Friday, May 14, 2010

Le Onde - Behind the Tapestry (way too long)

The old adage holds in many ways. Focus on the finished product, because you may be better off not knowing about the bits and pieces and effort that went into it. "Don't see how sausage is made" says Life's Little Instruction Book. By the same token, stay out of the kitchen of your favorite restaurant. Don't turn the tapestry over and look at the chaos on the backside. The work that goes into publishing a book, creating commercial software, a dance recital, building a house... all very messy, and all very tedious. And, when done well, all completely transparent, hidden by the excellence of the finished product.

Those of you who think my Le Onde recording is wonderful and seamless (hi family!) should probably skip the rest of this post. Fact is, I spent a cool 5 months working on this piece. Hard work. Even now, when I play it, my mind is completely atwitter with specific thoughts relevant to where I'm at. The rest of this post will attempt to capture most of those.

First, a comment on the specific recital recording itself. In the end, I had the choice of two imperfect recordings. Recording A was recorded a week or so ago, at a time I wasn't even really intending to make a recording. And it had some awful, obvious errors on both the front and back halves. I kept it, though, because when I listened to it afterward, I was very impressed with how well the subtle things were done. More on those shortly. For now, consider recording A to be the figure skater who fell on her triple axle, and two-footed a landing late in her performance, but scored well on what those judges call "artistic impression".

Recording B was flawed in less obvious, less subtle ways. There was a pause here and a flub there, but it was overall cleaner than Recording B. And it was recorded later, just after a lesson. In listening to it, it was less polished, but had nothing major going against it... nothing that I couldn't live without. This is the figure skater who landed all her jumps, but scored lower for reasons known only to the Illuminati who judge the sport.

Of course you know I went with Recording B, even if I have a slight preference for the more imperfect, but subtly superior version. Both of them are good, though, and represent quality takes of which I'm proud.

Here is what goes through my head when I play this. I hope, by capturing this stuff here and sharing it with foisting it upon y'all, it might begin to clear my mind of all this clutter, so I can just play music come Live! In Person! recital time. Let me know if this sort of thing happens to you. That might help.

  • First 12 seconds - Keep the tempo even here. Build from soft to medium loud with each measure. (This "build" command repeats itself through the music for every LH pass. It's my attempt to create the wavelike feel.)
  • "We're not at the beach yet, but we can hear it off in the distance."
  • Measure 5, Starting at 12 seconds - RH melody kicks in. It must overcome the LH, and yet, decay, medium to soft, with every measure. In addition, the melody (the higher notes) must be accented over the secondary notes. This is crucial. Finally, the last dotted half of the passage (the first of which occurs at the 18 second mark) needs to be lightly accented, and MUST occur exactly the moment the corresponding LH note hits. (This is what makes the note sing, as Denis was asking.)
  • Measure 15 (30 seconds) - Start building volume. The increase from piano to mezzoforte in 4 measures is more sudden than you think. Don't be afraid to be too loud there, you'll quiet down quickly thereafter.
  • Measure 20 (38 seconds) - And the reverse is true here. I had more trouble with the gradual diminuendo than the gradual crescendo, for some reason.
  • "We're at the beach, and the tide is coming in, albeit very gradually."
  • Measure 25 (45 seconds) - Starting a new theme here. Still piano. Resist the powerful temptation to rush this section.
  • Measure 28 (51 seconds) - Crescendo, but then immediately dip back to piano. I never quite pull this off.
  • Measure 31 (55 seconds) - Since you were back to piano, crescendo again. The music calls for a slight allargando (something of a reduction in tempo), but Einaudi himself doesn't seem to do this here in any of the recordings I have. Either way, I usually forget this, because, as you see, there is a bunch of other stuff going on in my head by this point.
  • Measure 33 (59 seconds) - Repeating the second theme. Supposedly, we're beginning mezzopiano this time (as opposed to piano the first time around), but that didn't leave me enough room to crescendo in the upcoming measures. So in practice, I typically begin this second theme softly, and build. Speaking of which...
  • Measure 35 (1:03) - Start building the volume, so that you're blasting away by the time you get to measure 39.
  • "The waves are building. The tide is reaching its peak."
  • Measure 39 (1:09) - Loud here. Accent that first note, and the first one in measure 40, then quickly soften to piano, to increase the contrast with the next section. Big slowdown, too, for exactly the same reason.
  • Measure 41 (1:12) - Play this relaxed, but as loud as you can without making errors. Save the ferocity for later. Don't rush.
  • Measure 44 (1:18) - That LH D needs to be crushed to get the proper accent. The RH D needs to be subtle, because it's contrast with everything else that is going on is enough to bring proper attention to it.
  • Measure 47 (1:22) - Quick reduction in volume and tempo, followed by an equally quick rebuild.
  • Measure 55 (1:35) - Start quieting down. In a few measures, you'll have a quick build, then back to almost nothing.
  • "The tide, having reached its max, begins to recede here."
  • Measure 59 (1:41) - It's ok to be very quiet here. We need the contrast with what's coming up. Don't crescendo, stay quiet. (Note, I usually always crescendo here anyway.)
  • Measure 63 (1:45) - Loud. Accent the LH firmly at the beginning of each measure here. The RH is a tie; as much as you want to hit that D again, DON'T!
  • "The tide has gone out. The beach is very quiet."
  • Measure 64 (1:49) - Key measure. Einaudi calls for una corda, but wait until you hit that first note, then push the pedal. Regain the tempo and don't let it drag. Be smooth. Though we're supposed to be piano here, the LH tends to drown out the RH if you let it. Don't.
  • Measure 73 (2:05) - Slow down, then pause. Create the impression that the piece might end here. That would be confusing, because we've not resolved anything.
  • Measure 74 (2:08) - Hanging just briefly on the pause, start anew. There should be a sense of relief here.
Ok, we're halfway through. And let me answer your question: "Yes, absolutely, every single one of these thoughts, and likely more, pour through my head every time I play this." It's a mess, and I'm thisclose to thinking something is wrong with me. But hey, maybe everybody goes through this? Or maybe the secret to playing this well is emptying your mind of these distractions? How do you get to that place?

At any rate, the second half of Le Onde is very similar to the first, and as such, most of the same thoughts run through my head. I'll be briefer now, detailing only the changes for the second half. There aren't many, but they are important.

  • Measure 90 (2:36) - Constantly coming back to B on the LH creates significant tension here. Don't let that affect you. The tension is for those who are hearing the music, not you.
  • "The tide is coming back in. But it's different this time. Are those storm clouds?"
  • Measure 101 (2:54) - Finally, the LH moves off that B onto a D, releasing the tension. Everything feels familiar now, with the exception of those disconcerting pauses (measure 108, 117).
  • "Yes, it is a storm."
  • Measure 126 (3:36) - Blast away. When you went through this section the first time, you were loud, but relaxed. No need for that now. The music calls for ferocity here, even if my recording doesn't sufficiently convey that. So be it. Einaudi's recordings don't, either.
  • Measures 147 - 149 (4:08) - The entire piece builds to these measures. Hammer the accents. This time, that RH is NOT a tie, so hit that D again in 148 with everything you've got. As before, hit the first note in 149 before deploying the una corda.
  • Measures 153 to the end - I had quite a bit of trouble with this page. My saving grace is that Einaudi plays these measures slowly and carefully, so I did, too.
  • "The storm is passed, the tide is going out, the beach is quiet again."
Anyway, thanks for reading this far. Live recital is in three weeks.

- Aw2pp, who feels like going out and running a 5k about now, even though he hates running.


Michelle Himes said...

Ha Ha Ha! Now I'm even more impressed, because if I had all those thoughts running through my mind, I wouldn't even be able to start.

I'm pretty sure that everyone has similar thoughts going through their mind. I'm just doing easier pieces so there aren't as many of them. LOL


Unknown said...


I doubt Einaudi himself has dissected it as much. I am very impressed, both with the recordings and the analysis. I got back to the piano at the weekend following a 6 week break. I will try to get a decent recording of The Crane Dance fairly soon. I want to do this and then I can move onto another piece, possibly not Einaudi! Well done on Le Onde. I am envious but acknowledge the hard work you put into it.