This week, we stepped on the gas with a show at Presto tempo. Browse our playlist below and see if you can keep up!
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No. 14 in c-sharp, Op. 27, No. 2 'Moonlight' III. Presto Agitato Beethoven wrote his Piano Sonata in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2, at a time when he was terribly unhappy. It was around this time that he finally began to admit to his friends that he was going deaf. and that a marriage to his love and the work’s dedicatee, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, was out of the question: she was not of the lowly musician’s class. Knowing this unease in his life, you might hear the famous first movement of the sonata as a somber funeral march, and this fiery third movement as an expression of his frustration. So, the description that we do associate with this sonata, “Moonlight,” certainly would have been confusing to Beethoven. That’s because the popular nickname was applied after Beethoven’s death, by Berlin journalist and poet Ludwig Rellstab. Rellstab associated the piece with “a boat passing the wild scenery of Lake Lucerne in the moonlight.” By the end of the 19th century, the nickname stuck.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) Flute Concerto in g, Op. 10, No. 2, RV 439 'La notte' In this arrangement, the group Red Priest offers a crazed, mannerist, and, frankly, creepy take on Vivaldi’s music. But perhaps it’s not too far off the mark—in his lifetime, Vivaldi was known for his wild, fantastical improvisations on the violin. These excerpts from “The Night” Concerto, with their suggestively programmatic titles, invite such an exaggerated treatment. Originally, this was a concerto for flute, published in Vivaldi’s influential op. 10 collections of concertos. Although Vivaldi was closely associated with the city of Venice, where he lived and taught, these concertos were not published in his native city. Instead they were published in Amsterdam. A hub of European publishing, Amsterdam was the place of publication for many of Vivaldi’s works.
Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782) Six Grand Overtures, Op. 18: No. 4 in D 'Temistocle' The youngest Bach son spent much of his adult life living abroad, residing first in Italy, and then in England, where he was known as John Bach. J.C.’s cosmopolitan musical style strongly differentiates his music from that of his famous father and brothers, and places him firmly in the Classical era. While his music varied throughout his career, J.C Bach is best known for writing in the “galant” style. Characterized by light, pleasing melodies with symmetrical forms and simple harmonies, the style galante dominated instrumental chamber music in the mid 1700’s. However by the end of the 19th century, Bach’s music had practically ceased to be performed or published. A revival has re-examined this composer and improved his legacy as one of the most influential early Classical composers.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) 2 Klavierstuke: Andante cantabile and Presto agitato Mendelssohn is often remembered for rekindling interest in the music of Baroque masters, such as Bach and Handel, but his often overlooked Klavierstucke shows influences from progressive composers: Schubert and Chopin. The term “Presto” became more standard as a tempo marking during Mendelssohn’s life. Baroque manuscripts were often scant when it came to tempo markings. As they headed towards the Romantic Era, Mendelssohn and others became more specific and complex with musical interpretations and expressive terms in their pieces. Presto became more common, often paired with even more specific terms, such as Presto ma non troppo, meaning fast, but not too fast. Or Presto Furioso, at break-neck speed.
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) Sinfonía Buenos Aires, Op. 15 (III. Presto marcato) Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla was known both as a prodigy performer on the South American button accordion called the bandoneon, and also for his iconoclastic treatment of tango music. Forgoing the traditional parameters of tango, Piazzolla fused musical conventions with jazz, classical music and expanded instrumentation to develop a distinctive avant-garde style known as nuevo tango. His Sinfonia Buenos Aires comes from a particularly potent period of classical music education where he studied composition with Alberto Ginastero for five years. This piece won him a scholarship to continue composition studies in France with Nadia Boulanger, who encouraged Piazzolla to further meld tango and classical music together.
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) Russlan and Ludmilla: Overture Mikhail Glinka is often considered the father of Russian music. He was the first Russian composer to gain international fame, and in the 19th century, he was the undisputed master composer in his home country. After studying in Milan and then Vienna, he realized that his purpose in life was to return to Russia, write music in a Russian style and, therefore, establish a Russian musical tradition, which he did. Among his wide output of musical works, the overture to his opera Ruslan and Ludmila is an orchestral favorite throughout the world, particularly due to its flying presto string part.. The opera is a setting of a fantasy poem by Alexander Pushkin (the same guy that wrote Russian favorites Eugene Onegin and Boris Godunov), and it’s based on a wide variety of traditional Russian fairy tales. Pushkin himself would have probably written the libretto, but he was killed in a duel just as Glinka began work on the opera.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) Sonata, Op. 77 'Omaggio a Boccherini' IV. Presto Fuirioso Though he composed in all genres of classical music and became a much sought-after mentor for writing film music, today Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is best known for the hundred works he wrote for guitar. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was not trained as a guitarist and did not consider himself a guitar composer, however a commission for a guitar concerto from Andres Segovia and its immediate success led to a creative flourishing for the instrument late in Tedesco’s career. His guitar Sonata from 1934 is subtitled as an homage to Bocchernini, which reflects Tedesco’s interest in historical Italian music forms. This was a characteristic of many other neoclassical Italian composers he is associated with, such as Casella, Respighi, and Tommasini.
Georges Enescu (1881-1955) Cantabile et Presto To the outside world, Georges Enescu is perhaps the only well-known Romanian composer, however his role in developing classical music in Romania cannot be understated. A pianist, violinist, composer, conductor and teacher, Enescu advocated for contemporary music by co-founding the Society of Romanian Composers and was instrumental in establishing the Romanian Opera and the Philharmonic Orchestra. His music is often a blend of Romanian folk music and poetic Romanticism inspired by Franz Liszt, exemplified in his Romanian Rhapsodies and chamber pieces like his Cantabile and Presto for flute and piano, which was written in 1904.
Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee (p. 1989) Presto The titular track from Canadian rock-band Rush’s 13th studio album does not use tonight’s thematic word as a tempo marking, but rather as its other common use: an incantation for a magic spell. For Rush’s lyricist, Niel Peart, the singer of this song waves his magic wand and presto, life has been made good and a pining lover’s heart is set free. Presto the album was released in 1989, a turning point for Rush after a fifteen year career touring and releasing records with the label Mercury. After a six month hiatus, the band teamed up with a new label, Atlantic Records, and changed their sound from synth-based rock to a more guitar dominated direction, which frontman Alex Lifeson described as a return to their roots. The album reached Gold certification for selling 500,000 copies, and Rush returned to their intensive tour schedule with Presto in 1990.