Stephen Hough (rhymes with “rough”) is a world-famous pianists who likes to write. Rough Ideas collects many of Hough’s thoughts and opinions. When Hough is sitting in his hotel room before a performance, he likes to write about whatever is on his mind. As you can seen from the Table of Contents below, Hough thinks a lot about a variety of subjects.

My favorite essay in Rough Ideas is “My terrible audition tape” (p. 69) where Hough, a young student, enters a piano competition with a crappy audition performance on a cassette tape (remember them?). What happened next is priceless!

If you’re a fan of music, travel, performance, studio recording, or a dozen other topics including religion, you’ll find Hough’s thoughts provocative and involving. GRADE: A

Introduction — xv
The Soul of Music
“Our concert halls are like museums” — Yes, isn’t that great! — 3
Music in churches: magical ghosts or profane distractions –11
Our wonderful, aging audiences — 13
Dumping the interval — 14
Classical music — for everyone? –16
Poking bows and spitting mouthpieces — 18
Can yo be a musician and not write music? — 20
Can you be a musician and not play or read music? — 21
Hidden musicians, hidden talents — 23
Don’t listen to recordings — 24
Joyce Hatto and listening blind — 25
Meaning what you sing — 27
Old pianists — 28
Gay pianists: can you tell? — 30
Leaving politics out of concerts — 31
Telling tails: do special clothes make a difference? — 32
Stephen, that was really dreadful! — 34
Stuck in a hole or building a tunnel? — 35
Caruso’s garlic breath — 36
Punctured rolls — 38
Is there too much music? — 41
Relics — 42
Bechstein’s fall and rise — 43
What kind of piano do you have at home? 47
Lonely on the road — 48
When I don’t play the piano — 49
Never mind the metronome, learn to use an alarm clock — 51
Disgrace at a concert — 52
Most of the strokes winners, none of them good enough –54
Staying power — 55
The Russian crescendo — 56
Fickleness of feelings — 57
This one’s happy, this one’s sad — 59
What music makes you cry? — 60
Can atonal music make you cry? — 61
Symphonies under ice — 62
Clothing the naked melody — 63
Two women, two songs: in and out of harmony — 64
Is New Age thinking bad for musicians? — 65
Memory clinic and Mozart — 68
My terrible audition tape — 69
Quaver or not: should orchestras use vibrato? — 71
Parlour songs — 73
Breaking the law: a short speech for the Middle Temple — 75
The Proms — 77
Once more onto the stage, dear friend, once more — 83
Bored on stage — 84
Neurotic on stage — 85
Nervous on stage — 87
Take a deep breath — 90
Routine on a concert day — 91
Flying glasses — 92
Page-turning part of the performance — 93
As the page turns…or not — 94
The musical page-turner — 97
A crucial tip when playing with the score — 97
Out of the cockpit — 99
Humiliation and vomiting at the keyboard — 100
Stage fright and playing form memory — 101
Bad self-consciousness as the death of good self-confidence — 105
Beautiful bloopers: the joy of making mistakes — 106
Can wrong notes be right? — 108
Clap between movements? Please! — 110
Don’t feel you have to clap between movements — 112
Ample amplification — 113
PPProjection — 115
Charismatic — 115
Stanley Kubrick and recording — 116
Red-light district I: the background — 118
Red-light district II: frenzy — 119
Red-light district III: solo lows and highs — 120
Red-light district IV: live or alive — 122
Red-light district V: play it again (and again), Sergei — 124
Red-light district VI: did I really play it like that? — 125
A promiscuous weekend in Amsterdam — 126
Ringtone in Padua — 127
Hysterical laughter on stage — 128
The practice of practicing: for professionals — 133
The practice of practicing: for amateurs — 135
Random practice tips — 137
There’s no such thing as a difficult piece — 144
Unfinished — 145
Fingering — 146
Remembering what watered our roots — 148
A good edition — 149
Where do you sit to play the piano? — 150
Romantic in should not body: sitting still at the piano — 153
Depressed: the amazing world of the pedal — 153
Depressed again: the (not so) soft pedal — 155
Seldom depressed: the middle petal — 156
A different depression: finger pedal — 157
Trills I: easy does it — 158
Trills II: a good fingering but not with the fingers — 159
Trills III: six random tricks — 161
Up to speed — 161
Agile wings not muscular legs — 162
Beats and bleats — 163
Those who do can’t necessarily teach — 165
Masterclasses — 167
Why don’t (music) students attend concerts? — 168
What does the most talented young pianist need most? — 169
Trying to practice away from the piano and trying to try to pray — 171
People and Pieces
How much do we need to know about the composer? — 177
Elgar the Roman Catholic — 178
Tchaikovsky didn’t commit suicide — 184
Tchaikovsky” First Piano Concerto 185
Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concert: why I changed the second movement — 187
Tchaikovsky’s Concert Fantasia — 189
Artificial gushing tunes — 190
Authenticity playing Rachmaninov — 194
Recording Rachmaninov — 196
The other Rach Three — 199
How Beethoven redesigned the cadenza — 200
Brahms First or Second? — 202
Dvorak’s Concerto for Ten Thumbs — 204
Schubert’s hurdy-gurdy man — 207
Schubert and Simone Weil: a note for a CD — 208
The shifting sandals of York Bowen: a note for a CD — 212
Mompou and the music of evaporation: a note for a CD — 218
I don’t love Bach — 227
I don’t hate Bach — 228
Liszt I: the man who invent concert life as we know it — 229
Liszt II: the man who invented modern music — 231
Liszt III: the man who broke pianos — 232
Liszt’s abstract sonata — 233
Both Liszt concertos in the same concert? — 234
Why Chopin’s B minor Sonata is harder to play than Liszt’s — 235
Why Liszt’s B minor Sonata is harder to record than Chapin’s — 237
Chopin and the development of piano technique –238
Chopin, Rothko and the bowler hat — 240
Debussy: piano music without hammers — 235
Debussy and Revel: chalk and cheese — 248
The three faces of Francis Poulenc — 249
My Mass and my tears of joy — 251
My First Piano Sonata: fragments of fragility — 255
My Second Piano Sonata: insomnia in a seedy bedsit — 255
My Third Piano Sonata: totality, dogma, modernism — 256
Alfred Cortot: the poet speaks — 260
Two formidable ladies — 261
Josef Hofmann and Steinway: two greats for an era of greats — 263
Glenn Gould and modern recording — 264
Happy (un)together — 266
Die Meistersinger: Terfel is Sachs –268
When Ernest twiddled the knobs — 269
Douglas Steel’s repetition — 271
RIP Joseph Villa — 272
RIP Vlado Perlemuter — 273
RIP Shura Cherkassy — 276
RIP Lou Reed — 277
Great Greens I: by way of an introduction — 278
Great Greens II: Gordon and the smokescreen — 279
Great Greens III: Mauras and the smile — 281
Great Greens IV: Julien in the kitchen — 284
…and More
What is your motto? — 293
Rilke, and poetry as the root of everything — 294
Beauty, beauty, beauty — 295
No poetry after Auschwitz…but music — 297
Beethoven is my religion — 298
The expectation of change: dis-ease in the twentieth-century art — 300
Teju Cole and neutering poets — 301
Architecture as eureka in Sydney — 303
Mastromatteo’s obsession — 304
The ring of silence: the pots of Anna Paik — 307
Paul Klee at Tate Modern — 308
Almost the same: van Doesburg and Mondrian –309
Gerhard Richter not naked — 310
Old Masters: either we kill them or let them die naturally — 311
Maths and music: joined at the hip or walking down different paths? — 313
Sport and music: on the same team? –316
The curse of the perfect number — 317
The essence of underpants and the lap of luxury — 319
Do musicians tend to be socialists — 321
The Final Retreat: my novel of desire and despair — 323
If I ruled the world — 327
Pleasure — 330
Holy smoke — 333
Beef Stroganoff and a bag of bones — 336
Electronic books: the end of one kind of intellectual snobbery — 337
Good Americans — 338
Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving –340
Willa Cather, Thanksgiving, and the soul of America — 341
Working hard by letting go — 343
Pascal: the brilliant sun or a warm fire? — 345
Monks do it best — 346
Myself or my brain — 348
Daring to hope in Alzheimer’s despairing inner world — 348
Going gentle into that good night: the blessing of hospices — 350
Suicide Let me assist your — 351
Dignity — 354
But on the other hand…some different thoughts on end-of-life issues — 355
Encouragement, falsehood, and Auschwitz –356
…and Religion
Rock or tree? — 361
Empty hands — 362
I am not a Catholic pianist — 362
Could God exist? — 364
What if God doesn’t exist — 366
Region’s moth-eaten tapestry — 368
Do not touch me: the wisdom of Anglican thresholds — 371
Heaven’s above — 372
Becoming Jewish and staying Catholic — 373
Is it Christian to single out the Christians? — 375
Putting the “Mass” back into Christmas — 376
Christmas carols — 378
Sacraments and the sugar-plum fairy — 378
Reformation: the individual or the community? — 381
Crack! — 382
The ghastly tory of Lazarus — 388
Assumptions about the Assumption — 390
The free greats fears — 391
Is he musical? — 393
In earlier times — 399
Sodom and Gormorrah: straight, upside down, inside out — 400
Abortion: can I go there? — 403
A light that is so lovely — 406
A final reflection — 409
Stephen Hough: Discography 1985-2018 — 413
Acknowledgements — 425
Index –427


    1. george Post author

      Bob, it took me some time to type up this Table of Contents. But, Hough’s Table of Contents really reveals what this book is all about so it was worth all the typing.

  1. Jerry House

    Being tone-deaf with no musical ability whatever and a singing voice that could have been used as torture during the Spanish Inquisition, I love and appreciate music. I draw the line at gangster rap, heavy metal, and dischordent jazz, however. Give me the great American songbook and do-wop music anytime.

    1. george Post author

      Jerry, I’m a fan of Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties popular music. I do like the American songbook. And, I like do-wop music–but not as much as Bill Crider did. But, during this coronavirus crisis, I’ve been listening to more classical music.

      1. Steve Oerkfitz

        Basically a rock fan except for heavy metal. Not much of a fan of the great American songbook. James Taylor just released an album in this vein. Good cure for insomnia. Never liked doo-wop. But it’s heyday was the mid to late 50’s and I didn’t much pay attention to music then. I was still in elementary school.
        Right now I’ve been going through my cd collection and listening to a lot of stuff I haven’t played for awhile like Yo Lo Tengo, Modest Mouse and The Band.

      2. george Post author

        Steve, like you I’ve been listening to music that I haven’t played in a while. I discovered some Ricky Lee Jones CDs that I hadn’t listened to. And some 1970s and 1980s hit complications. The Band is always worth listening to.

    1. george Post author

      Dan, our Public Library allows for Reserve books online. Then, when the book is available, they place it in a paper bag with your name on it and place it on a table in front of the Library. Patrons just swing by, hop out of their cars, pick up their bagged books, and leave…happy! Better yet, all Overdue fines have been cancelled during the coronavirus crisis.

      1. Jeff Meyerson

        Great system, George! I wish our library did that. We have been downloading library books to the Kindle and Cloud Library, as more and more things are available that way. In Florida, when we returned our pile of DVDs the day before we left, I just drove up to the side of the building and pushed them into the slot.

        As a person who has seen James Taylor in person several times, let me say that he can be entertaining but he is often (as Steve said) “a cure for insomnia” even live!

        More after I finish reading the comments.

      2. george Post author

        Jeff, we love our Library and the dedicated librarians who are keeping patrons serviced despite these trying times.

  2. maggie mason

    Such a varied list of subjects. Caruso’s breath and Kubrick? wide range many would be interesting if I had tons of time to read and no mountain for books to review.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, I think we’ll start to see Libraries, restaurants, and other essential businesses open up a month from now. Coronavirus cases in New York State are surging now. The Army Corps of Engineers are opening up closed hospitals for sole coronavirus victims. We’re making progress against this disease…but we were woefully unprepared.

      1. Jeff Meyerson

        Look at the pictures from England today. These people are in denial or just plain f#cking stupid. The London Underground trains are PACKED! This is insanity,

      2. george Post author

        Jeff, I hate to say this but the coronavirus crisis is an example of Natural Selection. People stupid enough to ignore sound medical advice will fall prey to the coronavirus.

      3. george Post author

        Rick, I’m guess the coronavirus cases in New York State will spike in 15 days or so. But, I also expect a Second Wave of coronavirus in the Fall.

  3. Michael Padgett

    Reading in the time of coronavirus isn’t as easy as one might expect, and perhaps reading in short bursts, as you can with this book, might be just the thing. With so much empty time to fill I find that instead of tackling that stack of novels that’s staring at me I’m reading magazines and soup labels. And instead of paring down my ridiculously long streaming queues I’m watching junk tv.

    1. george Post author

      Michael, I can relate. Diane and I watched a HALLMARK MYSTERY MOVIE last night: Riddled with Deceit: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery. Yes, we have some PBS and BBC America quality shows recorded, but we opted for the equivalent of mental junk food.

      1. Jeff Meyerson

        We watched that in Florida! Talk about empty calories. I did like the book series and the scenery was the best thing about the movie.

        We watched the first episodes of HOMELAND (final series) and MY BRILLIANT FRIEND (series two) last night, as well as the Andrew Zimmern MSNBC show we missed last week, about voter suppression.

      2. george Post author

        Jeff, I enjoyed Philip Craig’s Martha’s Vineyard mystery series, but the HALLMARK MYSTERIES versions are light-weight.

      3. maggie mason

        I watch some Hallmark movies, ones based on books by friends, Dana Cameron and Charlaine Harris The Cameron is the emma fielding series, which suffers from having courtney thorne smith as the lead

        Our libraries are closed, even from returning things. We don’t have any fines any longer, but if you have overdue stuff you can’t check out anything new. I have a couple of books on cd, but as not driving much, it’s taking longer to get thru them

      4. george Post author

        Maggie, New York State has instituted rules about the percentage of people who can report to work each day. That makes working from home the new Normal.

  4. Jeff Meyerson

    When I saw the title and topic, I thought “naah.” But when I read the contents I thought, this is perfect for me. I love short chapters. And the topics are on point. I want to see what he says about “Our wonderful, aging audiences” for one. This is not just a problem for classical music, but for Broadway and opera. Sometimes I find myself echoing Bill Crider when we walk into a theater and see (as Bill put it) a “sea of Q-tips” in front of us.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, Stephen Hough has a lot to say about the “Greying of America.” I agree with WALL STREET JOURNAL theater review, Terry Teachout, who wrote a column about Broadway shows and other theater productions needing to enter the 21st Century and start broadcasting their plays. I would subscribe to Broadway shows I could watch from the comfort of my Living Room.

      1. maggie mason

        they have it now, but I don’t know how to access. I do regularly tape the Met operas, and now am struggling thru Turandot

  5. wolf

    We haven’t switched on our tv in the last three weeks …
    We had to organize our stuff after moving and then read all the corona news – that was enough!
    In the background blues&rock music from our large cd collection, sometimes piece from youtube.

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, of course there should be an “L” in REFECTIONS! WORDPRESS spell checker changes words, but somehow ignores checking the spelling of the post titles. Thanks for the heads up!

  6. Patti Abbott

    Short essays, yes. But I am not willing to pay for it so will wait until the libraries reopen. Hope that happens soon.

    1. george Post author

      Patti, our Libraries might be closed but some services continue. I really miss our restaurants who are reduced to Take-Out and Delivery services. Diane and I are planning a couple of Take-Out dinners later this week to support our local bistros.


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