Second Chances

It’s really important to give pieces of music multiple chances. I can think of more than a few pieces which have not grabbed me at first hearing – maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind, maybe the piece was in an unfamiliar idiom or maybe it was a piece that requires multiple hearings to yield up its charms.

One example is Jimbo’s Lullaby from Debussy’s Children’s Corner – I’ve had the music for years and must have sight-read my way through it a few times without being grabbed. However on a taster day at a piano-teaching course it came alive for me and I have looked at the score again and found much to enjoy. I originally dismissed that opening tune in the bass as a boring pentatonic sequence of notes, then followed by some weird seconds and whole tone harmony. Somehow I feel differently about it now. The structure of the composition repays study too – Debussy uses three themes and mixes pentatonic, whole tone and more orthodox ideas and near the end the right hand combines two of the themes. By way of contrast the ‘Golliwog’s Cakewalk’, the final piece of Children’s Corner, has an immediate, much more obvious appeal.

Michelangeli’s recording is widely praised and people talk of the variety of colours he gets. I do not find this helpful as I don’t seem to hear it as they do. It is still a beautiful and varied performance. When choosing a recording to request for Christmas I chose Simon Trpceski’s version on the grounds of his absolute faithfulness to the markings in the score, but there are many good versions out there.

Another piece that I hastily dismissed first time is the Andantino by Chopin, a piano version of his song Wiosna currently set for ABRSM Grade 3. I feel that to play this too fast trivialises it and one has to overcome a feeling of strangeness about a particular note in the melody – an e natural set against an F7 chord. For me that feeling of strangeness has changed to one of anticipation and I relish it. The structure and harmony are very simple and on the face of it the notes are not that difficult. For the grade 3 pianists holding that left note through the bar with finger 5 while the other fingers play a broken chord may well be new and tricky at first and keeping the left hand thumb appropriately gentle on the 3rd and 6th quavers is important. It goes without saying that projecting and shaping the melody above the accompaniment matter too.

The text of the original song features a few verses about nature but then refers to our love-sick shepherd and this for me confirms my preference for slower renditions, such as this one.