The Ark split up in September 2011, after twenty years in business. That was all right with me. I met them and gave a little speech of gratitude some months earlier on their last club tour and then I let other fans manage the crying and grieving. Still, it was a speech of gratitude, because without The Ark, I would never have found my way back to … my love of the piano.
So there was a music video, then a rock band, then a rock star interview with lots of research, then a symphony, then a pianist … and then:
Beethoven. Ludwig van Beethoven.
When I, as a young piano student, was assigned to play some Beethoven, I was not happy with it at all. OK, there was Für Elise of course. Then the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata … one of my “aces” for a long time, but I fell and failed miserably already at the second movement. Further, there were some less inspiring pieces, like the 49:2 sonata in G Major, and that awful Rondo in C Major. I used to describe Beethoven as a grumpy old man. After all, he looked very grim in most portraits, and his music was angry too. Cumbersome. Old-fashioned. I associated it with stiff old men in tailcoats, von Karajan, violin bows going up-down-up-down like military gymnasts moves. So my associations to the name of Beethoven were words like “bitter” and “heavy”, which is not very inspiring, right? By the way, in reality he did not even look as good as he does in this famous portrait, where he isn’t too pretty and cheerful either.
Per had started to record the whole Beethoven Sonata cycle, and he is still ongoing, and I had got slightly involved in the CD production. As I had endless remarks about layout and proofreading – after all, my present profession is much about that – I was “punished” by getting some proofreading of the CD booklets. Not that it was a punishment for real, of course, rather a tempting offer. I don’t like just sitting in the audience; when I get enthusiastic about something I love to participate in some way, so I jumped down from the stand and, blushing with pride, made my little active contribution by checking that the commas were in the right places …
But as Per not just recorded the sonatas but also wrote interesting blog posts about it, demonstrating a lot of aspects with the music that I had never thought of before, I slowly became more intrigued by Mr. Beethoven and finally I was totally hooked. Today, I have no idea how I could find his music dull, and why I did not like that Rondo. Not that he, as a person, stands there as the Mighty God Above All Gods to me. Not even as a composer, as there indeed are many, many others. But he is definitely my favourite by now, and it is something very fascinating in listening to music, written by someone who died almost two centuries ago, and suddenly think “I understand. I know what he meant by this”. Like extending your mind and read another person’s inner thoughts over time and space, way beyond any words – that it is magical.
I will write more about Beethoven later. Don’t worry! Anyway, once my mind opened up to the miracle, it was impossible to abandon it again. And among all terrific Beethoven pianists I have listened to ever since (about all there are, it seems), Per is the terrificest I have ever found. But this ranking of best-second best-third best is silly, though. (Like, who would you put on place 72 and 159, then?) After all, when you come to the world top division of pianists, it is just a matter of personal taste and preferences … but I write this from my own point of view, soooo. Therefore, getting the chance to read the booklets and give my opinions before their release, was a big pleasure.
And of course I had started to play a little by myself too, back home, on my dusty old Clavinova. It did not work out very well, unfortunately. My hands were stiff and cramped. I tried to shape my Für Elise up but it was very difficult, it sounded like a limping walz or something. Before the Tengstrand festival in Växjö 2010 I bravely asked Per over e-mail how he thought it should be played. No, I did not have to make a request through a publicist this time, nor sneak behind the backs of other jealous fans in order to do that, nor have insane stalkers holding trial and creating fake profiles in order to spread false rumours about me (did I say that some rock band fans seem to be total freaks??)
I just asked – aah, the classical music world is so nice and uncomplicated compared to the rock star hysteria! Maybe I gave him an idea there, because when he played the introduction concert some weeks later, he opened with Für Elise. I was in the audience, and the famous pianist opened the festival, most surprisingly, with that piece, and I was the only one who knew the reason – awright, awright, was that flattering or what?
(And until you deny it, Per, I will keep on living in that self-aggrandising illusion. Ha.)
But the bad thing was that this brilliant version of Für Elise of course made my own poor attempts at home to appear even more pathetic. I was full of envy. I wanted to play the piano too. No, I am not an idiot, I know I will never be on that level and it is okay with me – if the best Beethoven player in the world is much better than me, then I can happily tolerate it. But it looked fun! Not to perform to an audience, that was still horror to me, but I wanted to make that wonderful music with my own hands. To start my very own love affair with Beethoven. To sit there all alone with a beautiful concert grand and make that divine music, sure it would have been lovely …?
Still, what I produced was terrible, it was torture for my ears. In short, it was anything but fun. Just a big fat reminder that I sucked.
Despite that, so I had tried to start playing the piano again, and it was not my first attempt during these years, and I already knew how it would end: like it always did. Coming to the age of 45, I had had my share of ambitious and grandiously wrecked projects, just like everyone else who has entered the thrilling world of being middle-aged. On the other hand, I was a bit wiser than I used to be. For example, I had learned that if you try to do something like you always do, you will end up with the same result as you always get. Goes without saying, right? Still, to many of us it takes a life-time, or at least half a life-time, to fully grasp this little rule. But the flip side is that you also realize that if you do it differently, you may get something … different.
Then Per got this crazy idea. This is not very traditionally Swedish, I’ll tell you that, in fact it is not the Swedish way at all, but he has lived in the U.S. for a long time: he offered to give piano lessons to adult amateurs. In Sweden, the elite of today normally only educates the elite of tomorrow. They don’t have time for anything else. You must not join a master class if you are above a certain age, or if you don’t have got enough grades from a conservatory and so on. This is due to our educational system which is free, and very fair in many aspects, but it certainly is of no favour to middle-aged hobbyists who are in the desperate need of an inspirational kick just to get up from the couch again. With inspirational kick I mean something a bit more powerful than that the tired old “ha ha, sure that would have been fun” at the coffee break conversation at work. Even to find an ordinary piano teacher when you are an adult is tricky if you live on the countryside like I do.
Yet, now one of our most prominent pianist stars, my big piano idol as well, offered to give lessons to a person like me …
…but you know what the typical Swedish reaction to such a non-typical Swedish offer is?
“Ha ha, that would have been fun, too bad I am not good enough, though. I’ll pass.”
Oh, and we love Jim Carrey.