Tickling the Ivories?
Well you can most certainly Shred on those venerable black and whites and this happened long before Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Rick Wakeman (Yes), or Keith Emerson (ELP) ever plugged into an amp. No siree, Shredding is not the exclusive domain of gutarists—Composers and Pianists Shred too. There’s some Shred to High Heaven here so let’s take a look and delve into some of the treasure trove of Piano Shred…
Frédéric Chopin was definitely a Shredder. Look no further than “Fantaisie–Impromptu” Opus 66. Case closed after this soundboard scorcher. You might want to soak your fingers in a bucket of cool water with lavender, chamomile and Epsom salt after playing it. This composition is TOTAL piano Shred then gets mellow in the middle, with an “Eye of the storm” arpeggiated legato melody and slowed tempo change evoking a delicate soft center amidst the frenetic fingerboard fusillades it’s famous for.
“Waltz in A Flat Major” Opus 42 is another marathon of Shred. The section after the opening trill of partial chromatic runs is a real finger tightrope walk and brain hemisphere head trip to play to say the least—more difficult than the multi octave faster part it leads into which sounds more difficult. There’s plenty of fretboard fireworks at the finale here so light fuse and duck behind your couch with the nearest spaghetti colander as a helmet.
Check out “Waltz in C# Minor” Opus 64 for more awesome arpeggios that melodically meander over minor and major scales after the opening section. Chopin unleashes cascades of broken chords like the musical equivalent of hitting Class V Rapids or going over Niagara Falls in a piano. Stand under the majestic waterfall of notes and get a rapturous Baptism of Shred.
“Waltz in D Flat Major” Opus 64 No. 1 is yet another Ode to Shred. Known commonly as the “Minute Waltz”, it was actually originally given the subtitle “Valse du petit chien” (The little dog waltz or Waltz of the little dog). It’s said Chopin’s inspiration for this piece was watching a little dog chasing it’s tail. The music publisher gave it the title “Minute Waltz” which was then misinterpreted: Meaning “Minute” as in small or miniature not a measurement of time. It’s NOT supposed to be played in a New York Minute—it usually clocks in at a minute and a half to 2 and a half minutes depending how many amphetamines the performer has ingested in the last 24 hours. Become a Waltz Whisperer by aurally connecting with Chopin’s inspiration and don’t forget the doggie bag.
Similar to it’s more famous Speedy Gonzales Waltz brother above, “Grand Valse Brillante in F Major” Opus 34, is another worthy contender in the Ring of Shred. Valse means waltz by the way, but who cares when our ears need more fresh squeezed Shred? The piece reminds me of going up the first incline section of a roller coaster then gaining velocity downwards and being flung through twists, turns, loops and corkscrews. You may need a doggie bag here too for different reasons.
The verdict here is Shreddingly clear: The “Poet of the Piano” was also a Shredder of the Piano. Frédéric Chopin Shedded when the piece called for it and had amazing compositional sense in it’s ideal placement and not to overdo flash and his technical mastery at the expense of the Almighty Melody.
Another known accomplice in the Romantic Period Posse was Franz Liszt, who was friends with Chopin. Liszt was probably a frustrated electric guitarist born too early as he loved to Shred. If he were alive today he’d probably be on a G3 Tour with Vai and Satriani. “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” in C# Minor is one of the gems on the piano to grace the planet. This is one of the only lengthier piano compositions where every part and section of it has become famous especially in cartoons. Even in the slower Lassan opening section Liszt manages to weave some Shred. This piece is chock full of rock star from marathon fingerboard runs to octaves banging like gavels in judgement for the Shred. There’s tornadoes of Shred all over the place, plenty enough make your Chihuahua hide under the couch.
Liebesträume No. 3 in A Flat Major (Dreams of Love or Love Dream) is another favorite to Shred Out to. This piece is often also spelled Liebestraum No. 3. Umlauts or not, Franz unpacks the suitcase of Shred in a killer cadenza section tossing tumultuous tidal waves of notes at your ears. It’s a torrential downpour you’ll want to get drenched in again and again. Get ready for a tasty melodic sandwich with some spicy Uber Shred in the middle.
Mozart regally Shredded in “Rondo a la Turka” (Turkish March) which is the finale section from “Piano Sonata in A Major” K. 331. The section immediately after the main opening theme is especially fun to play as it’s like being inside a fine precision Swiss watch, your fingers being the bronze gears spinning out the melody synchronized in harmony. It’s some of the finest Upper Crust Shred mine ears have ever had the pleasure of meeting at any Black Tie colonial white wig event.
The first “Van” to Shred was not Van Halen. It was Ludwig van Beethoven. The mighty composer Shredded in “Moonlight Sonata” and not the more well known slow arpeggio part (first movement) that you may have blasphemously heard as background music on sh*t like Hemorrhoid creme commercials (no pun intended). The famous slower excerpt that’s become known and performed as a solo piece is part of “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# Minor” Op. 27 No. 2 which is called Quasi una fantasia (Almost a fantasy). Listen to the THIRD movement of this sonata to get your Ludwig van Shred fix. This finale section is where Beethoven breaks out of the straitjacket and Shreds like a madman howling at the moon.
Sergei Rachmaninoff brought us the Red Shred from Mother Russia as did fellow composer comrade Alexander Scriabin whom we’ll no doubt cover in another edition. Some of Rach’s finest Shred moments can be heard in “Prelude No. 1 in C# Minor” Op. 3 No. 2, one of his most famous works. It’s a piece where your hands can easily get tangled up with all the block chords played by two hands overlapping each other. After the intro melody, there’s some schizophrenically cool Shred as Rachmaninoff pours eerie arpeggios into the ether like hes summoning Jack Nicholson to bust his head through your closet door screaming “Here’s Johnny!”
“Prelude No. 5 in G Minor” Op. 23, No. 5 is a playfully creepy syncopated Shred stroll through the woods. This composition has sections where Rachmaninoff delivers a pummeling beat down of block chord Shred, something he was particularly fond of. It’s more uptempo than the C# Minor Prelude and it’s many a cartoon super villains dream to have a piece like this as his or her theme song.
“Prelude No. 2 in B Flat Major” Op. 23 No. 2 takes it up a notch to Mach 2 or Rach 2 as the case may be. The main theme is a prime example of how the melody surfs a tidal wave of left hand Shred. It’s a beautiful showcase of regal imperial elegant Shred worthy of the Tzars.
Taken together, these are three of my absolute favorite Sergei Rachmaninoff compositions.
French composer Claude Debussy did Impressionist Shred. This is notably illustrated on “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” from Children’s Corner. This piece is similar structurally to Chopin’s “Fantasie–Imromptu” mentioned earlier in that it hits you with a Wall of Shred initially then has this beautiful slower section in the middle to sip an afternoon tea to. Although “Clair de Lune” from Suite Bergamasque is perhaps his most well known work, Doctor Gradus is the one to call for a Shred Checkup.
While not intended to be played fast as he noted on published sheet music, the Godfather of Ragtime himself Scott Joplin also Shredded. Joplin came into greater deserved prominence with the 1973 Robert Redford and Paul Newman film The Sting. Composer/Conductor Marvin Hamlisch even won an Academy Award (Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation) for the soundtrack to the film which featured numerous Scott Joplin compositions.
Although not generally on the menu of the musical genre he helped pioneer, Joplin dished out some side orders of Shred. While “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag” are among his most well known compositions, the piece I most enjoy getting my Shred on is “Pineapple Rag.” Ragtime is structured into 4 choruses and the chorus that peaks the Shred-o-Meter is the third one. It’s a trip to Ragtime Shred Heaven.
Let’s not forget George Gershwin and Jazz Shred with that masterpiece “Rhapsody in Blue.” This is the piece that makes me wish Gershwin wrote more instrumental works to showcase the greater range of his talents instead of mainly writing songs with his brother Ira Gershwin for Musicals. Yes it’s understandable the Musicals payed the bills, but “Rhapsody in Blue” is his open canvas stream of consciousness meandering melodic Tour de force unrestrained by the structures of verse and chorus. Playful, elegant, and powerful, “Rhapsody in Blue” is the one piece that shows Gershwin DEFINITELY rubbed elbows with the Masters.
Well we hope you enjoyed this sojourn of Shred on the aural autobahns. Definitely some essential Piano Shred to add to your collection: A showcase of Shred for different moods and over different genres. Since I’m not waiting for Merriam–Webster, I’ll describe Shred this way: Shred is controlled melodic velocity that is musical and not simple hypersonic arpeggiated dexterity or technique masturbation. There’s a ferociousness to it when it hits the spot because composed well and executed properly, it evokes the “Holy Sh*t!” response. And by it’s fruits, Ye will know the SHRED.
© Composer Yoga