Category: Practicing

Poetry and Emotion

Mozart: The C Minor Fantasie (K. 475):

-the piece in general:

#1

The piece as a whole is very cohesive and organic  n spite of being made up of many small parts, parts that are very different from each other musically, tempo-wise, rhythmically, and  most of concern to the piano, requiring very different technical masteries.

#2

Some of the contrasts in the piece are vividly displayed in a way that suggests an almost tangible sense of change of orchestration, as if referencing a full orchestra, sometimes strings, or strings deepened by the  sonority of french horns, sometimes winds, sometime voices.

-the opening measures:

Of all the ways I’ve tried to start this with piece so as to achieve a sonorous, commanding sound (similar to the C-s played by the piano alone at the very beginning of Brahms Third Piano Quartet) these have worked, albeit not consistently and not every time I try them.

#1

Practice elevating the arms quite high, and then, very slowly, then lowering them back down.  Keep lowering them. past the key slip until the arms and hands are lower than the keyboard.  To transfer this feeling into actually playing the opening c-s, subjectively feel the arms descending very slowly, and be un-conscious of where, in the arms’ downward course through space, the notes start sounding.  We simply notice unexpectedly that the notes have begun to sound.  We just don’t know why. “Somewhere” in the slow descent of the arms. the sounds just begin, but we are unaware of where that happens, and when it happens.  Somehow, at some point, the fingers have depressed the keys.  We’re not even sure how fast the fingers moved to depress the keys.

#2

If we want to know for certain whether the first note of the piece is resonant enough, it is not what we hear at the onset of the sound that provides an adequate way of determining this.  It is more at being what we hear at the end of the sound or, perhaps more useful still, what we would still hear of it if it continued to sound indefinitely, with a next note happening.  It is only by delaying our appraisal of the sound of the c-s, that we can first know whether the sound had begun resonantly enough.    We are trying to make the ‘decay’ curve of the sounds occur as slowly as possible.

Unconsciousness of how we start the first sound plus waiting at least a second or two before fully listening to the sound.   How strange!  We control best the present tense by the future tense, at a point in time when arguably we should have no control of how the notes started.  This is one of the paradoxes of time that occur in many hidden aspects of music and the performance of music.

She tried first to control the sound at its onset, and then, after a pause, she tried to ‘control’ the first sound after it was already attacked.  Comparing the second try to the first, in the second the first instant of her sound was  less ‘brash’ and ‘angry’ but  the decay curve was slowed down, with the result that the duration of the sound was, as a whole, more resonant than the first time.

#3

The first measure in general.

Let us make in our body’s imagination, a subjective analogy between pitches ascending along the keyboard (I.E. movement horizontally to the right) and the pitches somehow moving upwards a vertical direction, higher and higher off the keyboard.  C is now “ground level.” The more the pitches rise through the measure, the stronger the build up of potential energy to return the notes to the ground (C).

As the pitches travel (vertically) “UP” from the C, it is as if we are trying to stretch a very strong spring, and the more we stretch it (as we go through Eb F# G and Af) the greater the resistance of the spring and the harder it is to raise the pitch any further.  When we have reached the A-flat we have exhausted our strength, and sink back down to C.  We are so exhausted that even C-natural does not stop things but we slide to new ‘ground level’ a half step below C (namely  B-Natural).

#4

Measure two. The sixteenth note followed by the sixteenth rest.

possibly Mozart’s way of insuring that the emphasis goes on preceding eighth note chord, which represents distress and tension, and not on the chord which follows it, which represents a letting go, a surcease. an emotional giving in.

-the left hand starting measure 5

So here’s the deal: you are only allowed to play one note at a time, but you must get, starting with the first left hand note,  the effect of all four notes sounding together.  These ‘sustaining’ chords assimilated from the sixteenths in the bass fructify and enrich the glow of the sound of the melody notes in the right hand.  The left hand is not simply an Alberti Bass, it generates warmth that baths the right hand.

-starting measure 10

how to control the repeated thirds in sixteenth notes in the right hand:

#1

Sometimes the ultimate form of control to get each third balanced with the next, and each balanced internally between its two notes, is the most passive method..   Sometimes when playing this passage I simply look at the notes going down and then back up.  Nothing more than to look carefully at the keyboard and witness the specific keys in each third going down and then back up.  For many of us, just watching the keys move vertically allows the body with its many subsets of muscles to perfectly coordinate among each other and achieve the desired quality, evenness, and balance among the sounds.

#2

In your imagination add a vibrato on each and every note as if the thirds were being played by the first and second violinist of a string quartet.  There is nothing you can do physically to create the effect this vibrato, a vibrato that seems to crescendo and decrescendo in warmth within the small compass of time of each sixteenth note.*

#3

The fortes in the left hand at the beginning of the measures, can suggest added warmth and emphasis more than sudden, sheer loudness.  It is the effect we get in orchestration when we double an instrument in the bass range with another instrument an octave lower.

-measure 16 and 17

…squeeze “the universe into a ball”…To roll it toward some overwhelming question,” (T.S. Elliot)/

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand” (William Blake)

Such are the microcosms formed by the first two sixteenth notes of each quarter note beat.  Within each two notes one runs the gamut of human emotions.

-measure 17 going into 18

The last three notes of measure 17 are d4-s and they sound inside a B-Minor chord (as the third of the chord).  Then, suddenly, at the beginning of the next measure, through the d4-s continue to sound,  they now appear in the setting of a G-Major chord (as the fifth of the chord).  This is no mild switch of mood.  The entire meaning and sound quality changes.  I make this contrast of chord quality as extreme as possible.  Enough that the listener truly thinks the note they are now hearing is not the same note (d4) as the note they were hearing just before.

-measure 25 going into 26

If there is a more extreme example of the last item, it is here.  Can we, in our musical imagination, hear the D major chord sounding before completing the fourth, even before completing the third, of the four repeated fs4-s that sound with the F-sharp major chord in measure.  So, when it changes to an fs4 in a new chord, a D Major chord, in one way we are very surprised (like a new day has dawned, the sun has just risen and bathed the landscape,but in another feel) but in another, harder to figure way, that somehow we had received an adumbration of that D Major chord.**

J.M said something very nice at the end of the lesson: sometimes my experience with you at lesson is more that of a master class .

* Some string players who also play piano can be seen using a finger on the piano keyboard making the same gesture as on the violin when creating a vibrato.

** A thanks to David Garner at the S.F. Conservatory of Music who, when coaching recitatives at the Bay Area Summer Opera Institute (many years ago), told the singers that when singing the last few notes that are under the control of the current chord from the harpsichord or piano, they should already be hearing those notes as if sounding together with the next chord to come.  Thank you David… : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Garner_(composer).

 

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Deciding What is Controllable. Also: Transforming the Polyphony of a Gugue

Well Tempered Klavier, Book I, C Major, Prelude

#1

After finishing the piece I simply asked A.B. what he liked and disliked about his rendition.  He mentioned several negative things and then struck on the one thing that I had primarily noticed: that he stopped the harmonic flow of the piece every time he went from the end of one measure to the beginning of the next.   I missed sensing that inexorable connection that energetically pushed me from the chord in one measure to the chord in the next measure.

He said that he had previously tried condensing the piece into a chorale of whole-note chords (each chord took the place of one measure).  However, he had trouble because he couldn’t do it with any speed.   I said that the speed was of the essence of the procedure.  Ideally, each eighth note’s worth of the piece, in terms of its duration, became the duration of one of the chords of the chorale.

Since it was difficult to shift chords that quickly, I recommended to him that he play just the chord a single measure followed by the chord of the next measure, and then stop.   I asked him to play the first chord as if it were a grace note going to the second chord – the latter being held longer.

This he could do.  We repeated the process for each measure going into its next measure.

Now that we had merged two amino acids into a somewhat longer chain of molecules, I asked him to play as written, while I, in the higher treble, waited until he was near the end , but not at the very end, of one measure only then played the chord of that measure as a grace note followed the next measure’s chord.  Only I would get to the second chord before he finished playing the current measure.  That anticipation of my chord connection gave him the necessary push and energy to keep the piece’s harmonic flow going across the bar line.  Then I would remain silent at the second piano until he reached nearly to the end of the new measure at which point I would break in with the chord of the new ‘current’ measure played as a grace note to the chord that governed the measure that was about to start.  And so on.

#2

A.B. remained worried in particular that the pinkie sixteenth note in the right hand at the end of each measure does not connect smoothly to the next sixteenth note in the left hand at the beginning of the next measure.

His default solution was to figure out  exactly how he wants his pinkie to play that note.  I solved his issue by stepping entirely around his approach.  As he played the piece I sang “la la la…”, but starting with 6th 7th and 8th sixteenth notes of one measure and ended with the fifth sixteenth note of the next measure. on notes to the first note.  I then waited too the 6th note of the new measure and began the process of again singing along for 3 + 5 or 8 notes.

In the form I was singing it, with the way I was grouping the notes that I sung versus those I did not sing, I purposely glossing over the connection between the two notes on either side of the bar lines..  It happens automatically.  By spreading a solder, or flux over the end of one measure and the beginning of the next, I effectively made less important the connection of the bar line.

I noticed in my singing that I helped things along by making misplaced crescendo starting on my first note and ending towards the eighth note.  This helped smooth over A.B.’s faulty connection over the bar line.

At this point we moved on to the fugue: transforming the polyphony of a

fugue in C Major, Book One, Well Tempered:

A.B.: why do I find it so difficult to not hold a voice note longer than it is supposed to last, when the note is already meant to continue sounding through a certain number of the next notes in some of the other voices.  For example if the target voice is a quarter note, or longer, and the other voices are enunciating sixteenth notes.

I gave a brief answer: remembering when to lift a sustained note in one voice is the requires the opposite of everything you do right when knowing when to start a note.  It’s the “dark side” of piano technique: it requires doing everything the wrong way; or is it now the right way?

A.B.: why did you do that?  Why was it working?

Joe: I think it is important to have a distinct pre-vision, pre-conception, of what the beginning of the next measure is going to sound like before you get to it.  It is a strange balance of knowing what’s coming and still being surprised by it.

#2

Can we transform the sound the sound of the fugue in the student’s ear?

We experimented using two pianos with re-registering one of the voice of the fugue.  He would choose one voice to play, and transpose either an octave higher or lower than  it was written, while I played the remaining three voices (without the fourth) at the other piano.

Results:  A.B. said:

My voice sounded different than before.  I head it saying and meaning other other things than I had before, but then realizing that it was the same voice with the same names to its notes, just transposed, and that there was at the same time an abiding identity between both versions of the voice, an identity which was preserved, was eternal and fixed  and was impervious to change of octave.   The new stuff that suddenly I heard, in how that voice combined with the other voices, must have been there latent to the note’s names themselves alone, or to say it in another way were just as present as aesthetic and sonic effects when I played that voice in its original octave.

In the future we will have A.B. play just one voice, but in the octave higher than written and the octave lower than written without playing it in the octave is written.  Later again we can transpose one voice by more than one octave.  If it is the soprano voice we can have it sound in the tenor voice’s range or even below the bass voice.  In the case of the bass voice, we can have it sound in the alto voice’s range or so that it is the highest sounding of all the voices.  At any time I can choose to play all four voices and not just three, leaving one voice to him.  Or, he can choose at random to play just the voices, while I play the other two.  Or, three voices.

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Creating Harmonic Clarity

Bach:  C Major Prelude, Book I, Well Tempered Klavier

Part of A.B.’s quest is to play the notes of this prelude “evenly”.  Achieving this has to do with the chord outlined by the notes of each measure, and the balance of the notes in the chords in creating a clear impression of that chord as a whole.   To make this chord more obvious to the ear, the player, when practicing, can “densify” each chord:  if there are openings between adjacent written notes in the chord to squeeze in additional notes from the same chord, add those notes in.   For instance in measure 2, there is room for an f4 between the d4 and a4.  If we add in that f4, we create the denser five-note chord: c4 d4 f4 a4 d5.  We can take that chord a step forward and add a c5 between the a4 and the d4, forming a six-note chord.  The chord has been a D Minor-7 chord the entire time, but the additional chord tones just make it stand out more clearly to the ear what chord it is.  Do this for every chord in the Prelude when Bach’s written notes allow for such additions.

An equally valid technique to add density to the character of a chord is add in chord tones in lower and/or higher octaves not used in the printed chord.  In this form a chord could contain 8 – 10 notes, or by adding the pedal, larger numbers of notes, spanning the low bass to high treble.  In this form, the “quality” of the chord reveals itself at its most obvious.  This technique, helps “set” the sonority of the written chord inside a larger entity to which it in turns belongs.

Whatever are the sound characteristics and the mood characteristics of the individual chord, they become in this manner magnified to the ear.  From this form of the chord we can then re-compress the chord (through the aesthetic equivalent of a ‘trash compactor’) without losing any of the sound ‘material’ present in the larger version of the chord: the larger instance of the chord being condensed into a smaller chord without losing any of the fullness or meaning of the uncompressed version of the chord.

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What to “bring out” in a Complex Passage

Debussy: First Arabesque: the conclusion to the first of the three main parts.

What is the main melody that one should bring out during the passage that concludes the first part and leads to the middle part of the piece.  A.J. said that when I played it I was doing something that that made it work sound-wise but he couldn’t figure out what i was doing. He assumed that I was emphasizing one of the three layers of melodic motion embedded in the passage. I said, it is more complex than that.  There are three different things going on, but no one of which, by itself, is a significant melody.  it is only in the complex ways the three interact that causes the positive quality that I think you noticed.  The rising quarters in the rh form a melody of no great significance.  The cello=like melody in the left hand does have a singing melody, but by itself it doesn’t seem accomplish that much, as well. Then there are triplets.  Are they important or not? The real question is how to bring them together in a complex fusion that makes the passage glow and excite.

To relate the quarter note melody in the right hand with the triplets in the right hand,  I played gs4-b4, then held the two notes as i added in ds4, which I also held, and lastly added fs4.  If at this point I continue holding those four notes and not go on in the measure,  I realize, after maybe about a second, that those notes add up to a four-note chord with a specific flavor that independently of the single notes of which it is comprised, has its own specific flavor and character.  I might have missed hearing this had i not stopped to listen to the chord after it was finally formed.  The realization of the chord does not come instantaneously to the ear.  We have to patient, and wait for the four notes to all be there (five if you add the bass line).

It is a delayed satisfaction, one that is very desirable, but one that cannot be rushed.  Thus the triplets get their meaning in the  sound mixture by our waiting to hear the result of total participation.  Eventually, when we play the passage, he don’t have to pause on the clock to  wait for the four notes to congeal, we only have to subjectively, in the imagination, make the pause, to bring the four notes to life as members of a single chord, so that, at    the end time-wise, it is not any of the four notes that are significant on their own, but how they loose their identify in the sound color of the chord where they vibrate together – as equals – but to a common good.

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When it’s difficult to get from one chord to another

Sorry to have been out of touch for the past two weeks.    I had cataract surgery and was waiting for my eyes to be able to read the computer screen again.  Anyway, I’m fine now, and the hiatus is over.  But please excuse typos and misspellings.

Consider the situation when we try to connect one chord to another chord, but the second chord is a difficult to get to from the first chord, we can do the following.  The solution ultimately lies in not going from one chord to to a second.  We have to break down this apparent cause and effect within time.  Order in time need not dictate to our imagination order in which our body does things.

We let the hand get used to the second chord before playing the first chord.  We play the second a series of times.  After the first time we move the hand just a little bit away from the keyboard and then find the chord again.  Then we can move the hand right (and then left) along the keyboard, horizontally away from the chord, in gradually increasing distances, and each time find your way spontaneously, without thought, without set-up, to the second chord as if you were already on it.  Eventually your hand ‘remembers’ what that chord feels like, and can return to it from any place at all on or off the keyboard; from any position in all three dimensions that the hand can first be removed to, including for instance from your lap.  Of all these infinite places and positions from which the hand might come to return to that chord, just one such possibility is that the hand is first on the chord that is written first.

Memory is like a glue that adheres to a chord like a familiar friend. Benefiting from this fact, we just have to add in a trick with time.  Instead of the ‘first’ chord being followed by the ‘second’ chord, the second chord is there before the first chord.  we must feel that he have already been there, that the glue of the memory causes our hand to automatically be on the notes of the second chord.  I don’t so much mean that because we have practiced the passage, we get ‘used to’ where the second chord lies.  No, this is different.  This is truly being convinced that you are about to do two totally new things, for the very first time, and yet in spite of that, you act like you already know have been where the second is on the keyboard, tactilely, coverage-wise and finger-wise.

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