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Simplicity Meets Complexity in Denk’s Piano Boot Camp

When NPR invaded Jeremy Denk’s home he was seriously practicing the piano etudes of György Ligeti. His music is “continuous madness,” Denk says. “Wonderful, joyful madness.” Denk has a great talent for making you fall in love with the most complex music, letting it sound completely natural. He admits, “I’m atuned to the weirdnesses. I guess that’s something I like about music that’s on the edge of destroying itself.”

In 2012, Denk made his debut as a Nonesuch Records artist with a pairing of masterpieces old and new: Beethoven’s final piano sonata and selected Ligeti Etudes. The disc was named one of the best discs of 2012 by The New Yorker, NPR, and the Washington Post. Denk says:

“But the most significant connection for me is between Beethoven’s vast timeless canvas and Ligeti’s bite-sized bits of infinity. Almost every étude visits the infinite; Ligeti uses it almost as a kind of cadence, a reference point. From simplicity, he ranges into unimaginable complexity; he wanders to the quietest and loudest extremes; he veers off the top and bottom of the keyboard. Always the infinite is lurking around, reminding you that it’s not impossible, that it exists. I think of the way, among other things, Beethoven drifts off at the end of the Arietta, the way he indicates ending without ending, implies an infinite space of silence surrounding the work? “


/patrick

  1. Glenn Vanstrum Says:

    Great stuff. Love your writing in TNY, too, Jeremy Denk–I’m thinking about the piece you wrote a year or two ago on your various piano teachers/coaches, the bit about opening the Brahms 2nd without looking at your hands, etc…

    As for the Ligeti etudes, that is music from out there somewhere, maybe from the gamma quadrant, maybe from near a quasar or a black hole.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Yiong Says:

    Your video of Denk practising and talking about Ligeti’s music is a real ear-opener for me on Ligeti.
    Just curious about one thing: I notice Denk practices with the lid of his grand piano open. Does he do this all the time, and don’t the other residents of his condo complain about the hours of piano playing?

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