Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My Piano / My Self

Some readers might recall Nancy Friday's book from the 1970's titled "My Mother / My Self" . While it's still worth a perusal, I hadn't thought of it in ages. What made me think of Friday's book, and it's subject matter (the relationship between mothers and daughters), is a recent work by another Nancy, one that also explores the relationship between mothers and daughters, a play titled "Prodigy":

"Prodigy tells the story of three generations of women who are connected through music – specifically, through the piano....The play deals with the complex issues that arise in mother-daughter relationships. The granddaughter, Miya, is a piano prodigy, and her mother, a failed pianist, cannot bear the jealousy. The three women in the play all narrate as well as participate in the action onstage. This feature lends Prodigy a unique quality. Imagery and unconscious thoughts are exposed just as they would be in a novel, and the writing is virtually faultless. " More here.

All of that set me to thinking about other accounts of mothers & daughters in which the piano figures prominently.

To start, there is Ingmar Bergman's film (from the 1970's) titled "Autumn Sonata". In this movie, the great Ingrid Bergman plays "a concert pianist who meets up with her estranged daughter (Liv Ullmann) for the first time in seven years, and spends an evening confronting unresolved ill feelings from the past." Needless, to say it's not the best of relationships. You can find more info about the film here.

More recently, there is "Die Klavierspielerin (The Piano Teacher)", Elfriede Jelinek's semi-autographical novel and movie of the same name. Her vision is much more challenging and complex, oozing with the festered pathologies of failed ambitions and damaged family relationships. The centeral character, Erika Kohut, is an emotionally stunted middle-aged failed concert pianist who teaches at the Vienna Conservatory. Erika has spent her entire life suffocating beneath her mother's oppressive expectations. You can find a review and links to other reivews of "The Piano Teacher" online here.

I also wondered about actual mothers and daughters in music history. So I was delighted to stumble across an article titled "Mothers Who Were Composers And Concert Pianists . Link. Written to celebrate "Mother's Day", it appeared in the online magazine "Creative Keyboard". It briefly sketches the lives of Clara Schumann (Wieck) and Teresa Carreno. Actually, most of it's focused on Carreno. But I was disappointed by how little it actually tells us about there lives as mothers, or even of lives and influence of their own mothers. However, there's quite a bit of information in it about their fathers (who also doubled as their first piano teachers).

And recalling Clara's relationship to Brahms, I couldn't help but notice a further connection between Clara and Teresa: Brahms. There is this strangely telling exchange between Eurgene D'Albert (Carreno's husband) and Brahms: "Once when d'Albert was dining with Brahms in Vienna, he asked him why he never married, Brahms said, "That is quite simple; because I have never found a wife like yours." But I digress.

Even more strange, the lone piece of music selected to accompany the article was a boring set of finger excercises written Frederich Wieck for this daughter Clara Schumann. Nothing from the various piano works written by Clara Schumann or Teresa Carreno. Holy Nom du pere, Batman !

If you're interested, a recording of some piano rolls made by Carreno can be found here here. Some midi files of her music are here. And, you, can find mp3 clips of Clara Schumann's music here.

While you're out and about, surf over to Literary Momma for a delicious excerpt from Andrea J. Buchanan's "The Piano Tuner". Choice graf:

"Truthfully, it has been a while since I thought of myself as a pianist, although I suppose even when I did qualify as being one I always felt uncomfortable admitting it. It felt a little fraudulent: I had no CDs, no major competition titles to my name, no international concertizing. But people always took me at my word. I think they wanted to buy into the romance of it, the 19th-centuryness of it: a pianist! And the world I lived in for so long did seem romantic on the surface: telling people on airplanes or blind dates about my life at the conservatory, in the practice rooms, on the stage, always seemed to enhance our time together and give me an air of sophistication and mystery I otherwise lacked. But the reality of it was constant, lonely work, the result of which depended on the mood of whoever was listening and judging. When I first arrived at music school and saw that even the graffiti in the bathroom was music-related ("Liszt piszt here and miszt"), I vowed to never become like that, swore I'd never lose my perspective on the rest of the world."

It's a beautiful read. You find it here.

On the flip side of things (boys, pianos, and mom) there is the recent film Unleashed, James Toback's brilliant "Fingers" and the interesting "remake" of it "The Beat My Heart Skipped". But that's for another day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. Love your blog!