Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Frédéric Chopin was a Polish composer and piano virtuoso of the Romantic period who lived most of his life in Paris, France. When he was a young man, he left his native Poland to go to Paris. There he met many of the important artists, writers, and musicians of his day including Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Liszt. Chopin was one of the inventors of a new style of composition for the piano with singing melodies and ornamental flourishes. His melodies are beautiful and often contain a touch of melancholy. Chopin’s compositions are mostly for the solo piano, although he also wrote a cello sonata, two piano concertos, and a piano trio.
One of the first pianists to live long enough to be recorded was Vladimir de Pachmann. Vladimir de Pachmann (1848 – 1933) was a Russian/German pianist especially known for his performances of Chopin’s music. He also had an eccentric on-stage style. He was known for making gestures, muttering, and addressing the audience during his performances (even talking during some of his recordings). Vladimir de Pachmann was one of the top pianists of the 19th century. He died in 1933 at the age of 84.
Here is a recording of de Pachmann playing Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, Op. 32, No. 1. The recording was made when Vladimir was 78 years old. Notice how expressive and elastic the playing is. This is a complete contrast to today’s pianists who are taught to play a piece in strict tempo without slowing down or speeding up too much during a piece. Enjoy!
Jazz violinist Joe Venuti and jazz pianist Earl Hines both began their careers in the 1920s. Venuti played with great jazz musicians such as Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and Eddie Lang (Venuti and Lang were well known for their violin/guitar duos and they had an influence on Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli). Earl Hines played for many years with Louis Armstrong and was the pianist on several of Armstrong’s early recordings. It has been said that Hines was the only musician who matched Armstrong’s skill and inventive ideas when it came to improvisation.
In 1975, Joe Venuti and Earl Hines teamed up (this was the first time they played together) to make a recording called “Hot Sonatas.” Hines was brought out of retirement to make the recording and Joe Venuti was fading into obscurity (his partner Eddie Lang died early in 1933 and Venuti drank heavily). Venuti had a comeback in the late 1960s after a 15 year lull in his career. Here are a couple of tunes from the recording called “The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else,” and “Hot Sonatas.” Enjoy!
Olivier Latry (1962-)
Olivier Latry is a famous French organist. He is the main organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He also teaches organ at the Paris Conservatory of Music. Latry has played in over 40 countries across five continents. He has made many recordings on the big organ at Notre Dame Cathedral.
In January 2019, Olivier Latry recorded an album of J.S. Bach organ works on the Notre Dame Cathedral organ called “Bach to the Future.” It was the last recording done on the big organ before a fire devastated the Cathedral on April 15, 2019. The spire of the cathedral collapsed, several stained glass windows were destroyed, and the Cathedral had smoke and water damage. The big organ (about 8000 pipes, five keyboards, pedals, and 109 stops) managed to escape severe damage. There was some smoke and water that got into the organ. At the time of the fire the Cathedral was undergoing renovations.
The first organ of Notre Dame was built in 1357. A few years after the first organ was built a new one was put in. Since that time the organ has grown in size. The organ was greatly transformed by the famous organ builder Cavaille-Coll in 1868. Since that time the sound of the organ has greatly changed and the instrument has been modernized.
Here is an incredible video shot in Notre Dame Cathedral of Olivier Latry playing one of the pieces on his new album “Bach to the Future” called The Toccata and Fugue in d minor. This piece has been attributed to J.S. Bach but recent scholarship seems to refute that claim. It is one of the most well known organ pieces on the planet, perhaps the most well known piece. Enjoy the wonderful sound of this massive organ played by one of the greatest organists on the planet.