Thursday, November 6, 2014

Learning Music of the Past from a Living Composer

Yesterday I invited Ursula Mamlok over to hear some of my new thinking about the piano.  I know she loves Brahms, a composer who has become increasingly important to me in terms of structuring sound, if I can coin a term.  His writing for the piano is overwhelmingly contrapuntal, dense in the extreme, and difficult to play, technically for sure, but intellectually as well.

I'm not sure she approved of what I was doing: it certainly shocked her.  Maybe that's what I wanted, I don't know.

Then I played Schumann's Arabeske, a piece both of us have hated for years.  Only this past year while studying the Waldszenen in depth did I discover its hidden depth.  Where did you learn to play it like that, she asked.  From Brahms and from you, was my reply.  The piece, usually played sweetly, is anything but sweet.  Its piercing emotion becomes clear in the two improvisatory sections, one in the middle, the other at the end. 

Next came Einsame Blume from the Waldszenen -- a title not unlike the titles Ursula uses for her pieces.  A tiny little piece, almost motionless - in that way, too, not unlike many of her pieces.  She could not recall ever having heard it. 

A haunting gem.  We do not learn to play such music except from living composers whose inward grasp of music leads us to explore our own depths.

Thank you, Ursula.