Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the sixteenth in a series of entries describing Teresa Dybvig’s strategies for preparing for an upcoming recital after a long break from performing. Keep posted for further installments. For more about The Well-Balanced Pianist, click on this link: http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/
Tuesday, October 7: recording Janáček, recording Debussy, practicing more Janáček
I have a few goals for the next couple of weeks. One is to play a set of Debussy preludes at the next Performers Club meeting, next Wednesday. Another is to record the whole Janáček Overgrown Path on Thursday. Therefore I am relying on my recording device a lot this morning. A larger goal is to begin playing through the whole recital. I like to know I can play through a solo program without embarrassing myself by a month before the performance date. Coming up…
I start by recording next week’s Debussy and then listening to it. Not bad! Not entirely to my liking, but I think I can get it into shape by next week. One of them, Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir, has not gotten enough attention. I give it more attention. I give all of them more attention. It is a pleasure to get the music to sound like I have always played all of the voluminous expression markings Debussy wrote into the score.
Then I turn my attention to reviewing, and then recording, the last five Janáček that I worked on yesterday. Not bad! I still hope to improve them, so I set to work. Unsurprisingly, the newest contain the most interruptions in the flow. They just need more time, so I give them some more time.
I was so happy with yesterday’s results of playing one hand and mentally practicing the other that I try it again with some other technically challenging passages in my program. In most places, the improvement is not as extreme as where I made the, but one changes a lot. Le vent feels comfortable and… nice!
To be honest, I wish I could stop there. I feel tired and I am behind on correspondence, not to mention vacuuming. But I have some extra time today, and I have ambitions for the week. So I get to work on the first half of the Janáček. I play it slowly with tender loving care.
It’s not hard to muster tender loving care for this music. On an Overgrown Path is a set of ten musical poems about love and loss. Reading up on the piece, I learn that Janáček wrote to his editor that the music contained reminiscences about the life and death of his daughter. Some pieces were written before her death, but he indicated that some were about her suffering and death. Titles like Unutterable anguish and In tears, both written after his daughter’s death, give what I think is a clear indication of the inspiration for those pieces. Good night!, written before she died, requires more imagination. I can’t help but think that he included the others because they had some quality that he associated with his love for his daughter. It’s not just the back story that’s compelling, though. The music is gorgeous, emotional, gripping, intense. Not to mention that if having a unique and compelling language is the mark of a great composer, then Janáček is a great composer. I marvel that, although I heard some fellow student play the Chopin f minor Ballade every single semester of my long post-secondary adventure in piano performance, I never heard even one piece by Janáček. Especially shocking considering that even in a fatigued state, it’s a luxury to immerse myself in these pieces.
There is one hitch, though. I seem to be responding to musical intensity with physical tension. Instead of changing the speed and weight with which I move through the point of sound, I am tempted to push to the bottom. I address this a bit today, and intend to get to it more tomorrow.
Teresa Dybvig is founder and director of The Well-Balanced Pianist, an organization which presents programs across North America based on an integrated approach to teaching, learning, and performing. Previously on the faculty of the Taubman and Golandsky Institutes, Dr. Dybvig now teaches privately in Long Island, Manhattan, Chicago, and Denver. She specializes in helping pianists with playing-related injuries.