Thursday, 21 July 2016

#49 Daniel Grimwood: Concert Pianist

Daniel Grimwood

A lot of pianists talk about projection but there’s another way of doing it which is less about projection and more about drawing people in 

“The thought of performing my favourite composer on the modern piano that most suits him gave me the idea of playing an all Schubert concert, because he works so beautifully on Bösendorfer pianos. These pianos have a tonal aesthetic that harks back to the nineteenth century. The original Mr Bösendorfer was taught by Brodmann, one of the great builders of the Viennese hammerflugels.  Bösendorfers have been built in an unbroken line since the early 19th Century, (I believe Czerny owned one), and there’s something of the refinement of tone of the old Viennese instruments that’s being carried through.

I recently recorded on a Bösendorfer Imperial model; it’s a great big beast of a piano and you can create this huge wall of sound, but nonetheless it’s still always very transparent and very refined. Which pretty much are the same words I would use to describe Schubert’s keyboard music; transparent and refined.

But this time I was recording piano works by the German composer Adolph von Henselt; a hobbyhorse of mine. He was the teacher of Rachmaninoff’s teacher, born in Bavaria but he moved to Russia. I think you can’t overestimate the importance of the influence that his output had on Russian composers.

As long as I like the music it matters to me little who wrote it. I try to have as encyclopaedic a knowledge of repertoire as possible; I think it’s not sufficient to know that Chopin was a great composer, for example. I think I need to know everything about the world in which he was writing, and that means the music that he performed and taught, the music that was being performed at the same time. Sometimes you come across music that’s not as great as the Greats that we’ve received, and that shows us what really is great about those composers. But sometimes you come across a composer who really should be better known. And then we have composers like Schubert, who is one of the most famous, but there’s a lot of his music that is never performed. For example, I think to date, there are only two or three complete recorded cycles of his string quartets. How often do you hear the first three symphonies performed in concert? Almost never! If he’d been two composers and if one had written the early works and the other the late works, I think the early works would be heard more.

Schubert scholarship is going through a period of change at the moment. For example, Schubert’s Beethoven Project by Gingerich which talks in depth about how Schubert was trying to build on Beethoven’s achievements. After his year of crisis he starting writing fantastic masterpieces in the Beethovenian genres - the piano sonata being one of them. It’s also interesting to understand what position the piano sonata had in European society at that time; it was predominantly a domestic form. As we know, none of Beethoven’s piano sonatas were performed in public during his lifetime and likewise, Schubert sonatas wouldn’t have been considered to be public music. The sonata was a feminised and domestic art form. There were of course virtuoso male performers who were starting to emerge at that time in the wake of Beethoven, but that wasn’t what Schubert was expecting to be published for (what little of it that was published in his lifetime).

There was a tradition of keyboard sonatas being published in threes, and for some time now it’s been considered that Schubert’s three last sonatas belong together, they are cut from the same cloth. I’ve played these three before and I don’t like separating them because they work so beautifully together. Having become accustomed to that, I always feel they seem a little out of place when they’re not in the company of their brothers and sisters, so to speak. The sonatas that I’m currently preparing to perform are the three that proceed the final three.

As I’m preparing this programme I’m starting to feel quite strongly that I’m not practising three sonatas, I’m practising three gigantic movements of a huge structure. It’s definite that Schubert intended them to be published as one set and they are also cut from the same cloth. There are thematic similarities; there’s this curious knocking rhythm that begins in the first movement of the first sonata and finishes at a structural point in the final movement of the last sonata. It’s a strong rhythm, like someone knocking on the door. I’ve spent time in the south of Germany and Austria in landscapes that Schubert would have felt at home in, very similar to the landscape surrounding Vienna … and there are qualities in Schubert’s orchestral writing such as the way he treats the woodwind … the horn calls … all of the things we associate with German Romanticism that were largely inherited from Weber … all of these things that come from the land, and I picture these when I’m playing Schubert. I had a moment once when I was walking through Vienna and I was on one of the bridges over the Danube and I could just hear in my mind’s ear the trio section from the Scherzo of the Great Symphony …

My attitude to venues and audiences is quite simplistic; give me a piano that works and people who want to listen and I’ll do it anywhere. I don’t have a favourite venue because the venue gives me less than the people listening to me. I have given salon style concerts, most recently in the Gregynog Festival in Wales. I took up my 1801 Broadwood square piano, which is an elegant toned instrument and invites a more intimate form of music making. Concert giving should be intimate. A lot of pianists talk about projection but there’s another way of doing it which is less about projection and more about drawing people in. I went to hear Richard Goode perform the last three Schubert sonatas at the Royal Festival Hall. Even though I’d bought my ticket at the last minute and had to sit far back, Mr Goode’s unique skills drew in the entire audience and the room shrank. I’m lucky enough to be one of the few pianists of my generation to have heard Richter perform in concert and again, it was this sensation of the room actually shrinking to fit the performance; it was quite beautiful.” (Daniel Grimwood was speaking with Markson Pianos Composer in Residence Lola Perrin)


July 27th at 7pm
Daniel Grimwood performs at Markson Pianos Concert Series

3 Schubert Sonatas
Sonata in A minor, Op. 42
Sonata in D Major, Op. 53
Sonata in G Major, Op. 78 

St Mary Magdalene Parish Church, Munster Place, London NW1 3PL
Tickets £6/£4 on the door


Daniel Grimwood first discovered the piano at a neighbour's house aged 3 starting a musical journey that has led him to share his music with audiences across the world amassing a repertoire ranging from Elizabethan Virginal music to works of living composers.  He enjoys a solo and chamber career that has taken him across the globe, performing in many of the world’s most prestigious venues and festivals, including the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room in London, the Rachmaninoff and Gnessin Halls in Moscow, the Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall in New York, as many others throughout the world.  Winning a scholarship to the Purcell School of Music where he became head boy, and later completed his studies with Vladimir Ovchinnikov and Peter Feuchtwanger. Please visit his website for discography. 

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