Monday, October 29, 2012

Tickling the Ivories

It has become rather popular to assert at the end of a movie (perhaps because it is a legal requirement?) that "no animals were harmed in the making of this film."

As it happens, our friendly neighborhood Steinway B, site of most of the piano recordings you'll hear on this blog, turns 101 this year, which means it is old enough to have ivory keys. But since the elephant that gave its tusks for our sadistic musical enterprise has long since passed from this earth I can tell you that no animal was harmed during the actual playing of today's musical selection. I am, however, tickling ivory.

That turns out to be especially relevant with regard to the second part (theme) of the piece. Today's piece is short--perfect if you've got places to go. It would be shorter if I didn't repeat both sections.

The first section is 30 seconds long. If you break it down into its component parts, the first of these is only eight seconds long. Don't blink your ears, you'll miss it.

But it's the second part of that first section that has my attention. The first could, almost, maybe, function like a melody. If it were slower maybe you could sing a bit of it before it gets too difficult. After a slight pause (these are important) we are treated to a finger-flexing whirl of notes, up and down the short range of the octave. Now I am not given as much as some are to feats of pianistic derring-do, trying to impress people with flash and dazzle. It works, though. People are always interested in watching how fast a pianist's fingers move.

Still, I don't mind having some fun. Like a lot of instances of high density in the notes-per-square measure variety, this part doesn't really have much to say musically except "see how fast I can go." But it all goes by pretty quickly. Even faster, given that this section is broken up by a curious little musical phrase, in a minor key, that seems to ask midway (as I do) "is this alright? or is something wrong here?"

But as usual, after that unsettling bit of questioning our motives, the answer turns out to be "Yes! Everything is fine, here! And I am moving my fingers very fast and having a good time!" No great metaphysical questions on the state of humankind. In fact, it only took three seconds to ask the question, so if your ears blink, you'll miss that part, too.

You'll get to hear this fun little sequence four times by the end. That 30 second portion repeats; then the second section, which contains a little more wandering away from home (but maybe just around the block) returns to do the same thing, this time in the home key. And you'll hear all of that over again, too.

The piece comes from an early Haydn piano sonata (the fourth movement) and is marked "Allegro molto" (very fast). Whether Haydn himself, or anybody living in the 18th century, would have played it as fast as many of us do today is a good question. It's not as though people weren't spellbound by an accomplished virtuoso back then. On the other hand, notions of speed may have been quite different. And besides, you wouldn't want your wig to come off!

It probably took you as long to read this as it is going to take to listen to the music, so listen to it again whenever you're in the mood. Have a great rest of your day.

Haydn: Sonata in G: Allegro molto

p.s. for pianists out there, this is the fourth movement of Sonata no. 13 (Landon numbers) or 6 (if you're using Hoboken numbers, like my Dover edition)

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