I found this one extremely hard to pull off, but I think it captures the general mood of the Impromptu. I recorded it a couple of nights ago from my home in north London.
It’s been a long day, full of uncertainty here in the UK. I ventured out for sandwiches and coffee early this morning, but the wind was strong, so I spent the remainder of the day indoors.
This evening, I recorded myself playing Fur Elise by Beethoven, using the piano in my flat. After a frustrating attempt to transfer the recording to a device with internet connection, I finally uploaded the mp3 and a still photo to YouTube. (Apologies for the missing umlaut in the title but the smartphone keyboard doesn’t provide one).
My latest recording, done tonight at home using a Zoom handy recorder.
Brahms Hungarian Dance no 16 in F minor, with me as performer. (Still photo of self from a past event.)
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
Many years ago I heard a piece of music called “The Sting” – another name for The Entertainer by Scott Joplin. Ever since, I’ve had a passionate interest in Ragtime. Last night, I recorded the Maple Leaf Rag, also by Scott Joplin. Later, I made a compilation video of four Ragtime tracks I recorded during 2021 and 2022 from my flat in North London.
I present the video of the four pieces below. In each, I am the soloist:
Works by Scott Joplin played by Lawrence Estrey: The Entertainer, Maple Leaf Rag, Ragtime Dance, New Rag.
Although, the piano has played a pivotal role in my life, I didn’t start playing till my teens. My family couldn’t afford a piano and a stigma existed in the North West of England at the time: boys don’t play the piano. I describe more Below, in a blog devoted specifically to music:
I’d received some money shortly before my thirteenth birthday. One afternoon, during school holidays, I paid a casual visit to an antique shop in Salford. A bell tinkled when I opened the door. The shopkeeper looked in my direction, but my attention was already elsewhere.
A piano stood in a corner, complete with a couple of candlesticks attached to the wooden frame.
I looked at the price tag. Yes, I could just about afford it. ‘That piano,’ I said. ‘Is it still available?’
The shopkeeper nodded.
‘I think I’d like to buy it. Can I try it?’
I went over, picked out a tune, and then arranged for one of my parents to conduct the transaction on my behalf.
The following Monday, a transport firm delivered the instrument to our home. I must have spent about two hours playing the first night, scarcely able to believe that I owned this astonishing instrument.
From then on, I taught myself using books, as we couldn’t afford lessons. I played everything. Pieces by Bach and Mozart. Songs from the shows. Scott Joplin and The Entertainer. I was obsessed with Ragtime but not jazz. I loved composing and wanted to be a famous composer. I composed a number of works at the piano, including a complete sonata in three movements.
As for the guitar, that gathered dust. It had never really been my instrument.I didn’t lose interest in the piano, though. It was always waiting for me when I came home from school, like an old loyal friend, whose only wish was for someone to run their fingers across the keys and create beautiful sounds.
I’ve always loved Ragtime, especially Scott Joplin. During my early teens, I would listen to ragtime a lot, looking forward to the day when I, too, would play The Entertainer.
Last night, I recorded the Entertainer from my flat in London. See below:
A great deal of uncertainty rests in the air at the moment. The UK will return to normality on Monday, 19th July – so our Prime Minister insists – but I have my doubts and reservations.
COVID aside, Britain seems so full of anger and spontaneous violence, especially here in London.
Meanwhile, extreme weather has caused chaos in places around the world, and many believe that worse will follow over the coming decades.
As for me, my back has started giving me problems. It’s worrying.
To cheer myself up and give something back to the world, I did a piano recording this evening and converted the mp3 to video. Alexander Scriabin wrote a number of solo piano works. In the video, I have included the slow Etude in C-sharp minor, reminiscent of bells tolling in the distance.
Happy listening, and till next time!
Tonight, England beat Germany.
I was busy doing something else, though. Making another piano recording from my flat using a Zoom Handy Recorder and various online apps designed to covert MP3s to videos.
After a busy week of piano practise and recordings, I offer you the Waltz in B Minor by Chopin.
I hope to resume recording projects in a week or so – but until then, happy listening!
After some weeks of intensive piano practise, I finally plucked up the courage to connect a professional recording device to the piano at home this Wednesday, and record.
Tonight, I decided to have a go at Scott Joplin’s New Rag.
I’ve always loved Ragtime, ever since I heard the Entertainer as a young boy.
I hope you will enjoy my performance of the New Rag.