La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Guardian Editor Rusbridger Plays Chopin

See video here.

The power of music is undeniable. So many millions have been inspired by it, consumed by it, consoled by it, etc. Many more have marched off to war to the sound of it, been called into battle by the fanfares of a bugle, or played to eternal rest by the mournful sound of that same bugle.

If one has been introduced to music at an early age it often remains a joy and a wonder one's whole life, no matter what else has transpired. Alan Rusbridger is a typical case. He is a man who studied piano and clarinet when he was young but settled on a career as a journalist. In fact, he rose through the ranks to become the editor of the Guardian, one of the world's great newspapers. And yet the love of music never left him. More than that, he suddenly realized in his mid-50's that not only did he want to play again but that he wanted to play well. He found a teacher and set as his goal mastering Chopin's notoriously difficult Ballade in g minor Op. 23.

Rusbridger himself tells the story of his late-life quest to master Chopin in his wonderful book Play It Again. It is a unique and brilliant book that gets inside the art of music in ways that no other book has quite managed. Rusbridger may be an "amateur" but his insights are on the highest professional level. His analysis of the Ballade Op. 23 is the best of its kind, as Rusbridger supplements his own perceptions with those of professionals on the order of Murray Perahia, Alfred Brendel, Stephen Hough and Emmanuel Ax.

But don't stop at reading the book. There is much more to be enjoyed at Rusbridger's website It includes the score (with annotations) of the Ballade Op. 23, video and audio interviews with some of the illustrious pianists Rusbridger consulted on his artistic journey, and much more.

For more on Rusbridger's book read Robert Winter's excellent review in the New York Review of Books. (

I came away from total immersion in Rusbridger and Chopin inspired by what an inquiring mind can do, and encouraged also by the idea that music is a never-ending source of fascination and pleasure. And yes, of course, let's not forget Chopin. Rusbridger's story is about himself, and about achieving goals he has set for himself. But what makes his journey worthwhile is the quality of the music he is trying so hard to master. On his journey Rusbridger learns a lot about himself but he learns even more about Op. 23. And to learn to play Op. 23 if not perfectly at least pretty well is to come much closer to understanding the music and the composer than even well-informed listening can do.

Paul E. Robinson

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