Diploma #5 – What next?

For the past year and a bit, my pianistic life has largely been focussed on study for the LTCL Diploma. In order to achieve this, I have had to be very self-motivated, single-minded and utterly selfish about practice time, eschewing a social life of coffees with friends, and twin passions shopping and cooking, in order to get the work done. I have tried very hard not to let the piano impinge too much on family life by doing the bulk of my practising while husband is at work and son is at school/asleep (he’s a teenager – he sleeps late when not at school!). The work I did for the ATCL taught me how to practice productively and deeply, and I now find I can learn new music quickly, which leaves plenty of time for working on the nitty gritty of it.

The pieces which form my LTCL programme have become like old friends and in a way I can’t imagine living without them now. I remember a friend saying in the final weeks before we took our earlier Diplomas in December 2011 “I hate all my pieces now!”, but somehow, I have managed to remain in love with each one of them, for different reasons (see my earlier post on keeping repertoire fresh). I think it’s important to be deeply in love with the music you play: I recall an interview with a concert pianist during which I asked, amongst other things, why he chose certain repertoire. The answer was simple enough: “Because I love it.” (By the same token, I never force students to learn pieces they dislike, it’s entirely unproductive.)

While some of my Diploma pieces will be set aside after the exam (the Bach Concerto BWV974, the (very difficult) Rachmaninov Étude-Tableau in E flat Op 33 No. 7), others will be kept going to put into future recital programmes, or simply because I enjoy playing them: I have a very deep attachmment to Mozart’s Rondo K511, having lived with the work for five years now; I love the Takemitsu and have recently purchased the score of his first Rain Tree Sketch; the Liszt Sonetto del Petrarca 104 is just gorgeous, a place to go and wallow in, losing oneself in its extremes of emotion.

Lately, I’ve started to look past the Diploma date, and have begun to tackle new repertoire. In part, this was a deliberate act to prevent the Diploma pieces from going stale. I also need at least three pieces to take on my teacher’s weekend course for advanced pianists at the end of April. I’m also toying with a few other works, and thinking ahead to another concert I may give at the NPL Musical Society later in the year.

Liszt – Sonetto del Petrarca 47 “Blessed is the Day”. I’ve learnt the other two from the triptych, so it seems logical to add the first one. This is perhaps the most gentle and uplifting of the three – and the easiest. (More on Liszt’s ‘Petrarch Sonnets’ here)

Liszt – Legende S.175, No. 2. St. Francis of Paola Walking on the Water. I heard Marc-André Hamelin performed this at a late Prom during the 2011 season and was instantly hooked. I love the rolling “waves” in the left hand arpeggios and the hymn-like melody which rings out above them. This will be a long-term project.

Schubert – Klavierstück D946/3. I learnt this in a fairly organised way about 4 years ago (along with the other two) and then dropped it. Returning to it has been interesting: I was surprised at how much I remembered. It has one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking trios of all of Schubert’s piano music.

Rachmaninov – Serenade in B flat, Op 3: Rachmaninov was, like Liszt, a composer I thought I’d never play, because of the difficulty of his music, and the physical demands it places on the pianist. However, my experience with the Études-Tableaux proved that I can play his music. I found this moody little Serenade by accident while browsing a wonderful album on Spotify of Rachmaninov playing his own music.

Copland – ‘Muted & Sensuous’ from Four Piano Blues. I first came across this in a concert I reviewed by Peter Jablonski, and made a mental note to add it to my “to do” list. I like the colourful harmonies (for all the fellow grapheme synaesthetes out there, this pieces is mostly blue, deep red, dark green, pink and mauve, with occasional sea green).

Messiaen – Regard de l’etoile. I wanted to learn more of the ‘Vingt Regards’, but I didn’t want the challenge of one of the longer/more complex pieces. This is only 2 pages long with repeating sections: that is not to say it is “easy”!

Barber – Excursions. A friend of mine flagged up this suite of four pieces by Samuel Barber. I love the references to American folk music and jazz.

Adams – China Gates. This will be a labour of love and a long-term project, I think. My first serious foray into minimalist music.

Scarlatti – Sonata in B minor, K27. A Grade 8 candidate played this to me last winter, and then I heard Evgeny Sudbin perform it at the Wigmore earlier this year. It’s rather arresting. And I felt like learning some more Baroque keyboard music – but not by Bach!

Listen to the pieces on Spotify here


  1. You forgot about your other project – The Teddington Piano Festival!

    Nice choice of repertoire you have picked for post-Diploma work.

    Don’t forget about the FTCL too….. 😛

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