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Classical piano concerts present a perfect opportunity for conducting musical analysis because of the simplicity of melodic motions and musical notes. The piano solo concert took place at Mondavi Center in UC Davis. A pianist, Garrick Ohlsson, performed six musical pieces composed by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Liszt. The thesis of this paper draws on five points. First, the clarity of the performance by Ohlsson indicated the respect and admiration for the works of both J.S Bach and Franz Liszt. Second, the capability of the performer to shift between mood and tempo indicates the real fluency in Liszt’s compositional work. Third, the pieces performed during the concert made use of rapid contradictions in harmonies to enhance audience experience. Fourth, the classical compositions in the performance used appropriate signature keys to emphasize central themes of the piece and facilitate harmonic progression. Fifth, the reintroduction of opening figurations with new harmonies marks the end of the classical compositions by Liszt.

Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542, S.463 by J.S Bach

This is a classical piece by J.S Bach was later adopted by Franz Liszt in his transcriptions by enriching the voicing of the Fugue. Sweeping scales, colossal harmonic progressions and dazzling figurations mark the opening section of this piece, which serves to indicate the unrivaled skills of the composer on the keyboard and petals (Williams, 2007). On the other hand, the Fugue comprises of an integrated structure that grows from one theme, threads to each voice, and dominates the entire musical piece. During the concert, the Fugue was four-voiced and was characterized by complicated fingerings. Despite this difficulty, the clarity in Ohlsson’s performance of the piece was superb due to his capabilities to shift the mood and tempo of the piece quickly, revealing a high level of fluency in the piece (Williams, 2007). The drama and chromatic nature of the opening section (fantasy) contrasts and fits simultaneously with the Fugue, which is tight and rhythmically driven. The musical piece had notable contradictions that created a schizophrenic feeling. The piano performance of this piece was superb because Ohlsson incorporated core musical aspects like contradictions, sweeping scales, and colossal harmonic progressions, resulting in musical fluency. Ohlsson managed to overcome the complicated fingerings technically daunting this piece to deliver luxuriant pianism. A unified melodic movement played an integral role in enhancing the audiences’ experience. Ohlsson played the piece with superb articulation and phrasing. Ohlsson embellished the opening section in a manner that the piano almost approximated the organ sound.

 Sonata for Piano in B Minor (in One Movement) by Liszt

This piece is a classical musical composition by Franz Liszt used for solo piano performances. Liszt utilized thematic transformations to create a theme used in numerous moods, tempos, harmonies and rhythms, which suggest the specific emotional states needed by the various sections of the musical piece (Brown, 2003). In Sonata for Piano in B Minor, there is a concurrent playing of the four different scenes. They include first movement, slow movement, finale and coda. There is no gap between these movements, which results in a sonata form structure superimposed on the four movements (Brown, 2003). Ohlsson managed to superimpose the four movements to result in four-movements-in-one sonata structure. The outcome was a single-flowing movement that progressed forward using backbreaking speeds and vicious piano skills by the performer. The challenging aspect of this piece is that it does not halt plainly. Therefore, the performer shifted between sweeping and heavy block chords, broad strokes, rapid trills and romantic lines. Syncopated rhythms, rapid runs up and down the keyboard and chromatic scales are a core characteristic of the piece. Despite this, the performer managed to ensure the dominance of the theme amidst the chaos. The middle of the musical piece is the most striking because a slow crescendo builds with the onset of a waterfall sound in the upper register followed by turbulent block chords. This marked numerous minutes of grueling tension, after which the performance relaxed followed by domination of the melodic theme. The relaxing part of the piece did not last for long. This is because the turbulent block chords increased tension that lasted towards the end and used similar notes used at the beginning. This is extremely challenging for any musical performer, but Ohlsson managed to deliver an artful performance of the piece.

Les Jeux d'Eaux A La Villa d'Este (No.4) From Annees De Pelerinage, Bk. III by Liszt

This piece is a classical composition by Franz Liszt. The composition was a path-breaking experience that was a musical depiction of water and light and served as a vital source for the keyboard and harmonic techniques for impressionists (Saffle, 2004). This piece is an extraordinary example of Liszt’s composition using textures of sound. The performance began on a steadily ascending sequence of rapid arpeggios on rich ninth chords that resulted in a crystalline texture. Rounds of descending cascades marked the end of the arcing phrase, with a new phrase commencing on fast rotating figures marking another steady climb. Concurrent high treble tremolos and trills marked the end of the crest of this arcing phrase, after which the volume diminished and fragmented as they descended. In the middle, the density of the tremolos increased, resulting in a reduction of the crystalline texture of the piece. It is apparent that the right hand of the performer evolved from the tremolo sound towards staccato arpeggios that sounded like dripping water. The left hand produced harp-like arpeggios. Overall, Ohlsson managed to deliver a superb performance characterized by a gentle coda that had high and clear tremolos on the major chords to conclude the piece with the same opening figures but with new harmonies. The performer’s capability to shift rapidly between tempo and mood pointed out the fluency in Liszt’s composition. Various kinds of moving water such as sparkling water and rippling streams could be heard during the performance of this piece.

Feux Follets (No. 5) From 12 Etudes D'execution Transcend Ante by Liszt

This piece is a solo piano composition by Franz Liszt. It is the fifth out of twelve transcendental etudes, where the performer’s right hand produces fast double-note passes while the left hand produces wide and broken intervals, which are extremely difficult and notorious to play with accuracy (Dubal, 2004). The various climaxes of the piece are technically demanding, with pianissimo arpeggios marking its end. Irrespective of the mechanical difficulties of this composition, the most significant challenge for the performer was performing in accordance to its mysterious and whimsical nature. The performer had difficulties in playing the sections marked with pianissimo and leggierissimo.

The key to performing this piece was B-flat major, which is mostly suitable for wind instruments. However, in this piece, the performer had to incorporate it into the piano, which further increased the technical difficulties in playing the piece accurately (Saffle, 2004). This piece was fast since Ohlsson’s fingers were whisking all over the piano being devoid of tension and crisp.  

Funerailles (No. 7) From Harmonies Poetiques Et Religieuses by Liszt

This piece is a classical composition by Franz Liszt that took the form of a vivid funeral procession. The composition comprises of four differentiated sections with three recurring themes. The movement of the first section (introduzione) is dark and gloomy adagio, with the opening bars depicting sounds of muffled bells from the battleground. The sforzando left-hand tremolos serve to offset the forlorn right-hand chords by thundering (Saffle, 2004). The second section of the piece uses a solemn F-minor key signature modulated to lagrimoso A-major melody. The third section was played as a heroic march composed of bold and dominant chords emphasized by cascading ostinato octaves in the bass (Hahn, 2010). A fortissimo peak serves to stop the third section and introduces conclusion, which involves a reintroduction of each theme in the composition. Open staccastissimo chords cause a sudden end of the piece by quietness (Dubal, 2004). Ohlsson involved dominant conflicting harmonies and striking fanfares in the performance that evoked a solemn mood. The climaxes in the piece compelled the performer to use striking left-hand octaves. Nevertheless, the performance was lacking the dull effect of the composition due to the sound in bass and topmost registers in the piano. The use of the lowest register dominated during the performance of the piece. As a result, Ohlsson’s performance expressed the themes of the piece clearly. For example, there was a clear depiction of the solemn nature of the piece, the pounding hooves and the funeral procession.

Mephisto Waltz No. 1 by Liszt

This piece is an orchestral composition by Franz Liszt. The piece has three versions including the orchestral, piano duet, and piano solo. Ohlsson performed the piano solo version, which is an independent composition. The piano solo version has a rustic opening and a rage-filled and frantic climax at the end of the piece resulting in an intense musical appeal. The key for this piece is piano sonata in B minor (Dubal, 2004). Liszt had gained prominence in virtuosity.  However, this piece tainted his status as a composer. During the solo piano performance Ohlsson accurately depicted the fantastical nature of the theme of the piece.

 Conclusion

It is apparent that the clarity of the performance by Ohlsson indicated the respect and admiration of both J.S Bach and Franz Liszt. In addition, the capability of the performer to shift between mood and tempo indicates the real fluency in Liszt’s compositional work. Ohlsson used rapid contradictions in harmonies to enhance audiences’ experience, which is further enhanced by the appropriate key signatures. Lastly, the reintroduction of opening figurations with new harmonies marks the end of the classical composition by Liszt.

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