Updated: Feb 22

When life becomes stressful, teaching’s schedule is busy, Piano practise and rehearsals are in full swing as WKMT Festival and Recitals are just round the corner, it is very easy to forget how Music is strictly related to life and nothing more than stress can be harmful for a performer.

Sabrina and Hitomi rehearsing at WKMT

On the 21st February I went to Wigmore Hall to listen to another celebrity of the International Piano and Music scene: Sir András Schiff performing underrated works by Bach, Schumann, Janáček and Bartók. With no surprise, the hall was full and we were all ready to assist a formidable performance given by an artist with a tremendous technique, unquestionable virtuosity, deep Music knowledge and almost religious approach to the work of such great composers.

Sir András Schiff came out on stage in his elegant black suit and after bowing, he started talking to the audience about the programme he was about to perform in an informal, friendly and informative way. The first half of the programme included J. S. Bach “Fifteen Sinfonias (Three-part Inventions), B. Bartók Suite op. 14 and Szabadban (Out of doors Suite). These compositions are mainly known for their educational purposes: simple melodies to demonstrate the technique of keyboard fingering. As Sir Schiff explained, they are far from being easy to perform as he showed us the three independent voices and motifs in some of the Bach Sinfonias. Pianists know how difficult can be carrying on three different melodic lines or let’s say three stories at the same time and leave to the audience the freedom to choose to listen to one of them, two or all of them simultaneously. It is pianist’s choice to decide which one of the stories is the most important and needs to be played with more intensity and for this reason, it is even harder for the interpreter to balance the weight between the fingers to play the three voices at a different volume as well. Polyphony is an hard task to master and that’s why Sir András Schiff highlighted the importance to approach Bach’s works with respect. He even told as an anecdote regarding his first piano lesson at the Liszt Academy in Budapest when he spent the whole three hours working on four bars of one Bach’s sinfonia. It was really interesting the order of performance in the first half of the Recital: five Sinfonias were alternated by Bartók Suite op. 14 and movements from the “Out of Doors Suite”. I must admit that at times, I was so much taken by the Music that I started mixing up the two composers! In my opinion, the highlight of the whole evening was the explanation and performance of Bartók works. Sir Schiff introductory talk was really useful for the audience and he demonstrate how the “Scherzo” (2nd mov. of the Suite op. 14) is built on augmented triads that recalls the horns and how Bartók wants them to be played very loud “fff” and with the hand’s palm! Bartók is famous for his considerable contribution to the ethnographic research as he collected folk music during his travelling experience around the world and a clear example is given by the third movement which is influenced by the Arab music he heard in Algeria while he collected peasant music in 1913. Finally Bartók took us out in the countryside with the “Szabadban” (Out of Doors suite). It really was an amazing experience as I was able to picture a day life in the Hungarian countryside: sounds of a wedding feast in a village and the monotonous lament of people crying the death of someone beloved, the beautiful sound of the night’s music where a frog chorus breaks the silence of the vast Hungarian countryside.

The second half of the Recital included L. Janáček Sonata 1.X.1905 (“From the Street”) And R. Schumann Sonata in F# min. op. 11. This repertoire gives us a perfect example on how Music is strictly related to life and it is not something abstract that only élite can access or Music connoisseur can understand. Janáček Sonata displays as a title the date of the protest organised by the German inhabitants of Brno against the request of the Czechs for their own National University in the City. During the riots, a young man was wounded by a bayonet. Janáček supported the Czech National cause and he decided to compose this Sonata as a memorial. It consists of two movements: “Presentiment” con moto and “Death” Adagio but it wasn’t happy with the outcome and he decided to burn it but one member of his circle made a copy of it, knowing the impulsive character of the composer. The climate of grief and anguish carries on with Schumann Sonata which is an homage from Florestanus and Eusebius (the two contrasting personalities in Robert Schumann) to their beloved Clara Wieck. Apparently Clara’s father made it clear that it was against their relationship and Robert’s broken heart poured his pain in this work. In the slow movement which is an Aria he wrote on the score “Senza passione, ma espressivo” (“Without passion but with expression”). I think the music was so full of pain that the duty of the interpreter is to play it as it is written, crude and simple as it is.

The Recital ended with a big, long applause from the audience and Sir András Schiff offered two encores. I really enjoyed the last one which was a really simple folk Hungarian song which has been played beautifully and I heard the most graceful, delicate piano (soft sound) in my whole life. I believe that this shows that great Artist don’t need to show off their greatness by playing virtuoso pieces but the most simple folk tune can become memorable under their mastery.

Sir András Schiff is an Artist where the piano technique and understanding of the score in its whole (composer’s language, structure, harmony) is no longer the goal but they are a trampoline to jump to the roots of Music Performance: telling about daily life, politics, history using the language of Music.

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