Roger W. Smith, piano lover; Rudolf Serkin; my stereo; the Oak Crest Inn

 

 

 

On November 22, I saw a solo piano concert by Sachiko Furuhata-Kersting at Carnegie Hall. Her program consisted of:

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (“Moonlight”)

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major Op. 53 (“Waldstein”)

Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17

Chopin’s famous Scherzo No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 31

 

I have a particular fondness for the first two pieces, especially the “Moonlight” sonata (though I love the “Waldstein” sonata too, especially the third movement).

 

 

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The “Moonlight” sonata has a unique structure, as is explained in a Wikipedia entry:

Although no direct testimony exists as to the specific reasons why Beethoven decided to title both the Op. 27 works as Sonata quasi una fantasia, it may be significant that the layout of the present work does not follow the traditional movement arrangement in the Classical period of fast–slow–[fast]–fast. Instead, the sonata possesses an end-weighted trajectory, with the rapid music held off until the third movement. In his analysis, German critic Paul Bekker states: “The opening sonata-allegro movement gave the work a definite character from the beginning… which succeeding movements could supplement but not change. Beethoven rebelled against this determinative quality in the first movement. He wanted a prelude, an introduction, not a proposition.”’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_Sonata_No._14_(Beethoven)#Form

 

 

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I thought it was a splendid performance, though it seemed to me that Ms. Furuhata-Kersting could have played the second movement of the “Moonlight” sonata (marked Allegretto) a tad more softly.

I was hoping there might be a review of the performance. I was dazzled by her keyboard technique, but I am no expert when it comes to performance mechanics and performance styles. I only know, insofar as I know anything, what I experience as a listener.

Nevertheless, I was thinking about the piano as an instrument, why I love it, what seems to make it so compelling and powerful as a solo instrument. I was thinking about the following:

— it is played with TWO HANDS, which can play off against one other. This is key. It must be incredibly difficult for a pianist to develop the ability to do this;

— it’s a percussive instrument. The keys make the hammer strike with such force. You get hammering sounds, banging sounds. You also get soft, tinkling sounds. It’s hard to fall asleep!

There is such richness and variety of sound in one instrument, such emotional range. (I am speaking simply as a non-specialist listener.)

To hear such things, you almost have to hear a live performance. I was reminded of this when hearing what was Ms. Furuhata-Kersting’s debut Carnegie Hall performance.

 

 

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I couldn’t help but think — as is the case with me and everyone else when it comes to music ranging from classical to pop, it seems — of the circumstances under which I first heard the “Moonlight” sonata. I had just begun to become a full-fledged classical musical lover.

It was the summer of 1964. My parents had bought me a portable stereo as a present upon my high school graduation. It seemed like such wonderful gift. I took the stereo with me to Cape Cod, where I had gotten my first ever paid employment, a summer job as a night watchman and night clerk at the Oak Crest Inn in Falmouth Heights, Massachusetts, a ramshackle summer hotel of sorts that was beginning to show its age. Rooms, if I recall correctly, were priced at four or five dollars a night. The owner, one Paul Wassseth, was a would be Donald Trump. There were a couple of guests who took a room for the entire summer and got special treatment.

My hours were 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week, at a salary of thirty-five dollars a week, plus room and board. The food was barely edible, but who was complaining? What does a teenager know about diet or cuisine? I actually liked the job. In the morning, I would eat breakfast, cooked by the crusty old cook Leo (who used to delight in making off color remarks and dirty jokes at the waitresses’ expense), with the hotel staff (all female, other than myself and Leo, consisting of waitresses and chambermaids) just reporting for work. Then I would go upstairs to my “bedchamber,” a tiny little room of sorts in an attic that you could barely fit into to. I would crawl into bed and sleep for only a few hours, then get up and go to the beach.

I would fall asleep in the early morning (post breakfast) listening to my precious new stereo. Often, I would play an LP with a performance by Rudolf Serkin of Beethoven’s “Moonlight,” “Pathétique,” and “Appasionata” sonatas.’

I have never forgotten Serkin’s performances, and still prefer them to all others.

 

 

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A final note that may seem trivial. When Ms. Furuhata-Kersting came out to play a second encore, someone approached the stage and handed her a bouquet. She put the bouquet at her feet, sat down at the piano bench, and began to play. I would have probably have done more or less the same thing, and have done sillier things often in similar situations. People have called me inattentive, so that I will forget (or neglect) to tie my shoes or put something down in an odd place in public and forget that I put it there — as if I seem at times to be at sea. I plead guilty. To her, the important thing was the music. Who knew what to do with the bouquet?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

 

 

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
This entry was posted in music (from the point of view of a listener), personal reminiscences of Roger W. Smith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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