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Piano ATCL Recital

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The Well-tempered Clavier, Book I is one of the two collections of preludes and fugues completed by J.S. Bach in 1722. Each collection consists of a prelude and a fugue for each of the 12 semitones in both major and minor keys. The Well-tempered Clavier was published for “the benefit and use of musical youth desirous of knowledge, as well as for the pastime of those already skilled in this study”. Nowadays, the collections are among the best intellectual treasures in music. They present a feast of musical techniques (e.g. counterpoint) and forms (e.g. trio sonata) of the Baroque period with a sense of beauty which train the skills of musicians and provide an endless source of inspiration.

The prelude and fugue in A flat is rather lively. The prelude can be conceived as an invention. It is dominated by one melodic motive which begins the prelude and appears almost in every bar in both parts at different pitch levels or melodic transformations.

The short subject of the four-voice fugue begins on the second beat of the first bar. The fugue include five episodes which are mostly founded on the Counter-subject. Near the end of the fugue, four consecutive subjects from base to soprano appear. Sustaining tension by an episode, the fugue ends triumphantly with a subject that sounds to have homophonic accompaniment.

Sonata in A major, K. 331
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Mozart’s Sonata in A is one of the Mozart’s most popular. It was composed in 1778 and has gained certain popularity for its last movement, alla Turca. The sonata has a traditional three-movement structure, but it can be distinguished from typical sonatas as none of the three movements has a sonata form.

The sonata begins with a theme and variations. The andante theme is lyrical and graceful, followed by six variations including a minor variation (No. 3), an adagio variation (No. 5) and a triumphant allegro final variation (No.6).

The second movement is a minuet with a trio. The minuet starts with one of Mozart’s favourite motives: a falling fourth followed by a rising sixith. This motive can also be found in sonatas K. 309 and K. 540. The minuet has lots of musical phrases but few dance character. The hand-crossing technique of the fourth variation reappears in the trio.

The last movement is a delightful Turkish march-like rondo. It was a fashion to include Turkish character into art music especially in Vienna during the late 18th century. The movement begins lightly and has a percussion-style ending.

Nocturne in B flat minor, Op.9 No.1
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

The Nocturne in B flat minor is the first of the three Op. 9 nocturnes that Chopin composed during 1830-1831. The nocturne is among Chopin’s earliest nocturnes and it introduces a style of decoration that rarely appear in the nocturnes of Chopin’s contemporaries.

The melancholy and dreamy nocturne start by introducing a theme with Chopin-style irregular rhythmic patterns. These decorative patterns can be contrasted with those of Chopin’s contemporaries (e.g. Thalberg) which are usually scalic or arpeggiated patterns dividing beats mathematically. The middle section is emotional and appealing. The melody croons mysteriously in octaves. Tension of this rather long nocturne is sustained by its dramatic nature such as the forte outbursts of bars 15-17 and 33-37 in contrast to the pianissimo restraint of bars 19-25.

Waltz in E-flat major, Op. 18
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

The Waltz in E-flat major is a vivid salon piece published by Chopin in 1834. Robert Schumann once commented that if Chopin’s earlier waltzes were written for dancing, the dancers should not have a rank lower than countesses. The waltz in E-flat Major, one of Chopin’s earlier waltzes, is also a noble piece showing ‘a true ball-room picture’.

The waltz is a suite of sixteen-bar motives. The motives are interwoven and in contrasting character. Following an opening fanfare which draws dancers’ attention and invites them to dance, the first dance theme swings like a pendulum and resembles the spinning motions of dancers. The second theme which follows is as brisk as the first theme. Then the music becomes more songlike and less bouncy when its key changes to D flat major. The coda starts after re-introduction of the E-flat major main theme in stronger octaves. Starting softly in the bass part, the coda goes through motives of previous sections with elevated excitement and fades out in the high register.

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