At his senior recital on Nov. 3 in Lang Concert Hall, music and honors mathematics major Josh Mundinger ’18 will perform selections of Bach’s 24 preludes and fugues (The Well-Tempered Clavier), Shostakovich’s Opus 87 from his 24 preludes, and Chopin’s B Minor Sonata. He has played the piano since he was six years old, yet his most enthusiastic comments concerned music theory and its mathematical elements.
“If I were to continue music academically, it would probably be in theory, especially because I would try to connect that to my interest in math as well,” he said. “Jon Kochavi, I have him now in a seminar in music theory and that’s been really enjoyable. It, for one [thing], touches on these mathematical connections, and we’ve been getting into weird music, and that’s something I really enjoy.”
Mundinger’s love for music theory animated his speech and actions as he described Chopin’s exploratory B Minor Sonata. “There’s these small little melodic fragments that are constantly trading off and appearing and disappearing and they slide together in really interesting ways,” he said, emphatically moving his hands in waves as he visualized the different melodic lines, harmonic shifts and textures all simultaneously present in the piece.
Mundinger first heard the sonata performed by professional pianist Ilya Poletaev at Swarthmore and the crescendo of the piece convinced him to study it. “The moment that really made me sit up in my seat was this chromatic scale setting in the bass,” he said, raising his arms and stretching them wider and wider to represent the range of the scale. “The bass line has this chromatic scale that goes up the piano and is crescendoing and the tension just builds and builds and builds.”
He values exploration of music so much that he dared to go against Beethoven lovers when he was younger. “I said I didn’t like Beethoven and I’m not really sure why,” he said. “Maybe it’s just because I didn’t want to accept what other people told me was good.” Despite his former disdain for Beethoven’s music, he has found that his study of the composer in high school and at Swarthmore have made Beethoven into a formative influence on him. “Music 13 and 14–in that class, I learned a lot about the music of Chopin and Beethoven and these Romantic composers that have been that cornerstone of my piano music made a huge impact on how I approach that repertoire,” he said.
For the 16 years he has been playing piano, Mundinger has preserved his passion for music and music theory by tackling new composers, new techniques and new forms of music, from Chopin’s études to the “weird music” he studies in his music theory seminar, because they inspire him to push his skills further and get into the “nitty-gritty” of the music.
At 12, he learned the oboe. He performed new piano pieces he had learned for the prelude, postlude, and offering of the Lutheran church his family attended in his hometown of Boulder, CO, and even worked on learning the organ around age 16.
He has played chamber music since he was a freshman, at first in a piano trio with Noah Rosen ’18 and Jasmine Sun ’18, then in a quartet when violist Ayaka Yorihiro ’20 joined. And during his semester in Budapest junior year, he continued to play solo piano.
“I think for me a lot of [my interest] comes from renewing the type of music I’m listening to, renewing the styles that I’m playing, not just settling for the same composers,” he said. “Eventually you stop growing and…you get all you can from a particular genre, a particular composer, a particular set.”
After leaving Swarthmore, Mundinger will continue to play solo piano. Mundinger also plans to pursue a Ph.D in mathematics. He feels he will miss fellow music majors and their respect for musical exploration and individual taste.
“Everyone has a deep respect for each other’s music-making. Everyone has different aesthetics [and] different ideas about what music is good and yet we’re able to talk to each other and our friends, so that’s something I really enjoy about this particular community.”
Bayliss Wagner ’21