Friday, March 9, 2012

Ballade Blogging

I'm on Spring Break and have decided to set myself the leisure-time goal of re-learning Chopin's Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, a piece I last played (as far as I can recall) on my undergraduate Junior Piano Recital. Technically speaking, that's more than two decades ago (!). For much of those two-plus decades, my life as a pianist has been more focused on collaboration, but every now and then I remember that playing solo piano rep is how I got into this whole mess in the first place. It's still my first love, and as much as I adore duo sonatas, concerto accompaniments, art songs, opera scenes, and not having to play from memory, there's nothing quite like having the whole thing to yourself and actually knowing the whole thing by heart.

To be totally honest, as age (and too much time online?) seems to diminish my ability to remember phone numbers, passwords, how to spell words, and what to call my children, I also welcome the opportunity to exercise my musical memory muscles. Perhaps that will sharpen the 'ol think system, and maybe I'll even re-capture some of my youth along the way. The truth is, my fingers didn't really remember much of the ballade, having let it sit on the shelf for so long, but it's amazing how starting into it almost immediately put me back in time.

I've given two solo piano recital in the past ten years, and in each case, when it came to choosing repertoire, I found myself inexorably drawn to music I'd played before - not because it gave me a useful head start (I forget pieces really well), but because I feel such connection to music I've played. If my musical life was regularly devoted to solo repertoire, I hope I'd be more adventurous about choosing something new to me, but for now, there's just nothing I'd rather play than...well, the Chopin F Minor ballade.

Actually, I chose it kind of accidentally. On Tuesday, I read a Max Levinson blog post that samples various recordings of the first Chopin etude, a piece I'd heard on the radio earlier that day. I'd worked on it off and on years ago and had decided to let the coincidence of encountering it twice in a day inspire me to learn it for real. Well, turns out my preferred copy of the Chopin etudes was missing from my shelf, so I pulled out the ballades instead, almost by accident. A few minutes later, I was playing these magical opening bars:

And off we go! Even three days in, it's been infinitely rewarding to revisit these pages, and it's also given me lots to think about. Thus, my grandiose plan is to blog about the ballade each day for the next week* - if all goes really well, I might even try to record it at the end of the week, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. If this project manages to get me blogging again and gives me a chance to live with this music every day, that will be something. Maybe I'll even be able to remember my phone number...

* This idea is partly inspired by Jeremy Denk's wonderful 7-day series on a Bach allemande. [Start here.]

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