Look what arrived in the mail today.
Printed in 1906, it’s the Augener edition, with no markings at all on any of the pages. Only two pages in the book have been marked by turning the corner down, as I do myself to earmark the pieces I play in a volume like this. One of them is this Sonata in F, K.332, the one I am currently playing.
I am so grateful to whoever had owned it and put it up for sale in the UK. It was the only copy available in the whole world that I could find on the internet.
After playing the Adagio from this “new” edition, I got very moved, and felt strangely and wonderfully connected to the previous pianist who’d sat in front of these precious pages.
But this wasn’t the only reason I was so moved. A few weeks ago, in one of my recent lessons with Michael at Edzell House, I’d been struggling with the Brahms I was working on. Not with the piece itself, but rather with the fact that although Brahms must have had a rather large hand himself, I had rather small hands, and I kept getting sore elbows and wrists as I worked my way through some of the more physically demanding passages, such as the one below.
Michael insisted I stop playing, and asked me what else I had that we could work on that would be gentler on my hands. I reeled off a couple of names of pieces I’d played before, and then I said, “There’s always Mozart.”
Which Mozart, Michael wanted to know. I couldn’t remember the exact name, but I hummed it out. Dah da-dah, da-dah, dah da-dat-dah…
“Oh, the Sonata in F?” he said.
“Yes, that’s the one.”
He went to the cupboard, took out a book, and brought it over to the piano. It was a very, very old edition of Mozart’s sonatas, Volume 1, and as he opened it up, the pages started to slip right out of the cover!
“Poor dad!” he mused, smiling slightly as he thought about his father using this book way back when. “He travelled to perform, as you know. And there were no photocopiers back then, and with the luggage weight limits, he couldn’t just take all his music books with him, so he painstakingly cut all the pages out that he needed.” The straightness of the cut edges of music pages told of just how carefully he must have done this task.
“And….” he added, “I have a recording I’m preparing in the studio of Jascha playing this sonata for our next CD.”
“Oh my god! Then we most definitely must work on this one now”, I said.
I’d learnt, soon after I met Michael last year, that he’d been waiting almost forty years for the technology to be available to him to remaster all the recordings of his father’s playing that he’d made decades ago. Apart from being such an extraordinary labour of love, what a gift to the music world to be able to have his father’s pianistic brilliance live on. A first CD, JASCHA SPIVAKOVSKY Bach to Bloch, Volume 1 has already been released, and now, he was working on a second.
At the start of this particular lesson, Michael had invited me to sit at the other beautiful grand piano in the music room. The sun was shining too strongly through the window behind the piano stool at the piano I usually sat at for my lessons, and the blind had broken a day or so ago, so he couldn’t pull it down to shade the music stand, making it difficult to read the notes. So, beaming with excitement, I took my music over to the beautiful black grand that I remembered from my childhood as being the “special” piano, and sat myself down on the decades-old piano stool.
Jascha had won the prestigious Bluthner Prize at the age of fourteen, and was awarded this grand piano. As part of the body of work he’d had to perform, he was given a five-movement sonata only six weeks prior, with the stipulation that he was to learn it on his own, with no input whatsoever from his teacher. It wasn’t a well-known work at all, so he couldn’t even draw on any previous performances or recordings he might have heard.
So there I was, sitting at this magnificent piano that has such greatness attached to it, playing the Mozart sonata from my dear Mr. Spivakovsky’s own book with the cut pages. After a short time, with Michael stopping me every few bars with “No, er, he used to play it like this.”
“Let me put on the recording of Jascha playing, and you’ll hear how he plays it.”
As I listened to my beloved teacher playing, I followed him, reading the notes from his book, sitting at his piano. His playing was just so beautiful. It was a tape recording Michael had from the 1940s, when his father was somewhere in his late forties. There was crackling on the tape, but oh my gosh, he and his beautiful playing came through so clearly.
As I listened, I was filled with emotion. I saw that Michael was also moved to tears as we shared the experience of his father’s genius. And in that moment, it dawned on me that I was quite possibly one of the few people with whom he could still share this kind of moment. It was more special than you can imagine, and more than I can find the words to express.
What a privilege this is. How privileged I am to have this opportunity, to be able to be thus immersed in the legacy of Jascha Spivakovsky, the teacher whom I adored, and whom I still miss so much, and yet, finally, find him so near.