Back in the Saddle Again (maybe)

Wednesday (29/X/14) I actually sat down and practised the piano for the first time in over two months. It feels like a lifetime, and my playing has atrophied so much I feel like I’m starting over from the beginning. Since I don’t have an organ at my disposal (which reminds, I have to contact Peter Krasinski Boston’s new AGO dean for whom I have great hopes), I’m relegated to my little Celviano (Casio’s answer to the Clavinova — except just as good, but cheaper). It feels like I’m starting over (again — for the fourth, fifth or sixth time… I don’t know, I’ve lost count).

Since I don’t do scales, I usually like to warm-up with something like the Gigout Toccata, or the Vierne Carillon de Westminster. It’s a good thing I decided on the Gigout; don’t think I could have finished the Vierne. It’s amazing how much my playing has atrophied.

Anyway, after that I read through a number of art songs. Again, it was like starting all over. Not only relearning some of the notes, but everything was so slow! Have you ever heard Die Forelle Lento? It’s pretty funny. But ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.

In any event, I love playing art song. It (and ragtime, of course) is really the only piano music I actually enjoy playing. I would surmise that it’s the collaborative nature of art song/lieder that I find so compelling: the imagery produced by the synthesis of text and music. Truly fine composers like Malcolm Williamson, Roger Quilter, Gabriel Fauré, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Mildred Lund Tyson, Clara Edwards, Ralph Vaughan Williams, et al, have that ineffable acumen of what works naturally for the voice in relation to the words whilst maintaining the inherent drama (or melodrama if you wish, in some cases) of the overall text.

I like great art song because of its concision. Like the poetry to which it is set it communicates all those marvellous attributes of the human condition into a short, poignant narrative: the redoubtable horror of the Erlköng, melodramatic angst of Gretchen am Spinnrade, the listless ennui of the dancers in Fauré’s Clair de lune, or the haunting melancholy of his Les berceaux or the phrenetic ecstasy of Quilter’s Love’s Philosophy (I mean really, how much fun can you pack into one song!?), or the deliciously “don’t-leave-a-dry-eye-in-the-house” bathos of Teresa del Riego’s Homing. As I mentioned in a previous essay, sadly, I may never get to collaborate with a singer with these songs; but, that’s okay the pleasure for me is all mine.

Then I’ll move over to my other piano repertoire ragtime. What more can I say? It’s ragtime; what’s there not to love. Notwithstanding, it’s piano practise that is more than piano practise it’s good for the soul.


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