(Apologies - could you please post this one, not the previous one from a few minutes ago? Thank you.)Medtner op.20 no.1
Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951), a Russian Romantic composer, wrote “Fairy Tale, Op.20, No.1” in Moscow, at the age of 29. This short piece is filled with dramatic contrasts, constantly shifting from one opposing mood to another, often in a swift fashion. For example, diminuendo e poco ritardando (gradually softer and slower) is followed by stentato (laboured or sluggish), which becomes accrescendo (louder) to allargando (slower and louder) to maestoso (majestic) in just four bars; or an affrettanto (rushed) becomes adirato (irate), which suddenly turns into piano subito e tranquillo (suddenly soft and calm) in just two bars, only to lead into the climax fortississimo con disperazione (very, very loud with desperation).
In my search to make sense of this contradictory piece, I found it personified in the protagonist of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” (1866). Raskolnikov, an impoverished former student in St-Petersburg, suffers tremendous mental anguish, because he is conflicted between being a social justice warrior vs. a calculating killer of an old pawnbroker lady. His intellectual yet hallucinating mind justifies his crime as a necessary evil to achieve Napoleonic justice (maestoso!). He eventually finds (self-) forgiveness through Sonya, his faithful lover.
As such, rather than focus on the beautiful romantic melodies, I chose to follow Medtner’s directions rather literally and quite faithfully. My interpretation therefore emphasizes the contrasting, quasi-bipolar segments, rapidly moving from loud to soft, smooth to detached, teenage-door-slamming irritability to cold rationality, before quickly turning into uncontrollable desperation, which dies a slow death till the end.
While this performance is far from perfect, since my new year’s resolution to relearn this piece, I have experienced great joy in practicing, researching, and expressing myself through solo piano playing again. My fingers are celebrating their 20-year long convalescence back to freedom while my inner fire is delighted to have recovered its familiar outlet.
(April 16, 2017, Ottawa, Canada)