Pierre Tran

What is your first memory of the piano?

My first memory of the piano is from my childhood. Twice a week, my auntie used to teach Chinese songs to small pupils. I liked to join the group after school whenever I could. I still remember when she was at the piano, I was very much impressed with her small hands caressing the keyboard without any effort and without any harshness. Unfortunately the piano was very bad, always out of tune. However these magical moments remained deeply laid in my mind and somehow they have shaped my future both as a musician and as a teacher.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

As I said, my love for teaching was subconsciously dictated by my auntie. She was an outstanding teacher, a very patient and dedicated one, as she was also to me as a child. I have never seen her scolding children. Her voice always remained calm. Her manners were soft and gentle under any circumstances. That’s simply amazing! Later, in the course of my own life, I became a very young father. This first fatherhood, not only awoke a great deal of responsibilities towards my son, but at the same time raised many questions about education at large. So, teaching became second nature for me. At the age of 23, when my strong desire to transmit any valuable knowledge was finally fulfilled with music, I knew for certain how my life would be, whatever obstacles I might find ahead.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

Thibaut Sanrame (1932 – 2001), concert pianist and one of the closest Scaramuzza’s disciples (see below), was the most remarkable piano teacher I experienced as a student. As a young adult, I spent ten years studying under his guidance (1979 -1988). Thibaut Sanrame was the leading proponent in France of a new teaching method, radically different from the mainstream curriculum. His students came from many European countries as he spoke German, Italian, French and Spanish (Germany being his third country of adoption – after France, and Argentina, his place of birth). Most of them, as young professionals, were looking to acquire a special tonal quality unseen elsewhere. My last teacher’s musical vision has changed my life from within. I became much more aware of myself in every aspect of playing piano. I discovered the unity of a human being where, for example, it is faulty to separate the so-called technical work from the musical one. From 1979 onwards, I stopped playing scales or any kind of technical exercises devoid of music. Today, I prefer to teach how to tackle any specific technical issue related to an ongoing situation which takes into account, not only the spirit of the composer or the score studied but, more importantly, the real features of the student sitting beside me.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

Your question is appealing for me because I met all of my musical requirements basically from only one teacher and one School of Piano, the Italian ‘Bel Canto’ applied to piano. So, as you can guess, I am not a mixture of different influences which sometimes garner several antagonist ways of playing piano coming, historically-speaking, from French, German or Russian Schools…, despite having scrutinised many of them. Definitely Maestro Vincenzo Scaramuzza (1885-1968) was the most significant genius teacher I came to know when, more than thirty years ago, I decided to become a teacher myself. Scaramuzza trained numerous internationally renowned pianists in Argentina, such as Martha Argerich, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Enrique Barenboïm, and Fausto Zadra (who set up a school based on Scaramuzza’s research in Lausanne, Switzerland, the ‘Fondation CIEM-Mozart’, now closed, and the ‘Vincenzo Scaramuzza International Piano Competition’ in Crotone).

Scaramuzza’s extraordinary teaching method remains the main influence in my own way of thinking and of teaching piano. I wrote a book in 2009 titled (in French): ‘le Moi intime du Piano’ (Publisher: Van de Velde) partly focused on his life and on his stunning achievements. My friend, Rossana Cosentino, who lives in Scaramazza’s hometown in Italy, also wrote a small article dedicated to her grand uncle (see http://www.art-piano.com).

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

You know, I have had so many memorable situations in my life as a piano teacher, it would be unfair to only pinpoint one! A teacher should live memorable teaching experiences at every lesson, shouldn’t he? For me, the most musical significant experience happens when both teacher and student are mentally and emotionally ONE, both feeling the joy of learning and the joy of discovering the hidden meaning of music….whenever it occurs. On the other hand, I have kept in my mind most of the students I have taught, exactly from the starting point of my career, and perhaps I am also somewhere in their memory. Recently, I received an unexpected email from a student I had not seen in a long time. We immediately started to chat again as if we had never stopped meeting each other: the friendly and musical link was not broken. A very moving situation indeed!

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

To make them relaxed and confident. Usually they arrive at their lesson full of stress and tensions. Most of the time they finish their lesson in quite a different mood. This gives me a great satisfaction! I like to teach adults because there is always a kind of freedom in the air during a lesson tailored to an amateur who is ‘just’ fond of music. There is no binding academic syllabus. Thus, we can carry on a very good research on how to be a better musician, whatever the level involved.

What do you expect from your students?

I have no other expectations from my students but to be happy when playing music. Music at its highest goal is linked to ‘self discovery’. Only ‘self discovery’ can bring true happiness to your life. Put another way, I would say the more you are on the path of being a true pianist, the more you need to know about yourself. Then, by reversing the process, the closer you are to the music. Your musical thoughts and feelings are more profound. You can understand Beethoven more accurately when he ‘speaks’ of philosophy during his last sonatas, like in the Arietta from the Opus 111.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Please, do not mix up exams or competitions with festivals. I love festivals! There are no better ways for sharing music at large scale. Hence, festivals help classical music to be widespread, not to be confined to enclosed social spaces. I can still remember stories related to the very well known ‘La Roque d’Antheron Festival’ at its debut, at that time when you could move freely from one recital to another, and when most of the artists were easy to reach, mainly because they all shared a simple life inside the same compound. Nobody can forget Maria Joao Pires, when she surprisingly showed up with all of her children and stayed in a caravan! Unfortunately things are not so entertaining nowadays!

On the other hand, I wonder whether exams and competitions are so helpful in terms of inner musical growth. I strongly believe that once playing music has become a social target, it loses its true value. Music, as a noble activity, must remain an unspoiled free educational goal for all of us, even if you are studying at a Conservatoire where examinations are simply unavoidable. Of course, I do not discourage any of my own students to take any exam, when it is needed or simply desired.  Hence, part of my work is to make several of them ready for competing at an international standard.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

I do not make much difference between beginners and advanced students. Both of them are treated absolutely equally. As I said, the motto of my school is: ‘the love of music’. I agree with Heinrich Neuhaus, the famous Russian teacher, when he stated that it is a hard job to teach beginners because you must be very clear at your first steps’ guidance. Your student’s future somehow is in your hands! Once he (or she) has been misguided, it can be difficult to correct him (or her). On the other hand, according to my daily experience as a piano teacher, I often need to remind advanced students of the basic laws applied to playing piano because it is so easy to get lost in the midst of overwhelming emotions or even worse, of meaningless virtuosity. So, can you see much difference between of the two?

What do you consider to be the best and worst aspects the job?

I have never encountered the so called ‘worst aspects of the job’.  When you are, like my auntie, fully dedicated to your job, you can spend endless time in searching and in improving yourself without any bad feelings, can’t you?

What is your favourite music to teach? To play?

I like to teach ‘singing music’ like Maestro Scaramuzza did. You know, he taught the Italian ‘Bel Canto’ to all of his students over sixty years! What I like the most is to underline the hidden singing lines in all music. We can still find so many everywhere unnoticed, especially in Mozart’s Sonatas.

I play most of the well-known composers from Couperin to Debussy, and less well-known ones like Komitas, Gurdjieff for example. I also like to discover new pieces. So I do a lot of sight reading and at the same time I am still trying to explore news ideas on music scores I have been playing for decades. It is endless and very inspiring work…

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?

One may feel uneasy with this question. However, I think that your students have the right to learn more about you and to understand where you want them to go. From my point of view, Grigory Sokolov is probably the most incredible pianist in the world. He is able to underline hidden singing lines in such a colourful way that your musical experience becomes a unique one.

Obviously, there are many great piano teachers in the world. For me, one thing matters: have you made your own path from a thorough practice which allows you to be an efficient teacher?

Personally, I have been pushed to go beyond one’s own limitations where new ideas may rise up. No question must remain unchallenged for the sake of music. For this purpose, I have introduced a new postural sitting position at the piano, using a unique ergonomic cushion, if desired, along with the ‘revolutionary’ application of ‘the indirect weight’ which completely eliminates the habit of striking the keyboard. The use of the pedals was reconsidered. All these new techniques may enlighten your musical thoughts and ultimately may lead you to the quest of how to produce ‘organic sounds’ as applied to music (see document at http://www.art-piano.com).

The Art of the Piano, directed by Pierre Tran, offers one-to-one tuition, workshops for the piano and masterclasses. Teaching beginners and training professionals. A new way of learning the piano, friendly and focused on a thorough understanding of music. Bilingual teacher (French/English).

The Art of the Piano has an expanding customer base, throughout many European countries, including the UK.

The company is run by Pierre Tran who has been involved in the piano tuition business for many years. Pierre Tran is well trained to run the school, having previously worked for L’Art du Piano.


An article about Pierre Tran in Petersfield Life magazine

Retreat from the bustle of traffic and shoppers on London’s fashionable Bond Street, and step into the world of the great Baroque composer George Frideric Handel with a visit to the delightful and evocative museum in his house in Mayfair. Handel made London his home in 1712, and was the first resident of the newly-built 25 Brook Street W1 in 1723 until his death there in 1759. It is here that he wrote some of his most famous works, including ‘Messiah’ and the coronation anthem ‘Zadok the Priest’. Read my review here

A modern copy of a harpsichord by Flemish maker Ruckers. Handel would have owned and played a very similar instrument.

Handel House Museum

I’m a big fan of the BBC Radio Three ‘Breakfast’ programme, which goes out every morning from 7am, and, except for Saturday when it ends at 9am to make way for CD Review, lasts for a full three hours. I usually manage to listen to most of the programme, in between chivvying my son off to school and organising myself for the day. Sometimes, I “do a Glenn Gould” and leave the radio playing in the kitchen while I am practising; thus, my current peregrinations of Liszt are to the accompaniment of the comforting hum of the radio from the other end of my house.

By around 7.00am, I’ve usually had enough of ‘argumental’ John Humphrys on the Today programme on Radio Four (though I do have a fondness for Evan Davis and Sarah Whatshername), and as soon as Other Half leaves for work, it is with relief that I turn over to Radio Three. The opening piece of the programme is usually something cheery, rousing and Baroque, and each day the running order of the programme is largely the same: “great pieces, great performances – and a few surprises”, as it claims on the programme’s webpage. In recent years, it appears the programme has borrowed some ideas about format from Classic FM to become more popular, and certain pieces do seem to be on a loop, recurring about once every 2-3 weeks. Having said that, there is always a very good selection of music, mostly classical, with some titbits of jazz and world music thrown in for good measure.

My favourite presenter is Sara Mohr-Pietsch, whose voice is just about perfect for radio, and who endeared herself to me not long ago when she said that Bach was the perfect way to begin the day, and that she could happily listen to three hours continuous Bach in the morning – as I could. Rob Cowan can irritate me: his strangely “smiley” voice can sound inappropriate when introducing very serious or sombre music, and he also has “favourites” which come round with alarming regularity, namely, Smetana’s Overture from ‘The Bartered Bride’ (this morning!), anything by Buxtehude (the performance of which is always preceded by an anecdote about how Bach walked from Arnstadt to Lübeck to meet him), Saint-Saens’s ‘Tarantella’, and Coupland’s ‘Rodeo’ Suite. And I’m afraid my heart sinks whenever Rob says “and now here’s something from my rucksack”. I imagine him fossicking around in the bottom of a grubby old khaki knapsack, and pulling out a CD from which he has to remove sticky old toffee wrappers, loose Polo mints, and that strange fluff-grit mix that always seems to live at the bottom of a bag….

I have discovered music through the programme, and have often gone on to look up an artist, group or album after hearing an extract over my cornflakes. I would never have found the wonderful early music group L’Arpeggiata, for example. The programme has also introduced me to new repertoire, and I regularly hear piano music and think “ooh, I’ll learn that”. Recent examples include Delius’s ‘Scherzando’ from the Three Preludes (which I abandoned because of the awkward arpeggios), Alkan’s ‘Barcarolle’, Op. 65, and a Spanish dance by Granados. A few days ago, I heard a fun, jazz take on Bach called ‘Bach Goes to Town’ by Alec Templeton, a piece I learnt in my teens and would love to revisit. Sometimes, I even “join in” with the programme, sending a text with a comment on a piece or a request to hear something. And unlike Classic FM, the flow of the programme is not interrupted with loud and febrile advertising jingles every ten minutes or so.

On Tuesdays, after the 8am news slot, the Specialist Classical Chart is broadcast. There was much wringing of hands and pulling of eyes by Radio Three purists last autumn when it was first announced. I admit I was sceptical, fearing more shades of Classic FM and its “best of” and “your favourites” lists etc, but the Specialist Classical chart is, largely, serious, and interesting. It is also available as a podcast.

In the old days, Radio Three was considered very rarefied and esoteric, the home of hushed, reverential tones, and the station for serious classical music afficionados. Today, its remit is far more popular, and while it has received criticism for this from certain quarters, the award of Station of the Year in 2009, the radio equivalent of the Oscars, is proof of Radio Three’s success. Of course, there are serious programmes, for serious music lovers, but there is a wide range of other material, from drama and literature, to world music and jazz, choral and early music. Another of my favourite programmes is Late Junction (from 11.15pm, weeknights) which offers a truly eclectic mix of music – again, a great place to make new discoveries. All in all, Radio Three is a lively mix of music and culture, and a pleasant foil for Radio Four (of which I am also an avid fan: wild horses could not keep me from my daily fix of The Archers!).

So, tune in, if you haven’t before, and give it a whirl: your eyes and mind are in for a cultural treat!

Radio Three homepage

See and hear l’Arpeggiata in performance

At lunchtime today, I eschewed Sunday lunch with the family, or shopping, which seemed to be what most people were doing, to see the new Glenn Gould biopic at Richmond Filmhouse. This delightful, small cinema, tucked down a side alley off the main drag, is part of the Curzon group, and tends to show art house, European, and less mainstream films. Which is good, because I like those types of films, and I doubt I would have had an opportunity to see the Glenn Gould film otherwise, since it is not on general release, being of somewhat ‘specialist’ interest.

Glenn Gould has always been part of my musical/pianistic landscape, along with Ashkenazy, Perahia, Barenboim and Brendel, for these were the artists my parents heard live in concert and on LP, and I remember seeing the photo of Gould on one of my father’s records, with his trademark cap and long coat. He is probably best remembered today for his extraordinary recordings of Bach, specifically the Goldberg Variations, which he recorded twice – first, when he was a young man (in 1955), and later, in 1981, a year before he died. The jury’s still out as to which version is “better”. I would argue that they are simply different: the later version is more thoughtful, and, in some places, just plain weird – that is, if you like your Bach served straight. What most people agree on, however, is that with the music of J S Bach, Gould reveals his true pianistic genius. Listen to him playing, and it is as if a whole choir is contained under his fingers as he directs all the different voices, giving just the right amount of emphasis to each one, so that we truly hear Bach’s intentions and “see”, through sound, the interior architecture of the music (something Murray Perahia also does).

Gould was also famously, or infamously eccentric, and it is probably his personal life and his eccentricities that remain perennially fascinating to fans, musicians and non-musos alike. When I was researching a novel some years ago, in which the principal character is a concert pianist, a young man just starting out on what promises to be a brilliant career, I read a number of books and biographies of Glenn Gould to try and understand what motivates someone to choose such a masochistic career, and what drives the pianist to spend hours and hours in self-imposed solitary confinement with only dead composers for companions. Gould’s obsessiveness, not just about his music, is perhaps more extreme than most, but I think all of us who are committed to the piano, whether as a professional or serious amateur, can understand, to a greater or lesser degree, what drove him to do what he did, and why.

In 2006, Bruno Monsaingeon’s film about Glenn Gould, ‘Hereafter’, came out on DVD. This was, in part, an attempt to get inside the mind of Gould, as an artist and a human being, but also focussed on people whose lives had been touched, in special ways, by Gould’s playing. Monsaingeon was a good friend of Gould’s for over 30 years – this is apparent in the film in the scenes of them working together. More a film about Gould’s relationship with the piano and his music than about his mental state, it is quirky and entertaining, constructed as it is in the manner of a documentary narrated by Gould himself.

‘Genius Within’ goes beyond Monsaingeon’s film to try and penetrate even further the mind of Gould, and so focusses more on his personal life and eccentricities: the gloves, scarf, hat and long coat, even in the height of summer; the repeated request not to have to shake hands for fear of damaging his fragile fingers; his extraordinary attention to detail when recording; his dislike of performing in public; his extreme hypochondria. Constructed from interviews with people who knew Gould, including the artist Cornelia Foss who left her husband to live with Gould for four years, taking her children with her, and interspersed with footage of him playing in the studio or the concert hall, or walking in his beloved Canadian countryside, this is a very intense, beautiful, detailed and moving portrait of a highly complex and profound musical personality. For the really serious musos and Gould fans, the film clips of him playing are fascinating: so much of what he did goes against what most of us are taught when we learn the piano, yet the sound he produced was remarkable and unique. For those who know little or nothing about Glenn Gould, this film is great introduction to his life, and will have you ordering his recordings and reading the biographies of him before you know it. It contains more unseen footage than Bruno Monsaingeon’s film, and is a true work of art in its own right.

Go and see it. And listen to Gould playing Bach….and Beethoven, and Brahms, and Hindemith……

………and if you can’t see it at the cinema, the DVD is released in the UK in March.


An article about Gould’s ‘finger tapping’ technique.

Something else that came to my attention via Facebook. Enter your birth date, and the website BibliOZ.com will flag up the New York Times bestsellers from the week of your birth.

I was amused to find the following featured in my birth date bestseller list:


Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann

The Secret of Santa Vittoria – Robert Crichton

The Birds Fall Down – Rebecca West

Giles Goat Boy – John Barth

The Adventurers – Harold Robbins


Human Sexual Response – Masters & Johnson

With Kennedy – Pierre Sallinger

The Search for Amelia Earhart – Fred Goerner

Flying Saucers: Serious Business – Frank Edwards

Get your birthday bestseller list here