Tonight I went to the Symphony to hear a few pieces by Debussy and Ravel. The ‘denouement’ of the program was Ravel’s Bolero. It is a fantastic spectacle to watch. First you see each individual musician as his or her instrument enters the composition then you see the increasing intensity of their playing. The cymbals at the end are my favorite. It is all about endurance and timing. According to the program notes, Bolero premiered with a dance that took place in a bar scene, but Ravel thought it should take place in a factory since the music seemed mechanical and repetitive. There is something interesting here to meditate on but I want to move on to the true peak of the evening. Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.
I was not familiar with this piece. I only heard about it by reading a biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. To recap, Wittgenstein came from a very wealthy and accomplished family. His brother Paul was an accomplished Pianist, who lost his right arm during WWI. Later Ravel was commissioned to write a piece for him – the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.
I sat watching this performance. Why is the pianist only playing with his left hand, I thought? Is he missing a hand? Then I thought! Ahh that piece for Wittgenstein. I was delighted after reading the program notes. My hunch was correct, my theory and accurately matched reality. What a terrifically virtuosic piece! What a performance by the Pianist, to appear to only have one had! I loved it, for its musicality, its performance, and its cultural history.