10-11 April 2013 Preparing my new solo recording

First of all, when I am planning a new recording, I need a guiding idea behind the choice of the compositions. In this case, the idea is to show what Schubert, Schumann, and Schoenberg did when they created individual character pieces.
By definition, character pieces experiment with forms, as the character itself moulds the formal structure of the piece: to put it simply, each piece generates its form anew. The creative side reaches its peak in this genre, this is why it has been often used by Romantic composers. I decided to include Schoenberg in the picture, as I think that his character pieces, despite their lack of a tonal centre, are based on gestures that have their origins in late-Romantic style. Individuality is the key-word. Each of these pieces possesses highly individual traits.

On the performer’s side – my own side – how will I respond to extreme individuality? It will require Protean qualities: a highly diversified sound, articulation, dynamics. Besides, it will require the balance of Classical style as well as the Romantic traits of Schumann’s alter-egos (Eusebius and Florestan): from impetuosity to introverted melancholy. What a challenge!

On the importance of fingering: a while ago, I bought again the Henle edition of Schubert’s pieces, as the fingering there is by Gieseking. When the fingering is by a great pianist, it always makes sense and helps shaping musical ideas. In Gieseking’s case, his fingering is conceived for the subtle art of legato-playing: by using his fingering, I can play legato (i. e. smoothly connected) almost without using the damper pedal. This gives me greater freedom in the phrasing, and more clarity when required. I can thus use the damper pedal just to add sound reverberation when needed – rather akin to a painter adding ‘light’ with brush strokes.

The Gieseking edition also taught me the importance of treating ornaments here: where will I place the acciaccature (grace notes), on the beats, or before? The answer always depends on the musical context, I cannot apply any general rule. The acciaccatura adds a dissonant trait, and dissonances are colours, and as such, they need to be properly enhanced, and not neutralised. Dissonances are beautiful… just like the right combination of spices.

Why is fingering so important, you will ask. Music is made of gestures: with my gestures, I produce sound. If my fingering is unhelpful and I use the sustaining pedal as a neutral means that connects each and every sound, I will be like an actor speaking without intonation and punctuation. Instead, with my fingers I shape phrases, connecting the notes belonging to the same phrase, and enhancing a few sounds (where the phrase ‘wants to go’). Closing the phrase at the end means to gradually decrease dynamic level, as you would do at the end of a sentence. ‘Breathing’ in between phrases also implies to separate the last sound of a phrase from the beginning sound of the next phrase. Music has to speak. If it does not, it will not communicate, and you listeners will remain untouched. This is why in Baroque times – the times of Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel – music and rhetoric were linked. Music was regarded as conversation: the various parts akin to voices dialoguing. I simply love this concept, because for me, as a performer, it is so inspiring.

For me, a great part of my preparation consists in finding the most expressive way of shaping phrases. I find this project involving character pieces fascinating, because their brevity makes them similar to short poems where each word has weight. When you read Shakespeare, or Dante, there is not a single word too much. Equally here, each note goes straight to the point with ruthless logic, and it so becomes highly moving.

Right now… I have so much work to do on these pieces that it takes my breath away! Wish me luck.

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