Monday, 23 April 2012

Piano Notes



Some of you may be wondering where the music comes from in The Housemaid's Daughter...

I was taught to play the piano by my grandmother when I was about 4 years old. We used a book quaintly called The Progressive Primer for the Pianoforte. I have it still, and you can see from the photo that it has been well-used over many generations in my family! There are Notes to the Teacher on the inside front cover, one of which refers to the illustration of oversized piano keys and hopes that this will "enable little players to see the music more readily".

At first I played the Classics, but then, in my teens, I wanted something more lively and so switched to syncopation and pop. This was the era of the Beatles, the Seekers (remember them?) and Simon & Garfunkel. I happily played everything from Winchester Cathedral to All my Loving, plus a sprinkling of jazz. My teacher at the time encouraged me to play by ear as well, but always said that I would return to the Classics when I had tired of pieces with a heavy beat. She was right. Mostly. Nowadays, I play Chopin and Debussy but also Hoagy Carmichael and George Gershwin, and Ennio Morricone's gorgeous movie themes. Variety, I have discovered, keeps things fresh. I think my grandmother would have approved for although she was a far more accomplished classical pianist than I am, she could never resist a little song-and-dance like "'Neath the Shanty Town Moon"...

Music is a powerful and unifying theme in The Housemaid's Daughter. It provides inspiration and comfort for Ada and Cathleen, as their country lurches towards anarchy. For Ada, it goes further: it helps her find work as a teacher, and it becomes a crucial lifeline for her wild, needy pupils. Ada's signature piece in the book is The Raindrop Prelude by Chopin. You can listen to it on my website. It's a glorious piece, with a simple, haunting melody that builds into a complex central section, before returning to the original theme. I chose it because it seemed to embody so much of Ada's life: simplicity and turmoil, beauty and cruelty. It's also a piece that I have learnt to play, although I will never play it like she does...

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