private home



House concerts originate from 18th century court concerts. (Neher, 123) There is a strong tradition of these events in the Netherlands, but through internet-based platforms such as Groupmuse, they are becoming more and more popular around the world. As Groupmuse creator Sam Bodkin observes, "You show up, you socialize for an hour, you sit down on the floor, and you listen intently for 25 minutes to three movements of a tremendous masterwork," while Miller notes that, "It's not quite a concert and it's not quite a party." (Miller, 2015)


When talking about a private home as a concert venue, in the context of this research project I am referring to a living room or music room that is large enough to hold at least twenty audience members, and that preferably houses a grand piano. This is a performance space that I believe offers a lot to audiences and performers alike: it lets listeners personally meet musicians and witness music-making in progress from a very small distance, and it allows players to freely and personally communicate their musical intentions to a small group of extremely enthusiastic listeners.


In a private living room, the audience often surrounds the performer, creating a strong feeling of community. With the audience sitting so close, the performer can feel their every movement. The audience becomes more personalized, as the musician can address everyone personally. This also gives the musician an opportunity to present a very personal performance. The shorter distance between audience and performer additionally allows the latter to indulge in a wide range of soft dynamics. To make my performance of the Chaconne very personal, I planned to play the beautiful introverted section in m. 25-32 with free timing and with very rich and clear micro-phrasing. Similarly, I decided to create very distinct emotional contrasts between individual variations throughout the entire piece.


The environment of a private home is by definition a very exclusive setting. Audience members, who through their social position gain entrance to these events, usually feel a strong attachment to the music. They can be music lovers or, in my experience, they are often amateur musicians themselves. They are therefore very interested in music and quite open to new ideas. Due to these many connections within the audience, a very friendly atmosphere often forms. The performer can thus address this kind of audience with a complex, but at the same time flexible, interpretation. To enhance this flexibility, in transitions I plan to switch timings from backward- to forward-leaning (like in m. 32 for example). To take advantage of the perceptiveness of the private home audience, I decided to play the passage in m. 41-48 with very differentiated voicings: the left hand will be precisely phrased and played very melodically, while the right hand will be played with a lot of tension. 


The audience is often sitting around the performer in house concerts, and usually almost everyone is very interested in the performance. This high level of attention means that the performer can afford to choose slower tempi in order to show all of the details of a musical work, as long as he shows an intelligent understanding of the overarching architecture of the piece. As such, I will try to take advantage of this attention and take the audience on a journey in the Maggiore section, which is one long uninterrupted build-up. I will create an extremely gradual dynamical buildup here and hold back the tempo, in a sort of backward time-feel that accentuates the inevitability of moving forward.


The level of background noise in house concerts is often extremely low because the audience is actually trying to be very quiet. As such, every movement the audience makes—especially given their typical proximity to the performer—can be easily heard. Thus while this can provide a strong aural feedback to the performer, given the otherwise quiet atmosphere of the space he or she does not really need to exaggerate musical gestures, either dynamically or expressively. In order to take advantage of the low level of background noise in this setting, I will play the piano section in m. 94-123 very intimately, as if in the air, and expect not to be interrupted. On the other hand, the climax in m. 126-137 will not need to be exaggerated dynamically: I will instead play it with more direction than with physical power.


Audience members in a house concert are usually acquainted, which further creates a sense of community. They are often seated around the performer, but in such a way that they can also communicate visually during the performance. Visiting a house concert is also very much a social activity. Guests socialize both before and after the performance, and exchange their opinions about the concert. For all these reasons, the sense of group excitement and emotion in house concerts is typically very strong. A performer could capitalize upon and amplify this by taking time in expressive passages and precisely calculating buildups, thereby creating a sense of anticipation and release. And indeed, in the passage starting in m. 154 for example, I plan to start it slowly and with clear and expressive phrasing, before beginning a very gradual dynamic buildup.


In living room concerts the audience has a chance to get to know the performer personally. They can communicate and discuss the pieces played, as well as the interpretative choices the performer makes. Performers can be inspired by the response of such an audience, but it can also disrupt their inner concentration. Nevertheless, this setting gives the performer the opportunity to very freely communicate his or her artistic opinions, both verbally and musically.


Even though this piece is often regarded as a showpiece in classical music circles, I consider it to be a piece of immense musical and spiritual conviction. I will therefore, in a house concert setting, play it without virtuosic effects and subordinate virtuosic passages to the broader musical idea. In these passages I will strictly maintain the tempo and search for melodic lines that refer to previous or upcoming melodic material.


The lighting in living rooms is not especially suited for classical music concerts, but it can often create an inspiring atmosphere. The audience and performer also tend to be seated in similar lighting, which facilitates two-way visual communication. There can also be windows with a nice view, beautiful furniture, and carpets, all of which combine to make a special environment—one that is more homely and less clinical than a concert hall, for example. It is thus up to the performer blend their performance with the atmosphere of a specific house concert venue. Because the passage in m. 78-89 could easily blend with the atmosphere of a living room, I will avoid heavy articulation here and search for a special color by using pedal, by playing the middle voice softly, and by delicately phrasing the top and bass voices.


The acoustics in a private home are usually not very beautiful. Since it is usually a small space, an excess of sound can easily be created. On the other hand, this acoustical environment can be very dry due to the presence of furniture. This can mean that it will be difficult for a performer to show a wide range of colors: a situation that could be handled by very clear voicing and by avoiding massive fortissimos. In the Chaconne I will avoid creating too much sound by carefully calculating the architecture of its dynamics. In the main climax of the work in m. 190-231 for example, I will play with very strong and strict timing and voicing, and avoid applying too much dynamic power—especially in the middle voices.




My private home performance of the Chaconne turned out to be the most poetic and introverted of the three experimental events. In general, the slow sections were free in timing and detailed in phrasing, and the virtuosic passages were quite reserved and not too flashy. 


During the performance I did not manage to establish very much two-way communication. The recording shows that members of the audience were sitting very still, almost as if they were in a concert hall. I did however discuss the performance with them at great length during the break and after the concert, and I received some valuable feedback. I discovered for example that the audience felt very open to listening to small details: they even noticed the expression in the section beginning in m. 214 (example 1), and the stability and detailed phrasing starting in m. 154 (example 2). In general, most perceived my interpretation as coherent, story-like, but perhaps a little restrained. Some of them even pointed out that they might have enjoyed the performance more had my playing been more expressively relaxed. This surprised me, because even though I had planned to make this performance the most personal and flexible of the three, it turns out that I could have been much bolder.


My plans to take advantage of the interest and openness of the audience where relaxation and flexibility of timing was concerned was still quite successful however, especially during the planned shift of direction in m. 32 (example 3). Some details however, such as the extreme polyphonic voicing in m. 41-48 (example 4), sounded somewhat artificial and dry. In m. 78-89 (example 5) however, while I had planned to take advantage of the atmosphere in the room, this proved to be problematic. I had difficulty finding the right inspiration and expression here, and as a result, the level attention in the room began to fluctuate.


The audience's attention for detail however made it possible to use very small gradual steps in slow crescendo sections, which provided a lot of room for build-ups in passages such as m. 158-189 (example 6). Other features of the space that helped with long gradual build-ups were its intense silence and relatively small size. This allowed my pianissimo playing to be on the very limits of aural perception, while still creating great tension in the arpeggio section (example 7, m. 94).





Opportunities / Demands

Response of the performer

Specific response in Bach/Busoni Chaconne

Distance between performer and audience

Close / “In the same room” feeling

Addressing every member of the audience personally / Performer perceives every movement of the audience

Personal performance / Using wide range of soft dynamics

m. 25-32 taking time and very rich micro phrasing / Showing strong emotional contrasts between individual variations

Profile of audience

Music lovers (often amateur musicians) / Exclusive

Interested / Open / Friendly

Complex / Flexible interpretation / Flexible timing

m. 32 timing changes from backward to forward / m. 41-48 precise phrasing of left hand and tension in the right hand

Level of attention

High, due to proximity and interest

Every detail is perceived

Slower tempi / Intelligent architecture of the piece

Gradation through whole major section dynamically very slow and with held back tempo

Level of noise

Low / Small movements can be heard

Intimate / Strong aural feedback

No need to exaggerate musical gestures

m. 94-123 intimately (in the air) through whole section / m. 126-137 firm, but not aggressive

Amount of social interactions within the audience

Acquainted / Visual contact / Pre- and post-concert social activities

A group excitement or emotion is created

Taking time in expressive passages / Well calculated buildups

From m. 154 slow tempo and expressive details in motives, slow dynamic gradation

Amount of social interactions between performer and audience

Audience gets to know performer personally

Performer is inspired by the responses of the audience / More difficult for performer to maintain concentration

Showing personal opinion about the piece very freely

For me, this is not a showpiece – playing without virtuosic effects, but with conviction


Dispersed / Intimate

Taking advantage of the atmosphere / Visual communication with the audience

Finding passages that blend with the atmosphere

m. 78-89 playing atmospheric (not too clear)


Small space / Often dry

Difficulty showing wide range of colors / Loud parts can get over the top

Clear voicing / Avoiding fortissimo

Main culmination m. 190-231 strong with timing and voicing, not dynamics

example 1, m. 214

example 3, m. 32

example 5, m. 78

example 7, m. 94

example 2, m. 154

example 4, m. 41

example 6, m. 158