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Sara Says - Sara Davis Buechner invites you to share in her reflections on music, matters artistic and non, and the creatively fun things in life. Be a part of the conversation!

Archive for July, 2012

Rudolf Firkušný (1912 – 1994)

Posted on: July 30th, 2012 by SDB 1 Comment

(photograph of Rudolf Firkušný at Carnegie Hall by Steve Sherman, November 1987)

From time to time, I am asked what I consider to be the most significant musical experience of my life. Without hesitation, I always answer: the honor of studying piano with the great Czech pianist Rudolf Firkušný, from 1980 to 1984 at the Juilliard School in New York City.

In written and video blog postings to come, I will opine upon his authoritative pianism, importance as a champion of the great Czech composers (many of whom were his close personal friends), and extraordinary pedagogy and humanism. Here I only want to post a link, to an informative radio program recently released by Radio Prague, shortly after the wonderful Rudolf Firkušný 100th Commemoration held in Brno, Czech Republic, in April 2012.

You will hear me speaking on this program about my beloved teacher, as well as former Firkušný pupils Carlo Grante and Dora Novák-Wilmington. Enjoy.

Radio Prague: ”Rudolf Firkušný as remembered by his students”

http://www.radio.cz/en/section/special/pianist-rudolf-firkusny-as-remembered-by-his-students\”Rudolf Firkušný as remembered by his students\”

Chopin looks backwards

Posted on: July 26th, 2012 by SDB 1 Comment

Today’s little blog post comes as a result of my daily sight-reading warm-up at the piano. When the time is available I like to extend my knowledge of the keyboard repertory along with the digits of my hand and the sinew of my arm muscles — usually accompanied by lubrication of my throat with hot coffee.

A few days ago I chanced upon a rare Russian edition of Etudes by Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785 – 1849), a well-known Parisian piano pedagogue in the early 19th-century, chiefly remembered now because of Frédéric Chopin’s desire to study with him (which never came to pass). Writers have occasionally commented on the conundrum of a young genius like Chopin wishing to work with a rather well-oiled hack teacher and churner-out of workmanlike Etudes like the vain Kalkbrenner.

I was interested to see the reality of Kalkbrenner’s Etudes, and was not disappointed by what I encountered — nothing rotten at all, but not much-inspired nor stylistically beyond similar works of Czerny and Clementi. It is chiefly in his handling of harmony and counterpoint that one sees a certain novel attention to pianistic detail and physical possibility that perhaps caught the eye of the young Frédéric Chopin.

It was this passage from Kalkbrenner’s Etude in A minor op. 126 no. 7 that caught my own eye, while playing through it this morning. Because the rapid-moving chromatic chords reminded me instantly of a similar passage in Chopin’s marvelous Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 65 (in the first movement). Hardly do I suspect plagiarism on Chopin’s part, and the passages are different enough anyway to obviate that possibility. But I do think of ideas, harmonies, sounds and colors stowed away in the brain for years and years; after all, we all have the experience of remembering something long-forgotten. In that context I wonder if Chopin, at the end of his all-too-short life when essaying his Cello Sonata (one of his very greatest works, in my humble opinion), had a brief rememberance of a pianistic idol from his teenage years — an idol who had long before similarly dashed off a difficult chordal passage of digital élan and bravura in rapidly moving chromatic chords.