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Aiming to fulfil my piano-playing ambition (Read 9153 times)

Offline porcupine

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Aiming to fulfil my piano-playing ambition
« on: March 31, 2013, 08:59:17 PM »
I wanted to tell you about my resolution to achieve an ambition to learn all the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas.

I've created a blog at http://thirtytwoadventures.wordpress.com/ and I'm really hoping that some of you good people at Piano Street will enjoy reading it and add your comments/advice/thoughts etc.

On the blog I've given some background to this project as follows:

On 11th April 2013 I will be 54 years old. I’ve reached the sort of age where it hits you that there are fewer years in front than there are behind. It’s also the sort of age where you begin to think about bucket lists, and about things you wish you’d done.

Some people run marathons. I am not, nor ever will be, a runner. A marathon is simply not an option for me as a personal challenge.

However, one thing I CAN do is play the piano. I am a competent, though not a virtuoso, player. I have a little list of composers and musicians whose music has, through the years, especially spoken to me in a particularly meaningful way. Beethoven, Mozart, Britten, Stephen Sondheim, Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Who – the list is right there on my Facebook page. But the greatest of these is, and always has been, Beethoven.

Therefore, one challenge I feel I could rise to is to tackle the incredible edifice of piano composition that is the Beethoven cycle of thirty-two piano sonatas. Let’s be under no illusions here, though. Playing the Beethoven sonatas are, to a pianist, a project akin to running a marathon, or even climbing a major mountain like Everest. And by playing, I don’t mean just sitting down at the piano and “playing them through” (even doing THAT would require a very advanced technique). No – for me, the challenge is to REALLY learn them, and to try and discover something of the true beauty and drama of these amazing pieces.

But having said that, I am a realist, and I know my limitations. Therefore, I will not endeavour to learn them off by heart. I will be content with being able to perform them to the highest technical and artistic standard I'm capable of with the printed music in front of me.

I may find that I cannot complete the challenge, but that is why I have called this an “adventure”. It is by no means certain that I will be able to finish it. This is the reason why I have divided the project into eight distinct and discrete phases, each phase containing four sonatas, and increasing in difficulty.

My intention is to take my time, and prepare as thoroughly as I can for each phase.

I'm looking forward to reading people's comments!!

Offline indianajo

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Re: Aiming to fulfil my piano-playing ambition
«Reply #1 on: April 01, 2013, 09:24:43 PM »
Go for it! Art is the best part of life, much of the rest is just killing time. 
I'm a fan of Beethoven, JS Bach,  Moussorgsky, Elton John, and have the ELP Pictures at an Exhibition Album.  My current goal is to play Pictures at an Exhibition better than Emerson (Lake?). I'm up to p 23 at about 1 mistake per page. 
I had the goal of completing the Moonlight Sonata I started so many decades ago, and have it movement 3  up to about 1/2 the pace the pros put on the LP's.   That is fast enough to satisfy my artistic urge.  Next perhaps Appasionatta? It took 30 years from purchase of the Dover Sonatas books to satisfaction, but it might learn faster now that I am retired.  've been fiddling the same number of years with JSB Passacaglia & Fugue in C min, it will go a lot faster since I bought a 25 pedal organ in 2010 and had it working from mid 2011.  And I'm trying to learn to play by ear, have Autumn Leaves and They Call Me Da Breeze developing (latter on organ). I might learn slower, tendon pain keeps me down to about 1.5 hours practice a day.   
Most of the Beethoven Sonatas don't look as hard as the three Rudolf Serkin put on the album Three Beethoven Sonatas, my introduction to these pieces about 1968.  The other sonatas don't have as catchy tunes either, but there are some other highlights.  I gathered most of the Alfred Brendel complete Beethoven piano works on LP at Goodwill last winter; they give one a bit more direction than just looking at the page.  No, U-tube is no help, buying a new computer every year from the eastern wizards of tech is not one of my goals. The '41 Steinway console I found in 2010 is enough to keep me quite busy with no particular expense. 
Good luck and have fun practicing.   

Offline lateromantic

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Re: Aiming to fulfil my piano-playing ambition
«Reply #2 on: April 05, 2013, 07:40:01 PM »
Some people run marathons. I am not, nor ever will be, a runner. A marathon is simply not an option for me as a personal challenge.

However, one thing I CAN do is play the piano.

Personally, I have ambitions in BOTH areas, but I know that's not for everybody. :)

But the greatest of these is, and always has been, Beethoven.

I agree.  My scholarly work was on Rachmaninoff, but Beethoven is the greatest in my book.

But having said that, I am a realist, and I know my limitations. Therefore, I will not endeavour to learn them off by heart. I will be content with being able to perform them to the highest technical and artistic standard I'm capable of with the printed music in front of me.
Memorizing them would be challenging, especially if one endeavored to know them all by memory at the same time.  But truth be told, I would be more daunted by the technical challenges.  My hands aren't large enough to handle the stretches in the Hammerklavier, and although I've done a reasonably good rendition of the Waldstein, I had to finger the octaves near the end of the last movement instead of doing Beethoven's glissando instruction.

Are you planning merely to bring one sonata up to performance level at a time, or do you eventually want to have the whole cycle in your immediate repertoire, like some of the virtuosi of the past?

Offline porcupine

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Re: Aiming to fulfil my piano-playing ambition
«Reply #3 on: April 10, 2013, 08:40:35 AM »
Are you planning merely to bring one sonata up to performance level at a time, or do you eventually want to have the whole cycle in your immediate repertoire, like some of the virtuosi of the past?

My intention is to work on the sonatas in blocks of four, and bring each block up to performance level before going on to the next phase. I have arranged the eight phases roughly in order of difficulty, and this is all explained on the blog at http://thirtytwoadventures.wordpress.com/start-here/. Obviously, the first three (Op 49, nos 1 and 2, and Op 79) are more or less sight-readable - although, looking at them again in detail for the first time since I was a teenager, I am finding even those three more sophisticated than they appear at first.
To be absolutely honest and realistic, I highly doubt whether I would ever have the capability to retain the whole cycle of 32 sonatas in a performable repertoire, but I am hoping that taking a measured phase-by-phase approach will enable me to go as far towards my goal as I can. Whatever happens, I'm going to have fun trying!

Offline porcupine

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Re: Aiming to fulfil my piano-playing ambition
«Reply #4 on: April 14, 2013, 05:59:32 PM »
Okay, I know these are still the easy ones, but I'm getting on really well so far!  ;)

http://thirtytwoadventures.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/full-performance-of-op-79/

Next stop - Op 2 No 1 in F minor!

Offline pianist1976

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Re: Aiming to fulfil my piano-playing ambition
«Reply #5 on: April 16, 2013, 07:03:16 AM »
Beautiful project! It's a wonderful repertoire choice. What can be spoken about Beethoven sonatas? There are not enough words to describe how big, important, exciting, touching, perfect, audacious, prophetic, etc. they are.

I wish you the best and encourage you to finish your project while enjoying the process.

Are you going to publish some recordings (on your blog or here at Audition Room)? Do you have to learn the 32 from scratch or do you already play some sonatas?

You have a new follower of your blog! Thanks for sharing this marvelous adventure.

Offline porcupine

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Re: Aiming to fulfil my piano-playing ambition
«Reply #6 on: April 16, 2013, 08:35:37 PM »
Beautiful project! It's a wonderful repertoire choice. What can be spoken about Beethoven sonatas? There are not enough words to describe how big, important, exciting, touching, perfect, audacious, prophetic, etc. they are.

I wish you the best and encourage you to finish your project while enjoying the process.

Many thanks for your encouraging words, and I hope you will enjoy following my progress! In answer to your questions: there are some sonatas I learned whilst a student back in the 1970s, and a few I have just "played through" rather perfunctorily but not properly studied. But this is the first time I've really grasped the nettle and set out to learn them as thoroughly as I can. As I complete each phase, I will upload videos of my performances - both on piano street and the blog as well.