Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Ten Reasons I Love Learning "Ständchen"

1. I get to use an umlaut every time I write it down.

2. It's a beautiful piece, meant to play for an audience. I imagine the ladies swooned when Liszt played this one for them. I love making such big, beautiful sounds come out of the piano.

3. It's a technically challenging piece for me. Liszt's music in general is technically challenging, and most of it is beyond my abilities. I can learn this one, but it's definitely "stretching" me. And that's good.

4. It's based on a poem set to music by Schubert, and I love both poetry and Schubert.

5. There are many different versions and interpretations of this piece out there: translations of the poetry, tenors singing the Schubert version, pianists playing the Liszt version, and other instrumentalists playing versions of the Liszt version. It's interesting to hear it in its many forms and know that I'm participating in a much larger tradition, in my own small way.

6. It's fascinating to see how Schubert's musical interpretation mirrors the words, and how Liszt's composition takes the words into account--even though it's written for piano only. For example, in the section where the "speaker" would be saying, "Can you hear the nightingales?", the piano plays the "words" in a low register--quasi violoncello. Then, there is an echo of the theme, high above ... like birds. Then, in after the "singer" would have sung "Trembling, I await you," the piano plays several rolled chords, which imply a sort of trembling. (OK, maybe I'm just being an English major and reading things into this ...)

8. The technical challenges are making me a better pianist. It's not all that easy to play three notes with a single hand and make one of those notes sing out above all the others. This piece has a lot of that. There are also pedaling challenges. I'm to use the sustaining pedal liberally, yet I must avoid losing the music in a wash of pedaled sound. Challenging.

9. It's an odd (but good) experience to work on Liszt while working on (and after having worked on) lots of Bach. The techniques for each are so different in so many ways. I feel like I'm expanding my abilities and my musical sensitivity by working on both at the same time.

10. "Ständchen" is just plain sexy.

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