A few months ago, a book review in BBC Music caught my eye. It was the story of Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian. Mr Rusbridger had, as I had, played the piano as a child. Around age sixteen, he gave up the piano entirely. Many people do regret giving up the piano. He decided not live with his regrets, but to actually take it up again.
He decided to learn one of the most fiendishly difficult works in the piano repertoire, Chopin’s Ballade No. 1, Op. 23. The famous pianist Emmanuel Ax has said that he has only heard one perfect performance of this work and that was one by the Italian Maurizio Pollini. Murray Perahia, himself a noted Chopin specialist, has remarked before about the extreme difficulties this work poses. The difficulties that this work poses are not primarily technical ones, though this piece does pose many severe technical difficulties. It also poses many difficult questions of interpretation. Chopin requires a pianist of great artistry, but also a pianist with great virtuosity. However, virtuosity in Chopin is never meant to show off technical skill. There is always a profound musical reason for the reason Chopin writes in the way he does. It is never for empty display. For a good performance of the Ballade, No.1, Op. 23 click on this link here. The link will take you to the website of the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw. In case you haven’t visited this site, it is one well worth your time. They have recorded the entire works of Chopin on authentic Pleyel and Erard pianos from the 1840s. Some of these performances have been prize winners in the world classical recording.
So, now you can appreciate the nature of the beast Alan Rusbridger was up against. Did he give a perfect performance? By his own admission, he did not, but considering the fact that it is one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire and was being played a pianist who had quit the piano at age sixteen and only resumed it after his forties, I think he did quite well.
Not everyone who studies music is going to become a professional musician, but I do believe studying music can give you joy for a lifetime.