Thursday, March 17, 2011

A decent lesson

Today's piano lesson was not too bad. At least I played more than I have at the others.

Now that I've been working on the first movement of the Beethoven Op. 31 No. 2 for a few weeks, it's getting back into my fingers. We started with my playing through it from the development to the end. It actually felt pretty solid, albeit with a few glitchy things. My teacher expressed great enthusiasm, and even said I sounded like a different person. Interesting to get that reaction; at least it shows I'm not consistently bad! (Playing on a good 9-foot piano in a big space helped. Last week's lesson was moved to a different room, so we were on a real PSO.*)

We then went back and went over sections in detail. We talked mainly about touch, and about shaping phrases, and about voicing. These were all helpful, I think. We'll see if any of it sticks.

One thing that helped me this week was thinking more about my ideal interpretation. To start with, I've been trying to get the whole "Tempest" idea out of my head. This fanciful title was not Beethoven's. According to Wikipedia:

The Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, was composed in 1801/02 by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is usually referred to as "The Tempest" (or Der Sturm in his native German), but this title was not given by him, or indeed referred to as such during his lifetime; instead, it comes from a claim by his associate Anton Schindler that the sonata was inspired by the Shakespeare play. However, much of Schindler's information is distrusted by classical music scholars. Renowned British music scholar, Donald Francis Tovey, in his authoritative book A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas, states that "With all the tragic power of its first movement the D minor Sonata is, like Prospero, almost as far beyond tragedy as it is beyond mere foul weather. It will do you no harm to think of Miranda at bars 31-38 of the slow movement... but people who want to identify Ariel and Caliban and the castaways, good and villainous, may as well confine their attention to the exploits of Scarlet Pimpernel when the Eroica or the C minor Symphony is being played" (pg. 121).
What keeps coming to mind (though in a half-baked, fleeting fashion) when I play this piece is something more Gothic, like Washington Irving's Headless Horseman:

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance.... the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.
—Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Anyway, I think it almost does not matter what one imagines in relation to a piece of music; music like this is only "about" itself. But attaching it to something verbal makes it easier to hang onto under the stress of performance, I've found. So I'll keep thinking about this.

*PSO = piano-shaped object.

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