Saturday, March 22, 2008

Well-Tempered Clavier

Hello, my name is Katya, and I am a pianist. I used to play the piano, and I took it pretty seriously. The ordeal, because towards the end of my piano career it had turned into an ordeal, lasted 11 years. Despite the pleas of my favorite piano teacher, Marina, I did not pursue a minor in Piano at Maryland, quitting my glorious musical career while I was ahead slash before I even started, whichever way you want to look at it.

Browsing through iTunes, I experienced an insatiable craving for some classical piano. I picked out several albums to listen to in the near future: Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov, Bach's Italian Concerto played by Brendel, Chopin by Ashkenazy, other snobby selections that will make me feel tremendous nostalgia. For tonight I settled on Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, played by Andras Schiff.

Each of the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier is comprised of 24 pairs of a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 major and minor keys. A prelude is typically an introduction. The fugue is a theme that gets repeated in several "voices" all "singing" together in harmony, as Marina would describe it to me. For whatever reason, the Well-Tempered Clavier reminds me of Sufjan Stevens wanting to record an album for each of the 50 states. Or maybe Sufjan Stevens's ambition reminds me of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Both seem like a systematic way of cataloging something through music.

Not being familiar with Andras Schiff, I looked him up on wikipedia. He is a Hungarian-born British pianist and apparently one of the best-known living interpreters of Bach in the world. For Bach interpretations, in my previous piano-playing life, I had always listened to Glenn Gould, a Canadian who died in the early '80s. Professional pianists can of course play anything, but sometimes they are known for "specializing" in the music of a certain composer, kind of like a tax accountant being better at "interpreting" corporate tax returns as opposed to "interpreting" partnership ones. If I were a concert pianist or a recording pianist, I would have been a Beethoven or Chopin kind of pianist. Not so much a Mozart and Bach kind of pianist.

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