Sophia and I have been hard at work this winter season, not only with our seasonal concerts and committments, but we are always at work as usual with our music. Sophia composes daily, and for me to keep up with her musical genius I have to put in the time in our customized studio. No. Not all studios in our business are filled with Steinways! As you can see here in this picture, I am working on our computer system with software that enables us to create compositions, and also allows Sophia some previews of her work. It is complicated, but at least I am not trying to transcribe the work with a pen and parchment! I have to confess that the work is exciting and our true love. I can't wait for you to hear some of the amazing music that I get to listen to daily!
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One of the most common questions that I am asked is, "What is the difference between organs, harpsichords, and pianos?" Sophia and I regularly play all three and regularly interchange these instruments in our concerts. Because we live and breathe on these music machines, I sometimes forget how mysterious they can be to the rest of the world. How these instruments work, where they came from, and the differences between them can seem almost mystical. Hopefully, I can shed just a little bit of light into your darkness and direct you towards a couple of the most basic points of the history and working parts of the tools that Sophia and I work on each day.
Compared to the piano and the harpsichord, the organ is the most complex of the three. It is also the oldest. It is also complicated to play. An organist has to operate not only multiple keyboards (manuals are the technical term) with their fingers but also a big one down below with their feet (called a pedal board). But put simply, an organ is anything that blows air through pipes to make sound. The pipes are made with different shapes and materials that give us the different sounds that you hear. For example, flutes sounds come from square pipes made with wood while trumpet sounds come from pipes are shaped like ice cream cones and made of metal. A big blower blows air through the pipes as valves are opened at the pipe bottoms allowing a sustained tone for as long as the performer needs. Different sounds and sustained tones are the primary differences of the pipe organ compared to the piano and harpsichord.
So, where did the organ come from? Now, we historians love nothing better than arguing about exactly when or where this or that occurred, especially looking this far back into history. For example, on the one hand, very early water driven organs were reported in ancient Rome. Many organists call those the first accounts of organs. Now comes my personal bias and opinion. I don't agree. I think these Roman instruments fall into the "steam whistle" category and have little to do with our modern organs. (But again, I have many distinguished colleagues who disagree with me on this.) I personally fall into the Constantinople camp. I am convinced our organs came out of the Eastern Church in what is now Syria and Turkey. At any rate, all of us organists agree that the organ has been in use in Christian churches since the time of Peter and Paul. In fact, the use of the organ in Christian worship actually predates the use of both the Cross as a symbol and the Holy Bible (Well…..at least the "New" part!). The primitive organ continued its development and rapidly spread across Europe on the Roman roads The air blowing through the pipes was said to represent the Holy Spirit blowing at Pentecost and heavenly choirs of angels. Germany gets the nod for the oldest truly complex and complete organ ever built and organs became much more innovative, versatile and reliable through the 1500's and 1600's. 1708 was a landmark year. During that year J.S. Bach wrote his first great Toccatas and Fugues and the organ was here to stay. At about the time of our Revolution, Mozart called the organ the "King of Instruments" because of its technical complexity and glorious sound. The high tech development race was on during the 1800's with France, England, Germany, and the Flemish lands all vying for top honors. As builders and players immigrated across the Atlantic, the old world powerhouses were soon joined by the great Canadian and American builders.
At this point, organ building split into two types - organs that "power assisted" the player's fingers in some way so they could play more notes and the old style "tracker" that literally ran wood strips from the keys to the pipes to open the air valves. Most of the time, you can quickly tell the difference. Mechanics have the keyboards in one place and the pipes somewhere else - usually in a pipe room or chamber. Trackers have the pipes in a single case of some type directly above the organist and keyboards.
The picture you see in this blog is of me talking with fellow organist Dr. Richard McPherson about the Skinner organ he plays in Northern Virginia just out of DC. We are laughing here because we agree that we organists each have our own "favorite heroes" of organ building. Mine is Samuel Sebastian Wesley (grandson of Methodist co-founder Charles). His best friend in the world was one of the sons of the Walker and Sons Organ Company. Samuel lived not far from the factory and designed what we would call the first truly modern organ around the time of our Civil War. Every Sunday I get to play an English "tracker" organ that was built in 1997 from his blueprints and then sent to America.
See? Now you know what I'm talking about. You passed the exam! Next time, we'll talk about the harpsichord.
My Top 10 - Instrumental Pastorale from the Christmas Concerto, Op. 6, No. 8 Corelli Overture from Messiah Handel Pastoral Symphony from Messiah Handel Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring Bach Sheep May Safely Graze Bach In dulci jubilo Bach Von himmel hoch (Prelude BWV 606 OR Variations BWV 769) Bach Overture from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky
My Top 10 - Vocal Every Valley Shall Be Exalted (commonly paired with Comfort Ye) Handel And the Glory of the Lord Handel Rejoice, Rejoice O Daughters of Zion Handel Cantique de Noel (O, Holy Night) - get a "real" version, please! No c&w. Adam Jesu Bambino Yon Hallelujah (technically not Christmas - but who cares?!) Handel Glory Be Unto God in the Highest from the Christmas Oratorio Saint-Saens Praise Ye, the Lord of Hosts from the Christmas Oratorio Saint-Saens The Virgin's Slumber Song Reger In the Bleak Midwinter Holst
Of course, my all time Christmas favorites are by Sophia Pavlenko! Christmas Festival for Two Pianos Christmas Christmas Medley God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Dobriy vechir tobi (the Ukrainian carol - Masters in this Hall) Christmas Rose
The latest in the Pavlenko Chandley family news is that Sophia and I have acquired another Harpsichord that I am restoring so that we may use it in our two piano concerts for a “two harpsichord” addition to our repertoire! We are really excited about this because after our harpsichord purchase several years ago, Sophia and I have both come to love the unique sound and texture of this instrument that was widely popular during the Baroque period. I mean, I just have really come to love the quote by Wanda Landowska (the woman who famously revived the popularity of this instrument in the early twentieth century) when she says; “You play Bach your way, and I’ll play him his way.”
What she was referring to was the fact that Bach never composed on a modern day piano. Indeed, his notes span the normal five octaves (there is some variation on harpsichord keyboards) of the instrument, while the piano has a total of seven octaves. In addition, the ‘feel’ of the harpsichord is a complete shift in technique. This is mainly because the keys are much lighter, and they pluck the strings instead of hammering them. As a result, you cannot be sloppy at all with your technique on the harpsichord, because the keys have to be played separately, and they return to their rest position based on their weight and not a spring action. In other words, when you play a note on the harpsichord, you get an immediate return on the investment…you can only imagine how much fun this is for Sophia!
When I was at the music conservatory, and early in my career, I remember not paying much attention at all to this instrument, because in piano performance the focus is obviously on the best of modern day instruments and their technology. Over the years however, I have come to appreciate the history and context of the music, and to be quite frank, it wasn’t until Mozart’s time in the eighteen hundreds that the piano was looked at as the superior instrument (and even Mozart learned on the harpsichord). If you look at the picture of Sophia playing the piano in this blog, her harpsichord is featured behind her, showing some of the differences between the Steinway, and this beautiful delicate instrument.
If you have time, take a look at this video footage of Wanda Landowska. It’s the only known video of her playing her harpsichord, but look at her hands in the clip. She really plays each note distinctly and individually. Wanda Landowska
I have also attached this link of Karl Richter’s J.S.Bach Concerto for 2 Harpsichords in C minor BWV 1060 for your enjoyment. Sophia and I both look forward to a concert such as this soon! J.S. Bach 2 Harpsichords in C Minor
As the romance ensues this seasons I also got to thinking about what are truly romantic pieces. My list is as follows, although in no particular order.
These are all piano solo pieces that are perfect for a romantic evening's atmosphere. Romantic orchestral and operatic works are another list altogether. None of Sophia's pieces are on here either. That's another list as well!
1. "Moonlight" Piano Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2; Mov. 1 - Beethoven
2. "Pathetique (pah teh TEEK) Piano Sonata, Op. 13; Mov. 2 - Beethoven
3. Gymnopodie (zhim NAH puh dee) No. 1 - Satie
4. Clair de lune - Debussy
5. Arabesque No. 1 - Debussy
6. Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 - Chopin
7. Nocturne in E Major, Op. 72, No. 1 - Chopin
8. Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3 - Chopin
9. Traumerai, Op. 15, No. 7 - Schumann
10. Liebestraum, (Notturno) No. 3 in A Flat Major - Liszt
Ok, so I know everyone will ask, "Where is Bach?" Well, technically, Bach never wrote anything for the piano. He was a bit too early. However, for those non-purist dissidents out there:
Bonus: Prelude No. 1 in C Major; Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1
I hope everyone has a wonderful February and may spring come early for us all! Take the time to listen to the beautiful pieces and in the words of Clara Schumann: "Why hurry over beautiful things? Why not linger and enjoy them?"
Stanislov was encouraged by the Soviet army to become a singer after being extremely popular as a troop entertainer. He was a successful high tension wire tower builder, but he left that world when he auditioned for (and was accepted by) the Moscow Conservatory. He was admitted at the extremely young age of 25 because of his exceptional baritone voice. He met Sophia's mother Larisa while she was assigned to the National Opera House of Ulan Ude on the far shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia. He was the honored artist and leading bass soloist of that house and he fell in love with Larisa there. Soon thereafter Sophia was born! Later, Larisa groomed him as his vocal coach to become one of the most renowned Bass Baritones in the history of the Soviet Union.
They moved back to Kiev when Sophia was one year of age because Stanislov was chosen to run the No. 2 Opera House that was new. He was among the first wave of artists hired there. Larisa would later become the vocal coach for the National Opera.
Over the years his career took him all over the Soviet Union. He was however an outspoken advocate for Ukrainian independence. He refused to join or support the Communist party and his career was affected by that political stance. Public media and publicity exposure was censored and he was therefore never allowed to leave the Soviet Union as a result.
Sophia's memories: " I remember my father's long conversations about art, philosophy, and music. He basically exposed me to culture and shaped my vision. I do remember seeing him sing on stage, but it is his conversations that I cherish the most. He was so well versed, and he had a keen sense of humor! He left me so much for my life, but he also gave me life lessons to which I always adhere. "Strive for excellence. Behave yourself with dignity. Always perfect yourself. Have a sense of honor. Never ever forget to represent the great country of Ukraine with honor. Believe in yourself." My father proved by example that all is possible with discipline and dedication. Most of all my father adored high art. He felt that it was the pinnacle of the human experience. My father's influence on others reflected these thoughts. The legacy of his voice, the way he performed on stage,the artistic force of his artistry all combined to make him revered. But he was also considered to be a true friend's friend. He was intensely loyal and would do anything to help his comrades. People valued his reliability. He was the one there for them during times of trial.
Special note from Paul: Stanislov died in 1996. I have actually seem people stop Sophia on the streets of Kiev to get her autograph because she was his daughter. That should give you an idea of how truly revered his memory is is. Sophia has also been invited to stay with Ukrainian and Russian fans, colleagues, and friends throughout the world over the years...just because she is his daughter. This says a lot about his legacy as an artist and a man.
My family has always had a keen interest in music, and when they settled in the mountains they brought the English tradition of folk song and dance from their homeland, and because of the isolation in the rugged mountain terrain, the music was passed down in the form of ballads and tunes from generation to generation.
From 1916-1918 a dedicated Englishman and musician by the name of Cecil Sharp visited the southern Appalachian region (from England) recording and writing down the words and music of all the old English tunes he could find. He has been popularized in recent years as "The Songcatcher". One of the first communities where he spent time in 1916 was indeed...Shelton Laurel!
Cecil Sharp's Diary reads as follows:
29 July, 1916. ‘I call on Mrs Noah Shelton who sang me 2 or 3 beautiful songs, including ‘On Friday Night’ (‘The Lover’s Lament’), a lovely dorian tune....after a picnic lunch we call on Mr & Mrs Sol Shelton & family - a most delightful lot of people. Here I got 3 or 4 more songs... walked home beaming with pleasure after so successful a day’.
9 August, 1916. ‘Called on Sol Shelton’s in the afternoon and had a long talk there taking down one song from Donna’.
Donna Shelton was my great grandmother. The song she sand was 'Sweet William'. I remember sitting on her lap when I was a preschooler and she sang that song to me! The picture of the beautiful young woman you see is her, taken by Cecil Sharp and his assistant during the visit in 1916. I have also included other pictures of my family recorded in the Sharp library in London. I have never visited the house there, but I hope someday Sophia and I will visit and maybe listen to the recordings of my family singing the original tunes!
Diary entry and picture credit given to "Cecil Sharp Diaries" Vaughn Williams Memorial Library, London England.