Apart from Bach, my other great piano related passion is Beethoven. A further frustration with being a guitarist related to the weakness in the repertoire's classical period sonatas. They existed but they were just not in the same league that was on offer by Beethoven and an additional reason I was keen to learn to play the instrument. So the other day, when I was again listening to the radio on my way to catch a few waves, my ears pricked up when I heard Brendan Ward talking about his book "The Beethoven Obsession".
This fascinating book tells the story of how the greatest piano music ever written acquired an Australian voice, played on a revolutionary grand piano that shook up the conservative music establishment.
Translated this refers to the first recording, by an Australian pianist, Gerard Willems, of the complete cycle of 32 sonatas, 5 concertos, Electoral sonatas and the unpublished Fantasia sonata on a very special grand piano designed and manufactured here in Australia by Wayne Stuart. Apart from being a most interesting read, ranging well beyond the recording of the works, it is a flag bearer for the excellence of the e-book. If you purchase this book to read on your iPad, which I highly recommend, you will also be able to enjoy the embedded links to relevant pictures and music examples distributed throughout the book dramatically enhancing your reading experience. This book has inspired me to now start work on my Beethoven journey and I have chosen the second of the Op 49 easier early sonatas.
I listen to the main classical radio station here in Australia, ABC Classic FM, pretty well anytime I am in the car going anywhere. The other morning, a pianist I have never heard of before, Jeremy Denk, was being interviewed. As it became apparent that he was a fan of J S Bach I became more interested and even more so when I heard that he had achieved some notoriety in the classical music world for a tirade against program notes. I think this post made on Jeremy's most interesting blog back in May 2007 is the one in question. Do take the time to explore it further as he is quite prolific on many subjects and I have added it into NTLTLP's blog list so as I can continue to read what he has to say. I conducted a litte further research and found this review of Paul Elie's Reinventing Bach, yet another book that is going to end up in the queue on the iPad, for which he has also attained some interest.
Like many, I have always been fascinated by Glenn Gould. I cannot remember when I first became aware of his existence but I am sure that it was sometime during my years as a guitarist. I loved to play the Bach transcriptions most of all and one cannot be into Bach and not discover Gould!
Although I enjoyed a long, fruitful and passionate relationship with the guitar, I had always been frustrated that the repertoire was so limited in breadth and quality compared to the more mainstream instruments. Eventually, as you would well know, if you have visited here before, I ended up giving the guitar a way entirely and choosing the piano so as to give myself the opportunity to explore that instruments huge repertoire and particularly to explore the vastly greater availability of music by Bach. In the last half year my abilities have improved enough so as I could spend time exploring 3 Inventions and 2 of the Preludes and the Cm Fugue from WTC 1. This has been most rewarding and definitely further aded to my technique. Apart from choosing to play Bach because I love to, I am also particularly doing so to gain the greater degree of hand independence that playing contrapuntal music provides. This is so as I can apply it to my ability to improvise which is probably my raison d'etre for being a musician in the first place.
Back to Gould. When he plays you can see how deep he gets into that expressive space as he sings voices, sways his upper torso around and conducts himself with his left hand if it happens to be free.
That is the place I also strive for when improvising and if I know a non-improvisatory piece of music well enough to do so also. These mannerisms of Gould's have caused so much controversy over the years but for me it merely adds to the experience of watching and hearing him play. I empathise very much with his need to physically express the music. This has been another frustration I have had with the classical guitar as the movements required to play it are all so small and the sitting position so constrained that much of the time I felt it tempered my ability to express the music I was playing in the way that I wished. Standing up and playing and improvising on the electric guitar suited me far better and I am constantly on the move as I am unable to stop myself from physically manifesting the emotion I am feeling as I play. Although also a little more constrained as one is sitting too, I find the piano far more liberating than having to keep control of a guitar on the lap. Ironically, considering I have dedicated so much effort and time to the guitar over the years, I think the piano is actually a more suitable instrument on which to express myself musically.
The main reason for the post though is to let you know how much I have been enjoying reading Kevin Bazzana's biography "Wondrous Strange - The life and art of Glenn Gould". Apart from gaining great insight in to Gould the man and his activities during his life, the experience of reading it had been added to immeasurably as I have it downloaded to my iPad mini. This remarkable device allows me to instantly explore as I wish beyond the book when I ever I read something of interest that I would like to more about. It is far lighter than the standard iPad and it has become my constant companion.
I have just completed my most recent composition which was inspired by the news that I might have a second grandchild on the way. Hence it's title and the tentative nature of the main melody. Just yesterday the news was confirmed so the timing is perfect. If you are on the look out for new things to play all my compositions are available here and this particular piece can be viewed and downloaded fromhere.
I composed this tune for Jazz quintet in 2010 and posted about it here that year also. I have since reworked the piece for solo piano which I have presented here. There are a few slips and I need to learn to build my solos and control the tempo but this piece does really needs to romp along a bit. The staid correct and much slower effort I originally recorded just did not cut it in that way. So warts and all this is my take on how to decorate the changes from Chick Corea's Spain. The dots for both the original quintet version and this version for solo piano can be obtained here and here respectively.