Bai Hao and Prokofiev

Taking a break from piano practice to drink some always delicious Bai Hao tea from Stone Leaf in Middlebury. With the change in season I find myself drinking less green tea (Bi Luo Chun being a great discovery this past year) and old standby Bao Chung (a green-tea-like oolong), and moving to darker oolongs and black teas like the Yunnan Golden Strand. John’s Bai Hao comes from near the northern tip of Taiwan and is a tea famous for its intriguing honey tones. It hits the spot on this early autumn day. (However, I have just run out and must replenish…)

Have been learning the Prokofiev 9th Sonata, his last. Often overlooked in favor of the previous group of “War Sonatas,” it lacks their density and firepower. The 1st movement, which is the one I’m currently working on, is mostly quite serene, with airy textures and a child-like simplicity in places. The sweet opening theme even makes me think of a music box tune (but not in a bad sense at all).

When I first started playing it I couldn’t quite see it as a whole. It’s unhurried and a little rhapsodic (also oddly spare in dynamic markings). Takes a bit of digging beneath the surface to discover some of the more interesting features. For example, the phrasing is worth a closer look: as my teacher pointed out, it’s quite delicate and precise and a clue to making larger decisions about the piece. And then the other day I noticed just how extended the left-hand chromatic counterpoint in the opening theme is. He really stretches that phrase as far as it will go, and it contrasts nicely with the pure diatonicism of the melody above.

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