Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a piece of music? Something that made you abandon what you were doing to listen, or stay in the car after you’d reached your destination in order to hear the end of something on the radio?
Schubert’s Klavierstück D.946 No 2 did that for me, heard while driving somewhere – and I subsequently just had to learn and perform it. And the same with Liszt’s Funérailles, which had lurked untouched on a shelf for years until I heard Brendel playing it on the radio; as a student , it was the exciting octave passages which prompted me to buy the copy, but it was Brendel’s playing of the lyrical passages, overheard while travelling north on the A1, which compelled me to learn it.
Again in the car, Poulenc’s Mélancolie cast its spell one Friday morning while approaching a roundabout near Croydon. It’s a beautiful piece, in memory of someone who died in a car crash – oops – full of the bittersweet flavour that characterizes Poulenc’s music.
But the one that comes to mind in spring is Rachmaninov’s Lilacs, originally a song, transcribed for solo piano. While listening to a new recording of Rachmaninov’s own performances some years ago, I climbed up a ladder to sort out the far reaches of a very high cupboard. Lilacs started – and I simply had to climb down the ladder then and there to discover the title of this lovely piece. It’s been a feature of my Russian repertoire ever since.