A quote from the liner notes of one of Gabriela Montero’s albums:
“Nothing repeats itself; I could never play back an improvisation unless I heard it and learnt it by ear.”
Observations from a Greg Sandow review of Billy Joel’s “Fantasies & Delusions” that perhaps could have been a bit more generous:
“[Billy Joel]‘s not at ease with musical notation, so he plays his pieces into a computer, then has a copyist write them down. He thinks Chopin “writes in difficult keys,” though no classical musician would find them hard.”
“Mr. Joel can’t play his music himself because his piano technique, sensational for rock ‘n’ roll, isn’t good enough for classical work.”
It’s very heartening to me to find that one can be magnificently gifted and also have limitations. And most reassuringly, can state them out loud and absolutely without apology in Montero’s case.
I’m also heartened by Joel’s apparent opinion that Chopin “writes in difficult keys.” I’m not Horowitz, and I hate B and Bb. Period. Ugly shapes on the hand, ugly shapes in the mind. I know that some beautiful music is written in those keys, but that fact isn’t going to stop me from disliking them. Knowing that cod liver oil is good for me doesn’t make it taste any better.
C#, Ab, A, E, Eb, and D. Much easier, with nice space for a sometimes inconveniently long middle finger to distinguish itself from the rest of the hand. I began studying classical piano at the age of ten and stopped when I went off to college, so this may not qualify me to speak as a “real” classical musician, but it’s pleasant to me to learn that even a pianist and composer as gifted, prolific, and culturally significant as Billy Joel may also have groaned inwardly when he saw those two flats staring back at him like beady little possum eyes from the left side of the staff. One more flat — just one more! — would have made all the difference!
Most classical musicians probably have keys that they prefer, and I can’t be the only pianist who prefers keys the 1-3-5 chord for which follows the natural shape of the human hand. I think it’s more likely that, not having come out of a conservatory, Billy Joel’s musical pedigree never taught him that one doesn’t admit to disliking certain keys out loud.
I also feel that I should apologize to any readers I have (if any). I didn’t intend for this series of articles to become personal to me in any way, but now that I’ve become more personally invested in music-making again, things seem to be heading in that direction.