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Afternoon Delight: A Little Knuckle-Bruising Piano Exercise

by Jerome Weeks 15 Feb 2011 12:58 PM

It’s called the “Death Waltz” and this catchy little tune is a bit of a challenge for all of you keyboard-enabled types — unless, of course, you come equipped with 42 fingers and can follow such directions as “release the penguins.” Then it’s a piece of cake.


Afternoon Delight is a daily diversion for when you’re just back from lunch, but not quite ready to get back to work. Check back Wednesday at 1 p.m. for another one.

The full musical piece is called the Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz by John Stump, who, if this website is to be believed, was a composer who died five years ago. Stump excelled at decidedly eccentric musical notation somewhat akin to George Crumb’s famous Makrokosmos — although one suspects Crumb never included such Frank Zappa-ish directions as “release the penguins,” “insert peanuts” and “the Lakers in 6.”

Judging from Stump’s ‘Death Waltz’ score (you can enlarge it at left) — which has become rather influential on the web — the waltz as played in the video above actually isn’t Stump’s. In fact, it’s not even a waltz; as you can see clearly in the video’s notation, it’s in 4/4 time. And though fun, it’s not nearly crazy enough. It’s simple really —  nothing more than a repeated, rather catchy stairstep melody on a keyboard.

And then, ’round about bar 90, you’ll need 42 hammer-fingers powered by a Lisztian hyperdrive to keep up with all the chords. Should be made a required audition piece for the next Cliburn competition, you think?

Stump’s other scores — such as Prelude and the Last Hope in C and C# Minor from the opera Marche de l’Oie (translated as March of the Ducks – although l’oie actually is French for goose)– can be purchased here.