Easy To Get Discouraged

The title states it well.

The world faces much uncertainty. COVID lingers. The years pass swiftly – too quickly at times. There is so much to do, a great deal more I want to achieve.

I used to give piano recitals and accompany dancers once the concerts tapered off – but neither of those activities are possible at the moment, especially with economic uncertainty and the virus.

Still, I practise the piano at home and enjoy posting recordings of mp3s to music sharing sites.

To cheer myself up this week, I sifted through earlier writings from a sister blog (no longer developed) and found the following account from the heady concert training days:

A friend introduced me to a man who ran a piano shop and we became good friends. The owner of the shop gave me work and recommended my services to others. Sometimes, I would arrive at the shop first thing in the morning, open up and remain on the premises alone till closing time at five or five thirty, when I’d lock up and set the alarm, making a quick dash out of the door before the alarm activated. At other times, I dealt with the paper work and typed letters. Of course, whenever I could, I would select a piano – preferably, a Seiler, known for its rich deep sound – and play for an hour, or longer, if possible.

One of the sales assistants at the shop had trained as a concert pianist. Her playing was phenomenal, rivalling that of the highly experienced tutors I’d already studied with since coming to London, and soon after we met, this sales assistant agreed to take me on and train me at advanced performance level.

The transformation she brought about just in a couple of years. The relaxation of my shoulders and arm. The ability to throw off octave sections and passages of bravura. During a lesson at her house, I played the arpeggio study in C minor by Chopin, an unrelenting and potentially exhausting etude that lasts for about five minutes. She talked me through the piece while I played, enabling me to pay attention to the cantabile element of the etude while remaining completely relax – not an easy task to accomplish.

Under her supervision, I tackled a number of advanced works to the point where the technical challenges became almost effortless. Chopin’s F minor fantasie. Chopin’s third scherzo. The Eroica from the Liszt Transcendental etudes. Waldesrauschen and Gnomenreigen from the Liszt Concert etudes. The Liszt etude Un Sospiro in D-flat. The Waldstein sonata by Beethoven. The etude in D-sharp minor by Scriabin. Schubert’s second impromptu from the opus 90 set.

The new tutor organised several students concerts, where I performed Liszt etudes and the Schubert impromptu no 2. Meanwhile, I continued performing in the lunchtime recital circuit in central London, throwing off an array of impressive works – the second and third scherzos by Chopin, the first waltz in B-flat by Chopin, the Scriabin etude in D-sharp minor and preludes by Rachmaninoff.

This period in my musical journey culminated in a concert for the International Recital Series at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, a nerve wracking experience that concluded with a performance of the Scriabin etude in D-sharp minor.

Other repertoire during this time:

Beethoven – piano sonata in C no 3
Grieg – Piano Sonata

A Picture Of Pathos

At around this time I learnt Beethoven’s piano sonata, The Pathetique.

The dramatic opening reminded me of the opening in my novel Secrets.
The protagonist making his way up Whaley Hill in Lancashire in the November chill and fog in search of the man he’d helped put behind bars sixteen years earlier.
The angry, almost violent, chords that answer the pathos of the melody in the Pathetique. The build up of rain, the promise of a storm on Whaley Hill.
The continuing intensity of emotion in the Pathetique as lyrical despair alternates with irate harmonies and powerful pauses. 

A mist has settled. Going back for a torch, I take the pathway up the hill, like we did that other day, although it was hot and sunny then. Acrid, almost
I pass the row of trees where we hid that other time.
The tyre swing has gone now. 
The gust gets stronger, sweeping through the trees and shaking the bushes ahead.
 When I reach the bench near the reservoir, I shine the torch around.
A carpet of soaked leaves. Dead twigs.
Beyond lies the water, eerily still under the glow of the torch.   

© Lawrence Estrey 2021   fiction poetry

The Eleven Best Beethoven Piano Sonatas: My Choice

Beethoven, one of the greatest composers. During my piano training, I studied and performed a number of his sonatas.

All the sonatas, I found, presented technical challenges. Consider the double octaves glissandi at the end of the Waldstein or the lengthy trills in the slow movement of the opus 111. Or the precision required in the third sonata in C. Not to mention the endurance needed to pull off the final movement of the Moonlight.

Below I list the eleven best sonatas, seven of which I’ve performed in public.

*Note: I’d originally intended listing ten sonatas, but I felt I couldn’t omit Beeethovens’ sonata in F minor.

Late Beethoven

Beethoven op 111 *studied and performed

Beethoven op 110 *studied but not performed

Beethoven op 109 * *not studied or performed

Beethoven Hammerklavier *not studied or performed

Middle Beethoven

Appassionata *studied and performed

Waldstein *studied and performed

Moonlight *studied and performed

Pathetique *studied and performed

Sonata no 7 in D minor *studied and performed

Early Beethoven

Sonata no 3 in C *studied and performed

Sonata no 1 in F minor *not studied or performed

My list, and happy listening.

Till next time.

Alfred Brendel Playing The Waldstein

I’m currently polishing the Waldstein sonata by Beethoven for a small performance at the end of November.

I have memorised the sonata, but the work is demanding on many levels.

Points to consider:

  • Injecting emotion and pathos within the constraints of a truly Classical structure;
  • Bringing the short Second Movement to life;
  • Managing the double octaves (glissandi passages) in the concluding movement.

Below I enclose the world famous Alfred Brendel playing the Waldstein.

Happy listening!

The Wonders Of Music: The Waldstein

Autumn has come. Torrents of rain, often unexpected. Grey skies. Humidity, even when chilly. Gloomy might be the correct word to describe the change from summer to autumn. I don’t like getting up in the morning and feel the need for more sleep. Hibernation perhaps?

As I mentioned in a previously post, I recently received a digital piano as a gift and I often practise in my free time. Currently, I’m polishing up the Waldstein Sonata by Beethoven.

The sonata demands a high level of technical ability, as well as an intuitive understanding of contrast of tone. In many ways, the sonata mimics the Classical Convention in structure. However, it expands on these structures, taking them to a new level while remaining truly Classical in style and syntax.

A truly wonderful work. I’m also studying Liszt’s second Hungarian Rhapsody and the first Ballade by Chopin.

Till next time.

The Pathetique, Beethoven, And Some Thoughts

Today, I returned to Beethoven’s eighth piano sonata, commonly known as The Pathetique. I performed the sonata in 2012, and I have often thought about returning to it.

A stunning work, yet relatively simple in terms of interpretation, unlike in the later sonatas where the player has to adopt an almost spiritual approach at times.

The first movement requires neat breaks and precision (as opposed to rubato), though I value the use of the pedal as an aid to increasing the drama where needed.

Technique, therefore, plays an integral role. Wrist movement, in particular.

I spent a while on the exposition in the first movement, then looked at the second and third movements where, I feel, occasional hints of rubato mad add greater subtlety, especially in some of the slower passages.

I also think the third movement should begin gracefully before building up to greater levels of tension.

Just a few of my thoughts.

Below are my reflections on the Pathetique taken from my sister blog mypianobio:

An eventful eighteen months. I dug out the manuscript of my second novel Secrets, reset the story in Lancashire, changed the narrative from third person to first, and concentrated on the male protagonist. The same literary agent who’d considered a previous novel Dark Whispers read the first hundred pages of Secrets and asked to see the remainder of the novel, describing the sample she’d read as gripping.

The Pathetique by Beethoven

At around this time, I learnt Beethoven’s piano sonata, The Pathetique. The dramatic opening reminded me of the opening in Secrets, and still does. The protagonist making his way up Whaley Hill in Lancashire in the November chill and fog, searching for the man he’d helped put behind bars sixteen years earlier. The angry, almost violent, chords that answer the pathos of the melody in the Pathetique. The build up of rain, the promise of a storm on Whaley Hill. The continuing intensity of emotion in the Pathetique as lyrical despair alternates with irate harmonies and powerful pauses.

A Strange Day

Freezing, but humid.

I got up early, stretched and did my breathing exercises, but felt tired and groggy.

Had a number of meetings and played the piano, but couldn’t shake off the malaise and exhaustion.

Went back to practise Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, but couldn’t concentrate.

Arranged to meet a friend for coffee…and ended up leaving my sports bag somewhere.

Now, sitting with the heating on and the window open, and wondering when I last saw the sports bag.

A Long Wait

I’m still waiting for the editing report on my first novel, a psychological thriller set in the English countryside.   That’s one of the things in trying to get a book published  – you end up spending ages waiting each step of the way.  For me, the waiting is the worst bit.  It feels long and drawn out, and I tend to get impatient and worry about what might happen next.  

In the meantime, without having a definite time frame to work in, I don’t think I can continue with the most recent novel (another psychological thriller set near the Dorset coast), so I’ve made extensive backup copies of the first fourteen chapters and hope to return to the story sometime next year.  I’m working on something entirely different while I wait for the editor’s report – my student days at Dartington College of Arts in Totnes, Devon, where I studied music and classical piano.  

I’m also spending a lot of time at the piano, playing works by Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg and Liszt.

Beethoven Sonatas

I’ve suddenly got interested in playing Beethoven sonatas again.  I’ve been sitting at the grand piano I use for practice these last few days, enjoying three of the sonatas – the Moonlight, the  Appassionata and Beethoven’s penultimate piano sonata 0p110 in A flat.  The first two are dramatic whereas as the final one is reflective and sad in places.

I also enjoy playing Chopin and have studied most of his solo repertoire.