Listening Quest #16: Eric Satie

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 by Vicki Martin | Listening Quest

We've just passed the 150th birthday of Erik Satie (Sah-TEE), who was born on May 17 th , 1866. He was a French composer, best known for miniatures, or short pieces, usually creating a mood or picture. His most famous is Gymnopedies No. 1 (pronounced gym-no-ped-ees or listen here) which has been used as background music in all kinds of films and TV. Here’s a lovely outdoor performance of it by AlexandreTharaud, although if you rotate your hand off the keys or play a note with a single straight finger like he does, I will stop you. It is still gorgeous, though!
Although Satie is best known for short works, one of his pieces, Vexations, also holds the record for the longest non-stop musical piece ever performed. At the top of the song, he wrote, "In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.” Although it may not have actually been his intent to play it 840 times in a row since he was a bit of a joker, there have been a few performers who have. The first public performance was played by 12 pianists who took turns and it took over 18 hours. Depending on how slow you take the “très lent” marking, it can take more or less time. The longest non-stop solo piano version was 35 hours, played entirely by Nicolas Horvath on December 12, 2012 in the Palais de Tokyo. I’m not going to ask you to listen to all of it (yikes!), but listen to this little sample of it. It’s not a particularly memorable melody, actually, since it doesn’t stay neatly in one key and lacks barlines, but gives you a very static, floating kind of feeling.
Extra Exploring: Assuming you don’t want to listen to the entire 24-hour video of Vexations posted by Nicolas Horvat (, I’d recommend listening to the other two Gymnopedies and maybe even the 6 Gnossiennes, here played by Pascal Rogé:

Listening Quest #15: Johannes Brahms

Monday, May 2, 2016 by Vicki Martin | Listening Quest

We’re coming up on the birthday of Johannes Brahms, who was born on May 9 th , 1833 and lived to the age of 63, passing away April 3, 1897. He is considered to be one of classical music’s greatest composers, often listed as one of the big B’s: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

I’m sure you already recognize some of Brahms’s music. His most famous piece is Wiegenlied, more commonly known as Brahms’s Lullaby. You know the one – everyone knows the tune, but no one knows the words, since they were originally written in German, his own language. Not sure you know the one? Here it is sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:
Next most famous of Brahms’s compositions is probably his Hungarian Dances, and of the 21 that he wrote, the most famous of those is the Hungarian Dance #5. Even though he was born in Germany and considered a German composer, he lived most of his adult life in Austria. One more country away is Hungary, and Brahms was fascinated by their folk music. Some of the dances are arrangements of those folks dances and others were inspired by them. He originally wrote them for piano duet, but they proved to be so popular that he re-arranged them for piano solo and a few of them for orchestra. Other composers have since arranged most of them for orchestra as well. Since we are most interested in piano (aren’t we?) and there is this fabulous recording by Benjamin Grosvenor playing it as an encore at the BBC Proms, that’s what you get:
Extra Exploring: You might be interested to hear how the piano duet version is both similar and different. Here it is played by the Passepartout Piano Duo:

Last but not least, here is the orchestral version, played by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Claudio Abbado: