Compact Discoveries
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, recorded and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2003 and 2007 by Fred Flaxman
Program 49
"Opus 1"

MUSIC: Beethoven: beginning of Beethoven: Trio for Piano, Violin & Cello, Op. 1, No. 1 played by Isaac Stern, Eugene Istomin and Leonard Rose [Sony Classical SM2K 64510, disc 1, track 20]

Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman. The music in the background is the beginning of the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in E-flat, Opus 1, Number 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven. The performance is by Isaac Stern, violinist; Leonard Rose on cello and pianist Eugene Istomin.

The reason I'm beginning this hour with this particular work is because it is Beethoven's opus one, and "Opus 1" is the theme for this program.

The word "opus" is Latin for "work." It is used in English to indicate a literary or musical work or composition. Although you might talk about a book being the author's first opus, books are not given an opus number the way musical compositions are. Opus 1 usually indicates the composer's first published work, not the first work he composed.

An author's first book is sometimes his best work or the book he is most known for. It is sometimes his or her only book. In the case of musical compositions, it is rare that the composer's first published work is his best or most well-known composition. And I can't think of any classical composer who wrote just one piece of music which was published and became famous - the musical equivalent of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind or Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

And yet, the first published works of composers have to have had a certain quality in order to be published at all. Sometimes these first published works are very good, even if they were surpassed by other, more famous pieces.

Take Rachmaninov's opus 1, for example. It was his first piano concerto. And, although it is not nearly as famous as his second and third piano concertos, it is a strikingly good work, none the less. Rachmaninov's opus 1 has all the traits of his later works, which is not always true of a composer's first published work. In fact, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet says Rachmaninov's first piano concerto should be just as popular as the second and third. He calls it an underestimated work. And I agree.

So let's hear Rachmaninov's opus 1, his Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, as performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. The work was completed in the summer of 1891, but it was revised in 1917, after writing the second and third piano concertos. It is the revised version that we hear now.

MUSIC: Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 1, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano; The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy [London 448 219-2, tracks 4, 5 and 6]

Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Opus 1. The pianist was Jean-Yves Thibaudet; Vladimir Ashkenazy conducted the Cleveland Orchestra on a London compact disc.

You are listening to "Opus 1" on Compact Discoveries - an hour devoted to the first published works by Rachmaninov, Grieg, Chopin and other composers whose premiere compositions were very good, even if they were not to become their most famous works. I'm your host, Fred Flaxman.

[Optional one-minute break, not included in the 58" timing.]

Next let's listen to the delightful mazurka from Edvard Grieg's Four Piano Pieces, Opus 1. The pianist is Eva Knardahl. You'll see that Grieg got off to a good start, just like Rachmaninov, although on a much smaller scale.

MUSIC: Grieg: "Mazurka" from Four Piano Pieces, Op. 1 performed by Eva Knardahl [BIS CD-107, track 3] [3:33]

The mazurka from Edvard Grieg's Four Piano Pieces, Opus 1. The pianist was Eva Knardahl.

Grieg lived from 1843 until 1907. His American contemporary, Edward MacDowell, was only 48 when he died a year after Grieg. Here's what MacDowell's opus 1 sounds like.

MUSIC: MacDowell: Amourette, Op. 1, Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue [Reference Recordings RR-70CD, track 4] [1:29]

Edward MacDowell's Amourette, Op. 1 as performed by pianist James Barbagallo.

"Opus 1" is the theme for this hour of Compact Discoveries, during which we are satisfying our curiosity as to what the first published work of various composers sounds like. Have you ever heard Chopin's opus 1? Well, here it is:

MUSIC: Chopin: Rondo, Op. 1, performed by pianist Idil Biret [Naxos 8.554537, track 1] [8:04]

Chopin's Rondo, Op. 1 as performed by pianist Idil Biret on a Naxos compact disc.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to composers' first published works. I call the program "Opus 1."

The German composer Robert Schumann composed several famous piano pieces. His opus 1 is not one of them, yet it's very well worth hearing.

MUSIC: Schumann: Variations Abegg, Op. 1, Daniel Blumenthal, piano [Calliope CAL 9271, track 1] [7:33]

Robert Schumann's Theme and Variations on the Name Abegg, Op. 1, as performed by pianist Daniel Blumenthal.

Who, you might wonder, was Abegg? Well the work was dedicated to a Countess Pauline von Abegg, who doesn't seem to have existed. But there was a Meta Abegg, a young pianist whom Schumann had met in Mannheim and who was only the daughter of a simple town merchant.

In any case, Schumann used the letters of German musical notation - A - b - e - g - g -to define his principal theme, "b" representing b-flat in English and American usage.

We have time for one final opus 1 - the American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk's first published work. It's called Polka de salon, and it's played by pianist Philip Martin on a Hyperion compact disc.

MUSIC: Gottschalk: Polka de salon played by pianist Philip Martin [Hyperion CDA67248, track 10] [goes under the following] [3:30]

You have been listening to Compact Discoveries. In this hour we have explored "Opus 1" - the first published works of Rachmaninov, Grieg, MacDowell, Chopin, Schumann and Gottschalk. I hope you have enjoyed this program. My name is Fred Flaxman, and you can reach me in care of this station or through my website: www.fredflaxman.com.

Do you have an idea for a Compact Discoveries theme? I'd love to hear it. If I make a future program using your suggestion, I'll give you credit for it at the end of the program. The first person to suggest the theme is the person who will be mentioned on the program, unless that person is me. My e-mail address is compactdiscoveries@fredflaxman.com. Thank you for listening!

Compact Discoveries is a production of Compact Discoveries, Incorporated, and is a presentation of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

ANNOUNCER: This program was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts - a great nation deserves great art; and by the Public Radio Exchange Reversioning Project. The Public Radio Exchange is at prx.org.

MUSIC: fades out at 58:00

Program Ends at 58:00

 

 
  2009 Compact Discoveries