Life According to Piano

Lots on my mind today


From Verbs, Book 2.

The premiere, performed by Keith Snell at the PMTNM conference, Los Alamos, New Mexico, November 2008.

I suddenly realized that I have never posted any of Verbs here. That’s an omission!

No, I’m not playing. My friend the concert pianist Keith Snell is. But I composed the music! And I’m rather pleased at how it turned out, and how he performs it. Here’s a sample.

Oh, and another thing

Time is our friend. Truly, there is no need to rush.

Forte and relativity

I judged a piano competition the other day. Well, I was a member of a panel of 3 judges. It was a long, exhausting, and very interesting day. There was some lovely piano playing, and some lovely repertory; there was some less sensitive performing and some less lovely repertory. When the less sensitive performing met up with the less lovely repertory, well, disaster ensued. I learned a tremendous amount about what is important to me as a musician, a pianist, and a composer, by listening to the disasters, even more than by hearing the beautifully performed music.

Here’s what became explicit for me: markings in a score — especially, but not limited to, dynamic markings and tempo markings — are very relative. It’s not just that one pianist’s forte will be louder or less loud than another pianist’s. It’s that the forte we would use in one piece might be completely out of place in another.

This was demonstrated for me most clearly in a performance of 2 Brahms Intermezzi (Op 118/1 and Op 118/2, if you are interested in hearing them for yourself). The first is marked by Brahms Allegro non assai, ma molto appassionato which translates to “lively, not very, but very passionately!” Almost all the dynamics are forte or sforzando, but the music tapers to a piano for the final sonority (which Brahms in his leisurely way takes 3 measures to complete, which is just exactly perfect after all the roiling of the music till then).

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