Singing is the most direct musical expression of the human soul— the voice telling the stories and the feelings of people, amplified by melodies which add dimensions of emotion and spirit.
As musical instruments developed alongside this ancient vocal tradition, they attempted to imitate this primal vocal impulse. After a couple of hundred years developing the organ and harpsichord (the first keyboards), the Pianoforte (Gravicembalo col piano e forte or literally “Harpsichord with soft and loud”) was invented by Cristofori, around 1720 in Italy. The technology of this prototype Piano was gradually improved there, and in Germany and England as well, in order to capture a more expressive musical range—extending the “piano and forte” that is responsive to the touch. By the 1780s it had established itself as the keyboard of choice. This most complete of instruments, because of its wide range of pitch and dynamic (soft and loud), reached its high point in the mid-19th century.
Composers often wrote music for the piano that emulated the expressive music for the voice. Many of the great keyboard and piano composers had a fundamentally vocal inspiration. They loved singing and tried to convey its passionate and sensual qualities on the piano. There are many references in these composers’ letters, and other writings, which prove this direct connection. Also, one can easily detect the stylistic connections in their piano writing to the style of opera and song. For example, Chopin loved to go to the Opera in Paris and listen to Bellini and Donizetti—one can hear this influence in the soaring melodies and delicate embellishments in the upper register of his piano pieces. Also, Mendelssohn wrote a series of short piano pieces, calling them “Songs without words,” making the connection obvious. Grieg composed a series of “Lyric Pieces,” lyrical being the adjective for song-like utterances. Other pieces are called “Aria,” “Arietta,” or “Chanson triste” (Sad Song), which reveal the source of their inspiration.
The song-like piano pieces chosen for this recording reflect this interest of the great composers. Also, this is the inspiration for my personal approach to the piano. At an early age I discovered the delights of accompanying a singer and adjusting my touch to match the smooth and delicate modulations of the voice. Through years of experience playing the vast vocal repertoire of song, opera and oratorio, I have been profoundly influenced by the lyrical intentions of the great classical composers. I find that within the delicacies of a vocal approach are such nuances of inner expression and tenderness that can also be expressed at the piano. I have therefore always had the impulse to “sing at the piano,” hence the title of this recording, “Piano Singer”. The title reflects my clear intention, when playing these beautiful melodies, to play with cantabile while richly accompanied by the full range of piano effects.
These works are treasures in the piano repertoire which express the vivid inner world which we share as humans, a kind of landscape of the soul, one which surpasses the limitation of verbal description.