KEY NOTES / Pulling out the stops: Bernard d'Ascoli recalls how he found his way back to the piano

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The Independent Culture
There was always a piano at home and I could pick out tunes from the age of about four, but I can't say I was really interested. My ear was good, and so was my ability to put my fingers on the right keys, but I was just unmotivated. The sea change came when I was 11 and I discovered the organ. We were not church-goers, but I suppose I must have heard it at a wedding or something, and the sound just transfixed me, whereas the piano simply left me cold. So my mother took me to see the local organist and I played my piano pieces for him on the organ. Immediately I realised you could get a much more singing, legato sound on the organ, and I'd never discovered that singing line before, because we had no singing tradition in the family. But I also discovered polyphony, the ability to sustain each part with its own individuality and coherence. At the time I was very interested in science and maths, and in playing chess, so I loved the intellectual challenge of Bach. Once I'd discovered the organ, my interests in music grew and I became much more drawn to art, literature and poetry - and to what the Romantic repertoire could offer. And I quickly realised that while the organ was great for meditative, majestic music, it was not so good at evoking human doubts and worries, whereas on the piano you could speak much more poetically, more expressively and with a wider repertoire. From the age of 15 the piano became dominant and at 19 I dropped the organ entirely. I still feel a bit nostalgic when I hear a great piece of Bach on the organ, and although I wasted a few years as a pianist, at least I wasn't put off.

Bernard d'Ascoli's most recent recordings of Schumann (Carnaval; Papillons) and Chopin (Four Ballades etc) are available on Nimbus CD

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