On Saturday night, I took the first dose of my prescription for bottled madness. This is not a metaphor for substance abuse or anything shady as that; it means that I printed out the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto and began reading it.

One might ask why someone whose skills with the piano are so shabby would dare attempt this “transcendentally” difficult work (I quote some paper about the fourth concerto that I was reading the other day – I’ll have to look at Berkeley E-links again some time). You could, on the other hand, ask validly why someone whose blood sugar is high still insists on eating sweets, or ask why an alcoholic doesn’t stop drinking, or why a smoker doesn’t stop smoking. Those are more straightforward examples; as for me, I NEED something to read, to dunk myself into.

The Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor, op. 30, provides exactly that little dash of alcohol and sugar and nicotine that I need to keep me sane. Reading it is like staring into a deep well – the kind that doesn’t really have a bottom and where you take forever to lower a bucket, forever enough that you start wondering if you’ll ever get a drink, and then the line goes slack. When you pull the bucket up, there’s barely anything in there, and you’re still thirsty, so you have to start the whole thing over again.

But that little act of reading and playing and doing – that little pointlessness that won’t ever get me anywhere – it keeps me sane. It keeps me, me. Not many other people would give up free time to shut themselves in the rec room for some alone time, a heart-to-heart with a battered piano.

I’ve read about one page so far; it goes VERY slowly. I foresee no extreme difficulties with the technique of the first movement. I actually found the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto far more annoying because it required high precision in jumps and some unusual finger permutations. There doesn’t appear to be anything like this, at least not in this movement of the Rachmaninoff.

Today I met another pianist – Lyra – from China! – and she plays wonderful Rachmaninoff. How curious that I met her with the score for the third concerto in my hand.



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