The famous Moonlight Sonata probably has been every piano student’s dream piece at some point on their music journey. I think I am finally approaching the level of technical skill required to play—perhaps not master quite yet, but play—this piece. I am looking forward to experiencing the pain, struggle, and triumph in Beethoven’s music now that I have some familiarity with such things.
Schubert Impromptu in E-flat Major (Four Impromptus, D. 899)
Last updated August 22, 2023
I decided to record the impromptu I have been practicing. To be honest, it could still use some refinement, especially in the minor section, but it is getting dangerously close to the start of the Fall semester and I need to focus on real work. This piece was what first introduced me to Schubert’s genius. I find this to be such an accurate description of how Schubert changes keys. Going from E-flat major to E-flat minor is pretty reasonable, but then he somehow finds a way from E-flat minor to B minor and back. You aren’t supposed to do that! On the whole, I am pretty happy with this version since it sits at the edge of my technical abilities. As I mentioned in a previous post, my current tempo for scales is 104 bpm in sixteenth notes, and for this recording I am using a tempo of (approximately) 140 bpm in triplets which is equivalent to 105 bpm in sixteenth notes. The recording by Dame Mitsuko Uchida is something to aspire to, of course.
D. Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata in D Minor
Last updated August 13, 2023
I finally figured out the problem with my Schubert Impromptu: I was not playing the quarter notes to their full value in the minor section. It needs further refinement and also to be brought up to tempo, but I should be able to upload a version on the month timescale if I do not get lazy. In the meantime I am having some fun with pieces I learned as a student, half sight-reading and half falling back on muscle memory. This D. Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata in D Minor (no, not that D. Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata in D Minor) was a favourite of mine, not too difficult but contained some interesting ebbs and flows in the melody. I kind of took two different approaches here with not having practiced the piece extensively. My harpsichord version contains no fewer than ten mistakes (if I am being generous), while my piano version is pretty clean. At the same time, my harpsichord version has more spirit, and it is obvious that I am being too careful in the piano version. I have made this observation before with my performance of the Gigue from French Suite No. 5 where I feel I made a breakthrough. I know what to do to get the “ideal” performance—practice until I am secure in executing every part. Yes, I know it is a bit like saying “try this one weird trick to become good at piano: practice six hours every day for ten years”, but there are no shortcuts to excellence. By the way, if the keys sound clack-ier than normal, it is because I am playing on half-volume to not accidentally wake up the neighbours.
Harpsichord version, in Baroque tuning and Kirnberger temperament:
Practice Session Recordings, Part III
Last updated July 20, 2023
One observation that I made recently, that seemed extremely obvious in hindsight, was that one cannot play pieces with more proficiency than one displays with fundamentals (scales, arpeggios, etc.). I have been very slowly increasing the tempo of my fundamentals, and I mean very slowly: last year I was working at 100 bpm, and this year I am only up to 104 bpm, because I want to build the proper muscle memory so as to not run into issues further down the road. As a young girl learning music, I relied too heavily on talent, and sometimes lacked the discipline required to work through an issue in the proper way. Now that I have a broader perspective, I can begin to appreciate the value of effort and have a better understanding of how one achieves greatness. To borrow a lighthearted analogy I read elsewhere, talent is like an experience multiplier that makes it easier to “level up”, but without putting in thoughtful work, very little progress will be made, no matter how much talent one possesses. I still have a lot to work on for the Schubert Impromptu, in particular the minor “B” section to make it sound more legato and bring out the melody without using the sustain pedal.
Raindrop Prelude “Remix”
Last updated July 4, 2023
Since my previous post, I ended up taking more time away from piano due to a combination of pain in my forearms, being busy with real work, and a bit of lack of motivation. I started working on Schubert’s Impromptu in E-flat a while ago but have not made as much progress as I would have liked. It is a longer piece than what I am used to, so I really need to get over practice fatigue and slog through the whole thing. In the meantime, I dug up something I started working on a while ago for fun. Composing music—even just arranging an existing piece—is hard. I took on a somewhat serious project in high school and wrote an orchestral piece that totaled approximately seven minutes, but really only small sections were what one could call inspired; the rest felt clichéd and shallow. Whenever I hear an interesting phrase or section in a piece, I always marvel at the composer’s ingenuity. There is so much creativity out there, not only limited to the classical genre, but videogamemusic, too. Maybe with lots of practice I will be able to write something interesting one day. For now, here is a brief excerpt from Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 “Raindrop” that I threw together in GarageBand. (The piece is the namesake of my YouTube channel and this is my favourite part.)
Proof that I have not been completely slacking off (only 90% slacking off):
Menuet and Trio from French Suite No. 3 in B Minor (French Suites)
Last updated March 29, 2023
I did not plan this, but apparently today is World Piano Day—the 88th day of the year to celebrate the number of keys on a standard piano—and thus a great day to make a couple of recordings. I have actually been taking some time away from practicing. Winter Semester was very busy and my tendons were getting a bit stiff, possibly from overexerting myself on the keys (I am still trying to find the right balance between a good sound and an efficient touch). Still, I had enough time to put together this playful yet elegant movement from the third French Suite: the Menuet and Trio (or, at least an acceptable rendition of it). As always, achieving greatness even if not perfection is much more difficult than one expects.
Harpsichord version, in Baroque tuning and Werckmeister temperament:
Der Leiermann (Winterreise)
Last updated February 2, 2023
In general, I try to avoid posting without a recording or some other creative work, but I am making an exception here on account of Schubert’s birthday which was on January 31. While the title of “god of music” probably still goes to Bach owing to his prolific output as well as the more immediate connection through his religious pieces, I think we have to contextualize the lives of both to better “rank” them, if such a thing can be done. Bach lived to be more than twice the age of Schubert and had decades of time to hone his craft, while the latter passed away at just 31. Yet I have found a similar loneliness in a few of both composers’ works, which is almost always overpowered by warmth (some have called this “empathy for the human condition”). In recent years and possibly my entire life, only a handful of pieces could elicit a reaction similar to that from reading The Young King and The Star-Child. One of them is “Der Leiermann”, the finale to Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle, performed below by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (no warmth here, sadly, only despair).
Prelude 10 in E Minor (The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I)
Last updated January 26, 2023
This is one of the more well-known Preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier, other than the ones in C Major and C Minor, and has made appearances in possibly more than one movie soundtrack. While technically rated at the ARCT level when played together with the Fugue, I would not call this a complete success yet. The presto section should really be much faster; my version does not yet have enough of the fury the piece demands—a necessary reminder to continue working on my technique and not overestimate my progress. (“Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer.”)
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
Last updated January 6, 2023
Despite its simplicity, this organ piece evokes some deep emotions, at once wistful and full of hope—“almost as if you had a glimpse of the black abyss, but were steered away from it.” I was privileged to see Yo-Yo Ma live some years ago, and his arrangement for cello, mandolin, and double bass in particular left a lasting impression on me. Some pieces really do have that effect, I suppose.
Harpsichord version, in Baroque tuning and Werckmeister temperament: