Beethoven, Schubert…and the tragedy of age

I’ve played the piano since I was 7 years old; I’ve kept it up, on and off, ever since. I love music, I particularly love making music on the piano. It seems like magic, to move your hands and have this great sound come out. Brilliant. Lately I’ve been going back to the piano in a big way; partly because I’m trying new pieces in an attempt to understand what it is like to learn new music, because my daughter is having to learn new pieces every week. I was being impatient with her, frustrated by hesitation and pauses in the music, but I started learning some new stuff and now I get it. I think there is a difference between Leila Fletcher and Beethoven but there is also a difference between 7 and 43, so it’s all relative. Now when she hears me pause at a difficult spot she shouts, “No holidays! TEMPO!” and thinks it’s great fun. It’s actually quite useful, though, and I’ve become more patient with her as a result.

The irony of all this (besides my 7-year old enjoying revenge) is that now that I appreciate playing (thanks Mom!) I am getting creaky and I don’t have a lot of time to practice. When I was a teenager I was supposed to be practicing two hours a day and considered it a prison sentence. The outrage! Shackled to the piano, the suffering. But now I take advantage of every lull in my day to sit down and practice a few more bars, trying to perfect this incredibly difficult music with my pre-arthritic hands, which throb after I’ve been playing for a long time, particularly the fifth fingers. It just feels so good when I get a passage right and can fit it into the song and play it through – it’s the best feeling.

What’s with Beethoven and all the octaves? I’m working on the Allegretto of Sonata 17 and I love it, but the octaves are a killer. When I’m diagnosed with arthritis I’m blaming Beethoven. I try to listen to recordings to help me along but the recording I have of this piece is by Glenn Gould who plays at breakneck speed and I think they must have transferred this at 78 rpm because there’s just no other explanation for it. If you cough, you miss it. He plays a 12-page sonata movement in about a minute and a half. It’s unreal! Yes, he was a genius and possibly autistic, but still. I’m exhausted after learning two pages at my snail’s tempo. I love Beethoven though; the inevitability of the music, the way it rolls along, pulsing, it could make your heart burst with the joy of it. Sorry, rhapsodizing.

I’m also working on Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor, D537. It’s a lovely piece and only about 5 pages which is a relief. It’s played in A Room With a View, one of my favorite movies, which is one of the reasons I decided to try it, because it’s already so familiar. The tempo of the recording I have (Seymour Lipkin) is a reasonable tempo so this sonata actually feels doable. That said, I haven’t got past the third page yet.

I’m playing a Schumann’s Kinderszenen piece (Schumann, so charming) and some music I downloaded from movie scores (The Painted Veil, River Waltz) – for dessert and to rest the fingers. Like stretching after a workout.

Unfortunately our budget only allows for one of us to have piano lessons so resources have already been allocated but – I wish I could have lessons. I also wish I could effectively convey this feeling to my daughter so she would appreciate the lessons she’s having now. Why must it always be hindsight?  Why must we learn these lessons so late in life? I wish I’d appreciated the energy and time of my youth, not to mention my fabulous teacher, when I had them. (And when someone else paid the bills! My parents never talked about how expensive the lessons were, so they’re better people than I am.) Not to sound doleful about it, as I know how lucky I am to have a piano and a bit of time to play it and fingers still relatively dextrous (for now), but regret is a tough pill to swallow. If only there was some way to impart these lessons to my children.


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One response to “Beethoven, Schubert…and the tragedy of age

  1. Helen Moore

    Lovely Lea,This is so beautifully written and so poignant. I’m very excited that you are playing again! Your “musical escapes” sound magnificent. I have a friend who (re)took up piano lessons in her 50s and LOVES it. She takes 1- 1/2 hour piano lessons and plays for 3-4 hours a day. And my mom has rediscovered art and she’s fantastic. I always knew she was artistic but she blows me away with her watercolours. So my point is that your time will come – enjoy your playing now and know that the piano will always be there for you. But yes, I totally get the “why didn’t I learn this earlier?” What did we do with all that time in our 20s? How frivolously we frittered it away! Having said that, I did adore my 20s (and childhood) but I think that women in their 40s truly kick ass. We just keep getting better and stronger and more “I don’t give a shit what you think”. I have this marvellous feeling that the next few decades are likely to be extraordinary for all of us women.