Monthly Archives: March 2011

Chopin Scherzo No. 3

We’ve been busy in the last few days with preparations for our Peru trip. We leave at the butt crack of dawn on Friday!

Tonight, as I was searching YouTube for more music to put onto my MP3 player for the trip, I came across this amazing video of a very young Martha Argerich (the video says it’s from when she won the International Chopin competition, which was in 1965):

This is one of my favourite things about YouTube; I just love that I can now watch such incredible old footage of musicians from the past! It’s a wonderful glimpse into another era of piano playing. I’ve even heard Rachmaninoff himself playing! Must dig up that video sometime. And it’s so interesting to see a young Martha Argerich play; the fiery drive and technique that we’ve come to associate with her are all there, minus a bit of the wildness that we will see in later years. She’s such a brilliant artist. As my university prof, Mr. Lee, used to say, “she’s brilliant, but absolutely crazy!” ūüôā

And Chopin’s 3rd Scherzo is one of my favourite pieces from his repertoire. I was obsessed with this piece when I first learned it back in my 2nd year of undergraduate studies. I love the darkness and the fire, but more than anything, I love the austere chordal sections, with the echoing, bell-like arpeggios interspersed. Those chords make me weep. When I first heard them, I thought they were majestic. And in some ways, I still think they’re partly majestic. But Mr. Lee showed me a different way of thinking of the chordal sections; he made me see that they are full of grandeur, but with an intense pain and despair as well. And when the chords change from E Major to E minor (the section from 4:57 to around 5:16), it’s so solemn, austere, and heavy-hearted, that I bow my head everytime I hear that part. And that moment when it slides into the D major chord (at 5:08) is my absolute favourite moment in the entire piece. It’s full of sadness and resignation, but is also filled with so much comfort at the same time.

From what I remember from my research into this piece, it was written during the winter Chopin and George Sand spent in Majorca. They had gone there to be wed, I believe, but found out they could not, and as a result, they had a lot of trouble finding somewhere that would house them. As a result, they spent some time hiding out in a monastery. And all the while, Chopin’s health was failing. The hymn-like chords,¬†echoing arpeggios, are all reminiscent of sounds you would hear at a monastery, and the despair, anger, and sadness that are apparent in this piece is a reflection of the trials they had to endure during this time.

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On another note, my good friend Kathleen is running her first marathon in May, on her 33rd birthday, and is fundraising for the Japan Earthquake victims. Her donation page for the Red Cross can be found here, and she is hoping to raise $100 for each mile that she will run, making it a total of $2620. And her new blog documents her marathon training and why she is doing it. She’s just awesome and inspiring, and it’s for a wonderful cause!


Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Music

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Sick Day

I’m taking a sick day, hibernating at home, in hopes of a quick recovery. I have to get better pronto, as we¬†leave on our Peru trip next week!

I took the opportunity to make myself my Get-Better-Chicken-Noodle-Stoup, and try my hand at making homemade Chinese Plain Steamed Buns (“Mantou”).¬† Unfortunately, my head was all fuzzy from the congestion and lack of sleep, and I forgot to add sugar to my dough. D’oh!

And I discovered that sugar is a pretty important component in yeast-based doughs. As a result, my buns turned out bland, dense, and too chewy.

And I really need to learn how to shape them better! The buns are still edible, but just rather disappointing. Ah well, I guess I’d better practise making them more!

At least my soup turned out well! It’s very similar to my original recipe, but more brothy, and with red peppers instead of peas.

Here’s to hoping it will get me feeling better asap!

It’s raining out today. Again. I keep hearing Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude in my mind. It’s the Op. 28, No. 15 Prelude, and it’s nicknamed the “Raindrop” because there is a constant repeated note throughout that is reminiscent of relentlessly falling¬†raindrops. The 24 Preludes from this Op. 28 set would be my “desert island must-have” music, and the Raindrop is one of my faves among them. It is mournful, bittersweet, and too beautiful for words. It is also an amazing little masterpiece of a composition. The moment when the repeated Ab‘s become G#‘s, signalling the darker, stormier rain to come, cuts through to my very core everytime I hear or play it. Beyond the visual aspect of the rain imagery, I also think the repeated notes feel like a constant, nagging fear that is always there, and sometimes engulfs us.

And here’s one of my favourite recordings of this piece, by the brilliant Swiss-French pianist Alfred Cortot, one of the greats from the golden era of pianists:

I have been asked by many non-musicians (my husband included) why I love such sad music. I am asked why I wouldn’t prefer to listen to more upbeat, cheerful music. And the thing is, I do like happy music. But I can’t really explain what it is about soul-wrenching, darkly passionate music that touches me to my very core. I actually crave it. Listening or playing such music intensifies my world, my senses, and satisfies something deep within me. I suppose it’s deeply carthartic for me. In real life, you wouldn’t actually want to experience such painful emotions, but they inevitably will touch your life. By feeling those emotions within the safety and comfort of music, it actually makes it more bearable in real life. And the music is simply beautiful. And experiencing beauty on such an intimate level is an indispensable form of solace for me.

Don’t worry, I’m not even feeling sad today! Congested and phlegmy, but not sad. ūüėõ I just crave Chopin sometimes!¬†And between the Chopin, soup, and D’oh-y buns, I should get better in no time!


Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Music

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