My first love.
I haven’t played her much since the kids were born. Long before I met my husband, hours and hours of Chopin’s waltzes and etudes would drift into the alley behind my mom’s house. Concertos, sonatas and impromptus would bring curious neighbours peeking through the back window. I would play 3 hours before dinner, and a couple in the middle of the night. 3am was the magic hour. Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Mozart, Debussy all kept great company back then.
She’s an oldie but a goodie..
My parents bought this small upright back in ’76 for $200. “It was a lot of money for that time you know!” They loaded it into my uncle’s pickup truck, and as he rounded the first corner, our lovely new piano fell over backwards! It stayed in the truck, but if you were to sneak a peek around back, you can still plainly see the two very distinct impressions of the truck bed’s edge.
I started lessons when I was four. Back then the Suzuki method was in, and we learned everything from memory. My brothers joined me in the weekly jaunt to Mrs. Treleven’s house. She always wore her grey hair in these dangling sausage-like rolls, and I remember how her little yappy dog would follow you up the stairs to the bathroom with the weird squishy toilet seat. I didn’t learn to read music until I was eight or nine when we switched teachers and I studied under my beloved Mrs. Montizambert. My older brother Jay then took drum lessons from her husband, and I think Mikey stopped piano altogether. Mrs Montizambert had two pianos. One full grand which occupied her entire living room. If you were lucky enough she would occasionally play a concerto or sonata for you. And then she had a lovely old upright in the back room where I had my lessons. I remember the room was piled high with stacks and stacks of music books and sheets. It was wonderfully cozy. I studied with her until my mid twenties. By then her husband had passed away and she had moved her teaching space to his garage.
I remember one particular afternoon as I walked up her incredibly steep driveway, which had a wisteria with a stalk as thick as my leg growing through the hedges, I heard the most incredible music floating in the air. I couldn’t even bring myself to interrupt and knock on the door. It started fast and haunting, and then flowed into a lovely passionate lyrical movement. And just when you though it might be over, suddenly it whips you back furiously racing through and then eases you softly to the flowing end.
It was Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu Op. 66.
Here’s the famous Mr. Horowitz and his uplifting version:
and Evgeny Kissin in concert:
It was the last piece I learned.
I remember I was once ditched by my date at a wedding. I didn’t know a single person, and as I wandered around the country club after dinner, I found a beautiful full grand piano in the lobby just outside the wedding reception hall. I sat down and began to play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu. By the second movement quite a generous crowd had gathered along with the Bride and Groom. As I carefully drifted through the ending, I looked up and realized that I did have a wedding gift to offer after all. 2 years later, I was stopped in a nightclub one night by the bride, who immediately recognized me and gave me a big belated thank-you hug for playing for her at her wedding!
Maybe I’ll get her tuned up soon. I do miss her dearly.