Watch Franz Liszt’s “Un Sospiro” Played with the Mesmerizing “Three-Hand Technique”

“Piano education is important for teaching polyphony, improving sight-reading, consolidating the knowledge of harmony and gaining much more musical abilities,” write Turkish researchers in the behavioral sciences journal Procedia. The student of the piano can advance solo or with another player in duets, playing what are called “four-hand pieces.” But learning “to gain the attitudes of duet playing” poses a challenge. Researchers Izzet Yucetoker and Koksal Apaydinli suggest a possible intervention — overcoming the difficulties of playing four-hand pieces by learning to play what are called “three-hand pieces.”

How, you might wonder, does one play the piano with three hands? It does not take an extra limb or a partner with one hand tied behind their back. Three-hand technique is a dextrous sleight-of-hand developed in the 1830s, most prominently by pianist Sigismond Thalberg, a rival of Franz Liszt who could “apparently not only counter Liszt’s legendary fire and thunder with subtlety,” Bryce Morrison writes at Gramophone, “but who played as if with three hands. Three hands were heard, two were visible!” Might this somehow be easier than playing duets?

One contemporary reviewer of Thalberg’s playing described it as “myriads of notes sounding from one extremity of the instrument to the other without disturbing the subject, in which the three distinct features of this combination are clearly brought out by his exquisite touch.” The Polish pianist and student of Liszt Moriz Rosenthal claimed Thalberg adopted the technique from the harp. “Such legerdemain quickly had novelty-conscious Paris by the ears,” Morrison writes, “and an elegant white kid-glove rather than than a mere gauntlet was thrown down before Liszt.”

Liszt would have none of it, deriding three-hand technique as a trick unfit for his virtuosity. Nonetheless, “in 1837, Liszt, arguably the most charismatic virtuoso of all time, was challenged for supremacy by Sigismond Thalberg…. Stung and infuriated by what he saw as Thalberg’s aristocratic pretensions… Liszt replied with corruscating scorn.” He agreed to meet Thalberg, not in a duet but a duel, at “the home of Countess Cristina Belgiojoso — lover of Lafayette, Heine and Liszt,” notes Georg Prodota at Interlude.

The Countess “gave a charity event for the refugees of the Italian war of independence, and the contemporary press compared the concert to the battle between Rome and Carthage.” Countess Belgiojoso herself (as did the press) pronounced the outcome a draw:

Never was Liszt more controlled, more thoughtful, more energetic, more passionate; never has Thalberg played with greater verve and tenderness. Each of them prudently stayed within his harmonic domain, but each used every one of his resources. It was an admirable joust. The most profound silence fell over that noble arena. And finally Liszt and Thalberg were both proclaimed victors by this glittering and intelligent assembly. Thus two victors and no vanquished …

History was not so kind. Liszt is now celebrated as “the most charismatic virtuoso of all time,” while Thalberg is hardly remembered. And some of the most celebrated examples of pieces played with three-hand technique come not from Thalberg but from Liszt, such as “Un Sospiro” (“A Sigh”), the last of his Three Concert Études, composed between 1845 and 1849, not only as performance pieces, but — as it so happens — for the general improvement of a pianist’s technique. Hear pianist Paul Barton play three versions of “Un Sospiro” above and download the sheet music for the piece here.

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How the Clavichord & Harpsichord Became the Modern Piano: The Evolution of Keyboard Instruments, Explained

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A History of Punk from 1976-78: A Free Online Course from the University of Reading

From Matthew Worley, professor of modern history at the University of Reading, comes the free online course Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78. (Worley is also the author of the book, No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture.) The course covers the following ground:

In the late 1970s, a new youth subculture emerged in the UK. This, of course, was punk, and a cultural revolt was underway.

In this course, you will learn about the emergence of punk and its diverse range of meanings. You’ll use that lens to explore how youth cultures provided space for people to reimagine, discover and challenge the society and communities in which they were coming of age.

You’ll explore punk as a tool of expression for young people, and how it related to politics and events. You’ll consider punk’s relationship with gender, class, race, sexuality and protest, drawing comparisons with the youth culture of today…

This history course also has an emphasis on the creative side of punk. You’ll explore DIY punk design and writing, epitomised by fanzines. You’ll learn how to create a real-life fanzine of your own, all the way to publishing and distribution. This will help strengthen your communication skills and encourage independent thought and creativity.

Among other things, the course will cover:

  • The diverse meanings of ‘punk’, its roots and its effects on British culture.
  • The originators and defining events that led to punk’s spread across the UK and beyond.
  • The music: how the Sex Pistols opened the way for a wide range of sounds and bands.
  • Why fanzines became the perfect medium for punk.
  • Punk’s influence on publishing, fashion, art and design.
  • Punk’s impact on issues of gender, class, race, sexuality and protest.
  • Punk’s legacy and continuing influence on society.

Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78 can be taken for free on the FutureLearn platform. The course will be added to our list: 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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The Sex Pistols Riotous 1978 Tour Through the U.S. South: Watch/Hear Concerts in Dallas, Memphis, Tulsa & More

The Sex Pistols Make a Scandalous Appearance on the Bill Grundy Show & Introduce Punk Rock to the Startled Masses (1976)

The Sex Pistols’ 1976 Manchester “Gig That Changed the World,” and the Day the Punk Era Began

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Performs The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”

Over the years, we’ve featured The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performing covers of various rock classics–from the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and Bowie’s “Heroes,” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” Recorded in London back in 2005, this clip features the Orchestra performing The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go.’  The performance is an outtake from the DVD, Anarchy in the Ukulele, which is available in digital format. Enjoy.

via Laughing Squid

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Hear The Velvet Underground’s “Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes,” Which Showcases the Brilliance & Innovation of Lou Reed’s Guitar Playing (1969)

What was the Velvet Underground? A Kim Fowly-like art project that outlived its impresario’s interest? A main vehicle for Lou Reed, rock’s egomaniac underdog (who was no one’s ingénue)? Was it three bands? 1. The Velvet Underground and Nico; 2. The Velvet Underground with John Cale; and 3. The Velvet Underground with Doug Yule after Cale’s departure. (Let’s pass by, for the moment, whether VU without Reed warrants a mention…)

Each iteration pioneered essential underground sounds — dirgy Euro-folk rock, strung-out New York garage rock, junkie ballads, psychedelic drone, experimental noise — nearly all of them channeled through Reed’s underrated guitar playing, which was, perhaps the most important member of the band all along. Whoever taped the Velvets (in their second incarnation) on March 15, 1969, on the last night of a three-show engagement at The Boston Tea Party in Boston, MA, seemed to think so. “The entire set was recorded by a fan directly from Lou Reed’s guitar amplifier,” MetaFilter points out.

The mic jammed in the back of Reed’s amp, a Head Heritage reviewer writes, produced “a mighty electronic roar that reveals the depth and layers of Reed’s playing. Over and undertones, feedback, string buzz, the scratch of fingers on frets and the crackle and hum of tube amps combine to create a monolithic blast of metal machine music.” Known as the “legendary guitar amp tape” and long sought by collectors and fans, the bootleg, which you can hear above, “serves as a testament to the brilliance and innovation of Reed’s guitar-playing — both qualities that are often underrated, if not overlooked entirely, by critics of his work,” as Richie Unterberger writes.

It should be evident thus far that these recordings are hardly a comprehensive document of the Velvet Underground in early 1969. Except for Mo Tucker’s glorious, but muffled thumping and some of Sterling Morrison’s excellent guitar interplay, the rest of the band is hardly audible. Songs like “Candy Says” and “Jesus” — on which Reed does not create sublime swirls of noise and feedback — chug along monotonously without their melodies. “It is frustrating,” Unterberger admits, “to hear such a one-dimensional audio-snapshot of what is clearly a good — if not great — night for the band” (who were far more than one of their parts). On the other hand, nowhere else can we hear the nuance, ferocity, and outright insanity of Reed’s playing so amply demonstrated on the majority of this document.

The tape circulated for years as a Japanese bootleg, an interesting fact, notes a Rate Your Music commenter, “considering this bears more similarity to recordings from the likes of [legendary Japanese psych rock band] Les Rallizes Dénudés than most of the Velvet Underground’s other material.” The recordings may have well paved the way for the explosion of Japanese psychedelic rock to come. They also demonstrate the influence of Ornette Coleman in Reed’s playing, and the liberating philosophy Coleman would come to call Harmolodics.

“Alla that boo-ha about whether Reed really was influenced by free jazz,” writes one reviewer quoted on MetaFilter, “can be put to rest here as he pulls the kind of wailing hallucinatory shapes from the guitar that it would take the goddam Blue Humans to decode a couple of decades later.” It may well overstate the case to claim that “Lou Reed single-handedly invented underground music,” but we can hear in these recordings the seeds of everything from Television to Sonic Youth to Pavement to Royal Trux and so much more. See the full tracklist below, a “classic setlist,” notes MetaFilter, “from around the time of their 3rd LP.”

I Can’t Stand It
Candy Says
I’m Waiting For The Man
Ferryboat Bill
I’m Set Free
What Goes On
White Light White Heat
Beginning To See The Light
Heroin / Sister Ray
Move Right In
Run Run Run
Foggy Notion

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Andy Warhol Explains Why He Decided to Give Up Painting & Manage the Velvet Underground Instead (1966)

Hear Ornette Coleman Collaborate with Lou Reed, Which Lou Called “One of My Greatest Moments”

The Velvet Underground Captured in Color Concert Footage by Andy Warhol (1967)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear the Amati “King” Cello, the Oldest Known Cello in Existence (c. 1560)

The Stradivari family has received all of the popular acclaim for perfecting the violin. But we should know the name Amati — in whose Cremona workshop Antonio Stradivari apprenticed in the 17th century. The violin-making family was immensely important to the refinement of classical instruments. “Born around 1505,” writes Jordan Smith at CMuse, founder Andrea Amati “is considered the father of modern violinmaking. He made major steps forward in improving the design of violins, including through the development of sound-holes” into their now-familiar f-shape.

Among Amati’s creations is the so-called “King” cello, made in the mid-1500s, part of a set of 38 stringed instruments decorated and “painted in the style of Limoges porcelain” for the court of King Charles IX of France.

The instrument is now the oldest known cello and “one of the few Amati instruments still in existence.” And yet, calling the “King” a cello is a bit of a historical stretch. “The terminology referring to the early forms of cello is convoluted and inconsistent,” Matthew Zeller notes at the Strad. “Andrea Amati would likely have referred to the ‘King’ as the basso (bass violin).”

Images courtesy of National Music Museum

The instrument remained in the French court until the French Revolution, after which the basso fell out of favor and the “King” was “drastically reduced in size” through an alteration process that “stood at the forefront of musical instrument development during the last quarter of the 18th century and throughout the 19th,” a way transform obsolete forms into those more suitable for contemporary music. “By 1801,” Zeller writes, “the date that the ‘King’ might have been reduced, large-format bassos were obsolete, discarded in favour of the smaller-bodied cellos.”

Zeller has studied the extensive alteration of the “King” cello (including a new neck and enlargement from three strings to four) with CT scans of its joints and examinations of now-distorted decorations. The reduction means we cannot hear its original glory — and it was, by all accounts, a glorious instrument, “a member of a larger family of instruments of fixed measurements related together by profound mathematical, geometrical, and acoustical relationships of size and tone,” writes Yale conservator Andrew Dipper, “which gave the set the ability to perform, in unison, some of the world’s first orchestral music for bowed strings.”

We can, however, hear the “King” cello (briefly, at the top) in its current (circa 1801), form, and it still sounds stunning. Cellist Joshua Koestenbaum visited the cello at its home in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota in 2005 to play it. “It didn’t take much effort to find the instrument’s naturally sweet, warm sound,” he says. “It was incredibly easy to play — comfortable, pleasurable, forgiving, and user-friendly…. I felt at home.” Learn more about the latest research on the “King” cello at Google Arts & Culture and the Strad.

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Why Violins Have F-Holes: The Science & History of a Remarkable Renaissance Design

Watch Priceless 17-Century Stradivarius and Amati Violins Get Taken for a Test Drive by Professional Violinists

Watch the Making of a Hand-Crafted Violin, from Start to Finish, in a Beautifully-Shot Documentary

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Scientists Create an Interactive Map of the 13 Emotions Evoked by Music: Joy, Sadness, Desire, Annoyance, and More

Most of our playlists today are filled with music about emotions: usually love, of course, but also excitement, defiance, anger, devastation, and a host of others besides. We listen to these songs in order to appreciate the musicianship that went into them, but also to indulge in their emotions for ourselves. As for what exactly evokes these feelings within us, lyrics only do part of the job, and perhaps a small part at that. In search of a more rigorous conception of which sonic qualities trigger which emotions in listeners — and a measurement of how many kinds of emotions music can trigger — scientists at UC Berkeley have conducted a cross-cultural research project and used the data to make an interactive listening map.

The study’s creators, a group including psychology professor Dacher Keltner (founding director of the Greater Good Science Center) and neuroscience doctoral student Alan Cowen, “surveyed more than 2,500 people in the United States and China about their emotional responses to these and thousands of other songs from genres including rock, folk, jazz, classical, marching band, experimental and heavy metal.” So writes Berkley News’ Yasmin Anwar, who summarizes the broader findings as follows: “The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: Amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.”

Many listener responses can’t have been terribly surprising. “Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ made people feel energized. The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’ pumped them up. Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ evoked sensuality and Israel (Iz) Kamakawiwoʻole’s ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ elicited joy.

Meanwhile, heavy metal was widely viewed as defiant and, just as its composer intended, the shower scene score from the movie Psycho triggered fear.” The cultural influence of Hitchcock, one might object, has by now transcended all boundaries, but according to the study even Chinese classical music gets the same basic emotions across to Chinese and non-Chinese listeners alike.

Still, all respectable art, even or perhaps especially an abstract one such as music, leaves plenty of room for personal interpretation. You can check your own emotional responses against those of the Berkeley survey’s respondents with its interactive listening map. Just roll your cursor over any of point on its emotional territories, and you’ll hear a short clip of the song listeners placed there. On the peninsula of category H, “erotic, desirous,” you’ll hear Chris Isaak, Wham!, and a great many saxophonists; down in the netherlands of category G, “energizing, pump-up,” Rick Astley’s immortalized “Never Gonna Give You Up” and Alien Ant Farm’s novelty cover of “Smooth Criminal.” Anwar also notes that “The Shape of You,” Ed Sheeran’s inescapable hit, “sparks joy” — but if I have to hear it one more time at the gym, I can assure you my own emotional response won’t be quite so positive.

Related Content:

Daniel Levitin Shows How Musicians Communicate Emotion

Watch Classical Music Get Perfectly Visualized as an Emotional Roller Coaster Ride

The Therapeutic Benefits of Ambient Music: Science Shows How It Eases Chronic Anxiety, Physical Pain, and ICU-Related Trauma

Neurosymphony: A High-Resolution Look into the Brain, Set to the Music of Brain Waves

An Interactive Map of the 2,000+ Sounds Humans Use to Communicate Without Words: Grunts, Sobs, Sighs, Laughs & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Illustrated History of Depeche Mode by Anton Corbijn

Last year, photographer Anton Corbijn released a new book, MOOD/MODE, showcasing work outside the boundaries of the rock photography world in which he’d made his name. But no matter whom he’s photographing, Corbijn brings a high seriousness to the endeavor that he explains as part of his religious upbringing in the book’s introduction. “My Protestant background always marked & influenced my portrait photography. Mankind. Humanity. Empathy,” he writes, were the ideals he absorbed as a child. Such beliefs “kept me from doing work that lacked a deeper purpose.”

Corbijn grew up in a small village outside Rotterdam, Jean-Jacques Naudet writes. “His father and many other male members of his family were pastors. Life was strict and simple, on Sunday everybody dressed in black. Religion was omnipresent.”

He moved away to the city and began taking photos of the music scene at 17. But the look and feel of his early life never left him. It was this aesthetic that attracted Depeche Mode, one of Corbijn’s longest-running musical collaborators and a band who were no strangers to brooding in black and making religious references and appeals to humanity.

“We were seen as just a pop band,” says Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore. “We thought that Anton had a certain seriousness, a certain gravity to his work, that would help us get away from that.” Corbijn first helped them refine their look in mid-80s and “was able to give the Depeche Mode sound, that we were beginning to create, a visual identity,” says singer Dave Gahan. That identity is now the subject of a new book from Taschen that collects “over 500 photographs from Anton Corbijn’s personal archives,” notes the arts publisher, “some never seen before, as well as stage set designs, sketches, album covers, and personal observations” about the “world’s biggest cult band.”

Corbijn became such an integral part of Depeche Mode’s success, the band considered him “a veritable unseen member of the group,” writes, mediating their image not only through photography but also live projections and, of course, music videos. They were able to achieve “a kind of cult status,” says Gore in the mini-documentary above, which also has an interview with Corbijn. The photographer walks us through his history with the legendary synth pioneers (whom he did not like at first), beginning with the first image he shot of them in 1981, when founder Vince Clarke was still in the band.

Clarke leans behind Gahan’s left shoulder, the full band framed by a stone arch. To Gahan’s right is an enormous crucifix. It set a tone for the working relationship to come. “There has to be an element of the person in the photograph,” says Corbijn of his portraiture, “but there also has to be an element of the photographer.” It took another few years after that first shoot, he tells The Guardian, but he realized “how good their music and my visuals actually went together…. They had soul.” You can order a copy of the new book, Depeche Mode by Anton Corbijn from Taschen here.

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Yes’ Rick Wakeman Explores Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Why It Was the First Concept Album

In this 2015 production, Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman revisits Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and makes the case for why “it was so far ahead of its time that it was actually the first ever concept album, making Vivaldi the world’s first rock superstar.”

“Uncovering the dark rumours surrounding the churches, orphanages and canals of Venice, Rick Wakeman sets out to investigate the extraordinary life of Antonio Vivaldi. From 18th century scandals to interviews with fellow musician Mike Rutherford, uncover the mystery behind one of the world’s favourite composers.” Rick Wakeman: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons appears on the “Rick Wakeman’s World” YouTube channel.

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The Authentic Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: Watch a Performance Based on Original Manuscripts & Played with 18th-Century Instruments

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