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Piano Music Performed in “Eighty-Eight Keys, 300 Years”

In this Kentucky Muse program, Diane Earle performs a wide range of pieces from throughout the piano’s 300-year of history. Here they are, in order performed and with comments by Earle:

Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23, first movement, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)


Pyramid Piano

“This is one of the most dramatic openings of any piano concerto, and a very beloved, gorgeous, Romantic period melody,” Earle says. “Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is one of the favorites in all piano and orchestra repertoire. It shows the range, power, and emotion of the piano.”

“Giga” from Sonata in D Major by Baldassare Galuppi (1706 – 1785) (performed on harpsichord)

“Since the piano was invented in Italy, I wanted to begin telling its story with a composition by an Italian composer. Galuppi was an early composer who loved writing for harpsichord, and his compositions may also be played on the piano. I love the lively spirit of his music.”

“Eine Kleine Gigue” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

“Since Galuppi’s piece is a dance movement, also a ‘gigue’ I wanted the listener to compare and contrast a gigue by Mozart that was designed to be played on the piano. Also fast and exciting, this piece shows off the newly created dynamics that the new piano was able to create.”

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, second movement by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

“Beethoven said that Mozart ‘taught the instruments how to sing,’ and this piece demonstrates that very well. Mozart loved to compose concerti for piano and orchestra, and enjoyed the dialogue between the two forces, as portrayed in this concerto movement. There is a simplicity, yet emotional depth to Mozart’s compositions that makes them so special, moving, and beloved.”

“Moonlight” Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2: first movement, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

“This is one of the most famous, often-requested pieces in all of piano literature. Students long to play it, and many continue their piano lessons just so they will be able to play this piece. It has much emotion and passion, is in a minor key, and is quite moving. Beethoven loved to compose music with fire, drama, and passion, and this piece shows his emotion, as well as the fact that the piano was evolving in tandem with the emotional demands composers were asking at the time.”

Scherzo, B Minor, Op. 20, by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849)

“A scherzo is a piece that has some tongue-in-cheek humor. The ‘scherzo’ aspect of this piece is that the opening fortissimo chords that begin the ‘A’ section return at the end of the pianissimo lullaby ‘B’ section, startling the listener. The piece is in ABA form, like an Oreo cookie, with outer showy, virtuosic sections, and a middle lullaby section that shows Chopin’s lyrical writing. True to Chopin’s compositional style, there is a virtuosic coda to conclude the piece, showing off the pianist and exciting the audience.”

“La cathedrale engloutie” by Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)

“Debussy was an ‘Impressionist’ composer who loved to paint landscapes through his use of tone color, dynamics, and feelings. He also loved the sea, and this piece is about a legend of a cathedral that is engulfed in the sea due to the impiety of the people. Sometimes it rises from the ocean waves, church bells ring, and then it sinks back to the ocean. Debussy loved to utilize the many varied dynamics and colors of the piano in his music.”

Prelude, Op. 23, No. 4 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)

“Rachmaninoff was a piano performer who wrote music for himself to perform. He loved passion, and added even more drama and emotion than many composers heretofore. There is a sense of longing in his music that I find very special, and he also employs complex textures and rich harmonies to create more drama.”

“The Tides of Manaunaun” by Henry Cowell (1897 – 1965)

“Manaunaun was a mythological god of motion who created tides, back and forth, as the world was being created. The composer uses tone clusters, performed with the pianist’s forearm, to portray the tides or waves of the ocean. This shows some nontraditional ways of playing the piano, typical of some 20th century composers seeking new means of expression as society was rapidly changing.”

“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin (1898 – 1937)

“A favorite piece of classical and popular music alike, this famous work combines blues harmonies with classical elements. Emotional, jazzy, and fun, it shows American music at its best. The orchestra and piano enjoy their flirtatious banter back and forth, and the melodies are very romantic and beautiful. The harmonies are rich, powerful, and the rhythms syncopated and exciting. Gershwin wanted his music to appeal to all listeners, and this piece certainly accomplishes that goal.”