As a piano student, I was never taught to memorise music – in my ignorance, I think I just assumed that it was something which you could either do or you couldn’t, and since I couldn’t, I didn’t. I suspect that I was also guilty of going to piano recitals and singularly failing to observe what I now believe to be an extraordinary feat, that of memorising a whole recital programme with apparent ease. This, coupled with the equally extraordinary technical and musical mastery which the world’s finest pianists also command, makes me wonder whether the sharing out of gifts sometimes seems a little unfair!
With this in mind, a recent article in The New York Times, which suggests that playing with the score is more acceptable these days, couldn’t have come at a worse time for me! For me, being a real pianist means all of the above, and having just discovered (okay, perhaps a little late in life!) that actually I can memorise, I don’t need to hear just now that maybe it’s not so important after all.
Learning to memorise is difficult, and requires a methodical approach with reference to the technical, aural, harmonic and visual, to name just a few of the many strands which come together to form a system which is utterly reliable. Plus determination, self-belief, perseverance, time and a great deal of hard work. I am not for a moment suggesting that pianists who play with the music are not able to convey great musicianship; it’s just that I am looking for that artistic freedom which comes from knowing the score completely. And if it proves difficult? I’ll find a way, but can’t is not an option for me. [link here to an excellent blog by Mel Spanswick on the same subject.]
In order to force my own arm on the issue, I have set myself the challenge of preparing for an ABRSM diploma this year. Candidates are required to give a 35 minute recital; memory is not a requirement, but I am adding this self-imposed element to the challenge. My ultimate objective – to be a better pianist. And along the way I am increasingly awed by those pianists who hold so much music in their heads!
He is my proposed recital programme:
To help in my preparation, and in particular to gain further insights into possible interpretations, I would love some ideas for a Fantasy Piano Recital. Please feel free to nominate your preferred pianist for each of the works above ie. Bach – Glenn Gould, Beethoven – Barenboim etc. I look forward to hearing your ideas.