The Writings on the Score

As a writer, the marks I make on paper, or via the word-processing programme on my laptop, are the outward signifiers of my creativity. When I publish an article or essay those marks are made public, put out there and held up for scrutiny.

I am also a musician, a pianist in fact, a role, which, like writing, is largely undertaken in isolation. The outward signifier of my musical creativity comes when I perform for others; like my writing, the work, the graft, the practising is done alone.

The tools of the musician’s craft, in addition to their instrument and intent, are the “text”, the “literature” contained within  musical scores, and these documents provide the map for our musical journeys. On a most basic level, the markings we make on the score relate to fingering schemes, dynamics and marks of expression, pedalling and so forth. Learning music is a complex mental and physical process, and anything that assists in that process is useful. Often it is simply not possible to remember all the details in the music, and annotations provide a useful aide memoir and an immediate mnemonic for the practice of practising. These marks are our individual “hieroglyphs”, and our own secret code, through which our scores become precious, often highly personal documents.

Our writings on the score reveal our individual working processes and practice patterns, our attempts to dig away at the surface of the music, to look beyond the notes to find a deeper meaning. The permanence of a pencil mark is such that, until we choose to erase that mark, it remains there on the page in front of our eyes.

The markings and annotations we make on our scores may also be deeply associated with memories – of significant teachers or mentors, special concerts and venues, colleagues and friends, and may even correspond to certain periods in our lives. Returning to the piano after a 20-year absence, I came upon an earlier teacher’s markings in my dog-eared edition of Bach’s ‘48’. In a curiously potent Proustian rush, I was a gauche teenager again, back in Mrs Murdoch’s living room, her big Steinway stretched out before me, the book of Preludes and Fugues open on the music desk. Returning to a score after a break from it, one reacquaints oneself not only with the dots upon the staves; in the interim, the annotations have become a snapshot of another time and place.

Looking at another musician’s annotated score is an act of voyeurism: a score liberally marked with someone else’s fingering and comments might reveal someone’s deepest insecurities and frustrations, their unspoken hopes and most secret desires…..


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Following on from his comprehensive Indian Raags Made Easy, a guide to playing Indian classical music on the piano (review here), composer John Pitts has now turned his attention to the distinctive and beautiful music for gamelan orchestra from the Indonesian island of Java. This was the music which so intrigued Claude Debussy when he first encountered a gamelan orchestra at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle, whose delicate, shimmering timbres are found in works like Pagodes.

In Extreme Heterophony: a study in Javanese Gamelan for one or more pianists, John Pitts offer a carefully-researched and clearly presented guide to the instruments and music of Java, with detailed explanations of the sounds, tunings, scales, metres and rhythms, using Western staff notation and terminology.

“Extreme Heterophony” refers to a foundational principle of how this music is constructed – akin to a theme and variations, but where c.10 types of related but widely diverse, decorative variations are all performed simultaneously – creating a rich, vibrant, exciting texture – and where the theme itself isn’t directly played. – John Pitts

This large-format book offers a deep dive in to the world of the gamelan, from descriptions of the instruments themselves to the use of melody, rubato, textural and rhythmic density, structure of performances, and notation. The author then goes on to explain the individual instruments (for example, the gambang, a xylophone, the “gender” barung, a metallophone, or the suling, a bamboo flute), their role and distinctive sounds within the gamelan orchestra, and how these roles and sounds translate to the piano, or a group of pianos.

The music, which makes up the greater part of the book, is adapted by John Pitts, each piece with a short introduction, clear directions and prompts to support the player/s. The pieces can be played at one piano, in duos or multiple duets at two or up to seven pianos. John Pitts’ website includes downloadable backing tracks to play along with, plus other useful resources for those who want to explore the music of Java in more detail.

This detailed, well-researched handbook is a fascinating introduction to the alluring soundworld of Javanese gamelan. The book is available in the UK/US from Amazon in printed book and Kindle format, and also as a PDF.

John Pitts website

bringing the very best classical chamber music to London audiences at affordable prices

The innovative and now well-established London Chamber Music Society (LCMS) series returns to Kings Place with a generous and varied programme of Sunday concerts beginning on Sunday 23 January.

Old friends and new ones, including Solem Quartet, Rossetti Ensemble, and the Chamber Ensemble of London, are welcomed for this fine series of concerts with leading international artists. On 30 January, the Chilingirian Quartet, one of the cornerstones of British chamber music, celebrate their remarkable 50-year career in a concert culminating in the First String Sextet by Brahms. Other highlights include wind soloists from the Philharmonia Orchestra on 23 January, with pianist Andrew Brownell, in a programme featuring French music and the Sextet by 19th-century composer Louise Farrenc.

More in the French vein comes with violinist Philippe Graffin, who is joined by his compatriot, oboist Capucine Prin, on 15 May in a concert of oboe quartets as well as a fascinating new arrangement of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Further highlights include Finzi’s Dies natalis on 20 March, in a concert of string orchestra works with the Northern Chords Festival Orchestra. There is more wonderful string music on 1 May, with violinist Peter Fisher and the Chamber Ensemble of London, joined by pianist Margaret Fingerhut in Finzi’s ever-popular Eclogue and also music by Vaughan Williams and Britten’s Simple Symphony. As well as the Solem and Chilingirian quartets, on 3 April the Navarra Quartet perform Dvořák’s String Quartet in G, and a new work by the American-Irish composer Jane O’Leary.

This season also celebrates the work of the remarkable Anglo-American composer Rebecca Clarke. The Fitzwilliam Quartet perform Clarke’s short quartet movement, ‘Poem’, on 8 May, in a concert that also features, with Anna Tilbrook, the mighty piano quintet by Brahms. Other trios include clarinettist Mark Simpson, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Richard Uttley on 20 February, to include Simpson’s own Echoes & Embers, and the Barbican Trio on 24 April, in trios by Brahms and Saint-Saens.

This season’s coffee concert, on 13 March, is given by cellist Thomas Carroll and pianist Anthony Hewitt, with music by Prokofiev and Rachmaninov’s ever-popular cello sonata in G minor, with its beautiful long romantic lines. Linos Piano Trio open the LCMS 2022/23 season on 2 October.

All concerts take place in Hall 1 at Kings Place and start at the very civilised time of 6.30pm, apart from the coffee concert on 13 March, which begins at 11.30am.

For full details of this season’s concerts & to book tickets, please visit:

www.londonchambermusic.org.uk/

Chilingirian Quartet

The London Chamber Music Society boasts a proud history of Victorian music making in London with the regular Sunday Concerts that developed at South Place and then the Conway Hall from the 1920s. The LCMS continues that rich legacy at Kings Place, its home from 2008, with London Chamber Music Sundays – a diverse annual season of high-quality classical chamber music, ranging from duos and trios to chamber orchestras, coming from the UK, Europe and beyond. Many of Britain’s most celebrated ensembles have regularly appeared in the Series, from the Brosa and Amadeus string quartets of the past, to the Chilingirian and Carducci quartets today.

Artistic Director: Peter Fribbins

Header image: Solem Quartet

Guest post by Alexandra Westcott


An article in response to Andrew Eales’ excellent article Making Peace with your Inner Musician, which was in turn prompted by this quote from the Bhagavad Bita: “Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice…But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace

I’ve already written about mechanical practice versus knowledge and clarity. But I find I am developing my thoughts on this even more with regard to some of my students. In his article Andrew Eales’ discusses having less of an attachment to and more of an appreciation of results and goals; to be kinder and more accepting of ourselves and our piano playing journey; and to find ways to enjoy our playing and what it gives both to ourselves and others. I agree with this wholeheartedly.

I read this quote from the Gita and understood it slightly differently; I interpreted it to mean that in letting go of attachments to goals we let go of those goals altogether; taking away ALL judgement about our playing (even with regards to right or wrong notes) and immersing ourselves in the moment; surely it is this that this leads to immediate peace? I’m not saying that there are not times and situations when results are useful and necessary (whether extrinsic or intrinsically motivated), but that there can be another option for pianists.

As COVID struck I noticed my teaching changed; I was more interested in my students being able to play music than any amount of right notes or technical achievements (hard to do the latter online anyway), so we found ourselves focussing on the sounds, using improvising and ear games. I have already written about how this can help with improvising so I won’t reiterate all those points here, other
than to say if a student can withhold judgement about their playing then they can make music, however little they know or practice; when unable to concentrate on notes on a page, many of my students found solace through the piano and kept playing through both lockdowns.

More recently though, one of my students had an injury and couldn’t play, but got fed up with this and wanted to just get her fingers on the keys, so we have been talking about moving away from any ‘result’ at all, trying instead to focus on being in the moment, and the process of actually playing, whatever that playing is (i.e. whether improvising or learning a piece), and relinquishing all judgement about whether it is good, or right, or even sounds ‘nice’ (there is plenty of published classical music, or jazz improvising, from highly respected musicians and composers, of which I don’t like the sound, so if they can produce such music, why can’t we?!). The student is not learning for either a concert or exam, so why get upset about the notes…? Radical! We can aim at the right notes (assuming we are learning a composed piece), but judge ourselves less, or not at all, for getting them wrong, and enjoy the process in any case.

The Alexander Technique talks about ‘end gaining’; the mistake we make in focusing on the end result rather than how we get there. Understood correctly this is a huge part of how the Alexander Technique can benefit a piano (or any other) student. I think it can go further than aiding our clarity and technical grasp of the music and take us to a place where we are in the moment and finding peace, whether it is in enjoying the physical nature of playing the piano (which is one of the things I myself love about the piano, whereas I didn’t like the particular physical demands of playing the flute, for instance) or getting absorbed in the moods we can evoke. Sometimes we might enjoy the former but not like the latter we produce but does it matter; if it is ephemeral then is has gone in a whisper but we have lived the moment with peace and pleasure.

If you want a left brain reason to do this then be reassured, letting go of all our preconceptions and ‘goals’ completely can produce much more freedom; from judgement, from tightness of technique, or from musical and physical rigidity, and lead one to being more comfortable at the keyboard from whence ‘traditional’
results and goals are more easily attained.

So along with Andrew’s suggestion to be kinder of and more appreciative of where we end up, I also encourage you to be more mindful of, and kinder to yourself, in the moment. Take away an interest in the results completely, and with it any judgement of how you get there or what you are doing. As I’ve said once before and which reflects Andrew’s own words, once we get out of the way, there is only the music, whether is it ours, or Mozart’s.


Alexandra Westcott, BA, FRISM, is a piano teacher and accompanist based in north London.

Twitter @MissAMWestcott

In collaboration with Gerard Hoffnung’s estate, over 50 intricately detailed, music-inspired fine art prints are now available at fine art print dealer and picture framers King & McGaw.

Satisfyingly simple and endearingly witty, artist and musician Gerard Hoffnung’s (1925–1959) illustrations are appreciated for their charming depictions of humorous characters and whimsical representations of musical instruments; from a cheerful lady playing a violin cat, two gentlemen straddling a double bass, to an elderly dame playing a flute that doubles as a washing line. An artist, tuba player, humourist,
broadcaster and raconteur, it is perhaps not surprising that Hoffnung’s work should spill over so far beyond his lifespan. Indeed, his legacy continues to delight succeeding generations around the world even now, more than sixty years after his death.

Incredibly imaginative, the titles of the playful works alone – ‘Cat with Musical Whiskers’, ‘Cymbal Player with Bandaged Nose’, ‘Tubular Bell Accident’, amongst others – will bring extraordinary scenes to life.

Hoffnung’s genius was to communicate his richly comic vision of the world through words, drawings and music. Bursting onto London’s musical scene at The Royal Festival Hall in the mid-1950s, the musician-cum-illustrator captured the interest of the music industry, and the population, to which he carved a prolific working career. His ability to have those around him in floods of laughter is ever present through
his drawings, which keeps his joyous spirit alive. When the collection of Hoffnung’s cartoons was exhibited at the Edinburgh Festival, The Guardian wrote: “…never before at an Edinburgh exhibition can so many visitors have been heard giving way to uninhibited laughter as the crowds filing through the Hoffnung exhibition […] in all, this exhibition is guaranteed to keep you happy for as long as you have the time to spare.”

King & McGaw are privileged to offer these works produced to an exceptional museum quality standard, each framed by hand. Brilliant as standalone pieces, these prints can also be appreciated as collectors’ items with a myriad of animated scenes to form your very own Hoffnung gallery at home. Beautifully presented in bespoke frames, they’re perfect for the devoted musician, lover of orchestras, or admirer of light-hearted illustrations.

Explore the collection

Gerard Hoffnung’s biography

[Source: press release]

In this, the first in a new occasional series of articles on repertoire, pianist Daniel Tong introduces a chamber work with a fascinating “melting pot of cross-reference” which first captivated him as a teenager.


Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio, in C minor, Op. 66 was published in 1846 amidst illustrious company, dedicated to superstar violinist-composer Louis Spohr, premiered with another world-famous violinist Ferdinand David alongside the composer, and presented to Fanny Mendelssohn as a fortieth birthday present. It is a piece full of fire and passion, but also confession and intimacy. Although by no means rarely performed, for many years it has lain in the shadow of its lyrical predecessor in D minor from 1839, an audience favourite ever since Robert Schumann declared it the ‘master trio of the age’. But for me this C minor work is the more dynamic, challenging and multi-layered of the two, notwithstanding Mendelssohn’s low mood at the time: “Nothing seems good enough to me, and in fact neither does this trio”, he wrote to Spohr.

Artists can have a tendency towards the overly self-critical and certainly later composers seemed to agree with my more positive appraisal. Schumann paid homage to this work in his own final Trio from 1851, and Brahms also recalled it, both in his magnificent F minor Piano Sonata, Op. 5, and even more tellingly in the finale of his Op. 60 Piano Quartet. There is a world of allusion in Mendelssohn’s score, from Beethoven in the opening passagework to Chopin’s C♯ Minor Scherzo in the chorale section of the finale. I love this melting pot of cross-reference with Mendelssohn’s Trio at its centre; it is as if a whole host of composers are taking part every time we play the piece.

Indeed the piano trio itself was a medium rich in intertext and personal significance for Mendelssohn’s circle. The moment when it was written was particularly extraordinary: Felix was working on his trio during 1845, the year before Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn wrote their own Piano Trios. In 1847 Robert Schumann produced his first two trios, the first of which was obviously inspired by Mendelssohn’s 1839 Trio, as well as his wife’s work. I imagine them playing these pieces to one another alongside string player friends, each expressing enthusiasm, but also giving advice. There are many accounts of such meetings. And my mind travels further, imagining the feel of the old wooden-framed piano beneath the fingers of these four geniuses, the flicker of the fire in the grate, the starched collars of the men, cinched waists of the women, laughter and wine, because however much a work of art is set free to transcend its origins, these are works of a particular moment. One cannot play the Mendelssohn without the others in the room. Beethoven and Brahms too. Life, in those days, was precious; by the end of 1847, both Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn were dead.

The trio opens (Allegro energico e con fuoco) with swirling piano figures, whilst the strings play threatening, sustained chords. The whole movement tumbles forward with unstoppable momentum, new themes often beginning before the previous one has finished. The piano part alternates between demonic flashes of virtuosity and the simplicity of a chorale-like second theme, in a Faustian tussle, all achieved through a thematic development of which Beethoven would have been proud. There is a sublime, prayer-like oasis in the middle section, but the power of the minor tonality is in the end too much; the opening material first sneaks back in and then hammers the chorale into a desperate fortissimo before Mephistopheles leaves, slamming the door behind him. It is a movement of dramatic concision and pent-up energy that seems to mirror its composer’s mood and hint at the precarity of life, leaving you (literally, as a performer) breathless.

Next comes the movement that captivated me as a teenager, amongst the drama and pathos, a profoundly beautiful song without words, cast as a lilting sicilienne (Andante espressivo). Again Mendelssohn makes use, to beguiling effect, of overlapping phrases where the end of one is also the beginning of the next, but this time there is a disarming simplicity to the action, set in stanzas of three lines each. The middle section increases the tension and momentum as dark clouds pass, before the motion is carried into a reprise of the song, the piano turning arabesques with great delight whilst the singing strings develop their harmony as two soulmates who have experienced life together.

Third comes the scherzo, Molto allegro quasi presto, the three players ready to pounce like tigers, glancing at one another in adrenaline-fuelled anticipation. The violinist gives the merest hint of a nod and the strings are off, deft and fleet, my job initially to support their scurrying semiquavers with dark rumbles of harmony. Once the headlong flight is instigated it cannot be stopped; my hands dance around the keyboard in a complex choreography learned through painstaking repetition. The notes are too fast to devote conscious thought to each one at speed. The central trio section explodes with gleeful laughter, continuing the moto perpetuo without respite, even bursting back in when it has no right to, after the scherzo material has returned. Finally the movement retreats to the shadows with string pizzicatos, the audience let out their breath, often audibly, and we all wonder yet again just quite how we managed it.

Poised on the threshold of the finale, the narrative could still take many turns. Mendelssohn plunges us back into the stormy world of the opening movement with a galloping Allegro appassionato night-ride, the anguished phrases of the cello soaring above, but as in a good thriller, we are still unsure as to how the piece will conclude: will it be in tragedy, along the lines of Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ [Piano Sonata] or Brahms’s B Major Trio, or a more positive resolution? When the second theme arrives it recalls the chorale-like music of the first movement – Gretchen perhaps, to complete the Faustian trio of characters – but the masterstroke is still to come. In the central part of the movement, the music fragments and dissipates, as if exhausted or in mental turmoil. A true chorale now emerges, evolving from the Gretchen material that has its root in the first movement, pianissimo, pure and soothing. Initially this seems as if it may just be a typical contrasting episode, as the main themes of the movement re-assert themselves, but during the coda, as the music seems set to spiral into crazed oblivion, the chorale reappears, majestic and fortissimo, like a mighty archangel, to banish the darkness forever. The Trio ends in exalted triumph, hard won, but all the more joyous for it.

My London Bridge Trio, David Adams, Kate Gould and myself, are performing this piece three times in January: on 20th at the Assembly Rooms in Norwich, 22nd in Seaford, Devon, and on 23rd at Conway Hall in London.

Here is the first movement played by a previous incarnation of our trio, when Tamsin Waley-Cohen was violinist:


Pianist Daniel Tong enjoys a diverse musical life and is regarded as one of Britain’s most respected and probing artists. He performs as soloist and chamber musician, and directs two chamber music festivals, as well as teaching and writing. Born in Cornwall, Daniel first came to prominence as piano finalist in the BBC Young Musicians competition (more years ago than he cares to remember) and his life has subsequently embraced a rich variety of musical experience, from concerto performances at Kings Place and St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, chamber concerts at the Wigmore Hall and frequent broadcasts on BBC Radio, to a current role as Head of Piano in Chamber Music at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He released his first solo CD of works by Schubert for the Quartz label in 2012 and has recently recorded the three Op. 10 Piano Sonatas by Beethoven for Resonus Classics, due for release in Spring 2022. Later next year he records piano works by Brahms for the same label. He also recorded short solo works by Frank Bridge for Dutton as part of a London Bridge Ensemble disc and broadcast Janacek’s piano sonata live on BBC Radio 3. He has appeared as concerto soloist at St Martin-in-the-Fields and King’s Place in London.

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