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?

Sinding: Rustle of Spring/Chaminade: Automne

Chenyin Li plays Rustle of Spring by Christian Sinding

Someone mentioned to me that they liked this piece today so I went looking. It’s in Pianist 102 which I don’t have but it is also on IMSLP so now I do have it as well, all ten pages of it.

It’s in D flat. My all time favourite key. Having then wandered into Sinding Google Exploration I wound up with this by Cecile Chaminade.

Autumn by Cecile Chaminade

This is also in D flat. I need to work in that key anyway thanks to Rach but anyway…,

Sur Mer

Following a Rachmaninoff related mishap with my right hand last week, and a rather stupid insistence on continuing to practice through some discomfort, I am now taking a short break from playing the piano in the hope that sometime next week, I will be back at it with my Gondolalied and Bach Invention Number Tortuous.

In the meantime, I keep finding pieces that I want to learn, random but amazing pieces. This is one.

Sur Mer by Felix Blumenfeld, played by Daniel Blumenthal.

I should probably listen to all of that album, this one track is already amazing. It’s probably far beyond my skills at the moment (given my skill consists of being stuffed by Rach right now…) I hope that Felix’s chords aren’t anywhere near as challengingly big.

Rather annoyingly, I don’t find a published print of it at the moment but it is out of copyright so IMSLP has it. You can find it here. I had a look on Abebooks for it and found one seller in Germany but the quoted price was over 60 dollars. I don’t pay that for brand new sheet music books and I’m not sure I want this one at that price when I won’t be starting it for a good while and have some other things to do [I’m wondering if it is acceptable for Grade 8 but since I can’t find a published print I think I will struggle to use it].

The opening bars put me in mind of a great naval ship (sailing, 19th century) racing across the ocean, with the occasional encounter with someone else’s great naval ship. I love those opening bars, those arpeggios.


When I was doing some research around the prelude in C major from the first Well Tempered Clavier, I came across a reference to Anna Magdalena’s Notebook. It’s a collection of music which JS Bach put together for his wife and it includes the prelude in C major.

I liked the idea, and also I own some of these things:

More baby sketchbookd
They are around A6 sized. Small. Anyway.

There are lots of clips of pieces of music which I like – parts of Tchaikovsky’s 2nd piano concerto, for example, elements of the piano parts of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (I really want to include mention of the piano because it isn’t merely a backdrop to the stringed instrument here) and there is an extraordinary opening for one of the Schuman violin sonatas which I came across in a very old clip of Helene Grimaud:

A very young Helene Grimaud working on Schumann

I like the idea of a notebook full of extracts I like, and might even try to learn if they don’t try to injure me (looking at you, Sergey). But I thought the A6 notebooks were a little too small for that (I fancy being the type of person who has a notebook to sketch out compositional ideas while waiting for dinner to be served which is why I have the A6 notebooks). So I got this.

Music sketchbook A4
A4 Henle Notes sketchbook for music.

Sporting injuries – Rachmaninov

I’ve never worked out whether I prefer the v or ff spelling and today I bought some more music published by Henle who spell it with a w. Gotta love German.

Anyway. I’m fully aware of my limitations – I started working on the second piano concerto when I was 15 and still struggle with polyrhythms – and I like to think I pick my encounters with Rachmaninov carefully. I have some pieces on my longer to do list and then I have some snippets on my snippets. I lately came across Heart of the Keys having a go at the Prelude in G minor (playable by people who have been learning since yesterday 4pm according to Reddit) and it occurred to me that it had been a while since I had listened to it. So I did and it’s broadly an ABA structure, which is nice from a logical point of view, and the B is really a gorgeous piece of music.

I already had the sheet music, in a Boosey & Hawkes edition [and I have say I am not totally lost on the paper] so during a bout of insominia yesterday I got it out.

The sheet music is here on IMSLP, if you want to have a look. This is the key part, right at the beginning of what my popmusic soul still calls the bridge:

Clip from the sheet music of Prelude in G Minor, first bar of B section

See that chord highlighted in red? That there is an innocuous looking little octave sized chord where the position of the D and the F which is an F sharp courtesy of an earlier accidental are basically impossible for me to play at this point. Yes, I hurt myself.

I have a 9 white note span. I was not expecting this and I would be disappointed except Ouch.

Snippets July 2023

Diversions from the plan

One of the reasons I want to fix my sightreading is so that I can also speed up the rate at which I learn. There are a couple of pieces which I am looking at picking up pieces, some of which are also future projects but I am not urgently looking to finish them – I will take little extracts here and there. Amongst the pieces currently on my list for snippet learning are

  • Rachmaninoff – Lilacs
  • Brahms – Opus 118/2 – Intermezzo in A major. I love this. There is an extract of the Tonebase tutorial for this by Seymour Bernstein and Garrick Ohlsson. I would kill for a recording of Garrick playing it. It’s just a complete punch in the gut and I feel so lonely listening to it. But Helene Grimaud has a great recording of it. I have started looking at a clip out of this and I really like how it makes me feel.
  • Chopin Barcarolle in F sharp. I’m so not a fan of this key but on my to do list there’s a torturous piece in D flat so this is mildly troublesome in comparison.
  • Nyman; The Heart asks pleasure first. I don’t know why I’ve a yen to play around with this.