Friday, September 21, 2007

Diary of a Pianist

This diary will be an attempt to document my process as I learn various masterworks of the keyboard literature. I wanted to start this blog as a way to connect with other musicians and music lovers as the practice room can be such a lonely place!

I always envied ensemble players – as they get to interact with other musicians while learning pieces – even though I never really sought out chamber music for myself, being far too interested in solo playing.

When I first thought of this diary project, I originally chose Pour le Piano by Debussy as my starter project. But I had a lot of trouble getting underway. I did download some great recordings of the work (so far my favorite is by Claudio Arrau, but Phillipe Entremont’s recording really gets my heart rate up – his Toccata tempo takes my breath away!), bought a score, and read through the Prelude and Sarabande (notice I did not read through the Toccata…), but I just couldn’t seem to get any further than that. I just talked a lot about playing the work.

So, this summer I attended the Golandsky Institute at Princeton University for the second time, and, like the first time, I found inspiration at the Institute. One of the master classes featured a lovely young pianist, Monika Haar, playing the sixth French Suite of J. S. Bach. I fell in love with the piece, and having never learned any of the Suites, I realized it was high time to start in on one. I’ve always loved Bach, but for years I had a phobia about playing his music – all that ornamentation! Later, seduced by the Early Music Movement, I felt Bach should not be played on pianos, as they did not exist at the time when Bach was composing his music. Also, my technique was rusty from not playing the piano for ten years from 1983-1993 (long story, don’t ask!), and, frankly, playing Bach’s music is hard.

However, one by one, I conquered my fears, including making peace with playing Bach on the piano and not on a period instrument (more about that later) and I’ve made J. S. Bach a staple of my piano diet. When I first returned to the piano, my teacher Eliane Lust had me relearn all of the Two-Part Inventions by singing one line and playing the other which was a wonderful may to reconnect to the piano and to Bach. I’ve also worked on several Preludes and Fugues from Book I of the Well Tempered Clavier, and of course now I’m learning a French Suite.

My next post will be about working on the first dance of the suite, The Allemande!

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