would you like to hear sublime?

listen to chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 In E Minor, Op. 11: II – Romance: Larghetto.

i’ve heard it time and time before… but currently, i’m listening to a recording of emanuel ax. absolutely stunning.

the recording is part of a compilation… a rather pedestrian collection entitled ‘chopin for relaxation.’ i think i may have bought it for my mother once upon a time… and then, subsequently stole it back as soon as i realized some of the pieces were performed exceptionally well.

however, i take issue with this recording of one of my favorite chopin pieces: Etude In A-Flat ‘Aeolian Harp,’ Op. 25 No. 1.

i used to play the ‘aeolian harp.’ it was one of the last pieces i learned before theatre distracted my attention from my piano studies. i do not know who is playing this particular version, but it is not how i hear the music in my head. too fast. too casual. too steady.

the first time i heard that piece was in the final credits of ‘the turning point,’ a movie with shirley maclain and anne bancroft centered around ballet (the other love of my life). in the final moments, leslie brown dances this beautiful solo in front of the footlights to the etude… so graceful and lovely. an orchestral arrangement was added for the movie soundtrack… and it is so very effective. rubato… overwrought… emotional… satisfying.

i fell in love with that piece the moment i heard it. i was a young girl at the time…perhaps 11 or 12. as this predated IMDB, there was no way for me to know the name of the piece without tracking down the soundtrack… which is even now only available on LP. once i found it, tucked away in a pile of records at the dance studio, i begged my piano teacher to play it and fortunately, she complied.

this piece is called an ‘etude’ for a reason, though i know its difficulty pales in comparison to some of the other etudes. nevertheless, i was still a child and never before had my hands hurt so much while playing. i was unprepared for the cramping and the pain…but it was so sublime. so wonderful. i have no words to adequately express how i felt as i poured every ounce of my being into those 6 pages of rapid arpeggiated figures. i can’t begin to explain……….

i was not born with a desire to play. to the contrary, i was forced to take lessons by my mother. the hour of practice each evening was as important as the daily chores… if not more. it took years of being chained to the piano bench before a genuine appreciation took root in my heart. and then, with an introduction to chopin and debussy (romantic and impressionist), i discovered the dormant desire in my hands. i now thank my mother for offering me this gift.

i now know that i am a complete musical whore. i remember that rhythm was always my weakness. the intended played second fiddle to my idea of how it should be played. i saw no reason to learn the rhythm if i had heard it before… i needed only to see the notes, to know where to place my fingers…the rhythm was dictated by the sweep of my wrists, the surge in my breasts. disrespectful to the composer? perhaps. blasphemy? i know. surely i would be denounced by my teutonic peers… deemed tacky and overemotional. indeed. but what came from my fingertips was the purest expression of who i was at the time. innocent, tender, and sentimental. in retrospect, i sometimes long to play as i once did. utterly lacking self-consciousness. it almost makes me cry to think about it. my love of the piano was never about dexterity…only expression. perhaps an interesting parallel (or contrast) to my life.

as i write this, i realize that this must be what self-taught musicians and composers experience… those unable to read music. when the rigid notes and values are written in an unintelligble language, how can one be accused of disrespect? it then becomes ‘interpretation.’ how fortunate they are to escape the burden of this responsibility, unfettered by rules, staves, and note values. how liberating.

i have never envied other pianists. what i experienced was so personal…singularly satisfying and precious… and thus, invincible. it didn’t matter what anyone else thought of my playing. good or bad, it didn’t matter. in all my life, my piano was the one thing that was mine… for no one’s benefit but my own. i don’t mind playing for others, but i play best when alone. perhaps it is my secret.

i ask only that other pianists show reverence for my music… and it is indeed my music now. and will always be as it was ingrained in my heart and memory.


~ by ladamesansregrets on November 20, 2007.

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