A collection of essays on music and life by the famed classical pianist and composer
Stephen Hough is one of the world’s leading pianists, winning global acclaim and numerous awards, both for his concerts and his recordings. He is also a writer, composer, and painter, and has been described by The Economist as one of “Twenty Living Polymaths.”
Hough writes informally and engagingly about music and the life of a musician, from the broader aspects of what it is to walk out onto a stage or to make a recording, to specialist tips from deep inside the practice room: how to trill, how to pedal, how to practice. He also writes vividly about people he’s known, places he’s traveled to, books he’s read, paintings he’s seen; and he touches on more controversial subjects, such as assisted suicide and abortion. Even religion is there—the possibility of the existence of God, problems with some biblical texts, and the challenges involved in being a gay Catholic.
Rough Ideas is an illuminating, constantly surprising introduction to the life and mind of one of our great cultural figures.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
The Soul of Music
‘Our concert halls are like museums’ – Yes, isn’t that great!
Music in churches: magical ghosts or profane distractions?
Our wonderful, ageing audiences
Dumping the interval
Classical music – for everyone?
Poking bows and spitting mouthpieces
Can you be a musician and not write music?
Can you be a musician and not play or read music?
Hidden musicians, hidden talents
Don’t listen to recordings
Joyce Hatto and listening blind
Meaning what you sing
Gay pianists: can you tell?
Leaving politics out of concerts
Telling tails: do special clothes make a difference?
Stephen, that was really dreadful!
Stuck in a hole or building a tunnel?
Caruso’s garlic breath
Is there too much music?
Bechstein’s fall and rise
What kind of piano do you have at home?
Lonely on the road
When I don’t play the piano
Never mind the metronome, learn to use an alarm clock
Disgrace at a concert
Most of the strokes winners, none of them good enough
Staying power The Russian crescendo
Fickleness of feelings
This one’s happy, this one’s sad
What music makes you cry?
Can atonal music make you cry?
Symphonies under ice
Clothing the naked melody
Two women, two songs: in and out of harmony
Is New Age thinking bad for musicians?
Memory clinic and Mozart
My terrible audition tape
Quaver or not: should orchestras use vibrato?
Breaking the law: a short speech for the Middle Temple
Once more onto the stage, dear friends, once more
Bored on stage
Neurotic on stage
Nervous on stage
Take a deep breath
Routine on a concert day
Page-turning: part of the performance
As the page turns . . . or not
The musical page-turner
A crucial tip when playing with the score
Out of the cockpit
Humiliation and vomiting at the keyboard
Stage fright and playing from memory
Bad self-consciousness as the death of good self-confidence
Beautiful bloopers: the joy of making mistakes
Can wrong notes be right?
Clap between movements? Please!
Don’t feel you have to clap between movements
Stanley Kubrick and recording
Red-light district I: the background
Red-light district II: frenzy
Red-light district III: solo lows and highs
Red-light district IV: live or alive?
Red-light district V: play it again (and again), Sergei
Red-light district VI: did I really play it like that?
A promiscuous weekend in Amsterdam
Ringtone in Padua
Hysterical laughter on stage
The practice of practising: for professionals
The practice of practising: for amateurs
Random practice tips
There’s no such thing as a difficult piece
Remembering what watered our roots
A good edition
Where do you sit to play the piano?
Romantic in soul not body: sitting still at the piano
Depressed: the amazing world of the pedal
Depressed again: the (not so) soft pedal
Seldom depressed: the middle pedal
A different depression: finger pedal
Trills I: easy does it
Trills II: a good fingering but not with the fingers
Trills III: six random tricks
Up to speed
Agile wings not muscular legs
Beats and bleats
Those who do can’t necessarily teach
Why don’t (music) students attend concerts?
What does the most talented young pianist need most?
Trying to practise away from the piano and trying to try to pray
People and Pieces
How much do we need to know about a composer?
Elgar the Roman Catholic
Tchaikovsky didn’t commit suicide
Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto
Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto: why I changed the second movement
Tchaikovsky’s Concert Fantasia
Artificial gushing tunes
Authenticity playing Rachmaninov
The other Rach
How Beethoven redesigned the cadenza
Brahms First or Second?
Dvorák’s Concerto for Ten Thumbs
Schubert’s hurdy-gurdy man
Schubert and Simone Weil: a note for a CD
The shifting sandals of York Bowen: a note for a CD
Mompou and the music of evaporation: a note for a CD
I don’t love Bach
I don’t hate Bach
Liszt I: the man who invented concert life as we know it
Liszt II: the man who invented modern music
Liszt III: the man who broke pianos
Liszt’s abstract sonata
Both Liszt concertos in the same concert?
Why Chopin’s B minor Sonata is harder to play than Liszt’s
Why Liszt’s B minor Sonata is harder to record than Chopin’s
Chopin and the development of piano technique
Chopin, Rothko and the bowler hat
Debussy: piano music without hammers
Debussy and Ravel: chalk and cheese
The three faces of Francis Poulenc
My Mass and my tears of joy
My First Piano Sonata: fragments of fragility
My Second Piano Sonata: insomnia in a seedy bedsit
My Third Piano Sonata: tonality, dogma, modernism
Alfred Cortot: the poet speaks
Two formidable ladies
Josef Hofmann and Steinway: two greats in an era of greats
Glenn Gould and modern recording
Die Meistersinger: Terfel is Sachs
When Ernest twiddled the knobs
Douglas Steele’s repetition
RIP Joseph Villa
RIP Vlado Perlemuter
RIP Shura Cherkassky
RIP Lou Reed
Great Greens I: by way of an introduction
Great Greens II: Gordon and the smokescreen
Great Greens III: Maurus and the smile
Great Greens IV: Julien in the kitchen
. . . and More
What is your motto?
Rilke, and poetry as the root of everything
Beauty, beauty, beauty
No poetry after Auschwitz . . . but music
Beethoven is my religion
The expectation of change: dis-ease in twentieth-century art
Teju Cole and neutering poets
Architecture as eureka in Sydney
The ring of silence: the pots of Anna Paik
Paul Klee at Tate Modern
Almost the same: van Doesburg and Mondrian
Gerhard Richter not naked
Old Masters: either we kill them or let them die naturally
Maths and music: joined at the hip or walking down different paths?
Sport and music: on the same team?
The curse of the perfect number
The essence of underpants and the lap of luxury
Do musicians tend to be socialists?
The Final Retreat: my novel of desire and despair
If I ruled the world
Beef Stroganoff and a bag of bones
Electronic books: the end of one kind of intellectual
snobbery Good Americans
Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving
Willa Cather, Thanksgiving, and the soul of America
Working hard by letting go
Pascal: the brilliant sun or a warm fire?
Monks do it best
Myself or my brain
Daring to hope in Alzheimer’s despairing inner world
Going gentle into that good night: the blessing of hospices
Suicide? Let me assist you
But on the other hand . . . some different thoughts on end-of-life issues
Encouragement, falsehood, and Auschwitz
. . . and Religion
Rock or tree?
I am not a Catholic pianist
Could God exist?
What if God doesn’t exist?
Religion’s moth-eaten tapestry
Do not touch me: the wisdom of Anglican thresholds
Becoming Jewish and staying Catholic
Is it Christian to single out the Christians?
Putting the ‘Mass’ back into Christmas
Sacraments and the sugar-plum fairy
Reformation: the individual or the community?
The ghastly story of Lazarus
Assumptions about the Assumption
The three greatest fears
Is he musical?
In earlier times . . .
Sodom and Gomorrah: straight, upside down, inside out
Abortion: can I go there?
A light that is so lovely
A Final Reflection
Stephen Hough: Discography 1985–2018