Beethoven by Bike…… Slow Movement or Threshold?
It took nearly 45 years before I at last performed the Chopin Prelude I had so loved as a 3 year old at my mother’s knee.
Over all those years, although I put it back on the shelf, stuck on the ‘difficult bit’ many many times, it never crossed my mind to give up completely…. it just came in and out of ‘pending’.
Late Schubert Sonatas, the last 3 by Beethoven…. much of the repertoire I have played as an accompanist… they all have this one thing in common. They have required hours and hours and hours of practice, sometimes taking months and months of slow absorption before I have felt ‘ready’ (I am still not sure what this is!) to share them in public.
Of course, for a deadline it is a different matter…(here, I work from the back of the music and practice at the slowest possible tempo, free from faults, then notch the speed up, or when/if desperate, work out what to omit and how to keep it tidy!)
For many summers, Dartington Music Students would ring in a ‘tiz’ having forgotten to plan for an accompanist… so preoccupied with writing their final theses, it might be only at very short notice that I would be asked to play something extremely tricky. The Dutilleux Sonatine for Flute springs to mind… 5 days and my lovely flautist was not always entirely at home with 7 in a bar!
One of the most wonderful of these heroic last minute wonders was Benjamin Britten’s ‘Phaedre’, for mezzo soprano and percussion orchestra, with Harpsichord. Sarah was at my door, nearly in tears and hoarse with a sore throat….her accompanist had said it was too difficult and shouldn’t she sing something else? Not Sarah O’Brien. I made sage tea for her poorly throat (she asked me if I was a witch) and set about transcribing this for piano AND we brought it to performance level in, was it 2 weeks Sarah? An exhilarating challenge. I had thought it looked impossible, but it was so fabulous and spooky with the harpsichord that I found myself convinced and unable to refuse! We worked all hours. I recruited my 2 most reliably rhythmic ( Charlotte and Roseanna Perry COULD count) pupils to handle borrowed chimes, gongs and so on, and set up my digital piano on it’s harpsichord stop so that I could swivel between piano and keyboards. I can clearly see our tight little band now, exchanging hilariously intense looks of whites-of-the-eyes concentration!
It’s a fantastic Greek tragedy…. how apt!
The beautiful bride falls in love, catastrophically, with the groom’s son just as she is walking up the aisle. Not good. The only heart breaking possible outcome is suicide by poison. You could feel the electrified silence in every corner of St. Mary’s church as she raised the chalice to her lips.
This completey impossible thing turned into a dramatic and musical triumph…
We did it, Sarah, didn’t we, and we had the audience in our palms from the moment you walked on in that lush red velvet…. Oh Yes!
What I’m getting at is that this long experience of slowly piecing something together, little by little has so many parallels to the sort of slow progress I have made by bike. It is a matter of repetition and patience. Endurance. A belief in the impossible with the anticipation of beauty, delight and satisfaction as the powerful motivating force.
There are times when time really does stand still and times when the fleeting thought is to wish for it never to end. When the end is approaching there is a sense of both fulfillment and of poignance. …. a profound reluctance to let it go. After a big performance is the void and this takes its own time to level out.
Um, what I am trying to say is that this ‘chapter’ of Beethoven by Bike is rounding the corner into it’s last movement. It feels a big step to share this news and I confess to feeling very emotional and sensitive about it.
Whilst my busy brain is still protesting, ‘ but what about…?’ ‘ Surely if you…’ ‘ Perhaps ….’ ‘ weren’t you going to…?’ my trusty, loyal legs and body are saying ‘time to take a longer break’…. actually, truth to tell, my whole system has been saying this for some time and it is perfect to recognise this shift, to have come this far and had so much joy. Home, family and friends beckon now.
Those of you who have been such regular readers will by now have seen that there seems to be a host of good fairies or, as I call them, angels of travel, looking after my every need in a most precise and organised way.
I have just met Dina who you will have seen on her Tower House steps in the last post.
Dina happens to be driving overland in her big jeep back to Cornwall in a few weeks. Would I like to join her? Another plot that’s spot on if you ask me! not only that, she is thinking of coming into England at Newhaven, just 8 miles down the road from my daughter, Ruth and grandson, Ollie. Need I say more?
I’ll keep you posted!
Oh yes, today my computer clocked 3000 miles. 430m up at the beautiful monastery of Sotira, where I had breakfast. I wanted to know if I could still pedal! (I wasn’t carrying much more than a paint brush)
Best in the under 55’s Nora Batties……( Told you I suffer from indescribable silliness )
And it’s the near leg that is at full stretch, incidentally……. Much more flattering for the bottom, that way 🙂
(Nora Batty is an old TV character on a popular British series who wore heavy duty stockings: the wrinkles collected solemnly around the mock sheepskin cuffs of her sloppy slippers!)