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Remembering a

Most Remarkable Woman

 Andrew Lancaster and Joanna discuss the Field “Nocturnes”  

31st December 2010

Joanna: But because the music is so special and because the pianos were so suitable for the music it was so easy to play them in the style that obviously Field intended.

Andrew: So much music that had been written for the early pianos didn't really translate to the modern piano as well. You know you get a Queen Anne redbrick house, a little cottage and it suits it; and a huge space like Park House, Sussex and it suits it. But some of the music is designed to be a miniature and will only work on an early piano. I'm sure that’s why Mozart, Schubert and various composers translate to a modern piano quite well; they can be played on a big Steinway or a little piano.

Joanna: Although, I was talking to Andreas and he was saying how his whole idea of Mozart had been influenced by him playing - which he took to like a duck to water actually - on the Longman . . . [Peter Katin said very much the same thing].

Andrew: Really

Joanna: . . .and the touch and the kind of delicacy and the kind of sound, influences interpretation.

Andrew: So the limitations of the piano itself . . .

Joanna: Well it wasn't a [limitation]; it was actually an added character.

Andrew: It makes you realise what they had to do; how they were constrained.

Joanna: . . . how you should not bash through things, and this always hurts me very much, when I see people playing earlier composers and even Chopin - which can be played on a bigger piano with success - but, you know, bashing in such a way that would have been completely uncharacteristic of the way people approached the piano in the past.

Andrew: Well. if you bash an early one it just makes it sound coarse, doesn't it. It doesn't improve it; it just makes it coarser.

Joanna: We did lots of other recordings including the Dussek with Derek Bell, dear Derek, who is now dead and was very famous with The Chieftains. He played the [Erard] harp [of the same period as the piano]; but the way the Stodart mingled with the harp in a way that Dussek must have auralised it like that. It wouldn't have sounded at all like that with a modern piano.

Andrew: Well no, I don't think you could get the balance the same; the pianist is automatically going to win.

Joanna: Also the timbre would not have melded in.

Andrew: No, at times it can be quite difficult to tell which is which in places.

Andrew: So how do you think the early pianos . . . did they change your perception of music; you said it changed Andreas'.

Joanna: Oh yes, the early pianos - not only just the pianos that I have; I have three in this room. I have played yours and had others that have come and gone. I have played a lot of them and they are all different.

Andrew: But has it changed the way, for example, that you play the Steinway?

Joanna: Yes

Andrew: Even later pieces of music - Liszt or Chopin . . .

Joanna: Maybe not so much Liszt, because I haven't played any big Liszt for some time. Its a completely different thing. I can change from one to the other fairly easily, but it has changed my conception of things like Haydn and Mozart - the character that is brought out on the early pianos with the different parts of the piano speaking in different ways, like characters [in an opera].

Andrew: Yes, you can get very different voices.

Joanna: And you soon realise that its rather boring to sit down at a Steinway and just play the tune and keep the left hand rather quiet, so it doesn't sort of interfere. On the square pianos you can actually have the different colours going more or less at the same dynamic if you want to, without interfering with each other.

Andrew: So you get a conversation.

Joanna: You get a conversation. There is so much more and if you do what the composer actually says, even the phrasing and little slurs and things; square pianos - your square pianos that you have done - are extremely sensitive to nuances of that sort.

Andrew: When you have learnt these little nuances, do they translate to what you play on the Steinway?

Joanna: Yes, but sometimes you really have to do it a little more self-consciously on the Steinway, because you actually have to do it, whereas the piano almost does it for you on the squares. I have found that I don't really like certain pieces played any more on the Steinway. I use the Steinway - I love it - for quite a number of pieces, but when I get onto the squares, suddenly the whole thing comes to life again.

Andrew: Well, when you're recording, certainly, for example that Schubert - the Hungarian melody - that completely comes to life.

Joanna: Well of course that, on a modern piano, is quite an exciting piece, but its not got that sort of twang to it that gives it that slightly oriental . . . its so easy. And when I did the Schöne Müllerin [with Richard Edgar-Wilson], which I'm very pleased to say some very good people, like Alexander Schmaltz - who is the pianist for Stephan Loges and a lot of other very famous singers - admired it and the sound I got from the Clementi. What happens there is, that it’s so much easier on that piano to make the hunting horn calls, the brook, the mill wheel and things. All have a completely different character of their own and you can play out quite loudly and passionately in the passionate bits, without drowning the singer. So you can actually put more into it; whereas you have to hold back on a big piano, otherwise the poor old singer . . .

Andrew: . . . otherwise you would be drowning the soloist. But what I particularly like is in the accompaniment, it starts off as sort of innocent, inexperienced and by the end of it . . . the anguish, it’s so sad . . .

Joanna: devastated - and in fact he kills himself in the river.

Andrew: I don't think he meant to do that; probably just slipped!

Joanna: I loved doing that [production] and we went to my dear friend Tessa's fairly big country house to do the recording.

I must say that I have never ever played a piano that has been restored by anybody else with anything like the pleasure that I get when playing your pianos. I don't think I could have recorded a lot of the music that I have done quite successfully - fairly subtle nuances and things, just would not have been possible on some of the other pianos.

Andrew: Which of the things you have recorded on the early pianos has been your favourite?

Joanna: Its very difficult. I love some of the Field - Mike's very fond of the Field, he actually goes to sleep with it on, so he hardly ever hears the end ones . . .

Andrew: Hardly a recommendation . . .

Joanna: . . . very soothing you see. I loved the Field, but I loved doing the Haydn Variations and a lot of the other Haydn . . .

Andrew: Yes, that’s lovely.

Joanna: . . . because I think Haydn is becoming better known and much more appreciated. For a long time he was underrated. I think he is the most wonderful composer and when you play his music on the early piano you certainly hear a lot of things that you don't usually hear on a modern piano. I find when I hear people crashing through Haydn sonatas at double break-neck speed, it is extremely disturbing to me.

Andrew: My favourite is the Scarlatti. I think you get the Spanish sound from the Stodart so beautifully.

Joanna: Well I'm glad you like that because I think that is one of the most successful recordings.

Andrew: When I was talking to Artur Pizzaro, he said he loved that recording; absolutely loved it! Which I think is a huge compliment.

Joanna: It is; I feel very honoured. I think, talking to Andreas, it is this question of dance. Dance has always been very important to me. I used to dance as a child as a child all the time and I used to love dancing as a young adult, but I couldn't do it for many years because I didn't get the opportunity. But I have always felt in the music, the dance.

Andrew: Don't forget this morning, I saw this photo of you at school doing ballet. I think song comes into it a lot - you know some of those slow movements in Mozart; the arias.

Joanna: Definitely, I think it is important with Mozart and Schubert, to know their vocal works. And sometimes you can almost tell in a Haydn or Mozart sonata - you can almost feel the characters in an opera - the sort of jolly character, the flirty little maid, the sinister one and the pompous old men and heroines. They are all in the music [and the early pianos bring out these individual voices].

Andrew: Did you enjoy playing the spinet, or is really the piano your instrument?

Joanna: Well, I was very pleased when I had finished with the spinet and got back to the square pianos with dynamics. I wouldn't say I enjoyed playing it, but I enjoyed the pieces I was playing. I find it difficult because there were no dynamic possibilities.

Andrew: Well, imagine people of that period who had been used to harpsichords and spinets and this new thing came along and they could do dynamics; so exciting for them. I'm sure it must have been frustrating for some of the older people who could not adapt.

Joanna: But Mozart went onto them . . .

Andrew: . . . and Clementi

Joanna: . . . and Haydn. I think its come out quite well considering I'm not a spinet player because it was well restored by Andy, though he had to be there all the time to [make final adjustments to sticking keys] keep on unsticking keys. I could not have done it without editing, because a lot of the trills and things just didn't work [at that stage] all the time so you had to make sure that you did do them and they could be popped in when the spinet didn't do it [during a play through].

Andrew: But you don't have these problems at all with the squares.

Joanna: No, we don't have the same problems with the squares.

Andrew: What about that piece you did - the Mendelssohn . . . When Time Flies. Was that exciting?

Joanna: Yes, it was very difficult; I find it nowadays very difficult to learn a completely new slightly difficult piece. It was quite a hard piece - Mendelssohn is hard, but I was determined to do it. Yes, when I'm actually recording; it isn't that I am enjoying it very much. Its almost like going on a hefty trip . . .

Andrew: Yomping!

Joanna: . . . actually sort of concentrating on . . . and feeling very much that it’s very hard to get just what you want, because in my head, the music is sounding in my head exactly as it comes to me. It’s not that I decide that’s the best way to do it; the music is just there and I feel sometimes [that I'm] not really strong enough to be able to do what I need to get [express] that. So I'm inclined to go on and on until I can get near it. I don't enjoy hearing it usually when I have just done it. After a few months when I have distanced myself from the recording session and everything, and then hear it; I think, actually that worked out quite well. Better than I thought at the time. I had awful problems with that bit, but it does sound as though it was quite easy. It’s been put together nicely and it’s fine; it’s what I wanted, what I was striving for.

Andrew: I think it is so lovely that they [the pianos] have ended up in a room of the period. What date is this house?

Joanna: [the House dated is 1790s] Well, I think this room was done in about 1830 - very early Victorian - 1837 possible. [this room in the West Wing was converted to a ballroom] It was actually done before the Theatre conversion across the way.

Andrew: But very much the period of the pianos.

Joanna: Before that it was just a barn here, but the actual main house is 1790.

Andrew: Very glamorous barn. They would have had one of these pianos in the house absolutely surely.

Joanna: Oh yes, and this room here was the ballroom. They would have had a little band of musicians; they would have had a piano on the upper end, probably where our bedroom is. That end didn't have any windows in it.

Andrew: Do you remember in Emma, when they wanted to have a ball and they can't decide how many 'couple' can stand up. There would be room for plenty of 'couple' in this room.

Joanna: Its so nice because it is a long room - of course with the bedroom added as well even longer - so they would have been able to do those dances where they are all paired up in the middle.

Originally they had little shelves for you to put your wine glass down and your fan.

But what is also lovely about the squares is their domestic size and loudness means that in a [large] room where people were holding a conversation at one end, or playing cards or something; they could be played without disturbing the whole atmosphere; they could be played very intimately with the young lady playing would have her best young man turning pages for her, very close and she would be playing very intimately to him. There would be a few people gathered round who wanted to hear.

Andrew: Or playing quite loudly and whispering under the music so others couldn't hear.

Joanna: Whereas if you are playing a rather large Steinway grand - even if you are playing something soft, it’s very difficult for people to chat - not that I like people chatting all the time . . .

Andrew: Do you find it puts you off?

Joanna: It does if I have been asked to play. But if I'm just trying out something, or play something to one person and talking about it . . . .

Andrew Lancaster & Joanna