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Andras Schiff's Rainbow-Tempered Clavier

October 10, 2012

Andras Schiff gave an hour-long lecture about J S Bach last night at Davies Symphony Hall. The pianist recently began a two-year residency with the San Francisco Symphony, during which time he's devoting much attention to Bach.

There's an effortless yet quiet sense of humor to the man which I find charming. He seems very self-effacing in spite of his grandeur at the keyboard.

Of the many fascinating things that Schiff mentioned during his talk, which the pianist deftly accompanied with short musical excerpts to illustrate the points he wanted to make, the thing that I found most interesting was his interpretation of certain pieces by Bach in terms of the color spectrum.

For Schiff, every key in which Bach wrote a Prelude and Fugue in The Well-Tempered Clavier brings to mind a different color of the rainbow. According to the pianist, C Major is white, E Major is light blue, G Major is green, and B Minor is black. He played excerpts from the pieces Bach wrote in those keys to illustrate his assertions.

I can't say I heard the hues that Schiff hears when he played those excerpts last night. But it's a lovely idea anyway. It probably helps the pianist to embody a certain feel for the music as he plays through the series.

I kept trying to visualize the colors Schiff mentioned as he played, as if attempting to conjure a scene from Fantasia in my mind's eye. I think that might be why I couldn't quite understand what Schiff was getting at with his synesthesia-esque thoughts.

Andras Schiff will play Book Two of The Well-Tempered Clavier on October 21. For more information, go here.

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