Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Return

I began studying piano at the age of four and fell in love with the expressive musicality of Romantic composers. I listened to recordings voraciously, often "interpreting" them by ear, and Chopin was my favourite, although it took many years before my small hands were able to conquer his vast leaps across the keyboard.

Last year, a decade since my last piano lesson, I decided to resume my study. I quickly experienced the humbling frustration of returning to an instrument after many years. Far from simply picking up where I left off, many things I once did with ease and precision had to be re-learned or remembered. The memories were there, in my fingertips and brain, and I was told that with time they could be recovered, but the learning curve felt dramatic. Over the course of the last twelve months I have slowly begun working my way back into a routine, frequently wanting to give up and dreading the lessons.

When learning a new piece of music, there are logistics involved: notes, rhythm, tempo, key signature, accidentals, and expressive markings must all be achieved with confidence before interpretation can begin. Take Chopin's Nocturne in B flat minor, Opus 9, Number 1 for example, to which I have devoted six months (and counting...) of study:

Many great pianists have performed and recorded Chopin's nocturnes, but Claudio Arrau's interpretation remains my favourite.

Whereas others, like Maurizio Pollini and Angela Hewitt, play with expert precision, there is, in my opinion, a necessary emotional quality to Arrau's version which is lacking in their interpretations. Arrau seems to be reaching out beyond technique to the ears of the listener. It is certainly something to aspire to.