Monday, June 27, 2011

Fingers flying

Here is a treat for pianists. Stephen Hough, the British concert pianist, has written on his Web log what amounts to a free piano lesson on how to do trills.

Is this a marvelous age we live in or what? You hop onto the Internet and you never know what you will find.

I am trying to think of the trilling-est piece I ever played. I think it would have to be Beethoven's Sonata in E, Opus 109, which ends in showers of trills in the right and left hands with all kinds of other things going on too. Once I, ahem, played this sonata in recital and Howard said that when the trills all finally wound down, his heart could stop pounding because it meant the plane had landed safely. Ha, ha! Playing a sonata like this is like being at the controls of a jet. If you listen to the music you can actually feel the wheels touch ground.

Unfortunately my recital was not recorded for posterity so here is Daniel Barenboim playing it. What a sonata. It is intoxicating. The first theme, heartbreaking! The middle voices get to me. Then the beginning of the first variation always gets me. Barenboim gets to this at about 2:18. It is almost like a very slow waltz. I know I should not think about it like that but still.

Barenboim is the slowest pianist I have ever heard doing this! Also I had not realized his fingers were that stubby.

When you get to 4:10, 4:11 the music kind of hurts. I remember my teacher, Stephen Manes, talked about that. Sometimes music has to hurt a little bit and this is one of those times.

The third variation sounds like sleigh bells and there are things that given my overactive imagination I read into that. The variation that starts at 6:45 is one I love. It is so tender and so direct.

The fun starts about 10:40 when he states the theme simply, then doubles up the notes, then triples them. Beethoven likes this trick. Then it picks up .... you can think of a train, but I like to think of being on a plane, when the engines really start going and you are flattened against the back of your seat and you take off.

The trills get under way slowly at 11:00. At 11:16 they speed up and by about 11:30 they are going full blast. Wow, Barenboim! Look at those stubby fingers fly! As you gain altitude, the trills keep going in the left hand while the right has all this other exciting stuff going on. It builds and builds and then starts coming down. There can be some discussion about when exactly the wheels touch down but I would ... say ... right .... about ....

... 11:37.

That is one thrilling 30 seconds!

Did I say thrilling?

I meant trilling!


  1. Ms. Goldman...

    I enjoyed your Post on the Beethoven Op. 109! What amazing music that is: Music of angels...

    I read Stephen Hough's blog almost daily.

    If you're able to take the time, please expore my classical music blog at:

    I invite your comments and suggestions.

  2. Hank, I will definitely check out your Web log! Thanks for reading what I wrote and I love your description of Opus 109... music of angels.