A Quick Review of My Senior Piano Recital

To represent the music department for the e-RINTIS, I’ve prepared three pieces from different period, which included the Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14, by Felix Mendelssohn, Toccata in E flat minor by Aram Khachaturian and Nos. 3, 4, 6 and 8 from György Ligeti”s Musica Ricercata.

Mendelssohn‘s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14 was completed 1830 when the composer just turned 21 years old. The Andante which serves as a Prelude to the subsequent Presto, requires the pianist to produce a well-rounded beautiful and cantabile tone. Additionally, the integration of the legato and song-like melody in the right hand accompanied by the repeated chords in the left hand produces a sense of subdued simplicity and tranquillity (Example 1.0). This appears as precursor to his Overture, A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was to come 12 years later. The Presto, constructed in rondo form possesses a strong rhythmic drive with abundant use of quavers and semiquavers. This spritely and leggierro characteristic is often witnessed in many of Mendelssohn’s works portraying his predilection for fantasy and joviality.  In the ‘con anima’ passage, the pianist is required to produce a more reflective and pensive mood in contrast from the excitement of the preceding scherzo. In a nutshell, this piece demands a combination of exacting staccato and legato touch. This was a challenging piece to execute as the intricate details demanded of the performer was something that required months of diligent work.

Example 1.0: Song-like melody in the right hand and repeated chords in left hand, m. 7- m. 11

The next piece I performed was Toccata in E flat minor. Khachaturian composed this piece in 1932 as the first movement in a three- movements piano suite that comprised of Toccata, Waltz-Capriccio and Dance. Unfortunately only the Toccata stood resilient through the test of time, often gracing concert programs on stages world-wide. Contextually, the piece consists of repeated passages replete with block chords that requires an arm-vibration touch to improve the clarity of tonal execution (Example 2.0). While maintaining the formal structure of the Toccata in ternary form (A-B-A’-Coda), Khachaturian also incorporated melodic and rhythmic materials that resound influences from Armenian folk music juxtaposed with traditional contrapuntal writing that were influenced by Baroque aesthetics. This was an extremely enjoyable piece to perform and practice as the folk touch in the melodic motive was an interesting inclusion in the composition.

Example 2.0: Repeated block chords in Allegro marcatissimo, m. 1 – m. 4

Musica Ricercata comprised of eleven pieces and was composed by Ligeti between the years 1951 and 1953. In Musica Ricercata, Ligeti employs an additive process in the use of pitch class from two tones up to twelve tones in the first movement to the 11th movement respectively. In the Allegro con spirito, parallel tonalities between major and minor keys with four pitch classes function as the unique feature in this movement (Example 3.0). In the fourth movement, the marking of ‘poco vivace – «à l’orgue de Barbarie»” is worth noting, demanding that the performer plays  ‘in the style of a Barrel Organ’, programmatically indicating the free interpretation of the tempo while the metronome value given refers to the maximum tempo in performance.  The sixth movement, Allegro molto capriccioso portrays a fast and playful character based on seven pitch classes that constitute the use of a Mixolydian pattern (Example 3.1) whereas in the eighth movement, marked Vivace. Energico, displays a dance-like character. Essentially, these selected movements requires a non-legato touch.

Example 3.0: Four pitch classes – C, E, Eb, G in III from Musica ricercata
Example 3.1: Seven pitch classes – A, B, C#, D, E, F#, with simple motive in staccato, VI from Musica Ricercata

The differences between the composer’s background, performance practices and their compositional styles have resulted in a myriad of musical interpretation that are facilitated through meticulous study and understanding of character formation, musical expression and technical demand. A pianist is not only tasked to conquer the challenging realm of piano technique but is confronted with a steep learning curve in the context of submerging oneself into the aesthetics, style and interpretative inner world of the musical composers they are performing.

As a final year student, my journey in USM has been simply amazing. The countless hours confining myself in piano practice and collaborating with other musicians for one unwavering goal of music-making were all part of my tenure in USM, etched in splendid memory of university life. Study aside, many lifetime friendships were forged that provided me the strength and comfort throughout the past four years. Life in USM has made me realize that self-discipline and self- motivation are essential qualities for a life of success and passion in music.