[Bach] says, in effect, yes this is bound to be boring but I am going to be so masterful that you will be in awe and not care even if you will be bored.
Jeremy Denk is a great writer. See also Denk on recording and photos of Glenn Gould during the March 1955 ‘Goldberg’ recording sessions collected by The Selvedge Yard.
Why I Hate The ‘Goldberg Variations’ : NPR
Woman at the Piano by Philip Evergood, 1955.
This is a surprisingly great interview with Jason Segel (via Austin). My favorite bit:
I had two friends in high school who sort of showed me how a piano works. And I just spent two years being terrible at it until I was good at it. That’s just me. There’s no way I’m actually intrinsically talented at writing, acting, playing music, puppeteering. It’s that I’m willing to be shit at them for a while, until I’m good at them.
Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037. This was interesting, but not a must-see. You get to know the multi-national cast of employees that put them together up in the Steinway factory in Astoria, Queens, NYC. There are also some scenes from the public showrooms and artist relations (patient employees help sensitive musicians searching for an ineffable something).
The scope of the actual construction is impressively broad–there are giant chunks of wood that just get absolutely manhandled, and there are tiny little fiddly bits that get tweaked and retweaked over a span of weeks. I used to work with my Grandpa in his workshop, and if you spend any time with smart carpenters, you catch on to the clever devices or tricks they invent to make the job easier. There’s some cool custom-made-for-the-job timesavers in the movie if you look for them.
The downside to all the behind-the-scenes stuff is that while you see a lot, they don’t explain a lot. E.g. you see a foreman selecting wood, but you don’t know what kind of wood it is or what kind makes it better than other chunks. I don’t know that I wanted a narrator intoning facts over all the footage, but it’s a shame that so much is kept at arm’s length. Maybe a more probing interviewer could have helped. If you’re really interested in the details, I think you’re better off reading something like the A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano.
The audio examples are really fascinating. (via).
When composers wrote for these instruments they sometimes loved them and sometimes chafed at their limitations, but in any case they wrote for those sounds, that touch, those bells and whistles. From old instruments, performers on modern pianos can get important insights into the sound image that Mozart, Schubert, et al., were aiming for. But music from the 18th and 19th centuries doesn’t just sound different now than on the original instruments; some of it can’t even be played as written on modern pianos.
Why you’ve never really heard the “Moonlight” Sonata. – By Jan Swafford – Slate Magazine
Art Tatum goofs around with Dvorak’s Humoresque No. 7 in G flat major. Here’s a more traditional version. (via @danlevitin)
John Mark Harris arranged a piece for piano by Iannis Xenakis to make it, y’know, playable by a human. You can see and hear the graph for Evryali.
The title refers to the “Medusa, with head of writing snakes”, as well as “the open sea”. Both allusions have clear meanings upon hearing the piece…
Evryali was composed without regard to the limitations of the human anatomy, as the branching often expands beyond the range of two human hands. In more than one instance, the branching has caused bushed to appear at the extreme right and left of the keyboard, yet there are also bushes in the center of the piano. The performer must obviously edit the score. The graph I made became a tool for determining what I would leave out…
The music that remains, after editing, is anatomically possible. Yet the performer is left with an undertaking that can not be thought of as reasonable. The relentless repetitive motions, wide leaps, and awkward streams of chords directly challenge the pianist’s need for fluid fingers and free arms. The pianist runs the risk of gazing into Medusa and freezing solid. Brute force and physical endurance are not enough to solve the difficulty. Only through the same imagination that one finds the music “possible” can one find the answer to its realization.
As one can never view Medusa directly, without cheating in the manner of Perseus, one can never hear the piece performed exactly as composed. The audience is not granted a true image of Evryali, but must, like Perseus, experience only a reflection of the monstrosity.
Further commentary from Marc Couroux:
Evryali is not virtuosic, nor is it anti-virtuosic. It is highly unlikely that this state could have come about as a result of the composer’s insufficient command of pianistic technique. The gauntlet is so clearly thrown down that the difficulties cannot be anything other than premeditated… The fact that one cannot physically realize the totality of Evryali makes it seem unnecessarily utopian. The task of any performer is to strive, regardless of difficulty, to achieve every detail and to project them into a broader context.
[via phil harnish]