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Studies of Musical Compositions

In the interpretation of a piece of music it should constantly be borne in mind that every properly constructed composition is a series of effects, carefully planned and consistently carried out. If the composer have in his mind some definite idea, emotional, sentimental, pictorial, so much the better. It is the promise of the executant to seek out by interpretative analysis the design and intent of the composer. That the same piece of music may not appeal to any two performers in exactly the same manner, may not suggest precisely the same picture or emotion, is no disadvantage, rather a distinct gain. Moreover, one of the chief functions of all good music is to stimulate the imagination. The numbers selected for discussion this month are: "The Gipsy Rondo," by Hayden (sic); "Little Prelude," in F, by Bach; the "Marche de Nuit," by Gottschalk; "Siegmund's Love Song," from "Die Walküre," by Wagner (Bell's Transcription).
Gipsy Rondo (Haydn).
The Gipsy Rondo (Rondo all' Ongarese) forms the final movement of Haydn's G Major trio for piano, violin, and 'cello. As a number of these trios appear originally to have been piano sonatas to which obligato string parts were afterward added, there is ample justification for using this rondo as a piano solo. As such it has become famous. An academic treatment of this piece would be fatal to its proper rendition. Many of the classics are spoiled by just such treatment, which nevertheless seems to be considered highly proper in some quarters.
Let us first of all become imbued with the spirit of the dance. Most of us have doubtless at some time or other heard one or more of the Hungarian Gipsy orchestras. Consider the dash and abandon which characterize their playing, especially of their national dances, the czardas, for instance. It is from these very dances that Haydn gained his inspiration. Let us adopt the attitude of the composer.
As a vehicle he has employed the Rondo form, one of the simplest and most natural of all forms, and admirably adapted for the purposes of this composition. Briefly speaking, a Rondo is a form of composition in which the first or principal theme is repeated after each of the succeeding themes. The first theme of the "Gipsy Rondo" must be delivered with a certain crispness of execution, and in a jaunty manner, the accents rather prominent. Rapidity of tempo should be sought, compatible with clearness and distinct execution.
Each new theme seems a trifle livelier than the preceding, and the whirl of the dance grows madder. In the minor themes a certain roughness seems indicated by the clashing appoggiaturas and abrupt syncopations. Let us throughout bear in mind that this is real Gipsy music woven into an art form.
Little Prelude in F (Bach).
The "Little Prelude" in F is No. 10, in the Presser Edition, No. 6, in Bach's "Lighter Composition." Of the entire eighteen "Little Preludes" it is perhaps the most popular. Bear in mind that Bach always wrote good music, and that even the smallest piece is no exception. The "Little Preludes" were written as studies for some of Bach's children, and splendid studies they are. Remember that this music is polyphonic. Every voice part must be given due prominence, and the principal subject never be lost sight of, no matter where it may lead. Music of this character requires great steadiness, and a full, round tone. The harmonies, though intricate at times, must be given due value, and the progression clearly indicated. This is particularly the case in the suspended dissonances. All tied and sustained notes must be held for their exact value. Although the expression should not be overdone, a certain amount of shading is admissible, and is indicated in all good editions, together with the phrasing, which should be carefully followed.
In addition to its purely musical charm, polyphonic music appeals to the intellect through its workmanship, and the ingenuity displayed in the weaving together of the many themes and voices. In the hands of an intelligent player, and after careful study, everything should come out clearly and distinctly, no blurring being at all noticeable in the general effect. In the practice of polyphonic music, both the mind and the fingers are equally trained and developed.
Marche de Nuit (Gottschalk).
In the "Marche de Nuit," a highly characteristic piece, we have a striking example of the work of a favorite pianist-composer of a bygone day. Gottschalk, in his day, was perhaps the most popular drawing-room pianist the world has ever known. In these days of robust pianism his style may seem trite, but it is nevertheless not without merit, and is in many respects worthy of study and imitation. Are we not in our present day striving after sonority and brilliance, losing in delicacy and refinement? After all, what is music without melody, and what does piano playing amount to without the singing tone?
Some of Gottschalk's compositions are as popular to-day as they were in the times of their composer, who played little else but his own works in his concerts. A number of these pieces will hold their popularity for years. "Marche de Nuit" is one of the best.
Fortunately, we are enabled to form a definite mental picture to assist our interpretation of this work. We are told that it is intended to illustrate a poem of "Ossean" in which Fingal and his men are described as appearing and passing in ghostly array. Remember that in this music elegance and a dainty finish, even sentimentality of expression, are to be sought. The martial character of the themes must nevertheless be carefully preserved. The first theme, although delivered in a mysterious pianissimo must come out clear and sustained against the staccato chords, and the whole effect must be that of a gradual crescendo. The theme in A-flat must be rendered in the manner of a baritone or 'cello solo, with roundness and sonority. All the ornamental passages, important characteristics of Gottschalk's style, must be given with extreme delicacy and without the slightest interruption or distortion of the general movement. This piece is really an elegant bit of tone painting, not deep, but refined, and truly pianistic.
Siegmund's Love Song (Wagner-Bell).
In "Siegmund's Love Song" we have a piece of totally different character, a piano transcription of a vocal and orchestral number, such a transcription occupies the same relation to the original as does a steel engraving or etching to an oil painting. The effects and coloring are all suggestive. In order to properly interpret this piece we must have some knowledge of the meaning and design of the original.
This impassioned love song is one of Wagner's happiest inspirations. It occurs in "Die Walküre," the second music drama of the "Nibelungen Tetralogy." The vocal melody must of course be well brought out, but the accompaniment must receive due weight and the various "leitmotivs" as they occur must be sufficiently emphasized. The climaxes must be carefully led up to, and a sufficient freedom of tempo be observed, suited to the declamatory character of the piece.

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