Steinway

Model D Grand Piano from Steinway.com

Model D Grand Piano from Steinway.com

I know I usually like to talk about guitars, banjos and basses but there is a an instrument that is crucial to almost every genre of music, the piano. I used to play piano and it is my second biggest music regret of all time, first was giving up the violin. Anyway, Steinway and sons has been making the best pianos out of New York for over 150 years. What really impressed me was this documentary called Note by Note The Making of L 1037. I loved watching the process of making a grand piano. Which if you have ever seen a grand piano it is enormous. To make one of these pianos takes a long time like a year long. Also like the best guitars it is all hand crafted, but you need about 10 different people to make parts of the piano. There is one guy who just makes the soundboard and nothing else. One person can make a guitar but the amount of work that goes into one of these masterpieces. It’s no wonder why they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just like wood for guitars it has to be seasoned, dried and cured. It also need to be cured after it is built and tuned regularly for a month or so.

I would recommend this doc to anyone who likes pianos, woodworking or instrument building. I thought it was so cool. One more thing about it was that they interviewed a lot of famous pianists who rent out the Steinways for an evening performance or a tour. Just like every hand crafted guitar has a unique sound so does every Steinway and just like guitar manufactures are struggling with cheap imports, Steinway is too.

I was looking around on the site and it is impressive. They have all of their models and they just look beautiful. When I look at guitar and banjo specs I feel right at home, I know exactly what they are talking about. Here not so much. It is cool to see that they both use spruce and brass hardware is what is used on the top of the line models. I have talked about spruce but not Brass. I will in a later post but for now I’ll just say that brass is a prized metal for is sonority and popularity in instruments like saxophones and trumpets. Theses are also in the brass family of instruments. Also in banjos a brass tone ring is the sign a of a high quality instrument.

I saw it on Netflix so I believe you can still see it there. Otherwise you can buy it from PBS.

Here is the site

http://www.notebynotethemovie.com/

and if you have an interest in Steinway and Sons.

http://www.steinway.com/

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The Ninth Symphony

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven

So I know this is kind of a digression from what I normally talk about but it’s definitely not about heavy metal. I love Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and It’s getting to be that season where you start to hear Ode to Joy and thinking about classical standards. It’s not that I start thinking about the Ninth only at Christmas time but it seems like an appropriate time to talk about it. In fact, I think about it all year long.

This is by far my favourite symphony, I even know the baritone solo that starts the choral part. Before I get into the symphony itself I’ll throw down a little bit of background about the piece. This was Beethoven’s final symphony and he was mostly deaf when he composed it. He hadn’t published anything in a long time when the 9th came out and he was beginning to be forgotten. He had made a huge impact in Austria when he wrote the Eroica symphony also known as the third, for Napoleon. However he scratched out his name when Napoleon crowned himself emperor. Beethoven was a big supporter of republicanism. Even though most of his employers were royalty. Gradually Beethoven isolated himself more and more so by the end of his life he was considered past his prime, a recluse and a malcontent. The fact that he probably didn’t hear his last symphony is a testament to how great a composer he actually was.

This symphony was an enormous undertaking, on Beethoven and everyone who performs in it. It has a huge orchestra and chorus with four soloists. It was one of the longest symphonies up until that point in time, and we actually have this symphony to thank for our current CD length. One of the pioneers of compact discs loved this symphony so much that he insisted that the whole composition could fit on one CD. So the CD’s capacity was increased for 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes. The symphony takes about 1:15 to 1:20 to play.

There are four movements, but most everyone knows the last one, the choral part. The first movement is a tempestuous one. It does something really odd. It starts off with the orchestra warming up before it launches into the movement. Completely unheard of for its time. Then the key of D minor switches to D major, which was another innovation no one had done before. The second movement has this falling sort of opening theme with an emphasis on the timpanis. If anyone lives in DC and listens to WGMS classical station this theme is used whenever they come back from a commercial break. I won’t go into any more detail on the theory mainly because I know very little theory. The third is a slow movement an adagio but it then builds up to the momentous fourth movement. In the beginning of the fourth movement the “Ode to Joy” theme is first played by the basses alone, the bass at this time was not seen as a standalone instrument and is just one more think about how rare this symphony was. One more interesting thing about the fourth is right before the tenor solo a funeral style dirge starts playing. A funeral dirge in a joyous symphony? It makes for an incredibly interesting symphony. As if Beethoven weren’t interesting enough already.

A Young Beethoven

A Young Beethoven

A few facts about the Ninth Symphony

In the movie Immortal Beloved this piece is what Beethoven’s alleged lover forgives him over because of its amazing beauty.

Beethoven and his Ninth symphony is considered the beginning of the romantic era of music

The poem used in the choral part was written by Friedrich Schiller in 1783

It debuted on May 7th 1824 an was a major success. However a repeat performance on the 23rd was not well attended.

Versions to listen to

Just like covers of songs no two versions of the Ninth are the same

1. Leonard Bernstein- world renowned conductor, and probably the most well known

2. Kurt Masur – This is the version I heard first. Great version, not too fast.

3. Hungarian Philharmonic- I have their set of all of Beethoven’s Symphonies, just wonderful.

4. Karl Bohm – Placido Domingo is one of the soloists.

I don’t suggest trying to find it on Youtube, it’s hard to find the whole symphony done by one orchestra, but it may be the best starting point. I personally would go out and get a copy of it.

Upcoming Posts

Hello all,

I know I haven’t been posting as much as I normally do. I will probably have a few coming down this week, but I am going to start a guitar restoration segment. I have an old Kay guitar I bought at a yard sale for $10 and I am currently thinking about how to restore it. I have put on some new tuner so it accepts strings. The big problem now is the neck is partially detached from the body.

Anyway these are some of the topics I plan on talking about:

-The Rolling Stones

-Ian Stewart

-Ludwig Van Beethoven and his 9th Symphony

-Steinberger Guitars

-Schecter Basses

-Kay Guitar Restoration