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From the Mailbag: Pesky Pianos

Piano Strings Wikipedia

On Sunday, May 28, the program featured a piano piece. Why did the show play a piano piece?

I listen religiously to the show and have never heard anything but organ music on the show. On a related note, I have contacted Vermont Public Radio in the recent past to complain about their unbalanced reliance on piano pieces, and I am wondering whether there is anything afoot in the overall world of public radio to push piano rather than other instruments.

As you can tell, I am no fan of the (to my mind) irritatingly percussive sound of the piano and I am not happy that Pipedreams may have departed from its mission, which is to bring us organ music, and insert piano music in its stead.

Please reassure me that this won't happen again! Thanks for your indulgence!

Dean B.


Dear Dean,

Sorry that the piano got on your nerves, but you need to understand that all of the organ music on Sunday's program was composed by Charles Valentin Alkan, who was a virtuoso pianist during the time of Franz Liszt, and ALL of the organ music on that program was actually originally written for pedal piano. Transcriptions were made by Cesar Franck, primarily. I wanted to include the 'original version' by way of comparison, as the pedal piano was something that ALkan championed, and the one played by Olivier Latry (organist at Notre Dame Cathedral, by the way) was one played by Alkan himself.

So, from my standpoint there was every good reason to include the piano.


PS: by way of advance warning, next week's program, dedicated to the memory of Louis Vierne, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of his death at the console of the Notre Dame Cathedral organ, will include a movement of his excellent Sonata for Cello and Piano, and an orchestral song. Vierne, though known these days primarily for his organ compositions, wrote a considerable amount of music for piano, voice-and-piano, chamber music (violin and cello sonatas, string quartet, piano quintet, rhapsody for oboe and strings, an orchestral symphony, etc...indeed, as much non-organ music as organ music). Just so you can be prepared.


Hi, Michael,

Thanks for taking the time to send the kind response to my fulminating criticism; I'm completely convinced by your remarks.

The fuel behind my anti-piano feeling is Vermont Public Radio's unbalanced emphasis on piano ("unbalanced" according to my listening habits and to my review of their playlist). One host recently said he liked the "raw power" of at least one poundingly percussive piano piece, a bit of praise that I find better suited to a hard-rock station than to a classical station. I have spoken and emailed with the station's music director to no avail at all. Sorry if you absorbed an unfair slice of my agony.

My one request: can you play the organ concerto by Saint-Saens sometime (the last movement at least)? I know that it's wildly popular and perhaps played too often, but I love it. I heard it once at the Berlin Philharmonie and never got over it. The best recording (among the ones I have heard) may sound surprising: by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The music sounds great and the recording (about four decades old) is superb (even though originally on vinyl).

In any event--thanks again for your email. I will of course keep listening to the show.

Dean B.

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