Piano Medley on Bach’s Prelude in C

Anne Ku’s Piano Medley on Bach’s Prelude in C from his Well-tempered Clavier is an example of floating different recognizable melodies on top of piano, suitable for voice or violin or flute with a keyboard instrument.

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A piece for performance needs to be long enough for the audience to digest. There is such thing as a minimum and optimal length for the listener. Easy piano pieces are often deemed too short. One strategy for beginning piano students to play a piece long enough to satisfy the ear is to combine what they know into a medley.

How does one arrange a medley?

Continue reading “Piano Medley on Bach’s Prelude in C”

Pachelbel Canon in C

Anne Ku introduces Pachelbel’s famous Canon to beginners of piano.

Johann Pachelbel’s most famous work is his Canon in D. George Winston played his version of it in the key of C. Why not? C is 2 sharps easier than D major.

Is it possible to decompose it further? Simplify it so that even beginners can have fun with it?

I recall a post-concert spontaneous “jam session” in Houston, Texas where Robert on his guitar and I on the piano played the chords of Pachelbel and the host improvised on his flute. It was such fun that I wanted to do it again.

A canon, by definition, is a piece of music where one voice repeats the part of another, throughout the whole piece. Pachelbel’s Canon is often subtitled with “basso ostinato” — a repetitive bass. Once you know the bass line and the sequence of chords, you can repeat it over and over again.

Pachelbel's Canon arranged for solo and group playing by Anne Ku
Pachelbel's Canon arranged for solo and group playing by Anne Ku

In the above score, notice there are 4 parts. Four different players can play in sequence. The first begins. The second joins at the beginning when the first reaches rehearsal mark A. Similarly the third player joins at the beginning when the first reaches rehearsal mark B and the second reaches rehearsal mark A.  And so on.

Of course there is more development than these 16 bars, but at least beginners can play this.

I googled “Pachelbel Canon and C” and discovered that others have arranged simple versions for solo piano in the key of C. And there are plenty of free sheet music on the Internet such as this one.

Music in the movie The Lady who is Aung San Suu Kyi

Mozart’s piano concerto number 23, K488, adagio is played twice in Luc Besson’s The Lady.

Last evening I watched Luc Besson’s “The Lady” at the Maui Film Festival. I had read about Aung San Suu Kyi over the years but never quite understood why she was kept under house arrest in Burma and separated from her family in Oxford. The movie educated me to her cause and touched me greatly. I was particularly moved by her son Alexander Aris’ acceptance speech of the Nobel prize on her behalf.

The two classical pieces of music were played twice. Mozart’s piano concerto and Pachelbel’s Canon in D will now take on a new meaning for me. As I have been collecting different arrangements of the latter, which suffice material for a separate blog, allow me to indulge in Mozart.

The second movement of Mozart’s piano concerto number 23 (also known as the Adagio from K488) played by soloist Maurizio Pollini was poignant and at the tempo I preferred. I had heard it on a CD broadcasted at my late composition teacher’s funeral this past August and thought it too fast. If you haven’t heard of this concerto, compare the faster version of Horowitz with the slower of Pollini. See how the tempo affects the mood.

Theme from Adagio, 2nd movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto K.488
Theme from Adagio, 2nd movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto K.488

My duo has played our own arrangement on various occasions. The piano is the solo, accompanied by the guitar as orchestra. It’s one of my favourite slow movements of piano concertos. We’re always arguing over the right tempo for this piece. Note: Scores for full-orchestra, 2-piano version, and 4-hand duet can be downloaded for free from the Petrucci Library.

In the context of the movie, Mozart’s Adagio conveyed sadness and death. Earlier in the movie The New World, it conveyed one of unrequited love. For me, it will always be a beautiful work — one that can be played as a piano solo.

From performance to entertainment

Classical musicians are trained to perform not entertain. However, increasingly audiences want entertainment. Is there a compromise?

At conservatory, we’re taught to perform not entertain. Yet the world of performance is being crowded out by demand for entertainment.

Famous classical pieces take on new meaning after they have been chosen as themes for movies. Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor reminds us of the movie “The Pianist.” Whenever I play it, I think of that tragic atmosphere of loss and hopelessness.

Debussy’s Clair de Lune accompanies that delicate moment when Bella visits Edward for the first time. My friend in Denver wants me to play it exactly the way it sounds in the Twilight movie.

Or is simply that classical music takes on a new context when used in situations that bear meaning to us?

Would it be a compromise on our training and eternal quest for beauty and perfection to abdicate performance and embrace entertainment?

Or should we pay attention to what our listeners want? They want to hear those tunes that remind them of the good times in their lives, the movies they love, the weddings they attended (or perhaps their own). We as musicians can easily execute that.

To us, Pachelbel’s Canon in D may be a performance. To them, it’s entertainment — reminding them of the theme from “Ordinary People.”

My friend in DC sent me the following clip of the most popular string quartet in Poland. They are popular because they are entertaining. But more importantly, they are virtuosic, creative, and fun! Mozart would be laughing at this. Click on Mozart Group.

In short, a performance can be entertaining. But to differentiate ourselves and to draw audiences, we as performing artists may need to do more than interpret the music the way we think the composers expect their works to be played.