The idea of a piano

Boldini, Mary DonovanIn my teens, I found my voice pitched in a particular way could elicit vibration in sympathy from the strings of my piano. This completely delighted me, no matter how often I did it. The object was more than an object. It had a personality, and I had a relationship with it. I would wrestle with it. Because the syncopation was so alien to the ways my hands had gone together before, I spent a week on the first four bars of the Maple Leaf Rag, but learned Joplin more quickly afterwards. Then I learned the Pathétique  sonata, and thundered away, and though the tremolo often made my left wrist ache I kept it up until the muscles developed. I have played it to Mark Owen on his piano, and (yes I know a name-dropping story is less good if you have to explain who the person is) he is a member of Take That.

The end of the recapitulation is a moment of sublime darkness and catharsis.

My love of this is one of my greatest gifts from my father. As a toddler I listened to Jon Pertwee singing My Grandfather”s Clock and there was an old lady who swallowed a fly, and to the Emperor Concerto. I drove my mother mad with Couperin harpsichord music. I have just been listening to Beethoven’s piano concerto no. 4 in G major, and it has such full-hearted joy. I wept with it.

Ilya Repin, S.I. MenterPlaying became too much like hard work. Errors creep in, and I was disheartened from slowing down and picking a bar apart, when I had done so, so many times before. Now, it seems harder to learn a piece than in my teens. I have tried with a few, and given up.

This is such a wonderful, exalting experience. Why do I do it so little? I lose concentration and start ruminating, or I get upset, or I get a little bored, or there is a wonderful moment when the music speaks directly to me. Sometimes I follow the drama of it. There are familiar moments where I am with it completely. My sulking gets in the way. Perhaps it might motivate me out of my sulk.

Now, I shall listen to not Mahler or Shostakovich, but the Pastoral symphony. Self-improvement is all very well.

2 thoughts on “The idea of a piano

  1. I spent years going nowhere with Leila Fletcher. Never having learnt to really play is one of my great shames. I wanted to, I even practiced. At one point I labelled all the keys on my piano (to my teacher’s great distress). My mind just isn’t designed for it.

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