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Piano Project 2014: Sonatas, Preludes, Toccatas, Fantasies, and Etudes

Piano Project 2014: Sonatas, Preludes, Toccatas, Fantasies and Etudes

Celebrating its seventh season, the Bloomingdale School of Music Piano Project will present over 70 performances by students and faculty on Saturday, March 8th at the school. Four concerts, each an hour in length, will be presented:

I: 12:30 p.m.
II: 2:30 p.m.
III: 4:30 p.m.
IV: 6:30 p.m.

In keeping with the tradition of this project, the topic this year was chosen by the piano faculty and explores the development of the piano repertoire from its most elemental compositional forms: sonatas, preludes, toccatas, fantasies, and etudes – forms which have been designed and refined throughout the history of keyboard music. While the great popularity of the keyboard sonata can be documented by its structural development from Domenico Scarlatti to the First Viennese School of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and through every major composer of the Romantic and Modern styles, the preludes, toccatas, and fantasies found their developmental roots in free, improvisational keyboard works from the 16th to the 18th century. Although the terms were interchangeable, their meaning was the same: imagination. After the earliest works from the Venetian school of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, the cultivation of keyboard music known as the “fantastic style” was developed by the most prominent Italian, German and Dutch keyboard virtuosos of the 17th and 18th century, such as Claudio Merulo, Frescobaldi, Sweelinck, Froberger, Buxtehude, and Bach. Their works were often multi-sectional with frequent references to vocal-style recitative and imitative counterpoint. Mozart and Beethoven would continue this practice in their fantasies and sonatas and by the 19th century, composers from Schubert to Rachmaninoff would experiment with binary and ternary forms which they called impromptus, intermezzos, capriccios, ballades, rhapsodies, novelettes, as well as through-composed preludes. The keyboard repertoire of the 19th century Romantics remains fundamental to the development of the pianoforte we know today, and the contribution to modern-day piano technique is specifically attributable to the etudes by Chopin as well as Liszt whose “10-finger unit” – two hands as one – was the foundation of his “transcendental technique.” While these etudes explore some of the most challenging issues of keyboard playing, such as continuous octaves, double-notes, scalar passages, arpeggios, trills, black keys, chromatic scales, repeated notes, etc., they are part of the vast repertoire of the 19th century that illustrates the expressive range of the piano sonority, and which has inspired countless composers from the 20th century to the present to bring yet another dimension to this instrument.

Since the inception of the piano project in 2008 by former faculty member and Director of Education, Bathsheba Marcus Conley, the goal of these concerts has been to combine students and faculty of the piano department in a shared topic of study that will serve to inspire all to investigate the extraordinary literature of the piano. Since each concert will last for little more than an hour, it is our hope that students, parents and guests will stay for an entire program.

Finally, it is with a sincere and heartfelt intention that we, the faculty and students of the piano department, dedicate these concerts to the memory of Lawrence Davis – our devoted director of the Bloomingdale School family for 22 years, respected colleague, trusted advisor, and encouraging friend.

What is a Sonata/Sonatina?

A sonata is an instrumental genre that contains three or four movements. The first movement often has a specific form, called the Sonata-Allegro form, which means it has three sections, the EXPOSITION, DEVELOPMENT, and RECAPITULATION. It might be helpful to think of Sonata-Allegro form like a play! The EXPOSITION is like the first act of a musical play in which all the “characters” are introduced; the DEVELOPMENT is the second act in which the drama happens and all the “characters” go crazy; and the RECAPITULATION, is the grand finale in which we notice the “characters” from the EXPOSITION coming back, and all the drama is resolved! The second movement of the Sonata is often slow and contrasting in mood, and the last movement is usually fast paced and often has a RONDO* form (see below). The Sonata became very important in the Classical period, and you can find Sonatas and Sonatinas by almost every Classical composer. Composers also wrote Sonatas and Sonatinas in the Romantic period and the 20th although the form became increasingly free. (P.S. Sonatina just means little Sonata.)

What is a Rondo?

A Rondo is a musical genre of pieces that has many contrasting sections. Let’s say we call the first musical idea “A.” If there is a contrasting musical idea, we’ll call it “B,” if there is another, we’ll call it “C” and so forth. So the typical Rondo form is: ABACADA…etc. The first musical idea “A” is always repeated and comes back throughout the entire piece!

What is a Fantasy?

Like its name implies, a fantasy is a work that has a free form and is not bound by any specific structural gamut. It is often improvisational in nature – it may have many tempo, meter, or key changes, and often has lots of virtuosic passagework as well.

What is a Toccata?

A Toccata is an instrumental piece that is written to show off the skill of the player. The word “Toccata” comes from the Italian word “toccare,” which means literally “to touch” or “to play” (as in playing an instrument). Toccatas may have interludes with fugal writing (many voices imitatively composed). The genre became very important in the Baroque period but has been used in the 20/21st century quite a bit as well.

What is a Prelude?

The word Prelude implies something that comes before. Because of the prefix “pre,” this is quite clear, just like “preschool” means a school that children attend before they start regular school. Preludes started out as pieces that came before and made a pair with another contrasting piece, such as a fugue or a fantasy. For example, J.S. Bach, probably the most famous composer of the Baroque period, wrote 48 Preludes and Fugues in his famous Well-Tempered Clavier. However, in the Romantic period, composers began to write Preludes as a genre to stand alone, so the pieces did not necessarily come before anything at all! These pieces are usually short, but often contain concentrated emotion. One famous example of Preludes is Chopin’s set of 24 Preludes, Op. 28. Scriabin, Rachmaninov, and Debussy are some other composers who have really well-known sets of Preludes.

What is an Etude?

Etude in French literally means study. Etudes are usually instrumental pieces that concentrate on one or several particularly difficult technical skills, for example for pianists, those difficult technical skills might be repeated notes, octaves, sixths, legato singing lines, chords, scales or arpeggios. One common misconception is that Etudes are always fast. They can be, and often are, but there are also equally difficult slow etudes!