Amateur musicians are justifiably in awe of their professional counterparts. We struggle with rhythm, tempo, dynamics, intonation, and sight reading. They’ve mastered all that and more at an early age. It is all maddening especially the sight reading part. I’d do a deal with Mephisto in a heartbeat if I could do that without actually working for it. But, on the positive side, we schmoes reap the benefits of the pro’s superior talent and diligence in concert. The USC Thornton School sent five graduate students to Rolling Hills last Sunday for a rollicking ‘Trout Quintet’ to a packed and savvy house. Fine ensemble playing by a group that assembled and converged for this event. It was damned hard not to hum along, especially with the fourth movement. Video/audio to be posted if made available.
Youtube offers many channels with high quality classical music accompanied by synchronized scores. Ashish Xiangyi Kumar has an especially good one for piano fans. A large number of his videos feature two or more pianists interpreting the same work. To these, he offers his own thoughts on the pieces and the interpretations. A young Singaporean now studying law at Cambridge, Kumar brings to task a razor sharp mind and keen persuasive skills honed through a championship debate career. His notes read like chess matches analyzed by a grandmaster who can both understand and explain features large and small. He’s also a composer and if he can play what he writes, his chops must be first-rate.
The guilt? The recordings and scores come from somewhere…
For best results, start the videos, then click on the “Watch on Youtube” button and read the commentaries.
Channel: Ashish Xiangyi Kumar
“At an evening party, Mozart bet a case of champagne that Haydn could not play at sight a piece he had composed that afternoon. Haydn accepted the bet and proceeded to play it on harpsichord only to stop short after first few bars. It was impossible to continue because the composition required him to simultaneously strike notes at two ends of the keyboard and a note in the very center. Haydn exclaimed, ‘Nobody can play this with only two hands.’
‘I can,’ Mozart said, and took his place at the keyboard. When he reached that problematic portion of his piece, Mozart bent forward and struck the central note with his nose.
Haydn conceded saying: ‘With a nose like yours, it becomes easier.'”
–E. Van de Velde, Anecdotes Musicales; N. Slonimsky, Slonimsky’s Book
I’m relearning ‘Canope,’ one of Debussy’s amateur friendly Preludes that stretches hands all over the 88s and reading skills across three staves. One day I hope to don the scuba gear and visit ‘La Cathédrale Engloutie’. Here are Nelson Freire and Sviatoslav Richter wrapping their very differently-sized flippers around it.
Paul, older brother of philosopher Ludwig, lost an arm in WW1 and then commissioned composers to write left-hand only pieces for him. By all accounts a temperamental character, he torqued several now-great names while simultaneously enriching the repertoire through his sponsorships.
Here is Wittgenstein at the keyboard with Bruno Walter and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.
It all sounds so simple. Just press the keys in the right order and there you have it. Erik Reischl shows how it is done.