Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hearing and Vulnerability, cont.

Last night I played one of my piano conversation evenings for a professional musician: the subject was beats, regular or not.  I am fascinated that so many of the jazz musicians whom I have taught over the years are more tyrannized by the beat than most classically trained musicians, and I wanted to test the waters with this woman, a klezmer drummer.

I asked her to choose what composers she thought would be most interesting for our purpose.  Chopin, Brahms, Grieg were her first choices. 

So Chopin.  I played for her the E-flat minor Polonaise, an early work not often played.  Her reaction matched mine when first I heard it almost fifty years ago -- an experience I will never forget.  She couldn't believe what she was hearing.  The piece begins with a fragment and then a pause.  Next comes a series of very quiet chords, no melody, and ritardando (getting progressively slower).  In other words, not at all like a polonaise or any other dance, not even like a piece of actual music.  This introduction builds and builds to an explosion of emotion before the actual dance begins.  The contrast is almost terrifying.

This is exactly the experience I had when I first heard Rubinstein play it in Carnegie Hall.  Even when the introduction repeated later in the work I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  So unlikely, so powerful.