Mozart: the ultimate challenge

Having just posted a video on learning and teaching the B-flat Major Sonata, K570, I found myself thinking more about Mozart’s music: its challenges, and its rewards.

It took a long time before I became ‘comfortable’ learning and performing Mozart. Even as a fairly adept young professional, I steered away from programming Mozart in recitals; I knew I wasn’t doing the music justice — especially the slow movements. I’m more confident now (after playing Mozart for half a century!) but I still feel that Mozart starts out easy, gets harder the more I work on it, and then — if I‘m lucky — starts to sound and feel gracious, graceful, and easy again.

I still find Mozart challenging to teach. There are a plethora of details to absorb (voicing, pedalling, ornamentation, phrasing, pacing, articulation…) yet playing Mozart well involves transcending those challenges, so none of them actually draws our listeners’ attention. I think that, though the details can be taught, putting them together into a convincing whole is a real test of a student’s musicality.

That sense of the ease and inevitability in Mozart’s music is eloquently discussed in a new biography I’m reading. Mozart: the reign of love, by Jan Swafford, is a thorough and entertaining look at Wolfgang’s life, loves, and music. I recommend it. And when you get to page 420, feel free to listen to this. It’s my live recording of the slow movement from the C Major Sonata, K330. Some of my favourite music.

Sonata in C Major, K330, second movement: Andante cantabile, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Jamie Syer, piano. Live performance at the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s Alix Goolden Performance Hall, Victoria, British Columbia.

welcome!

I’m glad you’re here.

This site is a place for me to share some things I know about playing and teaching classical piano. And a place for me to work through things I’m still learning, too — because this business of piano playing is never ‘finished.’

My intention is that the videos, blog posts, and whatever else shows up here is useful not only for piano students, but also for piano teachers. In fact the idea of helping teachers through the thickets of classical piano is something I’ve been involved in for quite awhile: ever since I was in charge of the “Teacher Training” program at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. That program was begun by two peerless teachers: Winifred and Robin Wood. I had the great privilege of working as a colleague with Winifred Wood during my eight years in Victoria.

I’ve been influenced by many other fine teachers, as well. And although we all pass on to our students the best of what our teachers have given us, we also pass on ourselves; each of us is unique as a teacher.

Even if we consider ourselves students, rather than teachers, the idea of being “our own best teacher” is one of the ways towards real progress as a piano player, as a musician. I think that the best is to be some mixture of “student” and “teacher” and the audience I have in mind are piano players who are interested in both — even if our primary, or only, student is ourself.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. You’ll see we’re just getting started, with lots of content still to come. I’m open to your comments and suggestions, too; after all, it’s always nice to know that someone out there is listening.