural proportions found here.
Still, it was my goal that we pretty much play it straight (as "Joyce Hatto" did in the recordings combined above) and just let the chips/pitches fall where they may. We did rehearse it a couple of times so I could get a sense of how to pace the Debussy, and I'll have to admit I found myself responding to Beethoven's pulses during some of the more free-floating Debussy moments. I also went a bit too fast overall and had to get extra-dreamy at the end so as not to leave Beethoven alone for too long. I love the contrast of Debussy's final, high-register D-flat Major answered by Beethoven's low-register C-sharp Minor. This actually came out almost exactly the same live as in the "recording" above.

So, here it is, with my excellent and good-natured colleague Stephanie Emberley handling the Beethoven. I think it's all really lovely and mysterious. Note that Stephanie chose to add an extra mashup element by following the composer's direction to keep the damper pedal down throughout, so that's Beethoven's own pitches hang around as ghosts to mash up with each other. Over at Wikipedia, someone has opined (emphasis mine):
At the opening of the work, Beethoven included a written direction that the sustain pedal should be depressed for the entire duration of the first movement. The Italian reads: "Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino" ("This whole piece ought to be played with the utmost delicacy and without damper[s]."). The modern piano has a much longer sustain time than the instruments of Beethoven's day. Therefore, his instruction cannot be followed by pianists playing modern instruments without creating an unpleasantly dissonant sound.
Let's just say that not everyone has the same definition of "unpleasantly dissonant."

FINAL NOTE: Pianists, of the world: DO TRY THIS AT HOME! I'd love to hear about follow-up experiments with this combination, and it's a good exercise both in concentration and freedom. Feel free to post about your experiences.

* Technically, Beethoven's music is in cut time (2/2), but the constant triplets produce the same effect as a 12/8 meter - in both performances of this moonlight mashup, you can hear how the 8th notes can easily align between the two worlds.

No comments: