Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A lesson from my first teacher - from beyond the grave

I enjoy leafing through old piano music, especially music that was studied, scribbled upon, and obviously cherished by its former owner.  Sometimes those markings can give us new or overlooked insights into the piece, or perhaps a solution to a nagging technical problem can be found.

I have always loved Bartok's set of Rumanian Folk Dances, although I have never performed them.  I cherish my old Lili Kraus recording on a Parlophone 78 rpm record, and admire the recording by Zoltan Kocsis with what I presume to be his own "concert variants".  The notes are not that difficult to cover, but there are some awkward spots, and it seems that Bartok put a marking of some kind on at least every other note.  Finicky, finicky.

The reason I have never performed them is in the very last line, the conclusion to the whole set.  There is a right hand passage that imitates the double stops of the violin, holding the upper voice while the lower voice darts around in sixteenths. I have never been able to play this smoothly and up to tempo using the printed fingering.

This past Saturday I went to an estate sale.  The estate was that of my first piano teacher, Myra Williamson.  Before the sale, her children (my cousins) had generously allowed me to have a generous amount of her music, and her old International Library of Piano Music now has a place of pride in my living room.

Between her death and her estate sale, more music was found - her volumes of Chopin in the Schirmer/Joseffy edition, some contemporary music, and a copy of the above-mentioned Bartok. At first, I thought the bold "Lili Kraus" script on the cover was an autograph.  When I opened it, I realized it was her teacher's handwriting, probably a recommendation for listening. The score was lavishly marked, "Myra Keeble" signed on the cover, and notations throughout the score in Myra's and her teacher's handwriting.

While waiting for a student today, I sat down and read through this favorite work, feeling a little comforted by seeing Myra's precise script.  Dance after dance, and then when I got to the last page, my Waterloo:

And there was The Fingering.  A message from Myra, from beyond the grave.  Either she devised a fingering more appropriate for her small hand, or her teacher gave it to her.  And it works for me as well.  So it won't be long before this piece is securely in my working repertoire. 

Thanks, Myra.  I miss you.  Your old music ain't gathering dust no more.

I'm trying to get back to blogging, my friends.  It's difficult.  My desktop computer still isn't fixed, and this netbook is not conducive to all the cutting and pasting I used to do to add hyperlinks in the text.  But this is a start.  I had to get back in the pool.