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It's Fun to Play the Piano ... Please Pass It On!
Loc: San Jose, CA
Keeping with the recent trend of Beethoven pieces that the performer can't actually play.. though after hearing how this readthrough went, I think that it's within my reach and there's already a lot "there." That fugue is a real bugger though.. if you do listen all the way through, skip the fugue and go to 33:30.
Played without repeats, so it's 37 minutes, shorter than the typical reading of the "Hammerklavier."
Quite remarkable, really. For a readthrough you have the basic technique to take the Diabelli Variations to completion. I've worked on these variations for years and can just now get to the point where you are with a sight reading.
You should definitely put in the work. The reason I say that is, having read your review of Nelson Friere's recording of Liszt selections, it is obvious you have the one thing it really takes to do justice to the Diabelli Variations: musical intelligence. Most of the people who show up these days in piano competitions know very little about the composer or the composition they are performing. They cannot tell you where it fits within the composer's own development, and where the composer fits musically within his time.
You can get by with a lot of music not knowing these things, but it isn't possible with the Diabelli Variations. This music doesn't fit anywhere in the 1820s. Beethoven was so musically isolated by his deafness when he wrote these variations that this is a work entirely of his imagination, with no aural feedback whatever from the piano for which they were written. The modulations in some of these variations fit better with the 1920s rather than a century earlier. The technique required to play them has more to do with Chopin's music or that of Bach rather than the flashy and brilliant style of performers of his day (such as Hummel and the young Mendelssohn).
There isn't much very musical about these variations - not one of them stands out as a crowd pleaser, and that is one of the reasons they are rarely performed publicly. Which is also why so few artists want to put in the work to bring these to performance level. Who wants to do all that effort for something the public won't appreciate. My own teacher grew up in the Soviet Union and dreamed of studying under the great Heinrich Neuhaus at the Moscow Conservatory. He didn't stand much of a chance because he was mostly self-taught, but Neuhaus invited him to audition in Moscow when he learned the piece he was going to play was the Diabelli Variations. Neuhaus considered this the greatest music ever written for the piano (my teacher was accepted on the spot, partly it seems because it would give Neuhaus a chance to work with a student on this music).
Over many years of performing the Diabelli Variations, my teacher told me that it always gets the most tepid applause from the audience. He keeps playing them, though, because now and then a student will come forward intrigued by the music and wanting to learn it.
So why shouldn't you bring these to perfection? The more difficult ones need more panache, but you are almost there anyway. Just bear in mind that you are on a private journey with this music. You'll be joining Beethoven in his musical isolation. You will rarely if ever perform these publicly. But you'll be able to play the Diabelli Variations for yourself whenever you want, enjoying the exotic strangeness of this music, reveling in the work of a genius who through a handicap of nature was required to remove himself from time and place when composing this music. You'll be one of the lucky few pianists of any sort - professional or amateur - who will be able to have such an experience.
Loc: San Jose, CA
I used the low gain mode on my Q3, because it's the only way to record using the stupid thing without distortion. I use good headphones to listen to classical music anyway because there are too many fine details you miss with a laptop's speakers.
Some of your comment I find puzzling. I've heard it said that the Diabelli Variations rarely appear on concert programmes because they demand too much of the performer musically, but not because they aren't musical. I'm an amateur of no great talent, but from the first time I heard them as a teenager, I have loved the Diabelli Variations. Somehow they just go straight to the heart. I love their strength and their variety. Several are soft and beautiful, if that's what concert goers want. When Anton Kuerti toured Canada (and the U.S.?) only a few years ago playing the Diabelli Variations, I followed him to four of his venues to listen.
Loc: New York City
Very amazing sight reading!
I've heard two live performances if these variations and both had something distinctive to remember. The first was Leif Andsnes'(I think?) Carnegie Hall solo debut, and I distinctly remember him looking totally exhausted(I'm guessing he played the repeats?) when he walked off stage afterwards. The other was a performance at Mannes where the pedal mechanism broke near the beginning but the pianist managed to finish playing them anyway(perhaps he doesn't use much pedal anyway).