'The Three' Room


This lengthy page is fondly dedicated to the three gentlemen who shaped my piano playing and taught me how to be the best I can be.  Not only are they the three greatest pianists to have ever lived, they are the finest examples of how a great pianist should live.

Please enjoy this page for its inspirational value as well as for its educational value.  Dare I say it that there are not many places available where one may learn from these three exquisite giants in the same place, at the same time.

To begin with, I would like to share an important and favourite quote from each of The Three.  The quote is supposed to give you something to think about, as well as to recognise their acute awareness of what it means to be a Purposeful Pianist despite all living at different periods in time.

LisztMusic embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words;

PetersonSome people try to get very philosophical and cerebral about what they're trying to say with jazz. You don't need any prologues, you just play;

CziffraMy piano has been until now my very self; my words, my life, in which I have confided all my thoughts since the most ardent days of my youth; all my desires, dreams, joys and sorrows were found in it. Its strings have shuddered under all my passions, its submissive keys obeyed my every whim.

How do you think you will feel when you next go to sit at your piano having read and hopefully internalised these three quotes?  If anything, you should not even touch the keys once you sit down.  May I recommend that the reader merely place their hands on their lap and, whilst looking at the keys, ponder the following question of unparalleled importance:  "What is the purpose in my sitting here?"

I already fear that many readers will want to leave this page or have already come to the conclusion that I am far too 'heavy' for them; but please, remain.  The purpose in my blog is to share what I know, what I have thought about, what I have discovered and what I know is correct for your own piano studies.  Are you playing the piano for fun, or do you study seriously and hope to become very accomplished, even turn professional?  Either way, giving thought in a new way to how and why you play is instrumental to your success, no matter how great.

I now wish to share what I learnt from each pianist in detail.  Your reading of the following information is excitably recommended...

Liszt Ferenc

Above my piano hangs a framed, high-quality photo of this man given to me by a Hungarian piano student, now valued friend.  I shiver when I think of his impact on my life and I feel so small when I speak of his greatness to others.

I discovered Liszt at a time when I was lost; do I take piano seriously or do I pursue other avenues of interest?  It was a random night in November, 2010, when I watched Tom and Jerry play Hungarian Rhapsody #2; a cartoon episode I had known all my life but the musical composer of which I was unaware.  I search the piece and discovered it was Franz Liszt.  I then found Bugs Bunny's version!

As the evening progressed, I read his entire Wikipedia article followed by some of his most popular music videos from YouTube.  Here are three of my favourites I heard that night:

Un Sospiro

La Campanella

The last just blew my mind.  It is part of 13 so called Transcendental Etudes, #4, which he started writing in his teens.

Nevertheless, the more I learnt about this man, the better a pianist I felt I was becoming, without even sitting at a piano.  I read, freely available, his personal letters, the diaries of his students (unbelievable reading), reviews and letters by those who met him or heard him play, and eventually, the 3 volume set by Alan Walker on Liszt's life; the bible of Liszt scholarship.  I also got hold of Liszt's technical exercises which I found by chance and which are heard under my fingers on a daily basis.

His life was 100% giving and not receiving, although he received a lot.  He promoted other pianists and composers, gave free masterclasses his whole life and travelled so much, usually at his own expense, to give charity concerts for a whole massive variety of causes.

Now living in Budapest, a city I shall never leave, his spirit and presence is in abundance and I can't even write about how this helps me to compose and become a better pianist.  I also found a book which traces his steps in this city and to know all of that new information just makes me excited to leave the front door.  His statues and presence are all over the place to remind people that Hungarians are proud to call him their own (even the airport now carries his name!)

He founded the Hungarian Music Academy which now bares his name, the Liszt Ferenc Piano Academy, and is the most prestigious of its kind (that's him in green in the middle).

Call me crazy, but Liszt changed my life and the way I see and play the piano.  I can only hope that he, or my words here, will in some way do the same for you.

Oscar Peterson

When I discovered that he was a student of Paul de Marky, a student of Béla Bartok, himself a student of Liszt, I could not believe it.  All of OP's virtuosity, precision and speed suddenly made sense.  Sure, he was born with a natural ability but the benefits of receiving such education is clearly demonstrated by his playing.  All great pianists, somehow, trace back to Liszt, without exception.

OP changed my appreciation and understanding of Jazz Piano; not only did I enjoy what he played, and was spellbound by it, but I understood what it meant to play with feeling, with space, for a purpose.  Whether he played at lightning speed in a trio or slow solo piano, it blew my socks off and I understood exactly what he was trying to say.  I took my first lesson in 'space' from OP.

Because of the sheer variety of his playing styles (see here), the listener can learn so much about so much; in other words, if you want to learn some Bossa Nova piano methods, listen to this, or if you want to hear some ways to connect different songs in a medley, listen to this.  Maybe you'd like to know how to play mellow chords?  Listen to this.  Do you want to hear a blues that will give you a heart attack?  Listen to this.

You get the point.

OP also composed some music such as Hymn to Freedom (check out Oliver Jones in your own time; he's a monster and former OP student) and Wheatland, dedicated to his homeland of Canada (a place also very dear to me).

Watching OP play is also a pleasure; he smiles, he closes his eyes (speed and precision never lost) and he plays from within.  I never thought it possible to play with ones eyes shut, but OP inspired me to do that and this, combined with Liszt and Chopin's practice ideals of turning out the lights, really encouraged me to practice with my eyes shut.  It's amazing the connection you get between your internal piano and the physical piano.

OP's father was not prepared to let him leave school to pursue a jazz piano career so he gave him an ultimatum:  "I'm not going to let you leave school to become just another jazz pianist; there's already tons of them about.  You can leave if you become the BEST jazz pianist"...

So he did.

Cziffra György

The world needs to know about Cziffra, so the first thing I plan to do once I make it to the top, is to pay for a statue in his honour to be placed in Liszt Ferenc square, Budapest.  I will also discuss him and his value to my piano life in detail at every single opportunity, written or spoken.

I discovered Cziffra by chance when I was studying some Liszt and Chopin pieces and I could not believe what I was hearing.  There are so, so many pianists in the world, most can be found via YouTube, and they are all the same product.  Sure, they play in their own way and they have their reasons and in some little way they contribute to the world of piano music, but it stops there.

They reach a ceiling having journeyed from pretty much the same place (young prodigy, early piano lessons, music school, competitions) and pretty much all seem to have the same repertoire and ability; this is a shame.  They clearly play by finger memory and nothing else; they clearly are not pushing their limits and are certainly not playing for a purpose (apart from money for the gig).  All these things are evident in their touch, dynamics and general feel portrayed in their playing... then I heard Cziffra.

It's difficult to describe what happened; I simply sat in my chair staring at his photo.  I didn't dare replay the video and I was quite afraid to listen to anything else for fear of giving up altogether.

The first thing I heard was this:

Then I heard this:

Then this:

Then I stopped and went to bed and didn't sleep all night.

I ended up learning a lot about his life and listening to everything I could.  Then I discovered his biography entitled:  Canons and Flowers.  To learn of his early days in Budapest, his admittance to the Liszt Piano Academy at the age of... 9 (youngest ever, not joking), his absolutely terrible time in the army, his tortured hands, his son's death in a suicide house fire... it really makes you see what it takes to become a great pianist.  I laugh at the 'popular pianists' on YT when I think about how they play and talk about their lives and journeys when I now know how Cziffra got to where he did and what he lived through... escaping three times, being recaptured, forced labour, etc.  Yet, despite all that, he became the greatest pianist you can possibly become... far greater technically than OP, just fewer opportunities than Liszt to become even greater.

If you notice in his videos, he wears a wrist band?  This supports his ligaments when playing due to the torture he endured.  That, to me, is both tragic and inspiring; it's like a memory, a little "hey, you think you had a hard time; look what happened to me".

I couldn't ever become as great as Cziffra, but his positive outlook on life, his gentlemanly character, his purchasing and refurbishment of a music school in Senlis, France, where he died, all remind me of what it means to be a great pianist and a great person.

Keep striving, all...