At the end of every semester, I sit down with my professor and discuss pieces that I would like to work on next semester. Of course, in spring 2013, I would continue with my Beethoven sonata, but perhaps I could also work on something else. My professor proffered some suggestions, “Brahms intermezzi. Chopin Nocturnes.”
Internally, I thought, “Over my dead body.”
Indeed, ever since coming to college, I have sought to avoid four composers in solo piano repertoire: Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, and Schubert, partly because I found their piano repertoire boring, and partly because I am utterly inept at producing their signature tones–for now, at least.
Johannes Brahms, in his lifetime, was considered the ‘heir’ of Beethoven. Brahms detested this title because this gave him so much pressure. However, with his sweeping grandeur and sense of darkness and thick chords, very much like the late Beethoven, Brahms has deserved that title. Brahms commands a full, expansive sound from the piano. Given how much I am struggling with early Beethoven, in which this full, expansive, and authoritative, tone begins to take shape (but is not quite there, requiring an alacrity of touch still), I cannot begin to fathom Brahms. However, dutifully, I sightread through the intermezzi that my professor suggested and I became utterly lost. I had no idea what direction Brahms intended to go, and these strange chords sat heavily on me–not a desirable feeling for a first impression. So I kicked away the possibility of playing any of the intermezzi.
Frederic Chopin is a cornerstone in any serious pianist’s repertoire, because Chopin composed so extensively and meticulously for the piano. However, I suppose I am not a serious pianist, I have only a few childish Chopin in my repertoire, and do not seek to add any more, currently. To me, Chopin is the emo composer. He demands not only technique, but he demands feelings to be added on top. Think of the pianist as a painter– the pianist’s brushes and paints consist of various techniques which combined together, supplies the richly colored, lush, and dreamy tone. However, without a skilled painter with a vision guiding these brushes and paints on the canvas, these techniques will never make a beautiful painting on its own. So it is with emotions. Without the emotional imagery behind Chopin, it is never really a true Chopin. I lack the emo anguish and the consistent technique for a lush tone, so for now, I skip on Chopin.
There is a saying that a child can play Mozart better than an adult can. This is a telling phrase. To correctly render Mozart, the touch must be light, clear, playful, and yet, virtuosic. The music must flow as rills of an elegant stream, glow like the translucent hands of the most beautiful woman alive. Its object must be divine epiphany, and its confidence must be in unerring perfection. The music is perfect itself, too; it is said that after writing down the music, Mozart hardly ever made corrections or additions to the score. In short, to play Mozart properly, one must channel humble virtuoso. That I am not good at. It is much easier to be an arrogant virtuoso. Being a humble virtuoso allows far less mistakes. It is much easier to attack the virtuoso parts rather than leisurely enjoy their perfection. Those who claim to master Mozart: worriers need not apply. Under-confident need not apply, either. Yet, at times, Mozart is just too perfect, just too predictable. Sometimes, I see no drama in Mozart, and there is no interest.
Franz Schubert— flat-out, I find him boring. A simple version of Beethoven, not quite at the perfection of the Mozart, just a bland reinterpretation. Bland. His music always seems to melt into the background whenever I listen to him. Schubert, let’s meet in another lifetime.