By Jessica Duchen

The mystery of Beethoven's lost love – Immortal Beloved.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Flying start, barefoot

Dear friends and supporters,


Thank you so much for your generous pledges! IMMORTAL is off to a flying start - 28 per cent funded after just five days - and I couldn't be happier. (Well, I could if it was 100 per cent, but y'know... this is really good.) It's incredibly encouraging and I value the moral support as much as the actual £ - because it means that you want this book, which means I need to get on with writing it.

I've noticed a couple of friends remark on the fact that in my introductory video I'm playing the piano barefoot. Now, there are a few ways you could interpret this. You could think I'd expected that the person wielding the camera was filming me only from the keyboard up. You might surmise that it's summer, it's warm and it's nice to pad about barefoot. But what you mightn't suspect is that playing the piano barefoot actually feels wonderful. And increasing numbers of soloists are currently on a footwear rebellion.

Think of the superstar violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya, or the superb pianist Alice Sara Ott (pictured above) - coming soon to a venue near you, without shoes. If you're barefoot, you're in control. You're not going to find yourself immobilised when your stilettos are stuck between the floorboards. You're not going to twist your ankle due to the precarious height of your heels as you tackle a particularly thorny cadenza. If you're playing the piano, you won't find yourself wishing that the pedals were at a different height - basically they're designed for men wearing normal shoes, and for sensitive pedalling you need total control over them, which you might find more difficult if your foot is in an awkward position... 

Last year at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music I attended a wonderful concert-chat session chaired by artistic director Kathryn Stott in which she and several fellow pianists found themselves comparing the relative merits of different types of footwear. Notably, Australian pianist Timothy Young likes to wear rubber-soled yoga shoes - just a notch away from playing barefoot because of the flexibility, the sensitivity to levels of touch and the removal of an unnecessary thing that can come between you, the instrument and the music. The pedals are a vital part of the pianist's equipment: the finest performers, I think, are those ones who know how to transform their sounds most effectively, and the pedals provide an Aladdin's Cave of treasurable colours to add to those of actual keyboard touch, if you've fully mastered their particular potential.

Please enjoy this video of Alice Sara Ott, playing Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata barefoot - apparently lost in her own world, oblivious to the fact that someone is cleaning the piano as she plays. [I hope this works. The site tells me the video has attached successfully...]

Much love and thank you again for your pledges.

Jessica x


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