Give us a Hand

It has been a pleasure this year to perform in concerts which have included not only solo works for two hands, but works for one hand – and to be joined by pianist friends in works for four hands, five, six and eight hands. Piano can be a lonely instrument; chamber music is a joy, and piano ensemble pieces bring their own pleasures and challenges.

Continuing the Russian theme, let’s look first at pieces for left hand alone, by Scriabin. His Op 9 consists of a Prelude and Nocturne. Damaging his right hand while at the Moscow Conservatory when practising one of  Liszt’s transcriptions and Balakirev’s Islamey, he turned to composition and to developing his left hand; although he regained the use of his right hand, his subsequent compositions do make full use of both, with florid LH passages.

The Prelude, in C sharp minor, is an introspective gem. Sad and melancholy, the thumb is used to good effect in projecting the melody. Other fingers need to play accompanying chords discreetly. It ends sweetly on an unexpected major triad; the Nocturne continues this major tonality, flowering into arabesques, fiorature and passion reminiscent of Chopin’s nocturnes.

Some interesting recordings here by two Russian-born pianists –  Cherkassky above, and Neuhaus, below.

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2 Responses to Give us a Hand

  1. john says:

    I’m thrilled to have recently learned this and played it from memory. As a teenager I gave up at the cadenza in the Nocturne as I didn’t know how to tackle it. My teacher and friend BT starts her programme ‘Piano Music from 1 to 8 hands’ with it. It is a lovely piece and fascinating to ‘lay’ listeners.

  2. Agreed! It’s a winner, lovely both to play and to hear!

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