Duets for the New Year

Emma Benson 

Emma Benson 

New Year is here which means it is time to take stock.  This means no alcohol, no chocolate, no cheese and smaller portions, all too ghastly for words and so far it hasn't gone too well.  It didn't help last night that I had a wonderful caterer on my radio show called Emma Benson from Mrs B's Kitchen, as well as playing her wonderful choice of music, we talked about food for an hour and by the end of the programme both myself and Jeremy, the technician were absolutely starving.  Kennet Radio.  

The Siege of Leningrad

The Siege of Leningrad

I watched a programme over Christmas called Leningrad and the Orchestra that defied Hitler.  It was a fascinating documentary on the 872 day siege of Leningrad, where the city was surrounded by the Germans and very little got in or out.  The result was that over 1 million people starved to death.  Shostakovich had written his Symphony No 7, miraculously the score was smuggled into Leningrad and they got together an orchestra of half-starved musicians who managed to find the strength to perform this huge work.  A speaker system was set up throughout the city and the performance was also played out to the Germans, many of whom, at this point, realised that they would never be able to break the will of the people of Leningrad.  If you didn't see the programme then you can see it on BBC iPlayer, I recommend it.  Click here.       

Let's start off with something light and easy for the New Year - here is a recent recording of piano duets by Mozart, Schubert and Stravinsky played by two of the greatest pianists of the day Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich.  Mozart wrote his Sonata in D major for 2 pianos K448 when he arrived in Vienna in 1781, at this point he had taken on some students and was particularly rude about one female student called Josepha Auernhammer, describing her to his father in a letter:  "She is as fat as a peasant wench, perspires so much that you feel like vomiting and walks about in such skimpy attire that you can read as clear as day: 'Please look here'".  However after eight months of lessons he was rather more generous and wrote "The young lady plays with charm".  He payed her the highest compliment by writing for her this sonata which treats both pianists as equal partners.  It was the only work he wrote for two pianos.  He and Auernhammer premiered the work in 1781 in the Auernhammer home.  Equally as delightful is the Schubert Variations on an Original Tune in Ab D813 which is considered to be amongst the composers finest works.  With a life of illness, Schubert felt he had found a sense of 'happiness and peace' after composing this work although it was to be short lived.  The final pieces are Stravinsky Le Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring) in a version for two pianos.  Here is a trailer for the album on YouTube.   Listen also to the 3rd movement of the Mozart Sonata on YouTube.   

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Posted on January 10, 2016 .