"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: steinway

bach: the gift that keeps on giving . . .

rosemary, cyclamen and a kabocha squash on the kitchen counter . . .

rosemary, cyclamen and a kabocha squash on the kitchen counter . . .

As a pianist whose favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach, I have numerous recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II. Any pianist who undertakes to learn them all and then perform them either by memory or using the music has my respect and admiration, even if their recordings aren’t necessarily my most favorite ones. Up to today, I owned Bach WTC I & II recordings by Glenn Gould, Sviatislav Richter and Angela Hewitt. I also have random prelude and fuge recordings by Clara Haskill, Maria Joao Pires, Martha Argerich and Peter Serkin among others.

Many of us recall the splash made by the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, when he came upon the music scene, seated on a sawed off wooden chair, humming to himself, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was on stage in Carnegie Hall and playing the Goldberg Variations faster (and with more clarity) than anyone had ever imagined possible. Gould also recorded the Goldbergs, this time at a much slower tempo twenty years later and it’s interesting to listen to both sets one after the other. For a long time, my favorite pianist performing Bach was Angela Hewitt, also a Canadian pianist who has recorded just about everything Bach ever wrote for the keyboard: Inventions, Partitas, English and French Suites, the Goldberg Variations, both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier and other pieces like the Italian Concerto for solo piano and the keyboard concerti with orchestra.

Today, as I was finishing my breakfast, I came upon a review in the New York Times of the French pianist, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who performed the WTC – Book I, using the score at a Carnegie Hall recital. The reviewer noted that Andras Schiff performed the WTC by memory and seemed to “channel Bach.” I happen to disagree with this opinion because I have listened to a few clips of Schiff playing Bach and am bothered by the tempo and rubato liberties he takes with the score. That is, he plays unevenly and pauses at places that seem to please him, and not as Bach intended it–at least not to my ear. The photograph in the NYTimes article of the Steinway concert grand and the pianist on the wide stage was striking, a gorgeous snapshot depicting the glory of a pianist playing Bach on a concert stage. After reading the review, I listened to a few segments on I-Tunes and then purchased the album once I figured out what my Apple I-Tunes password was after a few futile attempts.

I listened to this new set of preludes and fuges while I did an hour or so of housework this morning, and found that I liked them a lot. I cleared off items crowding space in the plant room, fed the canary and rearranged sea things that I had found on the beach last year when we went to the Cape after Christmas. I made a new playlist for the downloaded disc and burned a CD for my car. As I pulled out of the driveway to go to the post office and grocery store, this new Bach piano music filled the car. The morning sun shone through the trees, many with brilliant yellow leaves that had not yet fallen. For me, there’s no simpler nirvana than to listen to Bach while doing chores inside and errands out and about.

So, heartfelt thanks first of all to Johann Sebastian Bach, for composing all that lovely music in the first place. Gratitude for the New York Times newspaper which also keeps on giving, introducing me to concerts, pianists and recordings that I might not otherwise come across. Kudos to Pierre-Laurent Aimard for playing Bach so beautifully and for making this recording. And a huzzah to Apple and I-Tunes for making equipment that enables someone like me to download, listen to, purchase and then copy a CD for my car in less time than it takes to sweep the floor!

All in all, I’m grateful for this rapturous confluence of art and technology on a brilliant Fall day here in New England. What a JOY!


Postscript: I noticed that the Aimard CD in hard copy on is listed for $16.99 while I downloaded it on I-Tunes for $11.99.



bucket list . . .

piano music library

piano music library

I guess this term was coined along with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s movie called “The Bucket List,” which dramatized what they really wanted to experience before they kicked the bucket (aka “die”.) Since then, it’s been used a lot in different contexts and I noticed today in the newspaper that a sister graduating from college, delighted by her soldier brother’s surprise appearance said that she wanted to make a “bucket list” with him before he returns to duty in a couple of weeks.

So, making a list like this is not just for the elderly or even the middle-aged these days. For me, when I think about it, it’s not filled with things like “win the lottery” or “travel around the world” or even, “go to Hawaii.” It also wouldn’t include “buy a Corvette” or “own a sailboat.”

One of the things that was always on my bucket list (even before the phrase was coined) was a beautiful ebony Steinway grand piano. While I was a young mother, working two jobs in NYC and taking care of two infants, nothing was further from my mind, although I did manage to buy a brown baby grand piano, a “McPhail” piano that had a bright tone and a light action. That was the first piano I owned since I left home, leaving behind a well-worn Cable-Nelson spinet piano that I grew up with. So you can see why a Steinway ebony grand piano was truly out of reach for me at the time.

Fast forward to trading in the McPhail piano to a building contractor who put in the foundation for our greenhouse in Lexington when we renovated the house where the kids grew up. Eventually, I bought a Steinway, model A piano (reconditioned but not refinished) which I played and my daughter M. practiced on for many years, playing a Bach French Suite as musically as any pianist I’ve ever heard when she was in junior high school. The girls used to read and lie under the piano with our dog, Bridget, when I practiced. They still recall chamber music parties where a string quartet played Mozart in the family room while a piano trio read through Beethoven’s “Archduke” trio in the living room with the doors shut in between. Sometimes we would combine forces and play piano quintets, such as Schubert’s “Trout Quintet” and when we had a lot of players, we’d end up playing Mendelssohn’s Octet. It was so much fun for all concerned, players and listeners alike, not to mention the potluck food we feasted on afterwards with a few bottles of wine.

Fast forward some more to after the kids left home and I moved to where I live now. I traded in the Steinway “A’ for a Steinway “B” when I met my second husband, G. who rebuilt it. We named it “Victor” after the musician who had owned it previously. It has been and continues to be one of the finer instruments that have come through the shop. It used to be downstairs on the first floor where predictably, piano customers would happen upon it and want to buy it. So we hoisted it up to the third floor where we live, coming through the house from the outside deck. It sits in an alcove that enhances its sound without echoes.

"Victor" in the alcove

“Victor” in the alcove

So, you see, I’ve already got the best part of a bucket list I might have held secret. What I’ve been thinking about more recently, is repertoire or pieces I would like to learn as part of a “to-do” bucket list. They include Scarlatti sonatas (about two dozen of them), Bach Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninoff Preludes, some Scriabin and Chopin Etudes. Like that.

Still on the list is to write a women’s novel that will eventually become a classic (that part is out of my control but writing it first might help.) I’ve been working on shaping ideas into a plot for a long time. Recently, a new setting for the story has occurred to me that has renewed my optimism about getting back to work on it.

So, studying a challenging piano repertoire and writing a book I’ve been thinking about for a long time probably sound like a pretty boring bucket list to most folks. At least it doesn’t require loads of money to bring to fruition. It just requires self-discipline, dedication, creativity and time. That’s all, right?

What’s on your bucket list?