It seems like it is becoming my summer tradition to learn something fun at the piano. Last summer, I learned the Chopin Barcarolle. This summer, it was Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse. It’s another one of those pieces I’ve always thought would be a blast to play, ever since I got hooked on the recording of Vladimir Horowitz playing it on his 1966 Carnegie Hall recital. That big, juicy ending just called out to me. I played around at it many years ago, when I was in graduate school, but never did much more than fake it. This summer, it seemed like a good project to take on.
Because the ending was so enticing, I started there. I then moved through the piece backwards, page by page, learning the opening cadenza last. That’s the opposite of how I’ve always learned things, and it was an interesting experience. And, of course, I got to play that big, splashy ending that many more times!
I tried working diligently, with lots of slow practice. Playing the piano not being my profession, however, I only have so much time to practice and only so much patience with slow practice. But it is beautiful to watch the way a piece like this develops under your fingers slowly & imperceptibly. You’re struggling along to get through the notes at an adagio tempo, and the next thing you know, it’s more fluid, natural. Finally, it actually sounds like music. And you wonder: when did that happen?
The video is one of my usual low-fi renderings done using my little Canon digital camera. As you can see, I dressed the part, wearing one of my gaudy island shirts purchased while on vacation in the Cook Islands some years ago. Photos above and below are from that trip. I had that lazy island mood in my head for the opening half of the piece.