I’m off on holiday next week, so things will go quiet here for a bit. I’m not travelling to any exotic destination, just back to the family home in Somerset. The advantage of going home rather than away on holiday is that I’ll be able to play the piano during my week off. Any habitual pianist will be familiar with the sensation of itchy fingers that comes from being separated from one’s piano when on holiday. Last year we made a point of booking a holiday cottage with a piano, specifically to avoid this deprivation. It turned out to be a pretty sorry specimen, but it was better than nothing.
I vowed to myself in a moment of folly that I would find a piano teacher this year. I haven’t made any progress (or effort, if I’m honest) on that front yet, but I have at least resolved that if I’m going to start piano lessons for the first time in ten years then I’d better learn some music first. I’ve made a start on this, and I hope to consolidate things a bit during my week off.
As I always enjoy reading about what the Cross-Eyed Pianist is practising, I will sign off for the moment with a quick look at the music I’m hoping to teach myself.
Bach – Courante from Partita no. 4 in D, BWV828
Spotify (Vladimir Ashkenazy)
I can play the first half of this but not the second, so I’ll try and make some headway there. It’s not up to speed at the moment. I’ve been playing it at sarabande tempo until now – I feel it works just as well if not better when played slowly – but I suppose Bach knows best. In one respect I may already be Gould’s superior – I’ve conquered entirely the urge to sing while playing.
Brahms – Intermezzo in B-flat minor, op. 117 no. 2
Spotify (Artur Rubinstein) / YouTube (Guiomar Novaes)
I’ve been playing this a lot over the past couple of months and have got the notes under my fingers now, but it still sounds different each time I play it – different emphases, dynamics, speeds and so on. I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing, but I’d like it to have a bit more shape and uniformity. With this and op. 117 no. 1, I’ve been inclined to play the first bit and give up when I reach the more challenging middle section, but I am now gradually reaping the rewards of the effort I’ve put in. One of the most beautiful piano pieces of all.
Chopin – Prelude in C-sharp minor, op. 45
Spotify (Edna Stern, 1842 Pleyel) / YouTube (Ivo Pogorelich)
It would be nice to be able to play a Chopin piece that is important enough to have an opus number all of its own. This has been in my repertoire, more or less, for quite some time, but I’ve never got the hang of the tricky little cadenza towards the end. It’s nothing more than a protracted downward harmonic sequence, so in theory it should be easy, but the chromaticism makes things awkward and so it needs some concerted effort to make it work.
Poulenc – Novelette no. 1 in C
Spotify (Eric Le Sage)
I was given a volume of the three Novelettes as a present by my piano teacher when I stopped lessons after Grade 8, and have toyed with them in the years since but never mastered them. The first and third are both exquisite, and not absolutely formidable, though Poulenc’s music is considerably less easy to play than it is to listen to. Lots of inner voices to pay attention to.
Ibert – ‘A giddy girl’ from Histoires
Spotify (Ginette Doyen)
This is a sweet little piece which it should be easy to get to performance standard. I remember waiting for my piano lessons when I was about 14 and hearing the pupil before me learning it very slowly. I was given the score of the Histoires as a present by my grandparents when I was only nine or ten, as my school music teacher, who was a good pianist, had played ‘Le petit âne blanc’ in class and I had loved it and wanted to learn it (and did teach myself to play it, probably before I was ready). I didn’t realise until later that this piece was one of the same collection.
Alkan – Preludes from op. 31
Spotify – No. 7. Librement mais sans secousses (Laurent Martin) / YouTube – No. 3. Dans le genre ancien (Olli Mustonen)
I may have a look through this volume of 25 preludes for my own amusement, which I have just borrowed from the library. I have known Olli Mustonen’s recording of the set for ages, and it contains some beautiful pieces, not all of them beyond my capabilities despite the rather daunting shadow Alkan casts over the world of pianism.
Anyway, I’ll see you on the other side. I doubt I’ll get through all or even most of this, but thought I’d make a sort of plan (and a public one, at that) to see how much I can get done in a week. Time will tell.