Pigalle. During the Roaring Twenties, this quarter of Paris was setting the heartbeat of the city. Champagne, music, go-go girls, dancing… Dada dadadadadadaah dadadadadadaah dadadadadaah – you’re certainly familiar with that tune: the French Can-Can.
Schubert. Schubert? That’s the title of a biography of the Austrian composer Franz Schubert and it highlights the fact that Schubert has been totally underrated during his lifetime – the early 19th century – and is still subject to many prejudices and misunderstandings. He has become famous for his “Lieder” (songs), as he set into music many, many poems. The best known are probably “Die Forelle” (The Trout; text by Christian Schubart), “Der Erlkönig” (The Erlking; text by Johann Wolfgang v. Goethe) and the song cycles “Die schöne Müllerin” and “Winterreise” (The Lovely Miller’s Wife, Winter Journey; poems by Wilhelm Müller). Schubert was a prolific composer (>1500 works) and is one of the top representatives of the German romantic period.
A year ago, I decided to start learning to play the piano – after mulling over this secret wish for many years. I am extremely motivated and that’s why I am sorry to realize that over the past 200 years, piano lessons have been a headache for pupils and teachers alike. At least that is the impression I get from reading biographies of composers. All complain about untalented, unmotivated and/or undisciplined pupils, while the pupils themselves lament over monotonous lessons and uninspired teachers. In the 18th and 19th century, many composers had to earn their living by giving lessons. This was not exactly the best motivation, I guess. Today however, music schools produce dedicated teachers with at least some pedagogical training, training material is abundant, and it still seems to be hard to motivate pupils to stick with their lessons.
This is where the journey starts: my old school. It is here that I first heard the name of Pyotr Tchaikovsky. I was 12, and Pjotr has become my all time favourite composer since then. Like so many other boys of that age, I was interested in bikes, girls, soccer, Formula-1 pilots etc. NOT in classical music. But our music teacher found a way to get his message through. He counted on our rising level of testosterone and our interest in all things related to war.