Monday, September 19, 2022 - Teaching again
If I didn’t have to make adjustments to my lecture (the absence of a Viennese-style piano means I can’t draw as live a contrast), this morning’s lecture would have been quite the routine. But never mind: we made the right decision. As I enter the hall to get ready with my PowerPoint, I hear someone practice on the Stabernack piano in the adjacent room. It’s that opening of Op. 57 again (remarkable how Beethoven sonatas have become so universal: imagine the same with historical pianos)—and I know already what I’ll have to say: “Stop thinking forward to the end of the phrase.” That’s such a recognizably modern way of playing, triggered by piano hammers that barely leave any articulating mark and high-tension strings and soundboards that just want to continue resonating. (That’s the problem with listening: when growing up with “wrong” technology, we don’t know what we need to hear, as we finally shift to “correct” technology.) I almost want to go and say, “No need to practice: we’ll change everything anyway,” but wisely, I stop myself. Not that there was anything wrong with practicing “Appassionata” on the Viennese piano: on the contrary, the experience is especially useful when making the shift to the French Erard.
The masterclass starts—on the Erard. Turns out the student I heard practice is Rebecca Cojan. Not only does she speak terrific English (her mother is a translator, she explains), but she’s also a wonderful musician who adjusts superbly. As in Budapest, we principally rehearse footwork, after I make my point about marking slurs from the beginning rather than playing them toward the end; but we move ahead through the score more quickly, and when we get to the second movement, with its theme and variations, she comes up with solutions for coloristic registration that I hadn’t myself thought of before. It’s fun to experience the unexpected. Also the audience approves.
Suddenly, this model of masterclass feels wrong.
But where can we go from here? Imagine that every school for higher learning in music has an essential “Beethoven keyboard” collection. Would it make for interesting conversations, or would we start limiting such discourse, because we’d be institutionalizing historical keyboards and replacing one narrative simply with more of them? Suddenly, this model of masterclass feels wrong. I don’t know how Beethoven should be played on his Erard, which after all was new to him too and, as far as Op. 57 was concerned, was a problematic instrument for him. All I did, really, was to bring the instrument. To give the experience more of a pedagogical context, in my note ahead of the event, not just in Cluj but also in Budapest, I had invited students to grab the opportunity to try out some “real” French music: de Boïeldieu, de Montgeroult, Steibelt, Adam, Herold, and many others. None of them did.
Photos of masterclass by Christophe Alvarez