Friday, March 28, 2008

Piano Joys

Now that school has broken up until the 7th of April, I have time to do some hobbies. Only a bit of time, mind you, because I am spending most of my days writing lecture notes for the rest of the school year.

One of things I have done is to brush the dust off our piano and work on some masterpieces by a few great composers. Since moving to America I lost or misplaced some of my favourite music, so I simply went to the Sheet Music Archive, which Steve Hayhow told me about, and printed off the music I needed.

One of the pieces I printed off is Schubert's Impromptu No. 1 in C minor. This piece, though challenging, is a real joy to play because of the constant fluxuation of emotions, ranging everywhere from very tender to angry and aggressive. It's the kind of piece that you can really throw yourself into. Because of the genre you're 'allowed' to personalise it, even to play it slightly differently each time, as long as you keep within the basic structure specified by the composer.
My friend Dennis Smith first introduced me to Schubert's impromptus after listening to Mitsuko Uchida's excellent CD of the Impromptus. I still have a long way to go before I can play as skilfully as she can.

Another one of Schubert's Impromtus which I am working on during Spring Break is the # 2 in A flat major. It is
described in Wikipedia as follows: "This Impromptu is written in the standard minuet form. Its main section features a melody with chordal accompaniment. The opening bars of the melody are highly reminiscent of a similar theme[citation needed], from the opening of Beethoven's piano sonata in A-flat, Opus 26. The middle section of the Impromptu, marked Trio as standard in minuets, is contrasted in character with the main section. It is written in D-flat major, and features continuous triplet motion. The second part of the Trio moves enharmonically to C-sharp minor (the tonic minor), then climaxes on A major, fortissimo, and finally calms down and repeats the major-mode first phrase."

I haven’t just been spending time on Schubert. I have also been practicing a piece by Schubert’s idol Beethoven. (Interestingly, Schubert ‘worshiped’ Beethoven from afar, and although every day he ate at the same restaurant as the master, he never had the courage to introduce himself. If Beethoven looked anything like the picture on the left, we can perhaps forgive Schubert for his reticence). I have been working on the Adagio movement of Beethoven's 'Pathétique' Sonata (I don't yet feel accomplished enough to do justice to the first movement). This beautiful piece, deceptively simple, presents a real challenge to make the melody sing and to get the appropriate dynamic balance that will allow all the beautiful harmonies and counter melodies to sing out.

Finally, I am also working on Liebestraum by Franz Liszt. This is a piece that I started learning years ago but never mastered. I don't know if I will ever master it because it has some pretty difficult passages. It is a sentimental, showy piece without much depth, but if I can get it sounding nice it will be a good piece to show off with when people ask me to play something.
If I ever have time to become serious about piano playing, I really need to start working on easier pieces to help my note-reading, but at the moment the above pieces are keeping me pretty busy and giving me a lot of joy.
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