Review Blog

May 16 2011

Piano lessons by Anna Goldsworthy

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Black Ink Press, 2009. Louis Braille Audio, 2010. ISBN 9781742124087.
Highly recommended. Audio book. Biography. A mesmerizing insight into the relationship between teacher and pupil is told in this audio version of Anna Goldsworthy's award winning story Piano lessons. In this homage to her teacher, Goldsworthy gives a candid account of her lessons from the first day. She was advised to find another teacher when her current teacher, a jazz musician, felt she had learnt all she could from him. Her family was advised that their daughter should audition for lessons with Eleanora Sivan, a woman brought up in the strict discipline of Russian piano teaching. Taught within the European tradition she was only one or two people away from the famous composers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and this vast experience was handed on to Goldsworthy.
From these accounts of her youthful lessons to when she became a concert pianist of world repute, Anna Goldsworthy's teacher, Eleanora Silvan, shines through. Encouraging, yet aloof, vigilant and critical, giving a rich background to the various pieces Goldsworthy learnt, Mrs Silvan's force of character is obvious from the start and as we listen to this marvellous recording, her presence can be felt.
Anna Goldsworthy's compliment to the teacher is in every word, as the woman berates her pupil for not feeling the music, or not knowing about the composer, or not putting enough expression into a piece, or shrugging when she makes a mistake on stage.
At first, Mrs Silvan told Anna's father that the girl would not make a concert pianist, but Anna decided that this was to be her aim, and so practising four hours a day became a norm. Through her years at high school, Goldsworthy worked hard at piano as well as her classes at school, but keeping her cleverness to herself. Only when the first of many accolades was given to her did some of her peers realise her talent.
With Mrs Silvan's one word, 'Not', ringing in her ears, Goldsworthy kept hard at work, refining her piano playing, learning all about the composers and their work, and entering competitions. Each competition was a stepping stone and yet Mrs Sivan kept reminding her that she should play for herself, not for a competition where other people's opinions were more important than her own. At the end of year 12, interviewed for The Advertiser, Goldsworthy gave glib answers to the inane questions and was reported without thought. Mrs Sivan was devastated and it took some strength of character for Goldsworthy to regain the footing that she had with her teacher. The strength of the teacher, Mrs Sivan, was equally present in the pupil. And now, that strength, knowledge and heritage is being passed onto a new generation of pupils through Goldsworthy's teaching and stage presence.
Beautifully read by Jane Nolan, the text is enriched by the subtlety of her voice and the nuances of tone which underline the feelings of the main characters. Her rendition of the voice of Mrs Sivan is remarkable, giving a richness to her accented pronouncements and the stress on the word, 'Not', is enough for the listener as well as the pupil to sit up and take notice.
Fran Knight

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