Category Archives: Piano

Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 1, 3 & 5 at the BBC Proms at the Albert Hall

Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Conductor Thomas Dausgaard

Another visit to the BBC Proms 2018. A wonderful concert in a pleasantly cool Albert Hall. The three fabulous Bach Brandenburg Concertos were interspersed with three modern pieces.

Cellist Maya Beiser taking a bow after the piece ‘Maya’ written for her

The first modern piece was Maya by the British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage with the brilliant American cellist Maya Beiser – an interesting virtuoso piece, moving and exciting.

After the Brandenburg Concerto No 3  the orchestra played Bach Materia by Swedish Anders Hillborg with the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuussisto . A fantastic piece – especially the duet between the violin and double bass.

Last modern piece was Hamsa by the American composer Uri Caine playing the piano part himself – for me a sorry parody of the great 5th Brandenburg Concerto which preceded it. Much of the piano part was a cacophony sounding like a cat walking over the keys – banging out tight discords.

I was nine years old when I started to learn to play the piano with the organist of the local church. At the time, 1940-1942,  I was evacuated to a hostel for Jewish Children in Dawlish, South Devon.

Listen to my account of that experience from my memoir Woman in a White Coat. You can buy my book on Kindle at £2.99 or search on ISBN 9781979834391 for the paperback version on Amazon at £9.99

Memoir extract from Chapter 5 Pages 68-71 To Dawlish

Matron put up a notice saying she had written to our parents asking if they wanted us to learn to play the piano. I didn’t think my parents would agree to pay for lessons though they were quite cheap, especially as I had just been in trouble for refusing to wash on the Sabbath. Continue reading Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 1, 3 & 5 at the BBC Proms at the Albert Hall

Czerny Piano Exercises Op 261 Revisited

 

My well-used Czerny exercises
I’ve always found memorizing music scores difficult – even when I was a child and had an almost-photographic memory for anything else. Since my heart attack 14 months ago and time on a ventilator, my memory is definitely worse – though it was even poorer when I first became conscious again.

My present tutor is very keen on me memorizing music so i can watch my hands and improve my technique, instead of looking at the music all the time. I spent several wasted practice hours trying to memorize Mendelssohn’s Venetian Boat Song / Barcarolle Op. 19/6. By the end of 30 minutes i would be able to play the first 17 bars he set me, but the very next time i sat down I’d forget some of it.

As I’ve said before, I like playing Czerny exercises, so my next task is to play a couple of these very simple 8-bar exercises by heart.

it should be good for any incipient dementia too!!

Hoorah!!

WOMAN IN A WHITE COAT ABOUT TO GO ON AMAZON

 

Fabulous Rachmaninoff Duo at St John’s Smith Square, London

Brilliant Duo

Timothée Botbol (Cello) and Dinara Klinton (Piano) played Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise arranged for cello and piano and his Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor. Dinara played his Prelude in D Op 23 No 4  and his Prelude in G minor Op 23 No 5.

Both brilliant performers, I had never heard the cello played with such richness of tone. I was blown away. And Dinara Clinton’s brilliant musicality and technique were amazing.

St John’s have a membership just right for me as I don’t like going out alone to evening concerts. For £45 (£40 with Direct Debit) you can attend 10 of their Thursday lunchtime concerts – only £4 each!!

Timothée’s brilliant performance was a far cry from mine when I learned the cello as a 15-year old and played in a quartet at our school’s prize day.

Memoir Extract

An ex-student, who’d gone on to play second violin in the London Symphonia Orchestra, gave our school a cello. I put my name down to have free lessons, but I wasn’t very hopeful because I was already having piano lessons. I wasn’t altogether pleased when my form mistress stopped me at the end of the week and told me I had been chosen to learn the cello. We always had loads of homework and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit in practising the cello as well as the piano.

Continue reading Fabulous Rachmaninoff Duo at St John’s Smith Square, London

JOHN FIELD COMPOSER (1782-1837)

His 18 Nocturnes
His 18 Nocturnes

Amazing to think that John Field, an eighteenth century Irish composer, travelled all the way to Russia, braving all the hardships associated with long distance travel at that time, settled there, married and had an illegitimate son (Leon Leonov) later a famous tenor as well as a pianist son, Adrian, by his wife, Adelaide percheron, a French pianist and former pupil.

He had moved to London by 1793, where he became a pupil of Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) and travelled with him to Paris, Vienna and St Petersburg, where Clementi left, and Field settled in Moscow.

We tend to associate nocturnes with Chopin  (1810-1849) and Liszt (1811-1886) but they had been very much influenced by Field’s work – his 18 nocturnes in particular.

As well as going back to Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No II, I have started to play Field’s delightful Nocturne No 5. Not difficult to play, but hard to play well.

ST JOHN’S SMITH SQUARE, WESTMINSTER

The entrance to St John's in Smith Squarae Sw1P 3HA
The entrance to St John’s in Smith Square SW1P 3HA

My son Bernard first introduced me to the lunchtime concerts at St John’s Church some years ago. At that time you could buy a membership for only £30 which covered the lunchtime concerts for the whole year for you and a companion. I went regularly, hurrying from or to one of my classes at one of the Further Education colleges. Bernard came when he could.  Bronze Membership is now £35 for vouchers for any 10 lunchtime concert during that year – still very good value.

Built during the years 1713-1728, St John’s was reconstructed in 1742 after a fire,  gutted in 1940 by enemy bombs during WW2 and restored to its present glory during the years 1964-1969.

Advertising the Concert on Thursday April 14th
Advertising the Concert on Thursday April 14th

Sometimes the musicians playing at the Thursday lunchtime concerts are established, like the brilliant organist of Westminster Abbey. Often, like the Attard-Zerafa Duo, who played on Thursday April 14th, they are young musicians starting out on their careers. The virtuosity of these two was amazing. They chose modern pieces by Milhaud, Denisov, Schmitt and Albright – mostly the sort of complex modern classical pieces that you need to hear several times before you can get a handle on it. Two – Brazileira by Milhaud and La Folia Nuovo: a lament for George Cacioppo by Albright – were more lyrical and easier to appreciate at first hearing.

BURGMULLER PIANO STUDIES

Burgmuller
25 Easy and Progressive Studies

These are really a bit easy for me but Burgmuller’s studies are tuneful and a pleasure to play. After all, practising works best if it’s enjoyable and these are a delight.

Born in Germany in 1806, Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmuller composed piano pieces, waltzes, nocturnes , polonaises and two ballets.

Friedrich Albert Zorn's Dance Notation for La Cachucha
Friedrich Albert Zorn’s Dance Notation for La Cachucha

 

The Wikipedia entry for Burgmuller this fascinating example of Dance Notation for La Cachucha is shown. Hadn’t realised there were dance scores just like music scores.

Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias

Bach's 'Honest method'
Bach’s ‘Honest method’

I have a number of modern classical pieces as well as jazz and blues in my repertoire but my favourites are the Baroque and Classical composers – Bach, Clementi, Scarlatti, Haydn and Beethoven, but above all Bach (1685-1750). There is something both pure and passionate about his music.

This term I shall be playing his 2-part inventions. Written as teaching aids he labelled them as the ‘ method by which amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way  not only (1)  to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, (2)  to handle three obligate parts…’  I particularly love Invention #13 BWV 784.

To the cognoscenti the dull mid-blue cover with black printing and no images immediately says that I shall be working from a G. Henle Verlag Urtext edition – editions which have the least added dynamics etc. This version was printed in 1978 and edited by Rudolf Steglich and with fingering by Hans-Martin Theopold  – most of which I use.

Scales and arpeggios on the piano

The scales on the white notes are much easier
The scales on the white notes are much easier

I like playing scales as well as Czerny studies. I find them soothing. You can play them while thinking about something else.

The scales on the white notes are much easier -the fingering is the same for the major and minor scales and for all the scales except for the scales on F in the right hand. For ages I played the 21 scales on the seven white notes – major, melodic minor and harmonic minor and the major and minor arpeggios – and only attempted the scales on the black notes occasionally.
I am now making a determined attack on scales starting on the black notes, where not only does the fingering vary between them but sometimes in the melodic minors the fingering is different going up from coming down. I  suppose I should regard it also as a brain exercise – very important when you are 84.
I don’t play my acoustic piano before 8am or after 9.30pm – though the neighbours say they don’t hear me. The advantage or disadvantage of practising the scales on my Yamaha electronic keyboard is that it is so easy to record and playback. No chance of saying to my tutor – ‘Sorry, but I played them perfectly before you arrived!!’

Grieg’s Lyric Pieces

Reminds me of our trip to Bergen
Reminds me of our trip to Bergen
The view from our hotel window
The view from our hotel window

 

This term my piano tutor has chosen Grieg’s Lyric Pieces for my set works, as well as the usual scales and studies. I love the music but the occasional discords take me some time to work out, especially as they are often slightly changed when they are repeated. I find this Dover edition very legible.

The view from our hotel window was fabulous. The pointed wooden houses opposite are reconstructions.
Mementos of Grieg (1843-1907) are everywhere but unfortunately we didn’t manage to get to a concert.

Czerny Eight-Measure Exercises Op 821 for the Piano

Soothing piano music
Soothing piano music

Robert Schumann wrote ‘It would be difficult to find a failure of imagination greater than that of Czerny’ , but I find the exercises soothing. They are straightforward enough for me to sight-read without having to puzzle over discordant chords or unexpected accidentals. I put on my timer for 15 minutes and use my clicker to count how many times I repeat each hand using different rhythms, and end up feeling virtuous.

Czerny (1791-1857) was an Austrian of Czech descent. As a 10-year old he so impressed Beethoven with his playing of his Sonata Pathetique that the composer took him on as a pupil.  Czerny in turn taught a number of well known musicians including Liszt.

In the past I have played his simpler Op 261 exercises but find his School of Velocity Op 299 daunting. I never was able to play very fast and at almost age 84 it’s too late now.

Excerpt from my memoir  Woman in a White Coat
Josh and I bought a piano when our youngest, Jane, was five. The children all had piano lessons – until they complained it was too boring. Both Simon and Bernard learned to play the acoustic guitar and all of us, Josh included, could play the recorder. We sang and played nursery and folk songs and had a great time. When Louise learnt to play the clarinet and Jane the flute, I played duets and trios with them.
Once all four had left home to go to university, and I was working full time, we sold the piano. I didn’t play again until I retired. I used part of the £500 legacy from my Aunt Jenny to buy an electronic keyboard and applied to enrol in a piano class. I didn’t realise I was meant to bring some music to my audition, so I had to sight-read my way through one of the piano tutor’s pieces.
‘A bit rusty aren’t you?’ she said rather disparagingly. ‘I’ll sign you up for level 3.’
It was a class in which fifteen of us played on electronic pianos. Over the years I gradually progressed to a class in which we took turns to play on a grand piano.
No class could match the wonderful introduction to music I’d had from my first piano teacher, Mr Lawson,  (see my blog Memorising Piano Music from May 9th 2015) though my present dishy young private tutor is very good.