Saturday, July 17, 2010

What I've been working on

I haven't been describing my practicing for a while because there hasn't been all that much to worth reading about, although I HAVE been practicing. I make it a point to play the piano at least a little bit every day unless I'm sick or traveling and not near a piano.

So my lineup on the piano has been stuck on the 3 Bs:

Bach, WTC I/19 (A major)
Brahms, Op. 118 Nos. 1, 2, and 3
Beethoven, Sonata Op. 2 No. 3 in C major
Scales and arpeggios

I've been working on the Bach for more than three months. The fugue in this WTC set is particularly difficult. As I've mentioned, the theme is always introduced in stretto with another voice (i.e., they overlap). It is also a jumpy theme, built on a broken arpeggio, so it's almost like two voices in itself. It starts with a single eighth note followed by three eighth-note rests, which I'm finding hard to bring out. I've resorted to punching at it in an attempt at staccato, which then leads to rushing, which then leads to a tangled train wreck.

Here's Rosalyn Tureck, playing it very slowly (I think too slowly, though of course it's beautifully clean):

And here's Kenneth Gilbert on the harpsichord (I like the tempo of the fugue much better in this version):

In the past week or so, I have finally been able to play bits of it from memory. I have memorized the prelude. I'm certainly not giving up on it. My experience with learning these fugues is that there is a certain amount of time (maybe a few months, at my practice rate) in which it seems I will never be able to play whichever one I'm working on, but then there is a breakthrough and it's suddenly in my hands.

The Brahms is developing. I am going to play 118/2 at the long-postponed masterclass with Brian Ganz next week. I had thought about maybe substituting another piece, but decided to go ahead with this one because it's the most polished piece I have at the moment. I have been working on 118/1 on and off for more than two years, and it still seems so hard to me, though I'm not sure why. It's short (only two pages), and not complicated. Maybe it's all the arpeggios. I recorded myself once a while back, and noticed that the left hand and right hand were not in sync -- the left was always a little bit behind. Frustrating!

Here's someone named Peter Rösel playing it very nicely (don't know what's up with the Classical Greek pose later in the video):

The Ballade, Op. 118/3, is awkward all over the place, but I think I'm finally getting it. I have it almost memorized, and I'm working on building up speed while playing it cleanly. It's difficulties involve mainly the thick chords, with harmony changing almost every beat in a fast tempo. As I mentioned some months back, when I was in college I used to sit on the steps in front of the music building waiting for orchestra rehearsal to start, and someone would be practicing this piece in the classroom directly above the entrance. I admired it then but never imagined I would learn it myself.

The Beethoven sonata, by contrast, is much simpler than any of the above, so it's been fun. There are a few tricky technical bits, one being the first theme, with the little double-thirds trill. When I worked on this piece briefly when I was 17 years old, I asked my teacher how in the world you could learn to play that, and he basically said, "Practice." So, I've been practicing. It's still not 100%, but it's somewhat better.

Here's a performance by Daniel Barenboim that is very much how I hear it (but wow, vertigo-inducing camera work here . . .). The first movement hangs over into a second video because it's longer than 10 minutes:

Those are a lot of videos for one post! One of these days, I'll record myself some more so I'm not depending so much on YouTube for entertainment around here.

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