New Classical Tracks - Musical Speech: The Poetry of Bach and Schubert

by Julie Amacher
February 15, 2012

Listen New Classical Tracks - Musical Speech: The Poetry of Bach and Schubert Listen New Classical Tracks: Simone Dinnerstein Interview

It was pianist Simone Dinnerstein's love of the music of J.S. Bach that launched her career in an unexpected way in 2007. That's when her self-produced recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations caught the ear of Philadelphia Inquirer critic David Patrick Stearns, who passed it on to a record company executive. It was released on CD and on iTunes and immediately went viral! Dinnerstein's love affair with Bach continues on her latest recording, "Something Almost Being Said." This time, she combines two of Bach's towering solo keyboard works, the Partitas No. 1 and 2, with four impromptus by Franz Schubert.

Dinnerstein says to her ears these pieces share a distinctive quality. This non-vocal music has a powerful vocal element. "The idea I had in my head is that this music is very communicative. It feels like it's about to break into text. Or that it's a song without any words and that it's saying something very particular. There's a feeling of narrative in this music, a feeling of speech. I couldn't think of how I would possibly be able to describe that and I talked to my husband about it and said, I'm sure there must be a poem that could say this, because really poetry is the only form of language that really deals with abstraction. He said, there's this wonderful poem by Philip Larkin called 'The Trees,' and the opening lines are, 'The trees are coming into leaf, like something almost being said.' And I thought that was just perfect for this music."

Two of Dinnerstein's favorite partitas by Bach are bookended on either side of the first four Schubert Impromptus. Dinnerstein very artfully crafted the order in which these pieces appear on this new release. The recording opens with Bach's Partita No. 2 in C minor. There's something about the tragic, melancholic aspect of that work that she says relates beautifully to Impromptu No. 1 in c minor by Schubert. The moods of these works are also similar. After spending a few hours alone with the original autograph scores of Schubert's Impromptus, Dinnerstein says she gained a new appreciation for these tender pieces, "They are so beautifully written. His hand directly reflects the music. It has this kind of delicacy to it. And everything is very careful. It's quite interesting, just looking and seeing where he puts the dynamics, carefully, in unexpected places." After seeing the way the music was written, Dinnerstein felt that both the score itself, and the music were very vulnerable, and she takes that approach when she plays these impromptus.

Dinnerstein closes out this recording with Bach's first Partita which, like the trees in Larkin's poem, begins with a prelude that sounds as if it's just coming into leaf, like something almost being said. "The Prelude I think is an incredibly beautiful thing," Dinnerstein explains. "It feels like it's unfolding. It's almost unfurling because you start from this small interval of a third. Then it keeps on expanding away from that interval, and that whole prelude is about expanding and contracting, and intervallic leaps. It just feels like it's opening and blossoming into the rest of the partita."

The first partita ends with a gigue. To Dinnerstein it feels almost like a question — which she says is an appropriate way to end this recording, "I think that Gigue is really unusual. In my opinion, it's called a Gigue but it has completely moved away from being a Gigue into something else. It's not to me a dance. It's also interesting because when you listen to it on a radio or in a car, if you have not seen it, you might not understand what's going on in the piano. It's three voices. There's a running, kind of watery voice in the middle and that's played by the right hand. Then there's a dialogue going on in the treble and the bass. And those are played by the left hand, that's leaping over the right hand. So it's quite, quite interesting to play."

As you listen to the music on "Something Almost Being Said," you'll hear how Simone Dinnerstein finds joy in the wistful side of this music. Like the poem by Philip Larkin, this music relates to the cycle of life, and how we can re-think it for today, "I'm playing music that was written a couple hundred years ago, 300 years ago, and yet it's very new to me now, it's not dead," explains Dinnerstein, "And the whole point of playing music IS to have a fresh start on it, to hear it afresh."