Once I finished “Amerika” I put the piano up for sale, as it was my fashion then. Each project and each album were done with one instrument, which was specifically bought or built for this purpose - most often found in some thrift store - and then released back into the marketplace.
In 2009 we were living in a former hotel - the Wilshire Royale - in Los Angeles, which was built in the 1920's as one of LA's first high-rise luxury apartment buildings mainly to attract the movie making clientele. It is located near MacArthur Park, between Downtown and Silverlake, and it was in the center of everything that would eventually move to Hollywood. The building has concrete floors and walls and proudly displayed a grand piano in its entrance lobby. This piano was permanently sealed so that nobody could play it. That lobby piano inspired me to get a grand piano into our apartment on the 10th floor.
I wanted one that came from this Golden Age of American piano building, before the Stock Market crash of 1929, which wiped out almost all of the small boutique piano companies.
This proved to be more difficult than I thought.
Unlike plastic bags, pianos deteriorate, especially if they are not regularly played, voiced and tuned. So the pianos deemed most valuable - the Steinways mostly - are rebuilt at great expense. These pianos are not restored, but stripped of their original historic parts, action, and strings and then rebuilt and refinished with brand new materials, leaving only the cast iron frame and the body.
This struck me as odd.
I was after the sound of a by-gone era, the historical sound of the American piano of the 1920s, but buying a piano of the 1920s usually meant buying a piece of furniture from the 1920s, everything else about it would be modern. After many months of visiting all kinds grand pianos up for sale on Craigslist to no avail, I stumbled upon one at a piano moving company. It had been tucked away for decades, full of dust and scratch marks.
It was a 1924 E. Gabler & Bros. grand piano from New York.
Although in bad shape, it still had all the original parts, and was restrung probably no later than the 1960s. Once it was in the apartment I realized what an enormous amount of work it would be to restore this. Having never done any kind of restoration, I educated myself, went to work and, little by little, I repaired and refinished the Gabler. Luckily for me, a piano technician, Mrs Sebelius came into my life and I assisted her in voicing & regulation but was left with the generous task of cleaning each string. There are 230 of them. The end result is the sound of the piano heard on this album.
In the 1830s the composer Carl Czerny published his "Schule der Geläufigkeit" in Vienna. Later editions destined for the British Isles were translated as "School of Velocity".
There is no doubt "Schule" stands for school, but there are doubts what "Geläufigkeit" stands for. For the sake of brevity let's denote it by the symbol G. A school of G is what Czerny here proposes, all contained in a book. This school in a book is full of musical notes and is not just to be read by those gifted to do so. No, it is to be played on the keyboard of a 1830s piano forte. As in most schools, something is to be learned from this. By playing the notes on the keyboard, our symbolic state of G is to be attained. But why did anyone in Vienna at the time wish to spend countless hours playing the pieces in our school just to become the Master of G?
What then is G?
"Geläufigkeit" is a German substantive stemming from the verb "laufen", which is faster that "gehen", to walk, but slower than "rennen", which is to run. The substantive form of the verb is used in "Auf dem Laufenden halten" which means to keep up with current affairs. The elusive G also turns up in "Laufbahn" commonly translated as “trajectory” or “career path.” It appears that G is part of a German condition, a state so desirable for Czerny that he wrote a whole textbook for it. Indeed, ever since its publication, there has been a market for it. Countless aspiring pianists were schooled in it and spent countless hours practicing the pieces contained therein. So Czerny's "Schule" indicates a transitory step, a process. One does not go to school to go to school, this is not art for its own sake, but one goes to school to become something. Here this means to became a Master of G. In order to become a Master of G, an act of reason will not do. Czerny did not publish a philosophy of G - a text - but wrote compositions of music.
To understand G means to practice it.
This has been the aim of the "Schule" all along, the comprehension of something not by reason but by action. In the 1830s, Czerny's was to present this process as a form of art that G.F. Hegel described as “an und für sich”, in-and-by-itself. This was his ingenious idea and he put it onto paper - or better - he put it into practice at the time G. F. Hegel died. The state of G is the same as that of a new machine that "läuft gut", or runs well. The demonstration of mechanization as a machine that runs well is possible as an art in and by itself. Just as Hegel's history came to an end (abgelaufen) because it became conscious of its own development. The pure display of the pure practice of process is the fulfillment of history. Speed, the rate at which this fulfillment is reached, plays virtually no part in this understanding. So our school of G, is not in this sense a "School of Velocity" at all.
The "School of Velocity" is not a school of velocity.
In 1830 in Vienna, Czerny's proposal of G (and not of velocity) was probably never mastered by all those children who played everything too fast, as is the case today with most pianists. G is independent of speed, as a machine runs well even if it runs slowly. Quite to the contrary, comprehension and mastery are often hindered by speed. Speed blinds us, "Blinded by the light", as Bruce Springsteen famously wrote, because he knew that there is no thing faster than the speed of light. Only by slowing the speed of light can we comprehend it, can we see that indeed it moves at a velocity, is G, and is not instant. So Czerny's school can only be comprehended if it is slowed down. Once we understand this essence of G we can go off in any direction. Once the process becomes self-conscious, we reach history’s end and man determines his own destiny. No longer under the burden of history, man becomes free and moves in any direction.
Free will determined by manifest destiny, a comprehended history.