Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"John Thompson" at the piano followup; "more" Chopin nocturnes

I’ve blogged about John Thompson’s piano courses before (Jan. 26, 2011). The other day, I spotted the Fourth Grade book lying around in a family bookcase, don’t know how it had escaped my notice before. The diamond on the red cover reads “something new every lesson” and has a price of $1, from the Willis Music Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1950.

The book has three of John Thompson’s own compositions: an Etude, an Impromptu, and a Nocturne (for left hand alone, a lot simpler than Chopin – a little bit “John Field-like”). He has a lot of orchestral transcriptions of themes, such as the love theme from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” and the book ends with a setting of the 5/4 second movement theme from the Pathetique Symphony.  He also has a setting for the theme from the second movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, where Thompson writes, curiously, “Not always is a ‘chills and fever’ rendition most effective.”  That phrase stuck in my mind for years. Well, doesn’t that wait for the Finale? 

Late in the book, Thompson offers the first movement of Beethoven’s first piano sonata, in F Minor, with the famous “Mannheim Rocket” theme. Thompson gives a complete discussion of “Sonata form”. It seems odd that it would take until the fourth course to get to that important topic.

I found an “online copy”  (purchase link) of a Columbia Masterworks (monaural) record that I wore out  (with heavy tracking tone arm and sapphire needles) in high school, Eugene Istomin playing ten of the Chopin Nocturnes, but only ten of them, through Op. 32.  I remember playing this “record” during amateur chess games with high school chums, in the days when I thought it was clever to “play for the fork” in the opening.  My favorite among these was the iconoclastic, binary G Minor nocturne (in the “outer grooves” of side 2.)

There’s been some attention on the web recently to the two “late” Op. 62 nocturnes of Chopin (thumbnails link for all of them).  The first of these uses the key of B Major for a third time. There’s also an Op 72 of an earlier Nocturne. 

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