The “10,000 hours” rule was first brought to a mass audience by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. In this book he states that this is the amount of time it takes to achieve mastery.
This of course wasn’t just a number that Gladwell made up. A study carried out in Berlin, Germany documented the practice habits of a group of violin students, throughout their childhoods, adolescence and then adulthood.
When asked how many hours they had practiced, over the entirety of them playing, results showed that whilst times were similar in childhood, the most elite players had accumulated more than 10,000 hours individually by age 20.
This strong correlation between time spent rehearsing and level of ability makes a very strong case for the 10,000 hours rule and Gladwell brought the idea to a larger audience.
Famous faces such as The Beatles are often used as an example of the theory but what is the argument for natural talent? The study conducted on the German violinists had no evidence to show that talent was enough to reach the level that they did. So, from novice to expert, the 10,000 hours rule backs practice all the way.
It could be that those who have a natural talent or interest in a particular activity practise more because they are passionate. When we are good at something and enjoy it, practising is not a chore. Therefore it can make an individual look as though they were born with an innate ability to thrive at their craft. You could be born with bags of talent but without working on it, you may never develop to the level that you potentially could.
So, where does that leave you and your piano? The key is to practise with purpose. 40 hours practise over five years is going to give you your 10,000 hours. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to improve to elite level. If you make the same mistakes every single time you sit at your piano, hitting your target hours becomes less relevant.
Achieving your 10,000 hours needn’t be out of your reach but aim for quality over quantity. Not all practice is created equally. Purchase a good piano from a trusted dealer and invest time in finding a fantastic teacher. Every great sportsman started with a coach. Every great musician should have an accomplished teacher to guide them, recognise areas for improvement and track progress.
No matter what you are doing, it’s going to take a lot of time to reach a level that you are satisfied with. The key is to enjoy playing piano, learning, rehearsing and eventually improving. There’s no magic formula to getting the best out of your piano, or any other activity or hobby. Although there are differing opinions around the 10,000 hours rule, all of the research agrees on this: passion is key.
About the Author:
David Milsont is an avid pianist. He deals with Broughton Pianos and writes in his spare time.
I was delighted to join a crowd of excited Haydn fans in Soho, London today for the unveiling of a blue plaque in honour of the composer Joseph Haydn, who lived at 18 Great Pulteney Street in 1791.
At midday on 24th March 2015, to the cheers of the assembled crowd, Sir Neville Marriner unveiled a commemorative blue plaque in central London to celebrate the work of the composer Joseph Haydn. Sir Neville was joined by Denis McCaldin, director of the Haydn Society of Great Britain, and the Austrian ambassador, who both spoke ahead of the unveiling.
The plaque is the first dedicated to Haydn in London. When he visited for the first time in 1791, the composer was at least as popular as his contemporary, Mozart. Though Mozart has three plaques in London, until today Haydn had none, despite fifty years of attempts to establish one.
Taking inspiration from the successful subscription concerts of his day, the Haydn Society of Great Britain ran a lively and successful crowdfunding campaign to commission and install the plaque.
The Haydn plaque can be seen at 18 Great Pulteney Street, Soho, London W1F 9NE.
(This article first appeared on Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc)
Who or what inspired you to take up the cello and pursue a career in music?
My parents were both dentists, but my mother was a keen amateur harpsichord player. I started as a very good recorder player and gradually ran out of music as I devoured everything!! My parents had friends who were Dutch baroque musicians who recommended I start learning a string instrument. I said I wanted to play the biggest – as they didn’t have an estate car at the time they lied, so I am a cellist not a bass player!
I went to Chethams’ School of Music at 9 years old but had only really been playing cello for a year.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Early on I would say Jacqueline du Pré, like many cellists of my generation. I became obsessed with new music after hearing Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Gawain’ for my 10th birthday at the Royal Opera House, so I suppose this experience changed my musical direction.
I met my former husband, the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, at 22 years old. His music always meant a huge amount to me and I was lucky he wrote for me a lot. We also both shared a huge passion for jazz and as he worked with musicians such as John Scofield and Peter Erskine this had a huge influence in the music and players I was interested in playing and collaborating with.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
There have been many challenges but for me it has been building the self-belief and confidence which has very much effected the timing of my career. I was all set up and ready to launch into the profession in my early 20’s, but it felt much more natural to support someone else, especially someone whose work I really believed in. Once I had the children I began the usual work/family life struggle everyone has. I have been a single mother now for three years so I have been trying to rebuild my life as well as restart my career on top of bringing up two very young children – to be honest every day is a struggle! Their father has moved down the road which has helped hugely and we organise diaries so the children are generally with one of us whilst the other works. Mark is a very hands on Dad and I am also lucky to have some incredibly supportive friends, mainly musicians, who have stood beside me during the challenging times.
Which recordings are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of a chamber music disc I did for Toccata Classics of all of Hugh Wood’s chamber music with the London Archduke trio, Paul Silverthorne and Roger Heaton. We recorded it at Champs Hill a few years ago. I adore Hugh’s music and chose to perform his Cello Concerto with the Royal College of Music Sinfonietta when I won the concerto trials in my last year of college.
I’m also proud of jazz recordings I have done as those sessions have always been a massive musical learning experience for me. Ian Shaw, Judith Owen and Barb Jungr’s albums, on which I have featured, I still enjoy listening to as their artistry is so wonderful! Most of the time I find it almost painful hearing old recordings.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
The two things I really enjoy doing and suppose feel comfortable with now are the polar opposites musically. I have always loved working with classical contemporary composers – the stranger the music and the more demanding the better. I play lots of Lachenmann and Xenaxis when I can choose my own programmes. This is the music which I have always felt very natural interpreting, probably more so than anything else.
On the other end of the spectrum, I love my work as a session ‘cellist. I like making the switch between styles and improvising does not fill me with dread. I relish the speed needed in interpreting something fast that has normally just been printed off and placed in front of me. Working closely with the artist and great producers in the moment can be very thrilling.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I tend to try and programme the same group for a run of concerts or festivals as it’s always nice working with the same players and programmes for more than a one-off performance. I work in so many different capacities as a ‘cellist the kind of booking I get will determine the repertoire. I feel quite passionately that if people are kept ‘safe’ from new music and not exposed to it because of their demographic/concert venue, then how will people ever get a chance to make a judgment themselves? I have been known to present a programme of Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Bach, Earth Wind and Fire and Kaija Sarriaho as I believe in every piece as good music. The musicians I work with on these programmes play each piece with the same passion and integrity which is crucial.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
My favourite venue would have to be The Forge in Camden, north London, with whose owners I have had a close relationship with since they opened. I love the fact it’s run by musicians and is down the road from me as I am a north London girl now. I have launched both my duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins and my show ‘Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family’ there, and both have been happy occasions.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I love playing Helmet Lachenmann’s Solo cello piece Pression. I was fortunate enough to work with Helmut intensively on the piece and was invited to perform it for his 75th birthday in the Konzerthaus, Berlin. He essentially made me grow new ears: he hears music in the most intense way and transcribes and describes what he wants so perfectly.
I always get a wonderful musical lift from playing Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances with my Quintet – Lizzie ball on violin, Pedro Segundo on drums, Bartek Glowacki on accordion and Dave Maric on piano. Every time we play it it’s slightly different. The tunes are so strong they keep going round my head for days after a show.
I tend to listen to music I don’t get a chance to play much – recently I’ve got obsessed with Ry Cooder after I returned from a trip to make an album in LA. Harry Shearer and a number of the artists featuring on the album are big fans and spent one evening playing me all their favourite songs. I’m also a big D’Angelo fan and recently saw him live for the first time at Hammersmith Apollo.
Who are your favourite musicians?
A very tough question as I’m meeting them all the time and I could list many.
The musicians with who I am in groups with I have a huge amount of respect for: Genevieve Wilkins from G project, Judith Owen and her band, all my Urban Family collaborators, cellist Guy Johnston, Lizzie Ball-we share similar values and musical tastes and all stand out as people I like to work with and spend time with too. The two classical singers (although they do so much more!) I admire are Ruby Hughes and Lucy Schaufer.
I became a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet over two years ago now and I would say without a doubt Gwilym is one of the greatest musicians I have worked with – the whole quintet actually (Thomas Gould, Yuri Goloubev and Martin France) are amazing and I always look forward to our concerts.
Recently I have probably learnt the most from Leland Sklar, probably the most famous session bass player on the planet. When I have worked with him in sessions or gigs it’s pretty much been a masterclass every time.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There have been so many it’s almost impossible to say but for very personal reasons I would say my Urban Family Concerts both at the Forge and at Wilderness Festival last summer. I am musician who has spent most of my career playing for different artists’ projects and groups so it felt incredible that so many colleagues wanted to support me at these events. Also seeing classical musicians let their hair down at Wilderness Festival because I brought them there to make music was one of those life-affirming moments!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Follow your own path – don’t look over your shoulder as everyone’s journey both musically and in life is different.
There is work out there – you have to be inventive sometimes and even create your own work. The profession changes constantly so it’s wise to be diverse and say yes to everything when you start out, especially during this financial climate.
Obviously everyone is different but I would strongly advise anyone who went through both the music school and music college system like I did (17 years in one unbroken stretch) to take some time out to experience life and truly find out what YOU want to do. This is one thing I really wish I had done differently – even though in my case I would still have probably ended up being a musician. I only started really mixing with non-musicians when I went to antenatal classes!
The damage psychologically of being institutionalised is almost the hardest thing to overcome; I think it took me til 31 to really make the decision for myself to be a ‘cellist and then work on having the confidence and belief to go for it and enjoy it fully.
What is your most treasured possession?
Letters my father wrote to me before I was born. He died nearly 5 years ago and I miss him terribly. I was very lucky to be given a collection of letters he wrote to me as a 49-year-old, half a year before I was born. He told me what kind of person he was, his fears and the love he already felt for me. He didn’t want me to read them whilst he was alive so I was given them for my 30th birthday just after he died, but I could only bring myself to read them two years later when they then gave me so much strength: it was almost like he was speaking to me.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Apart from the obvious things like spending time with my kids and playing great music, it has to be boxing. I have always loved to box since I was a teenager but for the past year I’ve been training with a professional boxer, Tony Milch. It keeps me fit both physically and mentally and I love watching him in his matches – it’s a real buzz even if I can barely look!
Gabriella Swallow has emerged as one of the most versatile and exciting cellists of her generation. She studied at The Royal College of Music with Jerome Pernoo. She was awarded the coveted Tagore Gold Medal and performed the Hugh Wood Cello Concerto in her final year. As a soloist Gabriella went on to make her South Bank debut with the London Sinfonietta in the world premiere of ‘About Water’ by Mark-Anthony Turnage. In the same year she performed Paul Max Edlin’s Cello Concerto with the South Bank Sinfonia, which firmly launched her place as a leading performer of contemporary music. This has led her to commission and work with many of the major living composers of today.
In 2013 she made her Wigmore Hall debut with the soprano Ruby Hughes and in the same season performed at the La Jolla SummerFest in San Diego, the Aldeburgh Festival with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Cambridge Jazz Festival as a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet.
Gabriella is the string curator of Music Orbit’s string night ‘Strung Out’ and performs frequently at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club ‘Classical Kicks’ night curated by violinist Lizzie Ball and at Gabriel Prokofiev’s Nonclassical club nights.
As a recording artist she has recorded all the chamber music of Hugh Wood for Toccata Classics with the London Archduke Piano Trio, which was released to critical acclaim in 2009. 2012 saw the release of ‘Ivr d’amour’, a disc of Massenet Songs where she appeared with soprano Sally Silver and celebrated pianist Richard Bonynge for the Guild label and also soprano Lucy Shaufer’s debut disc ‘Carpentersville’ for ABC Classics where Gabriella features as soloist. This CD was launched with a concert at The Aldeburgh Festival 2013.
In 2010 she co founded the duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins. They made their debut with a sellout concert at The Forge in Camden and continue to perform regularly in the UK and Europe. Alongside her classical career she regularly crosses over in the fields of jazz and pop and is a sought after session musician appearing on many movie and television scores. She has recorded with many of the leading Jazz musicians on the UK scene including Ian Shaw, Barb Jungr, Liane Carroll, Guy Barker, Laurence Cottle, Pedro Segundo, Graeme Flowers, Jannette Mason and Claire Martin OBE. She has performed and recorded with Skunk Anansie, Sade, Dionne Warwick, Charlotte Church and has been a member of Judith Owen’s band since 2007. This year she continues her collaboration with Gwilym Simcock’s Quintet, whose members include the violinist Thomas Gould.
Gabriella is also a passionate broadcaster and arts commentator and has been a regular guest on BBC 4’s coverage of The Proms, Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ and ‘Music Matters’. She has been a guest speaker at the Bath Literary Festival and ‘The Battle of Ideas’.
Gabriella plays a cello by Charles Harris Senior built in 1820 and an electric cello by Starfish Designs.
This excellent initiative was started by Australian piano teacher and composer Elissa Milne. The purpose was to promote and implement the concept of students learning a huge quantity of piano pieces in one year to allow students to learn, experience and perform far more pieces than our exam-focussed culture tends to allow. Known learning outcomes from the exercise include improved sight-reading skills, greater independence in learning, and enhanced musicianship and music appreciation.
Another similar initiative is the Go-Play Project, in which US pianist and teacher Catherine Shefski set herself the task of learning (or relearning) a piece of piano music each week over the course of a year (she recorded the pieces and uploaded them to SoundCloud). Like many piano teachers, Catherine felt she was not spending enough time at the piano for herself amidst all the teaching and admin that goes with running a piano teaching studio. I followed Cathy’s project with interest and told myself that one day I would do something similar.
A new year, and a number of pianist friends and colleagues have embarked on their own 40-Piece Challenge. Despite, or because of, the fact that I have set myself a vast learning challenge in Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata (D959 in A), I decided it was time to try my own 40-Piece Challenge. My motives for doing so are slightly different from the original purpose of the project:
What kind of repertoire?
The Schubert sonata is a big work in four movements, which takes c.40 minutes to play, and the learning process is by necessity long and detailed. It would be foolish to add other very advanced works to my musical diet, so the premise is to learn shorter and “easier” works for the challenge. And the pieces selected do not necessarily have to be “new”: as part of the exercise, I am revisiting some pieces I learnt a few years ago. There is much to be gained from reviving previous repertoire, as new insights and ideas about the music are revealed.
To guard against boredom and retain variety in my practising
I would be crazy to devote all my practise time to the Schubert alone. Adding a variety of shorter works is a supplement to my main learning and a way of ensuring I retain interest and excitement in the piano.
To extend my repertoire
When one is working for exams or diplomas, there is a terrible tendency to focus only on the set pieces. This is not healthy, as too much focus on a narrow repertoire can lead to familiar pieces growing stale. One often finds that even the most disparate repertoire will inform other works. I also wanted to have a “bank” of pieces I could call on for the occasional concerts I give.
Each piece will be recorded and uploaded to my Soundcloud
Recording is an excellent way of evaluating one’s playing and an opportunity to listen in a different way, allowing us to make judgements about which areas need revision or improvement. By insisting on recording each piece, I am forcing myself to prepare each work carefully. This in itself is a useful exercise: just because the repertoire is “easier”, it should still be prepared to a high (concert-ready) level.
Progress so far….
I’m a quarter way through the project, with 11 pieces learnt and recorded. I will post updates as the project progresses.
The pieces recorded so far:
For those considering a similar challenge, I offer some repertoire suggestions (intermediate to advanced level):
J S Bach – Kleine Preludes, Two- and Three-Part Inventions
Chopin – Preludes, Waltzes, Mazurkas, Nocturnes
Beethoven – Bagatelles
Schubert – Moments Musicaux, Ländler, Waltzes
Heller – Etudes
Rachmaninoff – Preludes, Moments Musicaux, 6 Morceaux Op 11, Etudes-Tableaux
Scriabin – Preludes, Etudes and other shorter piano works
Prokofiev – Visions Fugitives
Bartok – Mikrokosmos (later volumes)
Ligeti – Musica Ricercata
Debussy – Preludes, Children’s Corner
Scarlatti – Sonatas
Single movements from sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.
Acclaimed Australian countertenor Glenn Kesby performs at the opulent and unique LASSCo Brunswick House, Vauxhall on 21st May 2015.
Glenn will present a ravishing programme spanning three centuries and two continents, including music by Purcell, Handel, Greig, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams and Finzi, some of which explores less familiar territory for the counter-tenor. Glenn will give a brief introduction to the music he will be performing, accompanied by Claire Williams.
“…Resplendently Baroque…The sound was relaxed and warm” – Early Music Today
Venue: LASSCo Brunswick House, 30 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 2LG
Thursday 21 May, 7.30pm
The bar at Brunswick House Café will be open before and after the concert for the enjoyment of guests.
Brunswick House is a magnificent Georgian mansion in the heart of the sparkling new developments around Vauxhall station and Nine Elms. Part of the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Company, it is home to an eclectic collection of antiques and salvaged curiosities, and is one of London’s most unique and beautiful venues.
When I was a child my father had in his LP collection a Schubert album with Richer on Monitor Records. That was one of the very few record labels that was offering artists from the then USSR to the West. During the height of the ‘Cold War’ it was a very esoteric thing to have. I remember the fast movements were so exciting and electrifying. Being a young person, with a young person’s taste, I would ignore all the wonderful slow movements. (PU)
One of my top 5! But he was a very scary man when he was doing our assessments in Moscow. Gilels on the other hand was a pussy cat! I recall his recital in Warsaw……when he arrived late (weather conditions in Moscow and Warsaw) and went straight on the stage, and after an incredible recital played Prokofieff’s 9th Sonata again, this time as an encore!! What more can one say about that?! (AF)
I have a huge stash of Richter recordings, along with video, and both Monsaingeon’s documentary and the book based on it. I have to say, I don’t always agree with his choices or artistic decisions, but I always learn something new listening to them. I know I’m not alone in that view. There really aren’t many musicians one could say that of, don’t you think? (JG)
I have always admired Sviatoslav Richter since the time I was a little boy and learned how to pronounce Sviatoslav! (PC)
Richter was the reason I became a musician. My father heard Richter many times in Budapest in his prime in the 1960s. The concerts were without announced programs–he announced the selections from the stage. People thronged to get tickets. My father came back with such stories of Richter’s aura and magnetism: “he had only to walk on stage for the electricity to happen.” These impressions brought me to the piano… (ZB)
He was a risk-taker: there are very few players on the international circuit today who would be prepared to do what Richter did…. He was truly a musical polymath (FW)
…there will never be another pianist like him in my view….a true philosopher of the piano, although even that does not do him full justice… I was lucky enough to see him in live performance almost 25 times and each concert remains indelibly imprinted in my memory. Such a mercurial, ‘bel canto’ touch, such thunderous power combined with the most delicate phrasing and infinite shades of colour. One was always surprised in his concerts and it always felt like one was hearing the piece for the first time…that global, birds-eye view of the work….one felt one was being taken by the hand and led along a path of discovery…it really felt like that…I will take those memories with me to my grave… (LL)
I know he never had a thirst for fame, narcissism……On the contrary, he was constantly dissatisfied with himself, and, sometimes when he come back home after the success of a concert, he could spend all night at the piano, in order to achieve the desired sound. He was a great worker like Mozart, like all geniuses. He was always moving from internal to external, that is his interpretation of music first born inside him, and after this he begin to embody it into performance. I think this is the true path of art
Thank you to everyone who contributed to these Recollections of Richter posts. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #Richter100 – and please feel free to add further reminiscences, sound and video clips, photographs and more.
On the centenary of the birth of Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, I am delighted to present a series of recollections from pianist friends and colleagues, readers of this blog, those who met and knew Richter, and many others around the world.
The internet has proved a fantastic resource for sharing favourite recordings, video clips, quotations, ephemera and reminiscences of Richter. Thank you to everyone who has contributed. To join in the centenary celebrations on Twitter, please use the hashtag #richter100.
His personality was greater than the possibilities offered to him by the piano, broader than the very concept of complete mastery of the instrument. Pierre Boulez
He doesn’t hurry the first section, which creates a great tension with the string melody, and also the tonal colours he uses to bring out the inner voices in each movement. Definitely a most melodic Rach 2 (DR)
Richter’s 1958 Sofia Recital consists of (in my humble opinion) one of the greatest recordings of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (ML)
This man, along with Glenn Gould, has changed the way I listen to the music. ( “Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto n°2″ – Sviatoslav Richter & Warsaw Philarmonic Orchestra – DGG) (RU)
Richter’s Prokofiev performances in general, the 8th Sonata in particular. He plays as one who has lived through the bleak circumstances during which it was written. For me it is the combination of incredible control and restraint on the one hand and sheer bolshiness on the other that makes his playing so intoxicating. (PL)
His 1960 Moscow ‘Appassionata’ is my favorite recording of that work, which is arguably one of the most important works in the whole repertoire. The energy, speed, tonal range at the most explosive passages and general theatrical effect makes it one of a kind to me. And let’s not forget it is a live performance (like most of his recordings). There are other similar best-in-world achievements that combine athleticism with emotional expression, but always with moderation, refined taste and discipline, like Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’, Dvorak’s Concerto. In summary I would say that his performances in whatever genre was almost always world-class, which cannot be said of many other pianists, which, in combination with perhaps the biggest repertoire ever, creates an almost endless oeuvre for listeners to enjoy the whole life. (JN)
I have been in awe of Richter since my student days. His live recording of the ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ has got to be the most staggering performance in the history of the medium. I would be quite happy to have one percent of his interpretive skills. (RI)
Apparently he hated testing pianos – that scary business when you go in to a piano showroom and everyone seems to be playing Liszt from memory and you can barely remember a C major cord – when proffered a test Steinway, he’d poke one note and then back off, looking startled. (RE)
The greatest pianist I ever heard. Why? Because of his fierce commitment, artistic integrity and sound. Even when at his most seemingly ‘perverse’ (Schubert tempi for example) he took you on the most unbelievable musical journeys. Shook hands with him once after a recital in Cheltenham and we spoke in German. Youngsters these days have no idea of the thoroughness of a training he enjoyed….playing on lousy upright pianos in freezing weather on the back of troop carriers in the war. He was largely indifferent to pianos though he displayed a curious penchant for Yamahas in the last decade or so of his life but generally he just played whatever was in front of him. I heard him, I suppose at his best from the mid-60’s on. A transcendental artist, and the film ‘The Enigma’ is essential viewing for anyone interested not just in him but in pianism generally. Not the man for all men though – Brendel told me that when he was listening to SR playing Schubert’s G major sonata live (on radio) from the Royal Festival Hall he wanted to hurl the radio through the window. This probably tells us more about Brendel than Richter. Essential viewing also – Richter’s performance with Rostropovich of the complete Beethoven cello sonatas from the Edinburgh Festival – a hastily arranged, last-minute concert starting (I think) at midnight! Available on dvd. If I had to choose only one pianist’s recordings to take to my desert island it would be Richter. (JH)
I had a privilege having Slava as part of music upbringing through his many LPs, as I may humbly mention my mom has studied and gained her Masters with Heinrich Neuhaus in Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in the 60s.
As I have studied with my mother, I was raised with Russian School, for which I feel humbled and honoured, as at its time had produced such an array of brilliant players, particularly mastering tone production and voicing.
Of course Slava was one of a kind, just as Heinrich described in every way and very often talked of his incredible artistry during his classes.
I may be wrong, but I personally find his Brahms Concerto No. 2, Franck Prelude Chorale and Fugue and many of Liszt, Schubert, Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Chopin absolutely mercurial and I may imagine, awesome to behold. (DG)
Richter! Takes you by the hand and leads you where only he knows…. (AM)
…the unique atmosphere of a Richter concert. The audience in darkness, the imposing profile, the solidity of the sound, the savage beauty of the interpretation…truly a cataclysmic event, quite outside the usual parameters of the ‘piano recital’ (JL)
I first heard him at the end of my first term at the RCM. Dec 7th 1970. Sat on the platform about 5 yds from the keyboard. The memory of that evening is still so strong. I had never before, and rarely since, witnessed such astonishing playing. Simply spell-binding. The power of Schubert D958 and the alarming speed of the finale was electrifying. Then wonderful Bartók and Szymanowski, and the concert ended with a breathtaking Prokofiev 7th Sonata. I wanted, in equal measure, to rush home and practice and to give up and never play again!
He could sometimes infuriate but at his best he was beyond compare. I feel privileged that I heard him live on many occasions but nothing matched up to that December evening in 1970. (CB)
It’s precisely Richter’s certainty, his integrity, the fact that music seems to speak with an Olympian objectivity at the same time as an impossible-sounding lyricism and sustained tone (listen to his extraordinarily slow yet convincing Schubert sonatas), without ever a shred of indulgence in virtuosity or sensuality for its own sake, that makes these performances definitively Richterian. That’s the point about his musicianship: its strength of conviction and imagination makes you believe when you’re listening to him that this really is the way the music has to go, that what you’re hearing truly is the fundamental core of these pieces.
I have no personal reminiscences of getting to hear Richter live or meet him. I don’t even remember how I “got into Richter,” when or where I first heard what, but he’s become my favorite pianist. What stands out to me about Richter’s pianism is the amazing combination of structural control and emotional conviction. From his ability to sustain the narrative of a 25-minute long Schubert sonata movement to his ability to impart so much motion into a flourish that it threatens to fly away – there is always something deeply impressive about his performances. I would say I really learned to appreciate piano performance through listening to him. Even in small details – such as the voicing of secondary lines in chords, as in this moment from Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto: https://youtu.be/uT_ZhhQeudY?t=4m4s , or subtle pedalling in apparently simple music: https://youtu.be/POmD0N9WJ08?t=3m29s
But what draws me most to his playing is the sense of depth and weight he imparted to so many pieces, as in the mystical adagio of the ‘Hammerklavier’, https://youtu.be/dlwK3IIT6jo?t=53m51s. And the epic amounts of tension approaching a climax – as in the Liszt Sonata (https://youtu.be/2UFnqYT6DyU?t=3m58s now to me it sounds as though every other pianist rushes that passage). I came to appreciate long structures, even in those meditative, super-slow Schubert sonatas movements https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7_OW2__ZR0 I have no idea know how I used to listen to the piano performance, but Richter transformed my ears – and in such a wide variety of repertoire! These are a just few of the reasons why I consider him the greatest pianist of the 20th century.
Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
In some ways, I feel I’ve always been a composer. When I started piano lessons age six and had my first keyboard, I was far more interested in making up my own tunes than I was practising the ones the teacher gave me. My piano teacher was very willing though, and more than happy to try and notate my early efforts as a composer! One of the things I’ve always been very comfortable doing is improvising and inevitably, that’s where a composition begins. I think there are really two reasons for this: one is that I started accompanying pretty early on; as far back as the top of the junior school I was able to accompany singers and instrumentalists, and as any accompanist knows, the ability to cover a gap, invent an introduction or rescue the soloist is hugely valuable. Secondly, and really following on from this, at the age of 14, I took on the role of church organist, a role which I filled for 12 years. It was at this point where composing became a bit more important as I felt increasingly confident in writing pieces for the groups and ensembles I was working with.
I continued to develop my composing while I was at school, and I was lucky to have music teachers who encouraged and valued this skill (a skill which it seems to me is so-often seen as second rate to performing). I think the pinnacle of this came when in the Upper 6th I was asked to compose the anthem for the school’s Founders’ Day service. I set a text by Ronnie Wilson titled ‘The Time We Have is Precious’ and it was sung by the school choir in Gloucester Cathedral in July 2002. As for composing becoming a career, I guess this was when I first thought about submitting my compositions to publishers. I knew these pieces worked with the individuals and groups I’d composed them for, and I guess I was curious to see whether publishers would feel the same. I think I had my first pieces, Five Fanfares (Fagus Music) accepted in 2004, and as they say, the rest is history!
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
It’s hard to get away from being influenced by the music we enjoy listening to and playing. Several people have commented over the years that my writing is very ‘English’; not particularly surprising to me as I listen and enjoy an awful lot of English music: it’s part of who I am and it seems natural that it should influence my writing as a composer. Secondly, I think we’re heavily influenced by the musical activities we’ve been and are involved in. My experience has generally been working with amateur ensembles and choirs, often with very limited resources; my teaching also influences what I compose as it gives me an insight into the educational value and appeal of the music I write.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I guess the greatest challenge is persuading people that your music is worth trying. Many of the schemes for composers and indeed the emphases in university courses has been to write ‘new music’. This ‘new music’ is, I guess, the music which the BBC commissions for the Proms and leaves out of it is television broadcasts in favour of the ‘classics’. I have, on more than one occasion joked that if I wrote a concerto for empty wheelie bin and silent cymbals, it would be performed and lauded everywhere! I’m not really sure what this ‘new music’ is we’re supposed to write, but I know that the music I write is ‘me’. That’s not to say my compositional style doesn’t change and develop, but it’s still essentially ‘me’: possibly one of the greatest challenges is therefore staying true to oneself? The music I write is, shall we say, pretty conventional? Over the last 10 years, I found in particular that the UK is very conservative in trying things by lesser-known composers; we seem to be very concerned by the composer’s ‘name’ in the UK. Publishers have their ‘house’ composers, something which is not so much the case in the USA where they’re very much more concerned with what you write rather than who you are. This is possibly why the majority of my music is published overseas.
I think that there is huge potential in the internet and social media to get music out there and known, but I also think it has its disadvantages. It’s easy for people to ‘Like’ or ‘Retweet’ your music, but it’s another thing to actually put your money where your mouth is and buy it.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
There is always a balance to be struck between accessibility and challenge. As I say, I have worked almost exclusively with ‘amateurs’ and I think the music I write reflects that. That, of course, doesn’t mean the music has been dull or boring, but it does have to take into account the skills and abilities of particular groups and individuals. I want performers to enjoy the challenge of learning something new, but I would never want them to lose sight of the act of enjoying making music. Too many challenges in a piece then you’re in danger of being on the wrong side of that line.
Which works are you most proud of?
Gosh, that’s very difficult to answer! In some ways, I’m proud of them all because they all start from nothing. There are plenty of ideas and melodies which never go anywhere, so finishing a piece is hugely satisfying. I guess we can be proud of pieces for different reason: I’m proud of A Celtic Blessing (GIA Publications, Inc.) not only because it has sold well over 3,000 copies, but because several recordings have also appeared on YouTube (all from the US). It’s lovely to see that something you’ve written is being enjoyed and, more importantly, used. I’m proud of my solo for flute and piano Imagination (David Barton Music) because it was the first piece which generated a PRS royalty! Maybe I’m even more proud of the performers who are willing to give my music a fair hearing?
Who are your favourite composers?
I’ve always enjoyed a hugely diverse range of composers; Walton, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Bax, Moeran, Holst, Howells and Stanford all spring immediately to mind. I’ve always enjoyed early music: Byrd, Tallis, Victoria, Josquin and Penalosa. There’s the tunefully enjoyable Gilbert & Sullivan, and I’ve also a huge respect for light music composers and arrangers: Farnon, Tomlinson, Binge and Morley.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I know it sounds so simple, but people should listen to more music. I recently catalogued my CD collection: there are over 6,500 individual tracks…that’s a lot of listening. I am always discovering new music. So often, I’ll hear something on BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM and I’ll be off to buy it straight away. I think, alongside that, always being open to unfamiliar music. I think I’ve always been far more interested in individual pieces than a composer’s entire output, so there aren’t really any composers I ‘don’t like’; amongst their output, there are nearly always a few pieces which I do enjoy.
Secondly, and I’ve mentioned it already, staying true to yourself is important. When you compose, like any creative act, you have to give a bit of your inner-self; your compositions take on some of your identity. By all means push the boundaries and challenge conventions, but don’t try to be something you’re not.
Advice for aspiring composers? I think, above all, compose. Sounds ridiculous, but get composing. I think you need to be composing on a regular basis, and where possible, getting feedback on your writing. Don’t just write because you need to produce an A-Level composition; write because you enjoy writing. I have come across students in the past who want to study composition at university, but have only written four compositions: two for GCSE, one for AS Level and one for A-Level. Also, don’t spend so long planning for and dreaming about the next piece that you never get round to writing it. Getting started is the hardest part (the second hardest part is thinking up a title for your piece, but that’s another story…) Start by writing things for people you know or groups you have a link with.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Interesting question! I don’t know many composers who are in it for the money, so in 10 years’ time, making more money from composing would probably be a bonus! I think that above all, I hope I’m still doing and enjoying doing what I do now. I get an enormous amount of pleasure and satisfaction from composing, and I hope those to do buy and perform my music enjoy it too.
David was born in Winchester in 1983, and has been at the helm of award-winning David Barton Music since 2001. He combines a busy portfolio of teaching, accompanying and composing both from his base in Lichfield, and across the UK.
He was educated at The Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester, where he won prizes for both music and drama. He took a leading role in all the school’s musical activities including choirs, orchestras and chamber ensembles. He also played a significant part in the school’s productions including as musical director for Cinderella and Bugsy Malone. Whilst at the school, he continued his instrumental studies as a pianist, flautist and singer; he also gained the skills and confidence to be an effective accompanist. Whilst at the school he also learnt the organ, and in the latter years, led the music at the school’s assemblies. In November 1998 he played 2nd flute in Malcolm Arnold’s Little Suite No. 2 under Sir Simon Rattle as part of the World’s Largest Orchestra at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.
David Barton Music was established during David’s last couple of years at school, and since leaving, he has developed a successful career as a teacher, composer and accompanist. He graduated with a BA(Hons) Open Degree in 2008, and a MEd in 2010, both with The Open University. He also holds the DipABRSM in Piano Teaching and the CertGSMD(T) in Flute Teaching. He was one of the first students to graduate on the Royal School of Church Music’s DipRSCM in Sacred Music Studies course. As a composer, he holds the LLCM and ALCM diplomas from the London College of Music. He is currently reading for a PhD in Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.
David has over 100 compositions and arrangements published in the UK, USA and Canada, and thousands of copies of his music have been sold worldwide. These include works for solo voice, choir, organ, woodwind, orchestra and chamber ensembles. Regular performances, particularly of choral works, take place especially in the USA. Publishers include several major companies including GIA Publications, Inc., Spartan Press (Phylloscopus Publications) and Augsburg Fortress. David also typesets and publishes a number of pieces under the David Barton Music umbrella, and these are sold direct via his website.
David writes in a variety of styles, but mainly classical. His music is designed to be tuneful, generally easy-on-the-ear and accessible to a wide range of ensembles, particularly those with limited resources. A number of works have received favourable reviews in Church Music Quarterly, Clarinet & Saxophone Magazine, and Pan Magazine. In 2011, his setting of A Celtic Blessing was selected as one of the prestigious JW Pepper ‘Editor’s Choice’ for that year.
More about David and his music and teaching on his website
On the 24 March Sir Neville Marriner will unveil a commemorative plaque in central London to celebrate the work of the composer Joseph Haydn.
The plaque is the first dedicated to Haydn in London. When he visited for the first time in 1791, the composer was at least as popular as his contemporary, Mozart. Though Mozart has three plaques in London, Haydn had none, despite fifty years of attempts to establish one.
Now, taking inspiration from the successful subscription concerts of his day, the Haydn Society of Great Britain has raised funds through a crowdfunding campaign to commission and install the plaque. In addition to Sir Neville Marriner, both the director of the Haydn Society Denis McCaldin and the Austrian ambassador will speak at the unveiling.
The Haydn plaque will be unveiled at 18 Great Pulteney Street, Soho, London W1F 9NE in Soho on 24 March at midday (12pm), a week before the composer’s birthday.