Joe's Blog

An Unbroken Persistence or Continuity of Sound

June 25, 2019

J.M’s lesson around Friday June 14, 2019 on the Beethoven “Andante Favori”

#1. The beginning of the piece.

Stated ideally there should be no difference between, on the one hand, playing and sustaining a single chord throughout the first measures of the “Andante”, and, articulating all the written notes (in their written rhythms). It is as if the latter “lived inside” the former, but that the former is where the unbroken continuity of the sound comes from.

At first these two ways of playing the opening will strike the pianist as sounding extremely different. There will be a constant feeling that something is missing in the former that can only be supplied by the latter. However, by making several “side by side” (sequential) comparisons of the former with the latter, the perceived difference between the two will gradually seem to subside, as the former begins to inhabit the latter, and
the latter seeks the stability of the former.

The goal is to play the written passage with an absolute connectivity of sound, sounds that fuse together in spite of time, which in turn brings on changes in pitch and rhythm.

It is perhaps more realistic to say that former and latter are descriptions of two ideally defined end points of a continuous spectrum of possibilities that lie between the stasis a single, enduring chord, and the interruptiveness, or disjointedness, of one single note replacing another.

At the beginning of the lesson J.M. was too close to the latter end of the  spectrum, and we wanted to seek a position more in the middle, that preserved the best qualities of both ends.

What we’ve said about the opening measures of the “Andante Favori” can
apply as well at any point along the course of the piece. While playing through the work, as soon as one feels they are loosing the connectivity in the flow of sound, perhaps attained in the earlier measures of the piece, as soon as one hears that the measures begin ‘breaking up’ disjointed parts, one can form a new series of side by side comparisons of the two extreme
states, bringing them closer together, until even changes in rhythmic values from longer notes to sixteenths or thirty seconds. Still, feel that they emerge out a non-change, a constancy, a prolongation of the fabric of sound-as-sound.*

Here is a tip on how to bridge the gap between the two ends of the spectrum: disruption and continuity in sound. Take the first chord of the piece and repeat it exactly, in the rhythm of the opening passage.  Instead of changes in pitch, only rhythm remains, with a droning over and over of the same chord. When repeating the chord, do not let its sound ever disappear. Play the notes of the chord in the balance (or aftertouch) of the keys so that each new intonation of the chord fits, like a tongue and groove, into a  prolongation of the previous chord. An unabated, yet murmuring sound.

#2. The measures with ascending and then descending parallel thirds
in the right hand.

Play c2-c3–c4-c5 and hold it. Once that sound is imprinted on the musical memory, imagine that that is all you hear when playing the written notes. All the thirds seek their home in this prolonged unison. I held her right arm, pressing downwards with medium pressure: so something physical was constant that underlay the changes that were happening in pitch and  rhythm.

I said: if you were able to play all the thirds at once, creating a cluster based on an extended C-major scale, that cacophonous cluster could or would act as a model for the constancy of sound that persists and underlies the activity of the changing thirds which show up as an archipelago of islands in that sea of sound.

*  The pure presence of sound: what is left to sound when one discounts the pitch of the sound, its loudness, timbre and duration.

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