When I was growing up in early 80s, there was a radio show for kids in New Zealand on Sunday mornings. I remember they started around 7am and they lasted a few hours. Most of the recordings were recycled British and American radio drama from the 50s and 60s but they had great atmosphere and production values – remember that this was from a time when radio actually meant something. My very favourite story was Sparky’s Magic Piano, with Spike Milligan’s Bad Jelly the Witch coming in a close second.
Sparky was a little boy who discovered his piano was magic. It played any piece he asked it to, fooling his teacher into thinking he was the greatest pianist of all time. He toured the most famous concert halls in the world, delighting his audiences with his skill and expertise until….he woke up. The music was great; a seriously good selection including Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven and Rimsky-Korsakov…..but one piece, Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C sharp minor, Opus 3 number 2, was my favourite. Powerful and menacing, this is music that makes your spine tingle.
I remembered the piece yesterday, listened to it and decided upon a challenge for myself – the Rachmaninov challenge! I have just ordered the sheet music:
Now I should say here that I’m not a ‘Rachmaninov’ type of pianist’. I’m more of a ‘play-a-few-chords and-then-some-melodic-lines-by-ear’ type of pianist. This is basically out of my league. I do have a few things going for me though: 1. The piece starts slowly with big spacious chords 2. The piece ends slowly with big spacious chords 3. I don’t mind practicing 4. I don’t have to perform in a concert hall when I am finished.
The challenge with this piece really starts about 2:02, with the serious roadblock appearing at 2:35. Watch the performance below to see what I mean, but also just enjoy this work as a masterpiece of romantic period piano.
So there’s the Rachmaninov challenge. I’ll post updates here. Wish me luck!
Why not have a listen to Sparky’s magic piano while you’re here. It’s a treat.