Last time, we looked at Mauricio Kagel’s instructions on how the timpani player should dive straight into the timpani itself at the end of “Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra,” and how the conductor should fall to the floor in the closing moments of his piece “Finale.” On the other hand, John Cage instructs musicians not to play a single note throughout the entire duration of “4’33.”
This time, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting pieces from other great classical composers.
- Ludwig van Beethoven, “Rage Over a Lost Penny”
Originally titled “Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio” in G major, Op. 129, which translates to “Rondo in the Hungarian style, almost a caprice,” this piece is a rollicking classical piano rondo. Its late opus number leads many to think that this piece was one of Beethoven’s later works, but it was actually composed somewhere between 1795 and 1798. The piece was left unfinished, but Beethoven’s friend Anton Diabelli most likely published the piece posthumously in 1828 (Beethoven passed away the previous year).
The music is as whimsical and light as its subtitle, “Rage Over a Lost Penny.” It perfectly encapsulates his tendency to “rage” over the most trivial trifles. It’s not an easy piece to execute, with many difficult arpeggios written for the right hand. Classical piano players should give the piece a try in recitals.
- Erik Satie, “Vexations”
Erik Satie was an innovative French composer in the early 20th century who often liked to break traditional forms and received acclaim in his later life. “Vexations” is a piece that can seem just as annoying as its title. The piece consists of one 80-second melody and 840 iterations of the same melody. The pianist would take 18 hours to perform the piece; it takes much strength and endurance just to finish. Only instances in which multiple pianists take turns to complete the song have been recorded; it is said that the one pianist who tried to perform “Vexations” started hallucinating and had to stop after the 595th repetition.
Other works from Satie have very strange titles, including “An Eccentric Woman,” “Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear,” “Three Elegant Waltzes of a Disgusting Dandy,” “Naked Children,” “Wizened Fetus,” “Sketch of a Fat Tree Doll and Banter,” “Things You Can See Right and Left Without Glasses” and “Fanfare for the Fat King Monkey That Always Has One Eye Open.” These titles are ironic and not reflective of the piece’s musical content. In some ways, they’re an embodiment of the saying that one should never judge a composition by its title.
- Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter”
Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter” is a famous and well-loved piece. One of the main musicians in the orchestra sits down with a typewriter and actually types throughout the piece. Three sounds from the typewriter are used: the sound of the keystroke, the bell next to the typewriter and the carriage return or musical gourd, the equivalent of the “enter” key. Only two keys work on the typewriter, and according to Anderson, professional drummers play the part of the typist.
Contact Maimi Higuchi at maimih ‘at’ stanford.edu.