Saturday, May 13, 2006

Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin: the difference between appreciating and playing music

I got a chance to touch a piano for the first time in a long while recently, and the first thing I tried to play was the slow third movement from Ravel's Homage, the Forlane. I had been listening to Ravel and Debussy recently for some reason, and the notes came back after fiddling, and I remembered: there are interior spaces you can't hear, but only feel if you are playing. Ravel had small hands---he could span an octave only with difficulty. And so his piano music is often compressed on the staff, with the thumb often striking two notes at once, and the fingers of each hand sometime interlaced together, intimately, getting into each others way, laughingly purposeful, like lovers rolling in bed. In the Forlane, sometimes the entire octave seems almost completely filled with notes, so thickly that you can interpret a chord in many ways, moving which note is the root around in your mind and feeling the keys assume different moods and relations. These interior notes of the Forlane give the song a mystery to the ear, but love is best appreciated as a lover. Sight and sound are senses we can share with the whole community, but touch can be shared at most with one other. The effects of how much pressure one chooses to apply to all those dissonant second intervals may be audible, but the internal cause is known to no observer, but only to the lovers.

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