Kit Armstrong Sets The Piano Stool On Fire

Kit Armstrong Sets The Piano Stool On Fire

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Artificial Eye/ZDF 

Release date: July 11th, 2011
Certificate (UK): U
Running time: 76 minutes

Director: Mark Kidel

Cast: Alfred Brendel, Kit Armstrong

Kit Armstrong Official Site
Alfred Brendel Official Site

At the end of 2008 world renowned classical pianist Alfred Brendel retired from public performance, but before doing so, he took on a young apprentice, the brilliant young prodigy Kit Armstrong.

Set the Piano Stool On Fire is a documentary film directed by Mark Kidel that follows them between the time of 2008 and 2009 as Brendel, nearing retirement, passes on his wisdom and experience to his pupil and sets him on the road to becoming one the great composers of our time.

Set the Piano Stool On Fire

The film begins in January 2008 with Armstrong arriving at Brendel’s home in London to begin his lesson. They greet each other warmly and Armstrong practices Bach’s Toccata in G major BWV 916 while Brednal explains that he always shied away from working with children, but when he heard a CD Armstrong had given him of a performance at the Royal Academy he knew he had to dedicate his time to him, describing his playing as simply “extraordinary”.

At just 19 years old, Armstrong has already played with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, the NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg, the Bamberger Symphoniker, l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

Set the Piano Stool On Fire

May Armstrong talks about her son being 15 months old when he began learning addition and subtraction and by the age of 2 teaching himself multiplication.

Realising his brilliance, she wanted to introduce some music to his life as well and the young Armstrong began to show an aptitude for this as well.

Set the Piano Stool On Fire

Kidel’s documentary is characterised by smooth camera work and clean editing and through that we see a portrait of a friendship that is both professional and very warm. The shots are well framed and just as important; the sound is captured very well.

It’s also filled with many little details that give you further insight into their lives. For example, we see origami figures on Brendel’s piano and on his fireplace mantle and we learn how Armstrong’s has used his knowledge to design a computer game. We also get to hear Who Stole My Wasabi, a 2008 song that the pupil lovingly composed for his teacher.

Set the Piano Stool On Fire

As we move on to Brendel’s final recital, he performs F. Liszt’s Au lac de Wallenstadt in the beautiful setting a countryside church. The images and sounds captured here are stunning and incredibly moving. Later on we see Amrstrong practising some more Bach in the church and to watch his finger work on the keys and the look of serenity on his face, there’s never a question as to why these two play music; it’s in them and they simply have to.

Being a self-taught composer who enjoys both classical and contemporary instrumental music, I thoroughly enjoyed Set the Piano Stool On Fire and seeing how music inspires others to not only to learn and play, but to create as well. I think anyone who is interested in music on a deeper level will also enjoy this. It’s well filmed and a beautiful account of a musical relationship between two generations.

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