Hm. That title can be taken two ways: either I gambled with the devil, or I had a very soulful practice tonight. You can guess which one it is.
Can't figure it out? Read on.
Scales, Arps, Inversions, Suzuki, blah, blah, blah: Good, good, good. Everything's good.
Liszt: Ahhhh. I normally save Franzi for last (read: the last 10 minutes of a 60+ minute practice session), so I worked on "Standchen" first tonight. Went back to the quasi Violoncello and focused (again) on the dynamics and articulation. Actually I played through it, s-l-o-w-l-y, a couple of times to make sure I wasn't missing any notes (in this section, I think because there is so much hand-crossing, I sometimes fail to strike the LH notes hard enough). Then I played isolated sections of the quasi Violoncello, again very s-l-o-w-l-y, really, really concentrating on the dynamics and articulation.
Then I listened to the Horowitz version from the Horowitz at Home CD and followed along with the music, taking close note of what the master did with the dynamics and articulation. This CD is one of my favorites, and I know I've listened to it at least a couple hundred times, but I listened to "Standchen" tonight like never before. Serious con-cen-tra-tion. Throughout the piece, I could feel my heartbeat/pulse and breathing change as they ebbed and flowed with the music.
Then I played. At first, just the quasi Violoncello sections. Several times. Focusing very intently on getting the articulation right. (Funny, if I pay attention--duh!--to the markings, my pedaling problem virtually disappears. This lack of paying attention to what's written ... I think it's particularly a problem for folks like me who tend to want to play everything by ear, and our way.)
Then I played the whole piece through, at a glacial tempo, really focusing, focusing, focusing on the dynamics and articulation, exaggerating the pianissimo and fortissimo sections, and also the crescendi and dicrescendi and everything else, stopping whenever I got anything the slightest bit wrong, and correcting it.
Wow. Time ceased. I felt like I was in the music, picking my way through the staff lines the way I'd hike a forest trail, looking, listening, breathing it all in, letting it become a part of me. Letting myself become a part of the music.
After that intense play-through, I drilled a few more sections briefly, then played the piece through at tempo.
Something magical happened: something that has happened before, but not often. I played Standchen with more feeling--yet more control--than I've ever played it. I felt so in control. I felt strong. Powerful. High. Joyful. Peaceful. And my hands got all warm and tingly and felt like they could play anything.
In order to keep my hands from the pitfalls of disillusionment, I soon moved on to Bach. :)
I did the same dynamics/articulation thing with the Prelude. Of course, any dynamic markings in the Bach are those of an editor, but this is the Alfred edition, which I mostly like. The louds and softs are constantly changing in this piece, and from the RH to the LH and back. It kind of reminds me of rolling hills.
Again, I was focused. Again, I felt like I was crawling inside the music.
I didn't try to play it fast. The recommended tempo is something like 84-92, and I can play it at about 52 right now, if I don't want to make (hardly) any mistakes. Tonight I didn't play it any faster than 40. I wasn't concerned with the natural fluidity that comes with speed tonight; I was concerned with the fluidity that comes from smooth transitions from loud to soft, from RH melody to LH melody.
It was 10:00 p.m. before I got to the Fugue. No time to practice it. So I played through it at a snail's pace, so slowly that it's almost a challenge to actually miss a note. I call this "laying down tracks." If I do a slow, (almost) note-perfect play-through at the end of my practice, my fingers somehow remember it the next day. And I plan to spend a good bit of time on the fugue tomorrow before my lesson.
All in all a wonderful, transforming practice of about two hours. I really, really hope my lesson doesn't get cancelled tomorrow! And I hope I'm able to play half as soulfully tomorrow as I did tonight!