April 29, 2012

Living the Lives of Composers

Tomoko asks her students to think about composers as authors, and to try to figure out what each composer is trying to say. Those composers each represent different lives and ways of thinking – and each resonates with Tomoko in unique ways. She also recounts stories about several.

Tomoko knows that Franz Schubert was recognized for his vocal talent as a youth, and caught the attention of Salieri, who became his most influential teacher. Schubert’s singing sensitivity led to his composing songs specifically for the voice of a young soprano he met.

Chopin also tended to dedicate his music to specific individuals, Tomoko notes. Speaking of Chopin’s compositional style, Tomoko remarks, “His music can be very quiet. Chopin hardly touched the keyboard when he played.” She continues, “Chopin, Lizst and Mozart were first performers before they were composers so their works are more natural to play.”

In contrast, Schumann was never a performer, and his compositions are harder to play. Tomoko explains, “His arabesque melody is more manmade than organic. “His mind becomes the melody, but it is hard to teach a student to play his music. You need a lot of spirit and imagination.”

Tomoko remarks that Lizst also didn’t go to nature for his inspiration; Lizst was a very religious man, and later in life he joined a monastery. “Lizst’s philosophy is so beautiful,” says Tomoko, who feels his mentality in his music.

Bach, too, was more methodological. Tomoko explains, “Bach’s older brother was very strict; even at night they had to copy fugues. Bach was also very mathematical.” Bach’s math ability is also evident in his compositions. Bach even figured out a way to recalculate the key intervals of the harpsichord so that it wouldn’t have to be retuned when playing different keys.

“Beethoven is closer to nature,” Tomoko says. “He also has very strong emotions inside.” Tomoko uses Beethovens’ Fidelio as an example of Beethoven’s power, “and yet it is all balanced,” she says, appreciating Beethoven’s ability to express his inspiration and emotion as a finely orchestrated composition.

And who would guess that Mozart liked kittens and cats when he was grown up? Tomoko knows.

You can hear the composer “speaking” when Tomoko performs. Compare the styles of several composers mentioned above in Tomoko Hagiwara’s album Beach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann at https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/tomokohagiwara2