April 12, 2014: Christopher Taylor


Christopher Taylor (Photo: Katrin Talbot)

Our season finale presents the exciting American pianist Christopher Taylor performing two of the greatest keyboard works of all time.

I sometimes struggle with the question, “What makes it great?” After all, it cannot all be in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.

The best answer I’ve found comes from a little known pianist/composer Dirk Shafer (1873-1931).  In contemplating the Beethoven Opus 111, he wrote: “Art is the direct revelation of truth”.

It seems to me to apply just as readily to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Did Bach really compose them for Goldberg to play for his insomniac patron as myth suggests? It scarcely matters.

Most of us grew up with Glenn Gould’s miraculous recordings of the Goldbergs. It took many of us decades before we could truly begin to listen to any other pianist’s interpretation.

It was thus somewhat daring of Christopher Taylor to perform them at the Van Cliburn Competition in 1993. Although he was also trained in mathematics, his interpretation is no dry academic analysis. As he told me, “The number one priority is to bring out their beauty. The second priority is to be sensitive to historical authenticity and Bach’s intent.”

With the Beethoven Opus 111, we can listen to many distinctive pianists “channelling” Beethoven, aware that it was his final piano sonata, a summing up and a culmination of all 32 sonatas. It’s almost 200 years old and still retains all its power to affect us spiritually and to challenge our attempts to understand its stormy complexities.

The ending of the piece, the Arietta, is sublime. “It is profoundly moving, a melody of transcendent simplicity and beauty, transporting the listener out of the sphere of notes and fingers and keys to a remote exalted realm” (M. Berger, Guide To Sonatas). And when it’s over, like life itself, all dissolves into silence.

The pianist Andras Schiff has lectured at length on this sonata. You can hear him play the first few minutes on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si9wwTfAYKM. He says that whatever piece he plays, he becomes the composer, getting inside his heart and mind. But with Opus 111 he also said, “Beethoven changed me as a person”.

On Saturday, we’ll see another master artist, Christopher Taylor, display his understanding of these two monumental works of art and communicate their meaning to us.
See you Saturday night!