Promenade du Piano


Promenade du Piano (2012) is my debut album, featuring pieces by Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Gillock, Billoti, Rachmaninoff, Clementi and Debussy. It includes mesmerizing favorites, such as “Claire de Lune” and “Für Elise”, as well as more playful pieces like my two favorite Chopin Waltzes from Opus 64, and a Clementi Sonatina in D Major. Finally, the powerful emotion of Rachmaninoff’s prelude in C-Sharp Minor and Chopin’s Nocturnes bring this album to it’s well-rounded close.

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About the Album

I began recording “Promenade du Piano” (2012) in 2010 in Evansville, while I was working full-time at Staples and wanted a way to put my work into other people’s hands without being present. I knew I could record high-quality audio and put together a few pieces that most audiences would enjoy (requests typically made while out performing). This prompted me to select a series of titles that would eventually be included on my first album…and a short while later, I began the recording process.

Who has really thought about all of the hard work that goes into recording music? I certainly didn’t before I started. Listening to a lot of different kinds of music and having an appreciation for the quality of the performance is easy, but how often do you really listen explicity? How often do you pay close attention to what you are hearing, letting the sound of each individual phrase wash over you like a metaphorical rain? As I began recording, there were so many opportunities for new ways to make the pieces I had performed more accurate and true to the composer’s original ideas that I found it quite overwhelming. Citing a close friend of my mother, “You’re hearing; but, are you listening?” This very question became the cornerstone of my future recordings.

So it began. I sent my first “track”, which was a terse, sans-sostenuto rendition of Chopin’s Scherzo in B Minor (albeit I would later come to know this piece as “the knuckle-cracker”, for a very good reason), to my parents via e-mail. They were ecstatic, and thus, the desire to continue recording more pieces and truly delve into my talents for a listening ear began. I started recording all kinds of different harmonies and sounds – I even created introductory audio files for web designs I was working on for clients! At first, it came easily. I was still adjusting my ear to hear the details of each recording. But as time wore on, I realized that most of the pieces I wanted to record would have to be performed hundreds of times before I would satisfy my careful ear’s desire for near-perfect performances. Although I was never able to achieve this status, I can honestly say that I’ve done my very best to come as close as I physically (and mentally) am able.

About the Pieces

01 L'Arabesque

by Claude Debussy

Although quite an early work, the arabesques contain hints of Debussy’s developing musical style. The suite is one of the very early impressionistic pieces of music, following the French visual art form. Debussy seems to wander through modes and keys, and achieves evocative scenes through music. His view of a musical arabesque was a line curved in accordance with nature, and with his music he mirrored the celebrations of shapes in nature made by the Art Nouveau artists of the time. Of the arabesque in baroque music, he wrote:

“that was the age of the ‘wonderful arabesque,’ when music was subject to the laws of beauty inscribed in the movements of Nature herself.”

02 Clair de Lune

by Claude Debussy

The Suite bergamasque (French pronunciation: [bɛʁɡamask]) is one of the most famous piano suites by Claude Debussy. Debussy commenced the suite in 1890 at age 28, but he did not finish or publish it until 1905. The third and most famous movement of Suite bergamasque is “Clair de Lune,” meaning “moonlight” in French. Its name comes from Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name which also refers to ‘bergamasques’ in its opening stanza:

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

03 Nocturne in B-Flat Minor No. 1. Op. 9

by Fryderyk Chopin

The Nocturnes, Op. 9 are a set of three nocturnes written by Frédéric Chopin between 1830 and 1832 and dedicated to Madame Camille Pleyel. This nocturne has a rhythmic freedom that came to characterize Chopin’s later work. The left hand has an unbroken sequence of eighth notes in simple arpeggios throughout the entire piece, while the right hand moves with freedom in patterns of seven, eleven, twenty, and twenty-two notes.

The opening section moves into a contrasting middle section, which flows back to the opening material in a transitional passage where the melody floats above seventeen consecutive bars of D-flat major chords. The reprise of the first section grows out of this and the nocturne concludes peacefully with a Picardy third. This is one of my favorite Chopin pieces of all-time.

04 Valse in C-Sharp Minor No. 2 Op. 64

by Fryderyk Chopin

The Waltz in C-sharp minor is the second work of Chopin’s opus 64 and the companion to the Minute Waltz (Op. 64, No. 1). It was composed in 1847. Chopin dedicated this Waltz to Madame Nathaniel de Rothschild.

It consists of three main themes:

  • Theme A tempo giusto chordal with a walking pace feel;
  • Theme B più mosso (faster) — theme stated in running eighth notes, with all harmony in the left hand.
  • Theme C più lento (slower) — a sostenuto in the tonic major (D-flat major, enharmonic equivalent to C-sharp major).

Besides the slower general pace, the melody is in quarter notes except for a few flourishes in eighth notes, giving this section the quality of an interlude before the dramatic restatement of Theme B. The overall layout of the piece is A B C B A B. In an orchestrated version, it forms part of the ballet Les Sylphides.

05 Sonatina in D Major No. 6

by Muzio Clementi

Among Clementi’s compositions the most remarkable are sixty sonatas for pianoforte, and the great collection of Etudes called Gradus ad Parnassum. His sonatinas are still popular everywhere; Erik Satie, a contemporary of Debussy, would later parody these sonatinas (specifically the Sonatina Op. 36, No. 1) in his Sonatine bureaucratique.

Clementi composed almost 110 piano sonatas. Some of the earlier and easier ones were later classified as sonatinas after the success of his Sonatinas Op. 36, and continue to be popular pedagogical pieces in piano education. However, most of Clementi’s sonatas are more difficult to play than those of Mozart, who wrote in a letter to his sister that he would prefer her not to play Clementi’s sonatas due to their jumped runs, and wide stretches and chords, which he thought might “ruin the natural lightness of her hand”.

This particular Sonatina is a very favorite among my family, and as a child I won many piano competitions with my performances of it.

06 Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor No. 16 Op. Post.

by Fryderyk Chopin

The Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor, Op. posth., Lento con gran espressione, P 1, No. 16, KKIVa/16, is a solo-piano piece composed by Frédéric Chopin in 1830. Chopin dedicated this work to his older sister, Ludwika Chopin, with the statement:

“To my sister Ludwika as an exercise before beginning the study of my second Concerto.”

First published 26 years after the composer’s death, the piece is usually referred to as Lento con gran espressione, from its tempo marking. It is sometimes also called Reminiscence. The piece was famously played by Holocaust survivor Natalia Karp for the Nazi concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth, with Goeth being so impressed with the rendition, that he spared Karp’s life.

07 Prelude in B-Minor No. 6 Op. 28

by Fryderyk Chopin

Due to their brevity and apparent lack of formal structure, the Op. 28 preludes caused some consternation among critics at the time of their publication. No prelude is longer than 90 bars (No. 17), and the shortest, No. 9, is a mere 12 bars. Robert Schumann said:

“They are sketches, beginnings of études, or, so to speak, ruins, individual eagle pinions, all disorder and wild confusions.”

Franz Liszt’s opinion, however, was more positive:

“Chopin’s Preludes are compositions of an order entirely apart…they are poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams…”

08 Prelude in C-Sharp Minor No 2. Op. 3

by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Prelude in C-sharp minor (Russian: Прелюдия), Op. 3, No. 2, is one of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s most famous compositions. It is a ternary (ABA) prelude for piano in C-sharp minor, 62 measures long, and part of a set of five pieces entitled Morceaux de fantaisie.

Its first performance was by the composer on September 20, 1892, at a festival called the Moscow Electrical Exhibition, which Rachmaninoff considered his debut as a pianist. After this première, a review of the concert singled out the Prelude, noting that it had “aroused enthusiasm”. From this point on, its popularity grew.

09 Fantasia in D-Minor K. 397

by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Fantasia No. 3 in D minor, K. 397 (Fantasy in English, Fantasie in German) is a piece of music for solo piano composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1782. Despite being unfinished at Mozart’s death, the piece is nonetheless one of his more popular compositions for the piano. Because of its somewhat unusual rhythm, its constantly changing tempo (seven different tempi occur throughout the piece, some of which are quite fast, including the three meter-less cadenzas), and its apparent lack of any recognizable musical form (as indicated by the “Fantasy” title). It does in fact closely follow sonata form. The Fantasia is considered to be a relatively challenging piece to perform.

The original manuscript has not survived and the final measures of the piece have been lost. The ending as it currently exists is believed to have been written by August Eberhard Müller, one of the composer’s admirers.

10 The Firefly

by Anton Bilotti

The American pianist and composer, Anton Bilotti, was the son of Italian immigrants. He developed an exceptional talent for the piano as a child and was sent to study at the Naples Conservatory of Music. He was there from 1915 to 1921 and later studied in Paris with Busoni, Ravel, and de Pachmann.

Anton Bilotti made his piano debut at Carnegie Hall in 1921 and later performed with all the leading orchestras throughout the USA and Europe. His piece “The Firefly” is a fast, fiery and flying torrent that is reminiscent of the piece’s title.

11 Fountain in the Rain

by William Gillock

The noted American music educator and composer of piano music, William Gillock, learned to play the piano at an early age. He attended Central Missouri Methodist College, in Fayette, Missouri, where he studied both piano and composition with N. Louise Wright, who recognised his remarkable talent and encouraged him to make music his career.

Even the earliest of his compositions show a rare inventiveness and originality of harmony and texture, as well as the Gillock trademark, melodic beauty. Called “the Schubert of children’s composers” in tribute to his melodic gift, Gillock composed numerous solos for students of all levels and ensemble music for students and their teachers to play together. He summed up his guiding compositional principle by saying that “melody and rhythmic vitality are essential to compositions that students want to learn.” This and others of his thoughts were transmitted to thousands of teachers and students through the hundreds of workshops he conducted over the years throughout the USA.

Fountain in the rain is a gently-flowing melody that courses through a river of chord resolution and triumphs at a cadenza-esque C7, perpetuating a “waterfall-like” motion on the piano until the melody resumes again, with more gusto and incidental additions. Finally, as the notes begin to fade, the piece dies out, like the stream sliding into a pond.

12 Bagatelle in A-Minor "Für Elise"

by Ludwig van Beethoven

Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor (WoO 59 and Bia 515) for solo piano, commonly known as “Für Elise” (German: [fyːʁ eː’liːzə] (listen), English: “For Elise”), is one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s most popular compositions. It is usually classified as a bagatelle, but it is also sometimes referred to as an Albumblatt.

The score was not published until 1867, 40 years after the composer’s death in 1827. The discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, affirmed that the original autographed manuscript was dated 27 April 1810. This manuscript has been lost.

It is not certain who “Elise” was. Max Unger suggested that Ludwig Nohl may have transcribed the title incorrectly and the original work may have been named “Für Therese”, a reference to Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza (1792–1851). She was a friend and student of Beethoven’s to whom he proposed in 1810, though she turned him down to marry the Austrian nobleman and state official Wilhelm von Droßdik in 1816. According to a recent study by Klaus Martin Kopitz, there is flimsy evidence that the piece was written for the German soprano singer Elisabeth Röckel (1793–1883), later the wife of Johann Nepomuk Hummel. “Elise”, as she was called by a parish priest (she called herself “Betty” too), had been a friend of Beethoven’s since 1808. In the meantime, the Austrian musicologist Michael Lorenz has shown that Rudolf Schachner, who in 1851 inherited Therese von Droßdik’s musical scores, was the illegitimate son of Babette Bredl (who in 1865 let Nohl copy the autograph in her possession). Thus the autograph must have come to Babette Bredl from Therese von Droßdik’s estate and Kopitz’s hypothesis is refuted.

Fur Elise has been one of my favorite pieces since I was a child, and remains so today.

13 Sonata in C-Minor No. 1 Op. 10

by Ludwig van Beethoven

The Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10, No. 1, was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is dedicated to Anna Margarete von Browne, the wife of one of Beethoven’s patrons, a Russian diplomat in Vienna. All 3 sonatas of his Opus 10 are dedicated to Countess von Browne. The first movement of the sonata has a 3/4 meter, the second movement 2/4, and the final movement 2/2. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 is a first period composition, anticipating more notable C minor works such as the Pathétique Sonata and the Fifth Symphony in its nervous energy.

The first movement, in sonata form, is the only section I have recorded thus far, but it certainly an enjoyable addition.

14 Valse in D-Flat Major No. 1 Op. 64 "Minute Waltz"

by Fryderyk Chopin

The Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, popularly known as the Minute Waltz, is a waltz for solo piano whose music was composed by Frédéric Chopin. It is dedicated to the Countess Delfina Potocka. Chopin wrote the waltz in 1847 and had it published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig the same year, as the first of the Trois Valses, Op. 64. The second waltz is in the enharmonic parallel minor key of C sharp minor.

The piece is given the tempo marking Molto vivace. Although it has long been known as the “Minute (accent on second syllable) Waltz”, a nickname meaning a “small” waltz, given by its publisher, Chopin did not intend for this waltz to be played in one minute: a typical performance of the work will last between one and a half and two and a half minutes. The waltz is 138 measures long with one fifteen-measure repeat included, and thus it would have to be played at almost 420 quarter notes per minute in order to play it completely within a single minute. Playing the piece as fast as possible is still a feat some pianists attempt. Camille Bourniquel, one of Chopin’s biographers, reminds the reader that Chopin got the inspiration for this waltz as he was watching a small dog chase its tail, which prompted the composer to name the piece “Valse du petit chien,” meaning “The Little Dog Waltz.”

Copyright© 2012 Joshua Riley. All Rights Reserved. Works in the public domain, published by Hal Leonard publishing and Carl Fischer publishing. Duplication of this album without the consent of the author is a federal offense and is punishable by law.