Piano Reflections

During this time of social distancing, the arts can feed our souls.

Rebecca Mitchell is sharing audio recordings of a trio of her performances, along with program notes on the pieces and visuals. We hope they bring you comfort, calm, joy, and renewal. 

IInstallment #3 – “Major and Minor Thirds” from Six Etudes, op.111, no.1 (1899) Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)–  click on the arrow on the left-hand side of the bar below to listen.

Originally intended as a technical exercise, the piano etude was lifted to the level of concert work by Frederic Chopin, whose 24 etudes each succeeded in simultaneously isolating a single technical problem and offering a profound musical masterpiece. Chopin’s influence is palpable in this double-thirds etude by Camille Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns utilizes the same right-hand pattern of double thirds employed by Chopin in his Etude in g minor (op.25, no.6), with the added difficulty of a lower sustained note to the right-hand pattern. Like Chopin, the technical problem serves as the basis for a profound musical reflection, and the mood set by this work is both pensive and slightly melancholy. 


Installment #2 – Granados, “Complaint, or the Maiden and the Nightingale” —  click on the arrow on the left-hand side of the bar below to listen.    This audio file has about 30 seconds of silence or applause before the piano piece begins; your patience will be rewarded.

This is the fourth piece from the 1911 piano suite Goyescas by Spanish composer Enrique Granados. Inspired by the art of Francisco Goya (1746-1828), the pieces have not been definitively linked to any specific painting; instead, the improvisational character, intricate figures and multi-layered voices aurally evoke the “psychology of Goya”. In this work, the melancholy, pensive song of a young maiden is contrasted with the fluttering trills of the nightingale to whom she pours out her sorrows. Rich harmonies provide a Spanish hue to the composition, which draws from both Romantic and Impressionistic styles to create an evocative and reflective musical image.


Installment #1 –   “Les cloches de las Palmas” from Six Etudes, op.111, no.3 (1899)  Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) —  click on the arrow on the left-hand side of the bar below to listen.


Church bells were a source of musical inspiration for both Romantic and Impressionist composers, and Saint-Saëns’ evocation of the resonant bells of Las Palmas, capital of the Canary Islands, follows in the tradition of keyboard writing explored by Franz Liszt (Jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este). The shimmering heat and pensive mood of a quiet evening are expressed through low sustained bass chords in the left hand and rapid sextuplet figures in the right hand reminiscent of a carillon. As a piece that conjures a peaceful aural image rather than a narrative flow, I find this work conducive to quiet meditation and reflection.