Monday, February 4, 2019

Filling in the Gaps

An aunt of mine once observed that she believed I used my website the way some peopled did scrap booking, collecting memories and artifacts and putting them together as a kind of diary of things personally enjoyed.

I didn't care much for the comparison. I felt that sharing music and information and ideas about that music was really not the same as the person who blogs about their favorite bands or their favorite food or says this movie or that movie is really cool you should go see it.

But there is a deep autobiographical connection to the things on this website. This is particularly true of the recordings. After all, these are all pieces that I've played, if only briefly, to record them. They represent a kind of musical places-I've-been. They aren't there to say, look at me, I can play these pieces, though I figure it can't hurt if somebody recognizes that I can play well and that leads to some kind of opportunity. But they do represent a musical journey. They are what I've been playing either professionally or for recreation over the last seven or eight years. And they are an invitation to journey with me.

I have a tendency toward completeness. A few years ago I recorded the complete Mendelssohn organ sonatas. I've attempted the complete organ works of Michael Praetorius, the entire Mass for the Parishes of Couperin. So far I've only recorded the first 15 piano sonatas of Haydn (there are 52). And at times, while exploring new corners of the literature, ever finding different composers and genres, I've had the urge to look back, and turn again to the familiar. And also to have my favorite pieces represented, pieces that are, or were, important to me for whatever reason.

There is one problem with that. The website didn't come along until 2002, and I wasn't able to really get recording until 2011 for various reasons. By then I already had finished graduate school and was in my thirties. The early parts of my life, and with it, some pretty huge hunks of piano literature, such as the complete Mozart piano sonatas, say, were over, and had, for the most part, not been recorded.

It's hard to go back and fill in those gaps, especially when you are busy documenting what is happening now, never mind being busy with other things entirely. But from time to time I manage to do it. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm doing it.

I'm going to be teaching a course on Beethoven next month. I haven't played much of his music these last several years and it is about time I traveled back this way. I spent the last two weeks of January in a panic, realizing that I was planning to play about a half-dozen sonatas in a period of five weeks, and had just over a month to prepare them all. At my advanced stage of learning and technical ability, one Beethoven sonata is not so difficult--I can learn it in a few days, most likely (though the difficulty level of the sonatas varies quite a lot). But to do 6--or 7.... As I've said before, successful people panic earlier than the others.

It's February, and already I've gotten reasonably familiar with most of the "curriculum." You'll be hearing about them as March approaches. And I'll be playing them for you.

Today I recorded a movement of the "Pathetique" Sonata. I wasn't even planning to play this one in class. It doesn't seem to represent one of the four aspects of Beethoven's musical personality that I'm going to focus on for the class, and I imagine that if there is one Sonata that half of my students will be able to play for themselves, this is it. But I had a spare moment the other day and decided the second movement could handle recording even if I hadn't looked at it in years. Then I thought I'd have some fun with the finale. It was. I was hooked again.

I played this piece in high school. In those days I was in the preparatory department at the Cleveland Institute of Music. I remember playing it in a class recital, the entire sonata.

I don't mind telling you, I am a quarter of a century removed from that occasion and I can play that young man clear under the table and then some.

Apparently there has been more to this Beethoven mania than I realized. I must have played three or four sonatas in high school, and a few in college, in addition to the concertos (most of which I learned on my own). Then, for many years, nothing. Beethoven vanished from my life.

But like an archaeologist removing a layer of sediment to discover something important in the strata beneath, something has been found. And what a wonderful reservoir was waiting in the deep caverns beneath the surface.

This course is about Beethoven, obviously. But it is always better when we are invested ourselves. I imagine I will be able to connect with the students on this account also. Some of them have already told stories of their encounters with the Bard from Bonn, and have probably played this very sonata. It is over 200 years old now, that piece. It has worked its magic on a lot of people.

Count me in.

Just a note: each week, is new with recordings and articles. In a few weeks, the recording I made the other day but haven't had time to post will probably make its way to the listening archive, and/or become the week's featured recording. In any case, look for lots of Beethoven to start making its way to the site. New editions appear every Friday.

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