Releases of Note: Leif Ove Andsnes

36 hours of Leif Ove Andsnes. Definitely worth your time

I love listening to Leif Ove Andsnes. I especially love his Rach and his Sib. But this is an interesting selection and the Nielsen album is something I want to listen to in a little more detail. I somehow missed that this was coming out.

A trip to Trier

Christian Sinding and Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach

I was in Trier for the first time in a few years at the weekend. It was a great weekend and since it was Trier I took the opportunity to visit two grail shops; one being Musikhaus Kessler, a place where I bought quite a lot of sheet music when I was living in Luxembourg. I also bought quite a few bits of music giftery – they are very good for that.

Anyway, my current music shopping list included the Sinding, already mentioned in previous entries, and Solfeggio by CPE Bach. I’ve since discovered that Solfeggio has previously been a Grade 6 piece for ABRSM (so I could have used it as the self selected piece for my currently stalled Grade 6 piece). It’s been mentioned a lot in r/piano and it sounds nice. So yeah, on the learning list it went, and also, not like everything on my learning list, it also made its way onto the sheet music shopping list. The Sinding was really more luck – they don’t have a lot of second hand stuff but that was there, and more importantly, this is the edition that was there; a lovely older imprint. I really wish Peters would use more beautifully engaged title pages again. I had been looking for this edition on Ebay (there were a few) but lo, here it was in my hands, and subject to being bought by my credit card. This made me happy. I haven’t started it yet although both pieces are sitting on my piano stand at the moment. This leaves only a piece of Sibelius, Opus 76.2 on my list. I don’t see many versions of it in print so I think I got it from IMSLP in the end. Incidentally, I signed up for them for a year because they are worth supporting. The current print version that I found on Stretta did not really appeal to me.

So I would like to accidentally find that too. I didn’t score on Ebay or AbeBooks yet.

The other grail shop – and I really do recommend it to anyone in the area who loves pianos – is Marcus Huebner Pianohaus. It’s about 5 minutes from the main railway station in Trier. It is a lovely piano shop, a major Steinway dealer, and the staff, and Marcus himself are really lovely people to talk to. The last time I was there (before this trip), they had two beautiful Model Ds out. This time, they had a couple of special editions, some Model Bs, some Model Os and a Model C. I played the two special editions. I tried to play one of the Bs but it was already reserved for someone and while it seems irrational, I never do well with pianos that I know are for someone else. It’s better if I don’t know.

The two special editions were a maquette Model O and a silver Model B. I spent a lot of time with the silver Model B and have to say, it’s a beautiful piano to play. It seems similarly priced to a new Model B so if the piano appealed to you and you have the money, the choice between silver and standard wouldn’t be driven by price.

Steinway and love

The Model Os felt less light under my fingers, a little heavier. As they are a smaller piano, that would have surprised me. Nevertheless, the piano was a beauty to look at. There’s been the occasional debate of black versus not black – I have mixed feelings. It’s pretty much the case if I were buying a new piano, I would default to black polish. But for the older pianos from the earlier 20th century, the different wood casings are very attractive.

Steinway and love
Steinway Model O, LE

I’m not currently in the market for a piano, although I am always in the market for a Steinway B when I have sorted out an apartment. So the question of whether I would go for the marquette casing is more or less moot. I very much appreciated the opportunity to play the piano though as I don’t often get the opportunity to play unusual pianos.

Marcus Huebner has also his own range of pianos and although I’ve played one in the past, there was not one on display last weekend. This is a pity. I’m privileged in that I have played one of his, and also one of Chris Maene’s straight strung pianos.

In this way, were I ever to be in New York I’d love a trip into the Steinway Vault (see Tiffany Poon here) and the Bechstein Foundation in Berlin which I only recently found out about.

At some point, I must write some notes about special pianos, dream pianos, and our friends of the every day.

Reflections from an airport

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday afternoon, and my flight has been delayed over an hour. There isn’t a piano here (CORK Airport in Ireland, hint hint) and I’ve already spent a chunk of time considering exciting philosophical discussions like, will I sign up for Josh Wright (well I just signed up for ToneBase, so do I need another one?) or, should I upgrade my digital piano? I’m about to sign up for more Pianoteq voices anyway. I’ve scrolled through r/piano, and I have idly considered looking at piano world. I have sheet music with me and because I haven’t been playing much, I haven’t been writing much about playing yet.

One of the items on my “Maybe Do List” is to build a YouTube channel to accompany the blog. It seems like madness, because I assume the only person who looks at this site much is myself. So I am thinking about that. But I’m not the kind of person who can build a viral video channel about the piano. You need to look at what I would be up against – there are a couple of very good sites with mediocre numbers – Sebastien Dupuis does great content but he’s not got the numbers of say a TwoSet or Denis Zhdanov. There’s a lot of audience for the synthesia and while I think it looks engaging, I can read music, and synthesia makes no sense to me. I love Annique Gottler’s One Minute Ten Minutes One Hour challenges – I think they are a great idea.

But hardly a unique selling point for Concerto in C Minor. I like a lot of the other teachers like LeCheile and Josh Wright too. Not such a fan of Jazer Lee. I’m also only a young/un if you are over the age of 60 and I’m never going to be a concert pianist (hold that thought…)

So my market segment would probably be the “Middle Aged Regretful Pianists Who Could Have been a Contender”.

I need to think about that of course. Put a mind map together, find a useful name for the channel that slips off the tongue. Do Shorts. Join TikTok although I’m not sure so many of old fogies are on TikTok. I might think about it when I am on the plane again.

While I was considering the Josh Wright angle this morning (Black Friday does this to you), I went looking for reviews of his premium offering (I’m in favour of life time offers) and came across a discussion on realistic aspirations and telling the vast majority of pianists they will never be a great concert pianist.

When you spend any time on the internet at all, you run into the whole idea of why people are motivated to do things. I see it with running, I see it with swimming. I don’t see it with knitting for reasons which remain unclear although it’s possible that there are other issues there if r/craftsnark is anything to go by.

The vast majority of people don’t really want to be concert pianists, I think, They want respect, adulation, if it’s going. But they are happy to come home, play a bit of Chopin and day dream. A lot of discussions around teaching/learning are not based on this reality. It’s based on the idea – especially for young people – that the only reason you would do this is for purely competitive reasons. Be a great concert pianist.

It’s not why I do it. I do it because I actively like playing. I mostly play at home, alone for escapism. If I am doing the ABRSM grades at the moment (and god is that going slowly for the time being), it’s not because I want to be a concert pianist. I have played piano in concerts. I have stage fright. My absolute zen place is playing a beautiful piano in an empty concert hall, which I do every once in a while. Everyone is different, I guess.

There’s an element of elitism around the discussion sometimes. I’m generally in favour of people learning to play the piano properly, like, using sheet music or their ears like God intended (I don’t have any truck with synthesia at all), but after that, if you want to play Jingle Bells, knock yourself out. It’s every bit as valid a motivation as Un Sospiro is.

There are a couple of people just streaming practice sessions – I’ve listened to a guy playing scales every night for a while. I don’t much like his camera set up but I like the idea that he uses this for accountability.

The vast majority of people who play the piano past the age of 18 are in it for reasons that cannot be summed up as “I want to be the next Yuja Wang”. Don’t get me wrong – some of them are exceptional pianists who have worked for years on their Liszt and Islamey if they are particularly masochistic – but being a concert pianist is a whole host of other things besides playing the piano. It is often, playing music you don’t much like. It is playing music that puts people in the auditorium. There is a whole administrative/costly side in terms of managing agents, record companies, tax liabilities, and your pianos. I sometimes think that gets forgotten.

You see it with sports too. We’re only interested in the ones who are winning races and yet humanity as a whole benefits hugely if we encourage people to get exercise throughout their lives without the added pressure of winning something. I honestly think the win at all costs attitude sucks. Every person benefits by going running if their frame is up to it, without the motivation of winning a race.

Anyway, I think the first thing we need to do is get people enjoying what they are doing, while being open to getting better all the time.

In other thoughts, I also happened across a weirdly common theme of whinging about Lang Lang (actually I need to check if I have written this bit before – it seems not).

I’ve seen Lang Lang in concert. He played the Chopin ballades and I think some preludes. It was a remarkable concert; he is a wonderfully talented pianist who takes an immense amount of pleasure in playing the piano. I was left with the impression that he considers it an immense privilege to be able to play and that people actively want to come and listen to him. What I consider to have been completely absent from his performance that night was any arrogance or undue showiness. I’ve seen the argument that he is an entertainer, not a musician. So let me put it this way: all professional musicians are entertainers. Daniel Barenboim – whom I have also seen in concert – is an entertainer.

They don’t earn money otherwise.

What I particularly appreciate about Lang Lang is that he places a massive amount of importance in enticing other people to play. It’s why he has a really well thought out sheet music collection for people who want to play the piano. It’s why he plays some wonderful music from Disney movies. I’m looking forward with interest to hearing how he handles Saint-Saens No 2 which is one of my favourite concertos.

The thing is he, and Yuja Wang, kind of stand out as the first great, great Chinese concert pianists. I sometimes wonder if they earn greater attention because they are not white men pianists from patrician backgrounds. You see it with women in general – often held to much higher standards purely for being women than corresponding men are. There is a famous study on recruiting women to orchestras.

Playing the piano is very much subjective. It’s for this reason I listen to several recordings now of any piece I am earning. Key example at the moment is Le Cyclopes by JP Rameau. My preferred version of that is Vikingur Olafsson’s recording. It is imperious and bright. I also listen to Grigory Sokolov’s arrangement of it too which is less emphatic, but no less compelling. I wonder how they approach this. On a far less ambitious level, I am working on one of Mendelssohn’s Gondola songs at the moment (I have plans for an entry for that but currently lack the time to build it). But I look at the story I want to tell myself there. I see the gondola on the canals of Venice. I have a story being described. [Procreate Dreams has been released so I will learn to animate]. Is the story that Vikingur tells very different to Grigory’s film? I don’t know.

But I have to think about this.

All that to say though, that no one really has the definitive view of how to play the piano and some randomer on Reddit or PianoWorld isn’t really the sole arbiter of anything. Liberace and Viktor Borge were complete entertainers but they had the classical chops too. Not one or the other.

Which takes me back to the question of what do I do about a video channel? I don’t know. Ultimately I’d like people to want to play the piano after watching it. But not to constantly demand Misty as one young man called Craig did to me in a bar in Germany one night when I was 18 years old. Play Misty, Treasa, can’t you play Misty?

I still have no idea how to do it so, sorry Craig, it is not going to happen.

New to me sheet music

Second hand sheet music
Sheet music for The Legend of the Glass Mountain

I ordered this, and Cornish Rhapsody a couple of weeks ago. They arrived during the week, making me very happy.

It’s odd to see the pre-decimalisation price on both of them, and of the two, this is less fragile. Both lots of sheet music date from the 1940s. I intend to scan them and add them to my digital library and use forScore to do the annotations and fingering, etc.

When I was looking for this sheet music, I came across documents about how the music for this and especially for Dangerous Moonlight (Warsaw concerto, mentioned a couple of times on this site) were subject to major demand once the films were released. I know that early in the twentieth centuries, the music charts were based on sheet music sales rather than recordings – that changed of course.

It’s a rather romantic idea, this idea of buying the sheet music to play it yourself rather than buying the recording. People still do this – Interstellar is an example of one, and of course Yann Tiersen’s gorgeous music from Amelie.

The piano is a bit inaccessible at the moment so I haven’t had a change to go at this. I like to feel that these pieces come from a golden era of piano/film music. I kind of day dream about it.

I ordered more second hand sheet music

Yes. It is in transit at the moment and I hope it is not raining on the postman’s van wherever it is on its way from the UK to Ireland at the moment.

I ordered two things:

I’ve written about the search for the Rota before but I bit the bullet and ordered it last night. I found Cornish Rhapsody while I was looking around there too.

The version I’ve linked is Philip Fowke’s recording with the RTE Concert Orchestra on Naxos. It’s one of two recordings I picked up in the past, the other being I think, Kenneth Ogden on HMV Classical. I’m not sure when I will have time to do read throughs.

Markings and Military Polonaise

Someone found some sheet music at a brocante a few weeks ago and picked up a couple of pieces for me. 2 Polonaises, Opus 40 was one of them.

Military Polonaise
Sheet music for Chopin’s Opus 40, a couple of polonaises

I kind of like that the editor was Henry Litolff. But that’s by away of an aside.

ON a separate but related note, lately, I have been fighting an internal battle on the question of markings. Fingerings. Emphasises and things like this. Basically, when I was a child doing RIAM exams, there was a painful experience of many months attempting to decipher a piece of music, convert it into something remotely recognisable. My piano teacher had a pencil, and what I considered old lady handwriting at the time. My exam books tended to get covered in pencil markings around fingerings and the notes that I consistently misread, and much more than anything, the dynamic markings. A week before the exam, an eraser was carefully applied and the markings all removed. To this day, I hate marking sheet music with any markings at all. This, from what I can see is completely counter to the practices I see around the internet. I sat through practice planning with ToneBase lately and someone noted that of course you should keep your markings, why would you DO all that work and not be able to access it if you set the piece aside and wanted to come back to it months or even years later.

I see the logic. But I don’t want to write on it so my markings tend to go on my digital copies of the music on my iPad. And I am clearly just not used to it.

What does this have to do with Chopin? Well, when I opened the sheet music pictured above, I see the markings. They are (this is awfully familiary) in pencil. And I can only read some of them.

Military Polonaise
Military Polonaise
Molto forte?

There are definitely far fewer markings than was on my K545 back in the day. I’ve never tried this. I should.

From what I can see, the person who used this before I got my hands on it only played No 1. There are no markings on No 2.

I’ve found that between this and the couple of second hand sheets I bought myself lately (Hummel and Guastevino amongst other things), I’m starting to get fascinated by it. I’d love to know about more second hand sheet music shops.

Here’s a video of the piece

A troubled relationship, sometimes

I did a recital at the end of October at my current place of employment. I also agreed to play on the recital at the end of November. I have no idea what I will play and I have a chronically overwhelming lifeload for the next few weeks.

My brain is refusing to cooperate on all sorts of things. Bach, for one thing. Planning for the next six months, which has implications for the Grade 6 plans for end of Q1. I have a brand new notebook beside me for that, and calendars and stuff like that but the ideas for what I want to do are currently in a high security jail in side my head.

And I am afraid to even touch the piano. I don’t know if that is JSB’s fault (it’s hard to blame a man who has been dead for more than 200 years) or whether it is mine or whether it is linked to a whole pile of other stuff. Net result is the practice account is empty for the week. This is a pity on two fronts; one I made no progress on the piano and two I’m also berating the hell out of myself. About the only thing I did do was tidy the sheet music library (the printed one):

Tidy music
Lovely tidy sheet music organised alphabetically

Oh and I found lots of lovely music in D Flat. More about that below.

Because we passed from October (that month flew), a new set of Piano Jam pieces went up on r/piano. I tend to look at that list with a view to using it as sight reading fodder which is something I managed once and then found a long searched for piece of music. Somehow I missed the three monthly list that went up in October (despite catching the Tiersen that I genuinely intended to do for that month but never got around to) and it has George Winston’s arrangement of Carol of the Bells, together with a link to MusicNotes. I have mixed feelings about MusicNotes and nKoda (I really don’t much like the subscription model) and it’s not clear to me with all the “you can only print once” or “you can’t print at all” how much this is really musician friendly. I don’t tend to want to print the stuff I have on Henle but nKoda and MusicNotes, and Sheet Music Plus are really in your face about that. I have downloaded a couple of pieces from Stretta and they had some version of the Carol of the Bells arranged by George Winston sans prelude. I have no idea when I can possibly start it and it will hopefully go into my forScore.

Rather irritatingly, on the first real day off I had in months, ie, I didn’t have to do anything, go anywhere, be anywhere, I was sick and I was effectively useless for 2 days for anything that involved concentration. Very unhelpful. I had hoped to get past the problems with the Bach that stands between me and the Rameau that I want to start sometime after Christmas, and clean up bits of the pieces for the exam which I had initially scheduled for March on the basis of regular practice which is just not happening since about the second week in October.

This has an impact on the planning for the following exam which includes a grade skip to 8. Like grade 5, Grade 8 is a gatekeeper grade in that unless I pass that, I cannot go onto the diploma programmes. I’m fifty and horribly afraid I won’t be up to Chopin Sonata III which is my plan for the FRSM in about 10 years time. It frustrates me and worries me. I get nervous about it.

My plan was to be more or less finished the finger/learning/memorisation work for the Grade 6 pieces by around Christmas and to continue polishing them for 2-3 months while starting some basic work on one or two of the four pieces for Grade 8. But I got impatient and looked at the Rachmaninoff sometime recently, mostly to investigate it for murderously big chords (there are two that I will need to roll) and to see how hard it was to read. It’s a measure of how differently my mind works that in fact, I don’t find it harder than the Bach that is eating into my self esteem. So at some point this week I watched a Tonebase webinar on planning piano practice for the next six months and I really need to start nailing down actual practice session goals.

I just wish I wasn’t missing so many. It’s like the piano is laughing at me.

Things in D Flat

For Grade 8, one of the pieces is in D flat, the aforementioned Rachmaninoff. For this, I’ve at least started two exercises that tend to support the playing of stuff in keys I don’t usually think in, the scales and improvisation. Because I somehow played stuff in C sharp when I was a teenager (by ear, so who knows, it could actually have been in D flat) my fingers fit the shape and improvisation and scales fit okay. I read through the Rachmaninoff, and I keep forgetting that G is flattened. What would be helpful would be other things in D Flat.

Reader, there are other things in D Flat. This for example:

Christan Sinding Rustle of Spring

Have I already mentioned this last week? I think so. Anyway, there was also a piece by Cecile Chaminade. We’re not talking about other things in D Flat that will make the Rachmaninoff any easier.

So I will probably finish off the C major Prelude by Bach (not the stuff that is keeping me awake at night) and transpose it into D flat. I’m not sure how much that will help but I think it might be complex enough to force me to write it. Someone told me the jazz guys, or at least the good ones could all play all of Well Tempered Clavier in any key they liked.

It’s just occurred to me that I haven’t played the piano since I went to hear Vikingur Olafsson play last week. I’m not sure why.

In the meantime, my brain is currently attacking me with the following: “Do All the Bach”. “Do all the Rebikov” = Oh Rebikov, I forgot to mention that. There’s a piece on the Grade 6 repertoire. Some days it goes beautifully, other days there is open warfare between my fingers and the piano. Isn’t the word mercurial? But also, a few years ago, Pianist Magazine listed one of his pieces, Yolka? Waltz from the Christmas Tree as a nice idea for Christmas, not too taxing. I should like to learn that. And the Carol of the Bells. Do the Carol of the Bells. Do all the sightreading from the November piano challenges. Do bits of the Chopin Ballade in G minor just for the pure hell of it. And you can start that Rachmaninoff.


Oh and there is that waltz that Gregory Sokolov plays as an encore from time to time. And Le Matin by Tiersen which I was supposed to do in October on the side while working on the exam pieces as well.


I know the best thing to do is sit in front of the piano and at least do some of the Bach so that it goes forward. But I also want to plan. And I need a mindmap to get all of these cries out of frustration.

May I recommend Dvorak’s Piano Concerto if you are looking for something different to listen to?

Vikingur Olafsson at Bozar, Brussels 29.10.23

Goldberg Variations

Summary: if you have the opportunity to go you should. This tour is already one of the iconic ones and will be spoken about for years.

I struggle to describe the experience. Watching him was like watching many very different people; from a teenage boy, from a gaming nerd, from a middle aged woman, to the 40 year old man, to a church organist. All there on the stage before me.

I’ve never seen an audience so tense (apart from the coughing men, that is). Pure silence waiting for the last vibrations of closing notes to die away. Many different sounds from the one Steinway D on the stage. Perfectly controlled voices. It really was extraordinary.


Piano Magazines

I’m kind of fascinated by piano magazines. I regularly pick up Pianist if I can, and here in Belgium, Pianiste (in French) turns up every once in a while. I’m keeping an eye out for something in Dutch. However, a couple of weeks ago I picked up two German magazines and they differed from the French and English publications in one very critical way and that was the lack of sheet music. Neither German magazine provided scores.

In itself, this is not such a bad thing (although there tends to be a really nice choice of music and guidance for same in the French and English magazines) but it was unusual. On the other hand, Germany seems to have a lot of sheet music shops and there is always IMSLP.

One of the articles which caught my eye in one of them was an article on the place of the piano in the life and writing of Jane Austen. For me that was interesting: it mentioned that [like me] she played a lot of Scottish and Irish dance melodies, gave an overview of where the piano cropped up in the novels. Of course, having more or less learned Pride & Prejudice by heart, you cannot fail to see the place of the piano in the society of that book, on several levels, Lizzie Bennett’s tendency not to practice, her sister Mary’s desperation to practice and show off, and of course, the piano bought by Mr Darcy for his sister. But equally, in the Emma, there is the question of the piano delivered to Jane Fairfax. Writing of that nature is not something I happen across very often. Very much more tends to be on current pianists and repertoire, so some essays on the place of piano in society is really interesting.

The other highlight was the vast number of release reviews which, where possible, includes the model of the chosen piano. I’ll do a piece of data analysis on that later.

I’m interested in any more piano magazines in EN, FR, DE, NL or ES, all of which I have a fighting chance of reading.

Whither Einaudi

I spend a certain amount of time on the internet like every young woman of my age and lately a good chunk of that is on r/piano. Sometimes it’s interesting and occasionally, it feeds my soul with new music. But there are recurring themes and one of those themes is the value of Ludovico Einaudi’s music.

These discussions tend to be polarising. It is clear that an element of the music world seems to despise what he does; they have the right. Taste is very subjective. You see a similar reaction to one of the key pieces from the movie Amelie as well; it’s obvious that many people look down on it. I understand that people might not like the music. I don’t like Bartok and my tolerance for Prokofiev can be a bit limited on the piano side although there is some orchestral stuff which is mindblowing.

But here’s the point: it’s one thing not to like music and quite another thing to look down on the composer. Einaudi is dismissed as too simple, too simplistic, not very sophisticated often by people who deign not to play any of his music. I tend to disagree. In one respect, Einaudi touches many, many more people playing the piano that many classical interpreters of the time.

I’ve often felt that the critic minded world of art, writing and music have missed a key factor in the objective of art, writing and music – they do not exist in a vacuum separate from an audience. I will freely admit that I can sit alone to the world at a piano and play music to my hearts content but ultimately if I want to do it professionally, I need something that a lot of people are going to buy. My audience is never going to be the critics who take a more gate keeping approach to music.

Meanwhile, we constantly bemoan how few people are interested in learning music. It’s ironic really.

Einaudi has made the piano very popular. His sheet music is selling. His concerts are selling out. His music is touching the hearts of a lot of people. If your argument against that is that his audience is unsophisticated, then I think you are somehow missing the point. Music remains popular over 100s of years because it taps into people’s hearts. For this reason I’m not sure it’s safe to say he will be completely forgotten. People’s times come and go.

I haven’t learned any of his pieces through. I’ve worked on one (Una Mattina) from time to time; it’s readable and it feels beautiful to play. I’ve heard one or two classical pianists acknowledge that their views on his music started to change when they actually started playing his music. I find that interesting. It suggests sometimes that the self styled sophisticates who look down on modern piano music that is targeted at the masses are perhaps in themselves not adequately sophisticated to understand the appeal of music that is targeted at being heard and enjoyed rather than being challenging.

One of the things I love about Tiersen’s music for the film Amelie is even today – twenty plus years after the movie came out – it is inspiring teenagers to play the piano.

I kind of think that’s more important than forcing Mikrokosmos on kids who don’t want to learn it. The objective of learning music is not to be the greatest pianist on the planet; there isn’t ever going to be one despite the regular arguments I see again on r/piano. It’s about giving people pleasure in the activity so that they do it all their life. There are health benefits to playing an instrument especially as people get older.

It’s not different to sport: disregarding the kids who are not going to win your school medals means you are failing those kids who need healthy habits for their lives.

In this context, I wonder how much more credibility Einaudi might have with the criterati if he was just less successful.