BY Merja Hottinen
Many envisage the core of piano music as lying some two centuries back in time, in the Classical and Romantic eras. Students of classical piano inevitably become intimate with such masters as Mozart and Chopin, and many present-day virtuosos intoxicate their listeners with repertoire of those periods.
A lifecycle spanning hundreds of years and thousands upon thousands of performances is a tremendous honour for a piece of music. What is it that thrills one generation after another? For pianists must be capable of giving the music new meaning, in a new era and a new interpretation, thus offering a novel experience.
Reworking a familiar composition does indeed demand a lot of effort and creativity; the world has changed, and it is not enough just to repeat what has gone before. As Paavali Jumppanen, who is addressing the Beethoven piano sonatas both as a performer and as a researcher, says in this issue: our understanding of Beethoven must be updated in order to revitalise our connection with his music.
But does the standard keyboard repertoire steal space from music firmly committed to the present day? Does the piano’s Classical-Romantic image correspondingly hamper the creativity of contemporary composers? “Being pianistic” is easily taken to mean a relationship with the keyboard art of former times, and hence the instrument itself has become like an institution with an in-built tradition and history.
Tradition can also be a resource, as in the case of jazz pianist Iiro Rantala. Inspired by his personal idols and the history of jazz, he has shown that these can be processed in a very original way.
And what is interesting: the piano’s position vis-à-vis tradition has been turned upside down in Finnish folk music. There the piano is a newcomer, and only recently has it begun gaining a foothold over what has traditionally been the dominant keyboard instrument, the harmonium. A “new” instrument has thus succeeded in creating a new mode of expression. One example of its allure is the awarding, just recently, of the prestigious Teosto Prize to a keyboard player, Milla Viljamaa.
Translation: Susan Sinisalo