I’m preparing for a lunchtime lecture-recital on Tuesday in which I’ve been asked to speak about, and then play, a late Beethoven sonata, the A flat major opus 110. It’s an experiment for all concerned; I’ve performed the sonata before, but have never tried to speak about it publicly, and certainly not during the same hour. There’s a lot to say, some of which is often available to the audience in the form of programme notes, but quite apart from historical and structural information there’s also much one could say about how it feels to play the music.
Speaking about music before performing it is a tricky balancing-act. When you perform, you try to let go of surface thoughts, dropping them down into a lower level of consciousness so that you can ‘go with the flow’ and focus on the music. You hope to be ‘at one’ with the music, and that means doing rather than thinking.
If you have to speak about the piece in detail, however, you obviously have to plan what to say, and remember what you want to illustrate and explain. Performing the piece immediately after giving a mini-lecture requires some swift internal re-calibration. As Gyorgy Sebok once said in a lesson, ‘you don’t want the music to sound like the illustration to a lecture being silently given alongside it’. The lecture must remain the commentary, not the main event.
So, how to make the transition from speaking to playing? My plan is to leave the room for a minute, to take a few deep breaths, wait until my heart rate has returned to something like normal, and then return to the platform.