All posts by The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Pianist, piano teacher, music and arts reviewer, and blogger

A little night music

The piano nocturne

The term “Nocturne” or “Notturno” (Italian) was first applied in the eighteenth century to pieces written for string ensemble to be performed at an evening party and then put aside. At this time, it was not necessarily a piece evocative of night-time but simply music to be played in the evening. In the early nineteenth century the name Nocturne became specifically associated with a single-movement work for solo piano and the Irish composer John Field is credited with “inventing” the Nocturne in the form we commonly understand it now: a cantabile (“singing”) melody over an arpeggiated or guitar-like bass, free in form and rather languid in character. Field composed his first Nocturne in 1812. Gentle and nostalgic, full of reverie and tenderness, the form enabled him to explore the piano’s myriad nuances and colours. He had created a pianistic form based on charm and delicacy, with elegant textures and rich sonorities.


It was Fryderyk Chopin who took the genre to new heights of structure, expression and beauty. He took Field’s template and embroidered his own unique musical personality upon it, creating piano miniatures in which the melodic lines are amplified with “fioriture” – ornaments and decorations draped across the melody like gossamer, fleeting and improvisatory in nature. In addition, the right hand’s mellifluous cantabile becomes almost elusive with the help of beautiful legato and the subtle use of the piano’s pedals. The Nocturnes remain amongst the most popular and well-loved of his entire oeuvre, and are prized by pianists everywhere as the apogee of writing for the piano.

“His music is some of the most beautiful ever written. The nature of his genius defies classification.”

Claude Debussy

“Their closer kinship of sorrow than those of Field renders them more strongly marked; their poetry is more sombre and fascinating; they ravish us more, but are less reposeful…”

Franz Liszt on Chopin’s Nocturnes


It is a mark of Chopin’s genius in this miniature form that composers continue to write piano nocturnes to this day. Notable successors include Schumann’s Nachtstϋcke (‘Night Pieces’), a quartet of disturbing character pieces in which “One sees more eyes and owls than stars” (Franz Liszt) and which reflect the dark passionate heart of Romanticism rather than its intimate lyricism. Liszt himself took up the form in his Liebestraum (‘dreams of love’). Based on poems by Ludwig Uhland and Ferdinand Freiligrath, each piece describes a different type of love: exalted, erotic and mature.

For the sensitive, romantically-inclined Gabriel Fauré, the nocturne was a form very close to his heart and his nocturnes portray a sublimated musical introspection, enchanted by the silence and solitude of night-time. His thirteen pieces in the genre vary in form and content but definitely take their cue from Chopin. Fauré’s compatriot Francis Poulenc also wrote a series of eight nocturnes which roughly span a decade (1929-1938), but unlike Chopin’s or Fauré’s, Poulenc’s nocturnes are not romantic tone-poems but characterful evocations of night-scenes and sound-images of public and private activities. No. 2, for example, depicts the charm and innocence of a girls’ dancing party, while in No. 4 night-time bells chime across the empty town.

This depiction of nocturnal activities was taken up by composers such as Bartok and Britten who both used the nocturne form to imitate of the twittering of birds and scurrying and croaking of other nocturnal creatures. Here the tranquillity and meditative quietude of Chopin’s nocturnal soundworld is exchanged for one which is rather more unsettling and suspenseful.

The American composer Samuel Barber wrote a Nocturne subtitled ‘Homage to John Field’, based on the old ideas of Field and Chopin, complete with fioriture, but written in an evolving lyrical style appropriate for its time.

Contemporary composers of the nocturne include Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014), whose ‘Night Pieces’ are truly “miniature miniatures”, fleeting works of beguiling yet evocative simplicity. British composer Richard Causton’s ‘Night Piece’ for solo piano is a short encore work based on the clarinet solo from the slow movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Premiered by the Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski in 2014, it harks back to Bartok and Britten in its spare scoring and thoughtful sonorities which explore the timbre and resonance of the piano rather than its melodic capabilities, and like all piano nocturnes before it, it is a brief yet expressive work.


Gabriel Faure – Nocturne in E flat, Op 36/4


Benjamin Britten – ‘Night Piece’ (Notturno)


Richard Causton – ‘Night Piece’


And more Nocturnes to enjoy here…..

Dartington International Summer School & Festival 2017

A Music School by Day, A Concert Hall by Night 29 July – 26 August 2017

After the successes of 2016, the programme for Dartington International Summer School & Festival 2017 is released.

Dartington is a place of shimmering beauty, and its world- famous Summer School is for everyone: for professional musicians and music students, for people who love to listen, and for people who want to debate ideas. The 2017 programme engages with music reflecting migration and exile, ancient and new; and complexities of identity, nation and revolution.

Play in a brass ensemble, and learn about Middle Eastern and Brazilian music. Experience everything from medieval and renaissance music to salsa and jazz. Listen to legendary pianist Alfred Brendel on Schubert; Stories in Transit hosted by Marina Warner; and folk sessions with Martin and Eliza Carthy. There are poetry and multimedia courses, yoga and dance, lectures and films.

Dartington hosts over ninety public concerts and events throughout August. Visit the beautiful gardens, relax with a drink or a meal, and be immersed in world-class performances, from afternoon to late night; some of the most celebrated musicians, writers and thinkers will be here. On 28th April we will present our second Party in the Town, happening all over the market town of Totnes, and collaborating with local artists and young people.

Dartington International Summer School has expanded into a fully-fledged, exuberant festival, and gets more action-packed every year.

Read the Dartington 2017 course brochure (PDF file)

Source: press release via Wildkat PR


Meet the Artist……Ivo Pogorelich, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

It was my parents’ choice. One day they took me to the school of music and I had no say in it. I was even made to play violin for a while. Soon, however, it was established that violin and I were not made for each other.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Rather than influence there was a fateful moment in my life when I met a musician who taught me and trained me to play the piano and by doing that determined my future life. Later on I became her husband. Her name is Aliza Kezderadze.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Art is my profession, career is my occupation. There are two types of challenges and threats. The external ones should sometimes be ignored, at other times confronted. What comes from oneself however is different. The general principle I followed was not to chew more than I can swallow. In other words “less is more”!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

These are two separate disciplines. Performance is, among other things, an act of a moment. On the recordings, all are my favourites and none is my favourite. All because of a tremendous effort that documenting music requires, none because I never listen to any of my recordings. Recently, I recorded two Beethoven Sonatas (available on IDAGIO It seems I was able to express what was not expressed in that music before.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

My loyalty goes to the composer I am occupied with. I do not have favourites.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I learn new pieces and I also play pieces I have played in the past.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are various. Some of them are also blessed with spectacular acoustics like Teatro Cólon, Buenos Aires or Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Generally I am fascinated by musicians of traditional folk music, particularly singers. My favourite pianist is Art Tatum, a taste shared by Rachmaninoff who reportedly never missed an opportunity to attend his performances. I also like Oscar Peterson.

I have never heard them in concert but people of African origin have rhythmical pulse unique to them. Music sounds so spontaneous when they play.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It actually took place after one of the very noisy successes. There was a reception and it turned out that the host, a very prominent and powerful person, had celebrated his birthday by participating in the organization of the event. The entire society of the city was in the concert hall and a good many very well known faces at the reception. There was also a piano in the room and all of a sudden someone pointed to the piano with an inviting gesture, where it became clear that I was expected to accompany the “Happy Birthday to you” tune. I was mortified as I realized that I had never played the tune. So I bravely stood up and said “I am sorry but I do not have this piece in my repertoire”. The host was elated as no one in the room could imagine that I actually did not know the music. Everyone thought that it was cute and witty and they all applauded again.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Unfortunately there are not as many oranges in the world as there are glasses of orange juice we drink. Equally no advice of general character is good unless it is tested in practice. With all the best intentions of all of us and each of us, life is a lottery; however general principles are the same as I believe are implied in any professional activity. Self respect, modesty, determination being led in life by a clear heart and mind, could advance a person anyway. One must never forget that life is a struggle and one has to be ready.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Happy to be where I am, god willing; otherwise I would love to be in Somerset on a sunny day. Although I have lived in the UK for almost 20 years, I have never been there. The name to me as a foreigner evokes fairy tales, as it is acoustically reminiscent of summer and sunset. The name sounds so musical to me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

The idea of perfect happiness is not seeking it on purpose.

What is your most treasured possession?

 I believe it is my imagination.

What is your present state of mind?

Right now I am sitting and observing half packed bags, being packed for a month long stay with concerts in China and Japan. As I can see the clothes, prepared for three distinct types of weather, very cold, moderate and hot and humid, I am trying to comprehend it.

Such is the life of an artist…..

Ivo Pogorelich’s new recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas, No. 22 in F major op. 54 and No. 24 in F sharp major op. 78 are available exclusively on IDAGIO

Ivo Pogorelich was born in Belgrade in 1958, the son of a musician. He received his first piano lessons at the age of seven and went to Moscow at the age of twelve to study at the Central Special Music School and then at the Tchaikowsky Conservatory. In 1976 he began intensive studies with the renowned pianist and teacher Aliza Kezeradze, with whom he was married from 1980 until her untimely death in 1996. Mme. Kezeradze was able to transmit the spirit and matter of the school of Beethoven and Liszt, originated in Vienna and than carried through to the Conservatory of St. Petersburg, flourishing towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th. Century. Ivo Pogorelich won the first prize at the Alessandro Casagrande Competition at Terni (Italy) in 1978 and the first price at the Montreal International Music Competition in 1980. In October of the same year he entered the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw where, when prevented from participating in the final contest as a soloist with the orchestra, a fierce controversy resulted in the renowned Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich, a member of the jury, protesting and leaving the competition, joined by other members of the jury panel, with the words “He is a genius”. This event drew the attention of the whole musical world to the young pianist.

Ever since his debut recital in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1981, Ivo Pogorelich has created a sensation with his performances in all the great concert halls throughout the world; starting in the U.S. and followed by performances on all four continents. He has received invitations to play with numerous major orchestras such as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, all the London Orchestras, the Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, New York Philharmonic Orchestras of the U.S. and major orchestras elsewhere. Wherever and whenever he plays, his stunning interpretations of the music confirm the originality of his talent and intellect. The New York Times once wrote “He played each note exactly, with such a feeling, such expression, he was an entire orchestra– it was as if he played 200 years ahead of our time”. In this spirit Ivo Pogorelich is known today as a poet of the instrument.

More about Ivo Pogorelich


Split personality 

On practising and performing

As I prepare for a rather important concert, I’m struck yet again how as performing musicians we have to develop a split personality. This somewhat schizophrenic state (or states) of being has to do with our need to understand and appreciate the difference between practising and performing.

The most visible way in which we differentiate between practiser and performer is how we dress. We wear special clothes for concerts, often quite glamorous clothes that we would never wear in our everyday lives. These clothes do several things: they identify us and singly us out for the audience; and they serve to remind us that we have a special role to fulfill. In effect, our concert clothes become our “uniform”. In previous eras of concerts, it was very easy to identify the performer: men wore the traditional concert uniform of white tie and tails while women wore evening gowns, but today the concert dress code has become far more relaxed, to the extent that some musicians prefer to wear jeans and sneakers, perhaps thinking that this makes them more accessible to their audience by dressing in similar clothes. In fact, I am not sure audiences want performers to look like them: audiences want performers to look like performers as this enhances the sense of wonder and “other-worldness” of a live performance.

The Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in the traditional male concert attire of white tie and tails

When I put on one of my concert outfits (I do not perform that frequently so I have only a couple of concert dresses, but these are worn only for concerts), I know I am stepping into a special role and with that comes a special mindset unique to the performer.

Yuja Wang (photo: The Telegraph)

The British pianist Stephen Hough in a radio broadcast about the practice of practising points out that we “can’t wear both costumes at once” and emphasises the need to clearly differentiate between the work we do in the practise room and what we do on stage. In practise, we must be perfectionist – precise, focussed, thoughtful – while on stage we become “the bohemian artist” (Hough), living in the moment and creating music with spontaneity and imagination. To get to that point we have to put in many hours, days and months of meticulous work: it is the detailed perfectionist work that enables us to perform with freedom, and knowing we are well-prepared can result in a performance that is expressive, imaginative, emotional, and passionate. But if we take too many of the neuroses of the practise room into our performance, we may end up with a performance which can feel stilted, controlled and lacking in artistry, even if technically assured.

Of course, it is also important to practise being a performer. For those musicians who perform regularly, either solo or in ensemble, the process of preparation and act of performing becomes almost second-nature, and a busy diary ensures that programmes are stress-tested in a variety of venues before the most important concert (at, say, London’s Wigmore Hall, or Carnegie Hall in New York). For students, and for those of us who perform less frequently, we can practise engaging and utilising a performer’s mindset from the comfort of our music studios and practise rooms, or by giving house concerts or recitals in places which feel “safe” or non-threatening. We learn to play  “in the moment” and to skim over errors or slips (while making a mental note to fix these things at the next practise session). Sadly, I find many of my students obsess about “getting it right”, a habit which I suspect is encouraged by their schools and/or parents, and while I encourage them to be perfectionist and careful in their practising, when preparing for performance (whether an exam, audition or concert), an overly pedantic approach, whereby the student constantly stops to correct errors, can lead to playing which lacks fluency and interrupts the flow of the music. Learning to let go is also an important aspect of the art and craft of practising and a habit which, ultimately, should make us confident, creative performers.

Further reading

Stephen Hough on the fear of performance

If you listen to one thing this week…….

Sibelius Piano Works, vol 1 – Joseph Tong

I had no idea that Jean Sibelius composed for the piano until Joseph Tong played ‘The Trees’ Op 75 at a concert for my local musical society. I was really taken with the variety and expressive and imaginative qualities of these piano miniatures and rushed home to explore some of Sibelius’ piano music myself. The next time Joseph Tong came to perform at the NPL Musical Society, he gave me a copy of his CD and I have been enjoying exploring the range and variety of Sibelius’s writing for the piano.

Although the violin was his main instrument, Sibelius was also a gifted pianist and his piano music is fresh and original, as this recording will attest. The opening ‘Kyllikki’ triptych has a broad romantic sweep, while ‘The Trees’ and ‘The Flowers’ are intimate, characteristic salon pieces, as evocative as any of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces with hints of impressionist and expressionist writing. The ‘Five Romantic Pieces’ display richer, more textural piano writing and hint at the composer’s growing penchant for orchestral melodies. The ‘Esquisses’ (1929) are the last pieces Silbelius composed for solo piano, but they were not published until 1973 and are not widely known. They represent the composer’s increasingly personal response to nature and utilise devices such as modes and a bold approach to harmony. Wistful and pensive, they hint at darker places beyond their titles.

The album closes with the composer’s own transcription of  his celebrated nationalist work ‘Finlandia’ which loses nothing and indeed gains much in its solo piano version, especially in Joseph Tong’s authoritative handling of the dramatic tremolandos and majestic sonorous chords of the opening measures and the sensitively portrayed chorale which is intimate and tender.

Joseph Tong is a champion of Sibelius’s piano music and his studies have taken him to Finland to the composer’s home in Ainola, where he played the composer’s own Steinway piano. His commitment to this music is evident in his sensitive shaping and pacing of these piano works. The piano sound on this recording is excellent, warm and clear, and there is much to enjoy on this disc. I believe a second volume is planned.



Jean Sibelius Piano Works, Volume 1

Kyllikki, Op.41
Five Pieces “The Trees”, Op. 75
Five Pieces “The Flowers”, Op. 85
Five Romantic Pieces, Op. 101
Five Esquisses, Op. 114
Two Rondinos, Op. 68
Finlandia, Op. 26

Joseph Tong, piano

Quartz Music

Meet the Artist……Shiva Fesharecki, composer


Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I’ve always been obsessed with making music. I was improvising with pots and pans when I was a toddler and a small child. I had set-up a station in the corner of the kitchen that I would use to experiment with sounds. Since then, it’s simply been the same idea but in different contexts.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My everyday surroundings, the spaces I occupy, and my friends and family are my biggest influences. My idols are Eliane Radigue and James Tenney.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

I constantly re-shape and re-think the way I compose and the contexts and people I work with. All in all it is hugely rewarding, but it also feels like I am starting from scratch all the time.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Challenges on working on commissions are making sure that the organisers and funders trust and respect your vision and don’t try to compromise it (although I do pick commissions carefully). The pleasure is having the space and time to be able to be truly creative on a daily basis and make a living out of it.

You’ve recently been announced as a London Music Masters Award Holder – tell us more about this?

It’s really amazing receiving this award, and it’s brilliant that it has been sculpted to suit each individual recipient in terms of the resources we receive from it. I have spent the last few years working in experimentation and as a collaborative composer; meeting loads of different people, experimenting in a whole host of settings, in different disciplines and different worlds, and constantly re-shaping and re-defining what I do. Thanks to London Music Masters, I now have the resources to refine my practise, and come back to my classical routes to compose a purely orchestral piece for the London Contemporary Orchestra, with a fresh new perspective due to all my explorations in other contexts.

I am also incredibly inspired by the creativity of children. Having worked in a variety of creative and educational settings with young people, and been massively influenced by the way they think, I am looking forward to applying my own ways of working with young people on the LMM Learning programme: I hope I can offer some interesting approaches.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I have this new rule now that I only work with people who are down to earth and easy to get on with, so that the creative process feels free and not rigid. I don’t really mind if they’re musicians or not, or what their background is, as long as they’re nice and we can form a bond. Only then can creativity flow and can we utilise each other’s strengths.

Of which works are you most proud?

I don’t really have a singular work that I am most proud of, but I am proud of the way I have grown immensely as a person and composer in the past year especially. I feel like I understand things more clearly and what things are truly important in life and art.

How would you characterise your compositional language?


How do you work?

I try to change-up the way I compose constantly, so that nothing is ever on autopilot. Sometimes it’s with a manuscript, or at my turntables, or maybe I’m in a club dancing and composing at the same time. But my music is experiential, so I try to really mix-up my processes.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I think my favourite artists are the people I have recently collaborated with such as Haroon Mirza. I am forever grateful for how he has transformed my attitude on art and experience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably performing my composition for turntables and orchestra at the Roundhouse in front of the LCO way back in 2010. We were all so young and relatively inexperienced then, yet so much drive, commitment and a unanimous want between us all to take risks. It was incredible. I didn’t know it was going to be such a big gig. People were queuing up literally round the roundhouse to try and get returns when I was arriving.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To stick to your ideas, have faith in them, and commit. Don’t waste your time getting frustrated. Go with the flow. Enjoy.


Shiva Feshareki (b. 1987) is a composer and turntablist working closely with the physicality of sound. With electronics, she focuses on sampling, as well as analogue and bespoke electrics that generate ‘real’ and pure sounds of electricity, over computer products. With acoustic instruments, she is concerned with the interaction of tone, orchestration, texture, movement and space. Since 2013, Shiva works mainly as a collaborative composer, and uses deep improvisation, explorations into different worlds, or chance events, to create her collaborative teams. She also works with children and young people in a variety of creative environments, and does seminars and projects at universities and music/art colleges.

A scholar and graduate of the Royal College of Music under Mark-Anthony Turnage, Shiva has awards ranging from the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, to British Composer Award shortlisted works. She has had performances at major UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbican, Roundhouse, and has had working relationships with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta and London Contemporary Orchestra. She also works in and around a variety of contexts and bespoke environments to create spatialised site-specific works. Additionally, Shiva has worked and toured with musicians ranging from cellists Natalie Clein, Oliver Coates and Colin Alexander, to video-gamer/youtuber Freddie Wong, jazz organist Kit Downes and artists Simon Fisher-Turner and Haroon Mirza. She sometimes DJs, and presents experimental classical music on NTS Radio in Dalston.

Future projects include a realisation of Daphne Oram’s groundbreaking work ‘Still Point’ for Double Orchestra, 78 rpm vinyl discs and microphones in collaboration with composer and Oram-specialist James Bulley. ‘Still Point’ predates the work of an entire generation of composers and artists in its radical use of live electronics (including turntable manipulation and sampling with live orchestra) and is one of the earliest known examples of a work for turntables and orchestra.

London Music Masters



Introducing Ensemble Nova Luce


Reger – Serenade for Flute, Violin & Viola, Op. 141a in G

Haydn – Symphony No. 101 in D, “The Clock”, arr. J P Salomon

Ensemble Nova Luce, Monday 21 November 2016

I escaped grey skies and pouring rain on Monday to slip into St Martin-in-the-Fields for a delightful lunchtime concert given by Ensemble Nova Luce.

A chamber ensemble formed in 2015 by postgraduate students and fellows of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Ensemble Nova Luce performs unusual repertoire and chamber arrangements of well-loved orchestral works which offer a fresh take on the music while also harking back to the historical convention of music being performed at home as a form of recreation. Such arrangements made large-scale suitable for small-scale and intimate gatherings of friends, to be played in the comfort of one’s living room.

Another of Ensemble Nova Luce’s projects is exploring the lost art of classical improvisation, something which during the time of Haydn and Mozart, and indeed into the 19th century with musicians such as Liszt, was an everyday part of the performers’ skill set. The practice of improvisation gives performers the freedom to diverge from the score and the idea that there is one version of the music, a concept which has gained increasing currency with the wide availability of high-quality of recordings.

The recital opened with Max Reger’s Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola, Op 141a. The distinctive instrumentation, which omits the lower registers, major key and witty musical figures combine to create a bright, joyful mood. The work was engagingly performed by Rosie Bowker (flute), Marie Schreer (violin) and Henrietta Hill (viola)._

The second work in the programme was Haydn’s Symphony no. 101 in D Major, “The Clock”, arranged for a chamber ensemble of flute, two violins, viola, cello (bass) and piano by J P Salomon who was a founding member of London’s Philharmonic Society at the same time as Haydn visited London. The ensemble of seven musicians created a full, textural sound, underpinned by the double bass part which lent a richness to the music. Meanwhile, the small scale arrangement reminded us that it is possible to enjoy this music in a more intimate setting. There was wit and humour aplenty, in particular in the second movement (from where the symphony gets its nickname) and a keen sense of the musicians thoroughly enjoying this music. A most enjoyable and vibrant concert and an excellent start to the week. I recommend seeking out Ensemble Nova Luce.

After the concert, I met up with the bass player, Gwen Reed, a postgraduate student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, following studies at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. In addition to her work with Ensemble Nova Luce, Gwen performs with several other ensembles in London, including the Silk Street Sinfonia and Ensemble X.Y., and she has performed in London’s Barbican Hall, LSO St. Luke’s, and Cadogan Hall, as well as at venues in Europe. In common with her colleagues in Ensemble Nova Luce, Gwen is clearly a very active, engaged young musician who is keen to create performance opportunities and to collaborate with a wide variety of musicians and composers.

(Look out for a Meet the Artist interview with Gwen Reed, coming soon to

(photo credit: Skins Elliott Photography)



The Writings on the Score…..

As musicians our musical scores are very personal to us, and the markings and annotations we make on our scores can be deeply associated with memories – of significant teachers, special concerts and venues, colleagues and friends, and may even correspond to certain periods in our lives. Looking at another musician’s annotated score can feel like 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. Our markings also reveal our personal working processes and practise patterns, our attempts to dig away at the surface of the music to look beyond the notes to find a deeper meaning.

Clifford Curzon’s heavily annotated score of a Schubert moment musical
On a most basic level, markings on the score relate to fingering schemes, dynamics, pedaling 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. The permanence of the graphite pencil mark is such that, until we choose to erase that mark, it remains there on the page in front of our eyes.

The marks we make in our music are our personal “hieroglyphs”, our own secret code, if you will. While working on Schubert’s Piano Sonata No 20 in A, D959, with a colleague recently, she asked me if, as my page turner, she needed to worry about the word “NO!” scrawled in thick pencil at the top of one page, or the exclamation marks above a phrase further on in the music. I assured her that these were directions purely for myself (directions to add more emphasis to a particular group of notes, in fact). I also use a pair of spectacles doodle (or what I suppose might be called an “emoji” these days!) which means “watch out” – a note to self to be wary or to take extra care in a certain passage – while a series of dots is a pre-emptive ritardando direction.

Returning to a score after a break from it and reacquainting oneself with its annotations can be an interesting experience in itself. In a way, the annotations become a snapshot of a time and place. I’ve still got my old Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music editions of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues and Two- and Three- Part Inventions and Chopin’s Nocturnes, which contain annotations from the piano teacher I studied with as a teenager. Just seeing her handwriting and her diagram of the structure of a fugue, elicits a kind of Proustian rush, which takes me back to her living room, her big black Steinway, and her spaniel who used to lie across my feet as I played.

As I’ve become more experienced and mature as a musician, I write far less on the score than I used to, and lately when I return to a score I’ve previously worked on, I find myself erasing old annotations to clean up the score and make way for new, but fewer, markings. Some people like to keep one score completely free of markings and will work from a photocopy or duplicate copy of the score, so that they have a clean score for performance. Others like to cover their scores with so much annotation that the music is almost obscured, and some of us regard our scores and their individual markings as a kind of “comfort blanket”. My Henle edition score of Schubert’s sonata D959, now missing its smart blue cover, with dog-eared corners from turning the pages and many pages secured with tape, is a prized possession and one which I would hate to lose. It was, and still is, my working score and represents 20 months of hard graft, note-learning, study and thought. I can’t bear the thought of replacing this score!

Modern technology now allows us to annotate scores directly on a tablet device, and while this offers a tidy, portable means to do so (particularly useful when one is travelling), I suspect most musicians would be reluctant to completely relinquish pencil and paper score.

Annotated score on an iPad app





Clifford Curzon’s score of Schubert’s F minor movements from the Moments Musicaux


Yehudi Menuhin’s annotated score of Bach’s solo Violin Sonata No. 2 (source The Strad magazine/website)

An Autumn Sonata – Part 3. “Heavenly Length”

It was Schumann who coined the phrase “heavenly length”, specifically in relation to Schubert’s Great C major Symphony, D944, though this tag has now become synonymous with all of Schubert’s late music.

How to approach a work of the scale of the Sonata in A, D959? In common with the other late sonatas (including the Sonata in G, D894), it is a big work, with a first movement which can last as long as an entire mid-period Beethoven Sonata, if the exposition repeat is included (and I believe it should be).

The D959 is indeed long: the entire work takes around 40 minutes to play, and for both performer and audience there is a sense of traversing an epic landscape. One’s duty as performer/interpreter is to find connections, within the individual movements, and the work as a whole, in order to lead the listener on a unique journey deep into Schubert’s musical landscape. Schubert uses motivic and structural signposts throughout the four movements to enhance this sense of a journey (for example, the opening measures of the first movement are reprised in the closing bars of the finale, and there are many other cyclic elements – of rhythm, melody, articulation, and even character/emotion – which connect the four movements ). The cyclic elements also enhance the sense of a tightly organised structure: this sonata may be long, but it is not rambling (though some performers may make it so!). The first and the final movements are almost identical in length (c.13 minutes each if one observes the exposition repeat in the first movement). These edifices bookend the middle movements which are also of an equal length – c.7 minutes each (roughly half the length of the first and final movements) if one observes all the repeats in the Scherzo. Some scholars have pointed to a “golden ratio” or “golden section” in Schubert’s structural organisation. Whether this was conscious on the part of the composer is not known, but from the performer/interpreter’s point of view an appreciation of this almost perfectly-balanced structure is important in creating the sense of a distinct structural and narrative arc that runs through the entire work.

In terms of embarking on the learning of all these notes, I decided to treat the sonata as four separate works, learning each movement as a stand-alone piece while also remaining alert to the cyclic elements within each movement and the whole work through regular study of the score away from the piano and listening to recordings of the complete sonata. From the outset, I had a clear timescale in mind: I wanted to have the entire sonata in the fingers (learnt but by no means finessed) by summer 2015, and having a clear focus enabled me to meet my target, almost to the day. What has interested me throughout the learning process is the fact that the notes themselves are not that difficult, and most of the time the writing lies comfortably under the fingers and hand. What has been far more difficult is achieving a convincing rendering of Schubert’s unique compositional voice – and maintaining this throughout c40 minutes of music. Too many interpreters treat Schubert as Beethoven’s “enfeebled twin”, but as the pianist Paul Lewis has noted “Schubert is more internally stormy than Beethoven, which perhaps make it all the more powerful…….. Schubert almost never provides the answers. There are always more questions than answers…….it’s a reflection of what we find in life“.

Schubert interpretation is riven with some doubtful traditions which developed in the nineteenth century, many of which have been subsumed into standard performance practice today. The best commentary on the music can be drawn from the autograph scores and contemporary evidence.

Schubert should never be stereotyped or over-interpreted: such treatment can straitjacket the music, reducing it to a simplistic highlighting of elements which the performer may feel are obviously “Schubertian” (beautiful melodies, nostalgia, poignancy, depression, emotional volte-faces, rage, joy etc) rather than allowing oneself the freedom to appreciate that this music is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Here is Inon Barnatan in the final movement of the D959, a reading I particularly like for his clarity and appreciation of the articulation, coupled with a real sense of the joy inherent in this music

Scottish International Piano Competition, 1-10 September 2017


The next edition of the Scottish International Piano Competition will take place 1-10 September 2017. This prestigious competition, which takes place every three years, attracts many of the world’s brilliant young pianists to Scotland.

Thirty competitors, aged 18-30, will take part in a series of recital programmes and a concerto final before an international jury of musicians and pianists chaired by Professor Aaron Shorr, Head of Keyboard and Collaborative Piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).

Ten competitors then take part in the semi-final and from these three are selected to play a concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Sondergard, in the final round. The first prize of £10,000 carries with it the Frederic Lamond Gold Medal and an invitation to perform with the RSNO in their 2018 season.

Each round of the Competition will be played on a different piano: a Bosendorfer, a Fazioli and a Steinway, each generously provided by the manufacturer, which creates a variety of experience for the competitors and the audience.

The semifinalists will also perform a newly commissioned work by Gordon McPherson, Head of Composition at RCS, which provides a particularly intriguing challenge as pianists will have to interpret the new piece through the printed music alone. Commissioning new works has been an integral part of past Scottish International Piano Competition and has involved composers including Thea Musgrave and Rory Boyle.

logoSince launching in 1986, the competition has enabled many talented young musicians to gain recognition at an early stage in their professional careers, many of whom have gone on to international acclaim including Tom Poster (2007), Katya Apekisheva (1998), Charles Owen (1995), Susan Tomes (second prize, 1986) and Graeme McNaught (first ever winner, 1986)

The closing date for applications is 31 March 2017.