October 1, 2019

Organs First

Tomoko’s first keyboard instrument was the organ. Likewise, the organ predated the invention of the piano.

Organs date back to Biblical times. The precursor of the organ, the hydraulis, was invented two centuries before Chris in Greece. The power source pushing the air in this paper organ was water: either by a natural source such as a waterfall or ban a manual pump. Four centuries later the Roman empire celebrations include organs. Unlike today’s organs, those early organs could be played not only with hands and feet but also wrists, fists and knees.

By the 7th century, bellows supplanted water as a way to push in the air. Early organs with leaden pipes were created by the Byzantines. Constantine V gave one such organ to the Franken kind Pepin the Short, and his son Charlemagne established the use of organs in Western churches. The 10th century Winchester Cathedral had 400 pipes, which had to be played by two men and blown by 70 men. Until the 13th century, an organ’s scales were diatonic (GABCDEF) instead of chromatic.

By the 14th century pipe organs had gained their present form in general.  They ranged in size from portable size to ones with three manuals, a pedalboard, and twenty bellows operated by ten men. By the mid 15th century, top controls were added to control ranks at different pitches.  

Until the telephone exchange in the 19th century, the pipe organ was considered the most complex device made by humans.  Tomoko’s talent reflects her ability to play this complex and huge keyboard instrument, and add the nuances only available on the piano. And her students, community and musical world are richer for that change of keyboard.

September 17, 2019

As Fresh as Fauré

Gabriel Fauré and Tomoko shared several details in life. Both played the organ for Catholic mass. Both taught piano after than graduated from college. Tomoko enjoys both Romanticism and modernism, which Fauré bridged. And Tomoko performs Fauré’s compositions.

Fauré was born in 1845 in southern France, and was trained in religious music. One of his teachers, Camille Saint-Saëns, introduced Fauré to contemporary music; they stayed friends until Saint-Saëns’ death sixty years later. Saint-Saëns also inspired Fauré to travel abroad, during which time he met Liszt and Wagner. In his turn, decades later, Fauré taught future composers Ravel, Roger-Ducasse and Boulanger among others.

 Fauré started composing under Saint-Saëns but was waylaid by the Franco-Prussian War in which he fought. Not surprisingly, his compositions had a dark hue. Nor did he ever compose for the organ. He mainly wrote for piano, although one of his first masterpieces was a violin sonata. He also created art songs, operas, chamber works, and incidental music for plays. Fauré was considered a modernist with his harmonies, and his composition style maintained a freshness throughout his life.

One of Fauré’s pieces that Tomoko enjoys playing is Sicilienne, which was originally a work for cello and piano and eventually was arranged for a full orchestra as a four-movement suite. This piece, one of his most famous, reflects several of Fauré’s signature stylistic details. He uses modal effects in a mixed major-minor scale, giving rise to medieval-sounding cadences, and his altered chords lead to harmonic ambiguities. The result iss slightly haunting.

Tomoko too maintains a fresh attitude in her teaching and her performance, which keeps her spirit young.

September 7, 2019

Gleaning Glinka

On her CD Touria, Tomoko plays a mazurka composed by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka. Not as well known as other Russian composers, Glinka significantly influenced the famous Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and later Tchaikovsky.

Mikhail Glinka was born in 1804 to a noble family who lived near Belarus. He grew up listening to local folk songs, church choirs, and serf orchestras. While at boarding school in St. Petersburg, Glink studied piano and violin, and he networked with orchestral musicians. Glinka entered civil service, but due to an illness, his doctor recommended spending time in Italy. That time extended to three years as Glinka became more acquainted with Italian opera and began composing operatic airs. From there he traveled to Berlin and Vienna, discovering his need to write in his own Russian musical vernacular. Thereafter, Glinka returned to Russia, where he was commissioned to write a Russian opera, which featured peasant folk song motifs. The opera’s success led to his appointment at the Court Chapel Choir, during which time he composed church music, a set of twelve songs, incidental music, and piano pieces. In 1842 he composed his second opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, which had a magical theme and tone that became an evocative mainstay up to Stravinsky’s Firebird. Later, Glinka would travel to Paris where he worked with Berlioz and then to Spain where he was influenced by that country’s folk music.  He continued to travel in Europe, dying in 1857.

Glinka’s musical legacy consists of laying the groundwork for Russian musical nationalism. He soaked up a variety of European techniques and assimilated them into a Russian idiom. 

Glinka’s “Mazurka in C minor” was influenced by Chopin, one of Tomoko’s favorite composers. This piece, written in 1843, is more refined and intimate than his earlier mazurkas, with its sinuous sensibility. His lifelong thread of songs and music for solo piano plays well to Tomoko’s own predilections.