J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier
March 26, 2015
The Well-Tempered Clavier is one of the great masterpieces created by J.S. Bach. Countless musicians, from Robert Schumann to Pablo Casals have considered it their “musical Bible,” and have studied it and played from it on a daily basis. What makes this work so great?
Join Steinway artist Jacquelyn Helin to learn some of the history and theory behind this collection of forty-eight pieces and to hear her play some of the Well-Tempered Clavier Preludes and Fugues.
Beethoven: His Life and His Piano Sonatas
JANUARY 29, 2020
As the world celebrates his 250th birthday, it is hard to overstate Beethoven’s towering importance as a composer. Not only did he, together with Haydn and Mozart, write music which developed the musical language of the Classical style to its sophisticated apex; he continued to push musical boundaries and laid the foundations of musical Romanticism. Beethoven’s music was the ultimate in self-expression—no composer had written music that spoke so directly to “the public” at a time when public concerts were taking the place of the aristocratic salon. Seen as a Promethean figure by the Romantics, he cast a long shadow. It took Brahms 20 years to publish his first symphony, so overshadowed did he feel by Beethoven’s achievement.
Beethoven wrote his magnificent 32 Piano Sonatas over the course of his life and used the form as his musical laboratory. We will trace his musical development, focusing on the Sonatas. Along the way, we will explore Beethoven’s life, itself the perfect paradigm of the Romantic artist, and his monumental achievements.
Johannes Brahms: The Man and his Piano Music
April 14, 2016
Brahms would never have made it in today’s world of self-disclosure and reality TV. An intensely private person, Brahms burned his letters before his death and let his music speak for itself, as it has to audiences for over a century. However, Brahms the pianist and the man was a fascinating individual, who had long and significant relationships with both Robert Schumann, his mentor, and Clara Schumann, with whom he was in love, and who inspired much of his greatest and most passionate music.
Stylistically, Brahms was both a classicist and a romantic: a classicist in the formal conception of his music and a romantic in the self-expression his music embraced. This lecture-recital will offer a biography of Brahms’ life along with performances of some of his greatest piano masterpieces.
Chopin: The Poet of the Piano
April 11, 2018
Chopin is THE quintessential piano composer. Writing almost exclusively for the piano, he created a unique style that blended Polish dance rhythms and melodies inspired by Italian bel canto opera into a highly personal and emotional expression. The archetypal Romantic, Chopin created many works – Nocturnes and Ballades, or the “Revolutionary” Etude – that typify the themes and currents of the great writers, painters, and composers of 19th century Romanticism. His love affair with the writer George Sand (pen name of Aurore Dupin) established the two of them at the center of the artistic milieu of 1830’s Paris. But, although Chopin led a life of the French salon, he hated public performance, and in his creative life, was a solitary and improvisational artist.
This lecture-recital will explore Chopin’s life, with musical performances drawn from some of his great masterpieces, from the Ballades, the B-flat Minor Sonata, the Preludes, Nocturnes, Mazurkas, and Etudes.
Aaron Copland: The Piano Music
April 7, 2022
Sometimes called the dean of American music, Aaron Copland created a unique and immediately recognizable “American” sound. Ranging from modernist to populist, his music perhaps sounds American through its lucid angularity, its integration of folk tunes and dance, and its yearning melodic lines. In a lecture-recital of various Copland piano works including the Piano Variations, Piano Sonata, Four Piano Blues, and El Salon Mexico, Helin will explore how Copland wrote and how a boy from Brooklyn grew up and wrote in a style that captured the open range and aspirational spirit of the American West.
Mozart: The Beloved of God
February 20, 2019
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth famously wrote that “when the angels play for God, they play Bach; but when the angels play for themselves, they play Mozart – and God listens secretly.” What is it about Mozart’s music that leads to a statement like this, or how do we explain the “Mozart effect” on brain development so that Mozart is the composer that expectant parents are urged to play for their babies in utero to more perfectly launch them in life?
Greatest musical genius of all time, composer whose music captures the heights and depths of the human condition, idiot savant. All these popular clichés – gleaned from plays, movies, and the Salzburg tourist industry – are, to some extent, true. But there is so much more to know and appreciate. Through the lens of his piano music, but also through excerpts of his opera and chamber music, we’ll look at both Mozart’s life and his music to delve into its astounding power. Over his short life, Mozart traveled the distance from youthful prodigy, to Salzburg Court Composer, to one of the most beloved composers of all times. Come listen and smile with God.
Franz Schubert: His Life and Piano Music
April 15, 2021
Franz Schubert’s long melodies and ravishing harmonies mark the beginning of pianistic Romanticism. In his short life of 31 years, Schubert wrote over 600 songs to the poetry of writers such as Goethe, Schiller, and Heine. In his instrumental music for solo piano, chamber music and orchestra, Schubert carried on in the tradition of Beethoven, whom he worshipped. A descendant of the first Viennese school – Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – Schubert was the only composer of these four to have been born in Vienna, where he lived practically his entire life. He led a bohemian existence, staying with wealthy friends in between stints as a schoolteacher in his father’s school.
Often thought of as a carefree scribbler of tunes on the back of napkins in corner cafes, Schubert was actually a disciplined and trained musician who composed constantly, often turning out 3 or 4 songs a morning in quick succession. Particularly over the last years of his life, while he was ill and dying of syphilis, his output of masterworks was astonishing. His music, performed throughout his life chiefly to a small group of adoring and appreciative friends in the intimate salon circles of the “Schubertiads,” has gone on to achieve great and lasting popularity. Schubert’s music is confessional and personal, with a spontaneous-sounding poignancy. In this lecture-recital, through some of his best-loved piano works, we will explore the elements that make Schubert’s style so thoroughly his own.
Robert Schumann: The Piano Music and Life of the Arch-Romantic
March 1, 2017
Robert Schumann was the consummate romantic artist. Literature, his erratic and melodramatic personal life, and flights of his own imagination combine in his piano music, where he created what we think of as the romantic pianistic style. His love affair with Clara Schumann, the woman who would become his wife (as well as the muse for Johannes Brahms), was pivotal both in his life and in the music he wrote.
That music, inspired by Romantic literary works, often celebrated the ultimate artistic triumph of true art over the philistine culture. This lecture-recital will explore Robert Schumann’s passionate – and manic – life with musical examples taken from some of the great masterpieces for piano, such as Carnaval, Kreisleriana, the Davidsbundler Dances and the Fantasy.