Piano versus violin: the eternal battle to be the dominant player

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The thought-provoking talk on February 10th was given by Keith Pascoe, second violinist of the Vanbrugh Quartet, in connection with tomorrow night’s violin and piano recital by Ray Chen and Julien Quentin. Pascoe came up with a great title, David and Goliath, The Ballet of Unequals: A Stradivari and Model D Steinway Recital. Using videos from YouTube as illustrations (which unfortunately allowed in snippets of a couple of unwanted advertisements), Pascoe began at the beginning, with the emergence of the piano and violin as instruments in their own right, and traced some of the changes they have both undergone in the centuries since.

The piano has become bigger, stronger and louder. Not only were extra notes added to the keyboard, but the early wooden frames were replaced with cast iron. The violin may not have grown externally, but the shape of the body was remoulded, the neck and fingerboard realigned, and internal buttressing extended, all with the intention of producing greater sound.

What composers did with the combination of violin and piano – and before that, violin and harpsichord – changed too. In the typical baroque violin sonata, the violin was to the fore. In the classical era, the roles were reversed, although this reversal has long been dishonoured by performers. And in the 19th century, the balance as we know it today began to take hold. That balance usually presents the two performers in a master-servant relationship, the violinist usually the boss whose bidding is carried out by the pianist.

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February 22 ~ Today in Music History

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. 1817 ~ Niels Wilhelm Gade, Danish composer

. 1834 ~ Albert Heinrich Zabel, harpist and composer

mu. 1857 ~ Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts

. 1923 ~ Frederick A. Julliard set up a million-dollar fund to establish a music school. Today, Juilliard is one of the world’s leading music and dance schools.

. 1927 ~ David Ahlstrom, American composer

. 1931 ~ Maurice Chevalier recorded Walkin’ My Baby Back Home for Victor Records in New York City. The same tune was recorded 21 years later by Nat ‘King’ Cole and Johnny Ray. It became a major hit for both artists.

. 1945 ~ Oliver (Swofford), Singer

. 1956 ~ Elvis Presley entered the music charts for the first time. Heartbreak Hotel  began its climb to the number one spot on the pop listing, reaching the top on April 11, 1956. It stayed at the top for eight weeks.

. 1958 ~ Roy Hamilton’s record, Don’t Let Go, became #13 in its first week on the record charts. The song was the first stereo record to make the pop music charts. 1958 was the year for several stereo recordings, including Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes by Chuck Willis, Yakety Yak by the Coasters, Born Too Late by The Poni-Tails,It’s All in the Game by Tommy Edwards and What Am I Living For by Chuck Willis.

. 1965 ~ Filming began for The Beatles’ second movie, “HELP!”, in the Bahamas.

. 1976 ~ Florence Ballard passed away.  She was an American vocalist, one of the founding members of the popular Motown vocal group the Supremes. Ballard sang on sixteen top forty singles with the group, including ten number-one hits.

. 2001 ~ Ray Hendricks, a singer of the Big Band era who performed with Benny Goodman and Betty Grable, died at the age of 88. His career took him to Hollywood and across the country with stars including Goodman, Grable, Hoagy Carmichael, Ben Bernie, Ray Noble and Sid Lippman. His earliest performances were on Spokane radio station KFPY. He soon set out for California with Bob Crosby, brother of Bing Crosby. After serving as a flying instructor in the Air Force during World War II, he returned to Spokane and formed his own orchestra. He continued playing local venues for several decades, but said he regretted not pushing his career after the war.

. 2001 ~ Herbert Kupferberg, a music critic and a senior editor of Parade magazine, died at the age of 83. For more than 20 years, Kupferberg was an editor and critic for The New York Herald Tribune. After it folded in 1966, he joined Parade. He also wrote reviews for The Atlantic Monthly, and The National Observer. Kupferberg, born in New York in 1918, published several books including Amadeus: A Mozart Mosaic and Those Fabulous Philadelphians: The Life and Times of a Great Orchestra, a history of the Philadelphia Orchestra.