Composer-performers and piano music

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piston
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Composer-performers and piano music

Post by piston » Tue May 06, 2008 8:09 am

Francis Poulenc once commented in an interview that Erik Satie was a mediocre pianist who was fond of the piano. I wonder how his piano works -- the bulk of his opus -- would have been different (less austere? more elaborate? less repetitive, i.e., proto-minimalist?) had he been a greater pianist. Evidently, he did not care about developping a particular theme! All his piano works are very short, astonishingly so in Sports et Divertissements, as though he merely wanted to state a musical theme and leave it that way. But this characteristic could be attributed to his lack of professional training as he came to acknowledge when he finally turned to Roussel at the Schola Cantorum.

But isn't it true that outstanding composer-performers at the piano have had a tremendous advantage over composers such as Satie? Take for instance Ravel's Jeux d'eau, a work which never ceases to amaze me. In itself, the theme is sort of banal, almost "pedestrian," depicting the gushing sound of water rushing from a fountain. But what he managed to convey musically is so imaginative and thematically creative that, in my mind, all of Satie's piano music pales by comparison.

jbuck919
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Re: Composer-performers and piano music

Post by jbuck919 » Tue May 06, 2008 8:45 am

piston wrote: But what [Ravel] managed to convey musically is so imaginative and thematically creative that, in my mind, all of Satie's piano music pales by comparison.
Now there's the understatement of the year. Satie was more of a character than a serious composer pianist or not, his own greatest creation as it were.

I'm combing my memory for a composer who wrote well for the piano but was not himself at least a good pianist, and I am coming up with a great big blank. Recently I heard Elliott Carter's piano concerto for the first time and I don't quite get people with a sweeping dislike of him because it is not at all a severe work and sounded very pianistic, but I have no idea whether Carter is himself a pianist.

Writing for instruments that are not one's own is in general an interesting question. A similar question could be put about composers of violin concertos, many of whom were not violinists. Even Brahms was famously in Angst over his concerto and relied very heavily on his friend Joachim to the point where it has sometimes (though not by me) been called a joint composition.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

greymouse
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Re: Composer-performers and piano music

Post by greymouse » Tue May 06, 2008 8:58 am

jbuck919 wrote:
piston wrote: But what [Ravel] managed to convey musically is so imaginative and thematically creative that, in my mind, all of Satie's piano music pales by comparison.
Now there's the understatement of the year. Satie was more of a character than a serious composer pianist or not, his own greatest creation as it were.
Well said. Satie was a state of mind - he saw an idea and went for it, but with almost no craftsmanship he could only take it so far. What he inspired in more competent composers such as Poulenc and Honegger is of more sustained interest. And Ravel - yes the polished sound and talent is vastly more appreciated.

BWV 1080
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Post by BWV 1080 » Tue May 06, 2008 9:54 am

Ligeti mentioned he lacked the technique to play his Etudes, arguably the greatest works for piano of the last 20 years.

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