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Boulez’ second piano sonata, part 1

January 20, 2015

The second piano sonata of Pierre Boulez – who turns 90 this year – is mentioned in hushed tones, because it’s one of the most difficult things a pianist can play. But for me, it’s one of those “have to be learned in a lifetime” works, along with Ives’ Concord Sonata, the Goldberg Variations and similar daunting pieces. It’s way more than a euphemistic “challenge”: damn hard, and it takes a long time to learn.

I’ve been circling around it for a year, learning large chunks and getting some sense of the work, but have never really settled down to completing it because there was no performance lined up. (Does any musician NOT work in this way?) Boulez’ 90th birthday is a great reason to perform it, and so the work starts.

In some ways, it pays not to look ahead in the score. I usually do this: having learned so much music I can get a sense from the pages of the big shape and structure, and that feeling of how to pace it slowly unfolds. The rules are different this time: meticulous work with my focus on very small sections at a time. VERY small.

Now it’s back to the piano…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2015 5:36 pm

    Sviatoslav Richter apparently stayed on one page at a time, until he had learned it, before continuing. What an undertaking, how exciting. You must let us know whether you burst into tears at any point … as Yvonne Loriod is said to have done at the prospect of having to perform the work in public.

  2. Jill permalink*
    January 21, 2015 11:28 am

    How interesting: I didn’t know that about Richter. Some of my colleagues work that way, but I find it more useful to work through everything carefully and then repeat the process, trusting that the work has been retained when I return to the beginning.

    No tears as yet, but this may happen…

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