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.
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.
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.
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!!’
I can remember numbers, text, where I’ve put things but I’ve always found memorising music very difficult. Even as a child I always played from music, even in concerts. It’s not my age – though I am 83 – it was the same when I was young. The Sarabande from the Handel suite is easy enough but I’d have to make a real effort to get it by heart. One piece stuck, though, Satie’s Gymnopoedie No 1. I didn’t try to learn it. it was just there.
I am trying to memorise Grieg’s Album Leaf. It’s quite a simple piece – two repeated sections, one with the melody in the right hand and one with the melody in the left. I think I’ve managed the first part, but it’s been hard work. What’s so silly, is that I’ve always had trouble not remembering things, especially numbers.
I learned to play in 1942 when I was evacuated to Dawlish. My first teacher was a wonderful man, the organist at a local church.
From my memoir Woman in a White Coat I knocked on the door of the room where the piano had been delivered the week before. The smell of cigarettes and mothballs greeted me as I pushed open the door. A short bald-headed man, wearing a rumpled dark grey pin-striped suit, stood by the piano. His waistcoat was tightly stretched across his paunch, a silver watch chain hanging between the pockets. His steel‑rimmed glasses were perched on the end of his nose and held together with sticky tape. On the top of his forehead, he had a round swelling, about the size of a plum. It was hard not to stare at it. ‘Come in. Come in. You must be Abby Waterman.’ He flicked open his pocket watch. ‘Right on time, my dear. I’m Geoffrey Lawson, the organist at St Stephen’s.’ He rested his cigarette carefully on the edge of the piano lid and held out a stubby hand for me to shake. Continue reading Memorising piano music→