S.E.’s lesson 4/6/21: Brahms First Piano Concerto: II
Opening passage for piano (which starts at measure 14).
Every time you ‘feel’ like playing the next chord or note, don’t play
it, not yet. Force yourself to wait for a little. Something special will
happen to the current chord and make more magical the sound of the
next chord when it arrives. To succeed at doing this, it means
finding the difference between simply playing slower (I.E. in a
slower tempo) and not feeling as if you are playing any slower, but
waiting until you feel that inner musical/physical urge to play the
next note or chord, and then resisting that urge for a moment. The
urge should subside a moment later, and that is when you play the next
sound. Allow this procedure to recur on every new chord, even to the
eighth notes when they begin within the melody. This is hard to
sustain because with each beat you need to wait for that urge to move
ahead before not moving, waiting, and then moving. IF you do not
repeat the same psychological conditions over and over, you will
simply ‘slip’ into a slower tempo, rather than a slightly faster tempo
that is ‘reluctant to move ahead. The reluctancy is the important
thing. A state of anticipation in awe of what the next chord might do
to the current chord.
measures 47 – 48
The rising multi-note arpeggios:
e.g. (in the right hand) cs4-e4 e4-gs4 gs4-cs5 …
As a practice technique, Whenever the same note repeats in two
successive two-note intervals, try tying over that note between its
first instance and its appearance in the second instance. For the
second intervals, only play the notes that are new. At the beginning
of measure 47 example, the first two sixteenth notes both include the
note E. And the second and third sixteenth notes both share G#. It
may require finger substitutions to affect these ties, but when you
play the assage normally, with the usual fingering, it will seem to be
much easier to play.
Bear in mind that when a major or minor chord inverts everything seems
to go along smoothly in thirds until suddenly a perfect fourth
intrudes (gs4-c5 in the example above). Just be aware of when and
where these fourths displace the thirds.
The wide chords in the left hand. Beat 3 in measures 47 and 48.
Never stretch. A chord is an arpeggio in which delta-t (the duration
between the beginning of one note and the next has shrunk towards
zero). At heart it’s rolling, but so fast that for all intents and
purposes, it seems simultaneous to the listener’s ear (and to you
yourself perhaps a little more vibrant).
If in the process of practicing you repeat one of the chords several
times in a row in order to get a ‘firm’ handle on it, never assume
that the notes are going to play are going to be in the same place
that they were the last time you played the chord! Assume they’ve
moved! Each iteration should feel like the dawning of a new day, or
the very beginning of the piece, a brand new opportunity of finding
the correct notes from scratch. It’s like picking up an object,
putting it down, and then picking up another object that happens to
have the same shape and dimensions as the first but is located in a
Another technique for the ascending thirds and fourths in measures 47
and 48 is to play each of the intervals twice, before changing to the
next notes. It’s sort of like you are getting two chances at
each note. You, imagine yourself getting two shots at each note, but
the listener ends up hearing only one.
The G# Dominant-7 chord in the first inversion in measure 48
(cs2-fs3-gs3-ds4 played by the left hand by itself).
Play the gs3 by itself. Then hold it. Then add around it the
remaining notes of the G#-7 chord. Then continue to hold only the
gs3, and then add in the remaining notes surrounding it on the C# Minor
chord that follows the Dominant-7. As you do this study with your eye
what your hand does to try to effect this transition, pivoting around
the common tone of gs3.
Same two chords as just above, (bs2-fs3-gs3-ds4 going to
cs3-e3-gs3-e4). Another approach.
Let’s take the second chord (C# Minor) first.
Arpeggiate that chord slowly from lowest pitch to highest. As you move
up to the next note, once your finger is on that next note, release
the finger that played the previous note. And so on from note to note
until you reach the top note of the chord. Another way of putting
this would be to release your previous finger from “captivity” as you
go to the next note. Instead of being trapped in the same place in
the hand, the finger can breathe and the hand as a whole can assume a
more relaxed and closed posture. Now make it sound “as if” the
arpeggio were simultaneous. You don’t lose the feeling of relaxation
in your hand.
Now, returning to the first chord (bs2-fs3-gs3-ds4). Notice that in
this chord as well as the following chord, there is an interval of a
tenth. Where does the hurt or tension occur going from one chord to
the next? It will likely lie in the part of the hand stretching for
the tenths unless you have a large hand. Try this slowly and
melodically: bs2 ds4 cs3 e4 (we’re making a melody out of the four
notes of the two tenths and not thinking of the other notes imprisoned
within the span of the tenths).
Now, think of those four notes only, and if possible melodically from
bottom note to top note, but play all the notes of the chords. This
is likely to reduce any pain or tension. It is a cardinal rule in
piano playing that any sort of strain or pain is not good. *
* I don’t know, Joe says sarcastically, if this applies to learning
the violin; I can imagine a teacher saying: if it hurts … get used
when those eighth notes start, be driven to play the eighth notes by
ecstasy, not by the printed rhythm.
when you get to the climaxes, there is an urge to increase the tempo,
but still wait at the end of one sound, after feeling the urge to move
on to that next note. Even these notes at the climax should not be
chained by a law musical or physical sense of necessity, as if it were
physical cause and effect. Each note can speak for itself and create
its own briefly enduring universe of feeling and musical meaning.
Another technique to liberating each note is that when you are among
the series of eighth notes in measures 76-79, even if you play them
legato so that the sound is continuous, feel, deeper into the center
of the body, that there is an eighth rest before the next eighth note.
This technique has the side benefit of giving your hands the physical
a chance to adapt themselves to the shape of the next chord or note,
Issues of fingering are only awkward when you are trying to connect
one note to the next. if, however, you play just one chord, and hang
out with it for a while, the hand during that time will play the next
chord as if it is the first chord of the piece. Naturally and without
difficulty. Axiom: there is a most comfortable, ideal position of the
hand for each note or chord played. The experience of play is always
one of extreme ease and comfort.
Measures 80 – 84
In general for wide arpeggios traveling between the two hands
Whenever there is a spare moment, bring the hands briefly closer to
the eyes to create the illusion that the hands have grown in size
relative to the keyboard; that they now subtend a wider range of notes
then when they are on the keyboard. Try not to lose that enhanced
the feeling of gigantism when your hands move unconsciously back onto the
S.E.: each of these arpeggios starts with an octave on the bottom, which
causes me difficulty.
Me: take your left arm, and rotate the whole arm, like you turned the
entire arm into a long corkscrew, and you are going to open a wine
bottle with large, repeated twists of your arm. First, rotate the arm as
far as it seems to want to go in the clockwise direction. When you
reach the point when your body doesn’t seem to want the arm to twist
any further, at this point, let it feel like or actually is rotating
even further. Then pause in the rotation, and then continue to act
like you can rotate it further and further in this same direction.
Pretend if you can hyperextend the twist in your arm as far as want
to. It is analogous to the effort required to set an old-style
Now try playing the measure. Rotate clockwise beyond the b2, and roll
the arm all the way over. The feeling of more rotation persists in
the left arm even after your right-hand takes over the notes of the
arpeggio. The right arm simply gets swept in the same direction as
the left arm as if being overtaken and extending the motion of the
left arm. Subsumed almost within the action of the left arm.
measure 81: starting beat 3
The series of descending arpeggios (with no ascent of pitches in
The same technique, but this time screwing counterclockwise the entire
time, as if simultaneously in the two arms, and at the very bottom of
the arpeggio in the bass, still the counterclockwise motion doesn’t
stop, as the thumb of the left hand over and to the left of the pinkie
of the left hand.
measure 82: beats 4 and 5
The two dovetailing ascending arpeggios, without a descending arpeggio
in between them. The second arpeggio begins just one note after the
highest note in the previous arpeggio.
What we have here is the principle of the whip. To get the tip of the
whip to move very fast in the air, you have to have begun the motion
of your hand at the top of the whip, a second earlier than you want
the tip to move.
In the same sense, before you get anywhere near the top of the first
arpeggio (during beat 4), already be sending the rest of your body and
torso, arms, and back, down towards the low note again.
It is useful to think of the first note of the next arpeggio as really
the last note of the previous arpeggio.
Measures 87 – 94
instead of concentrating on the rhythmic coordination between the right
hand triplets (including ties) with the left-hand duplets, trust that
what Brahms is doing is meant to instantly transport you to a
different world, which, once you enter it, supersedes the normal world
but sounds as normal as a series of quarters or eighths in 4/4 time.
For now, take leisurely amounts of time to get from one note to the
next – noticing that sometimes the next note is in the other hand.
the triple trill at the end of the cadenza, just before the orchestra
returns to finish the movement.
Always be ready to play the next 3-note triad of the trill before you
try to sound it. It’s like an extra step in each cycle of what is
already a busy figuration. To delay the next triad until you are
newly set up to play it, you can try occupying your time by
slipping/sliding the fingers playing the first triad a little further
away from the fallboard and towards the lips of the keys while
holding the a3-g4–cs5-e5 keys before sounding the a3-a4–d5-fs5
Don’t let the left hand get ahead of the right hand because it has an
easier time than the right hand. Put your left hand under
instructions to follow your right hand.
Never let yourself try to accelerate the trill to do it faster than
you can actually do it. Slower and even sounds faster than faster and
generally throughout the movement
There are just certain technical difficulties that don’t benefit from
first playing slowly. Yes, figure out, and carefully, what the notes
are, slowly, just once, then discover the techniques that enable the
passage to go fast, techniques that don’t show up in the body when
Let things pass at their ‘own’ rate and not the rate you wish to
impose upon the notes. Accept things more stoically as they pass by
and shiver in their beauty.
It’s like a renaissance painter with layers of pigment on the canvas.
The bottom layer is one of great beauty and tranquility and it imbues
the layers above it. The next layer up (we’re now specifically talking about the music) varies in the mood – sometimes it speeds up, sometimes it gets more frenetic.
In music, each application of a new color blends with the ones that
are already there. Sometimes the moment of blending is very tangible
as when the newest sound blends with the second most recent sound. The
blending is done not by overhanging one sound to the next but by the
normal functioning of memory which, according to the great French
philosopher Henri Bergson prevents each moment of consciousness from being
a single instant (like a point in space, or like the image a camera
would record if the exposure time were set to zero seconds), but
preserves the past into the present, especially the more recent past.
A basic principle about improving a passage, on a continual,
consistent basis. If it gets better from one try to another, don’t
immediately try to make it get even ‘betterer’ (sic). Otherwise, there
is a strong likelihood of undoing your progress and it will revert to a
If you were a trial judge, you might be used to finding
flaws in a lawyer’s argument. Their argument was good in general but
there was one thing that caught your attention that did not ring of
truth but seemed illogical. Now you are generally suspicious of the
Remember, because of the intensity of your business life, that when
you get to the piano, you’re doing it to give yourself peace of mind
and surcease to life’s professional duties.
A.B.’s Lesson 4/8/21
A.B.’s lesson 4/8/21
Some comments on Bach’s Prelude in C Major from the Second Book
of the Well-Tempered Klavier.
Two general principles for infusing the ‘guiding’ chord or harmony into a
series of steps taken from a scale. A four-note segment of a scale
going up or down is a repeating constituent of this prelude, woven
into frequently into every voice.
Let us say the notes to be played are: c4 b3 a3 g3. Play the four
following groups of notes. The underscore under the last note of each
group indicates to hold it longer than the previous notes:
Deriving the chord from an additive process while playing a scale that
contains all the notes of the scale.
We will use the example of deriving a C Major chord from a C Major
I play the scale up and down one octave at a moderate tempo.
c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 a3 b3 c4 b3 a3 g3 f3 e3 d3 c3
I use the left hand to play c3 through f3, and the right hand to play
g3 through c4.
The reason for doing this is hand distribution is because that way,
each time I play a chord tone lying in the scale, I can hold that note
over as I continue playing all the notes following it. If I happen to
play the same exact note again later in the scale, I would cease
holding the first iteration of the note just before playing it the
second time and then continue holding the note down through whatever
remaining notes there are to play in the scale.
In the following diagram, the underscoring (__________) shows for how
long I continue to hold down a particular note in the scale
can hold over any singular note that I choose while going on to play
others. in this case, the notes I choose to hold are the notes that
belong to the c major chord. The underscoring suggests which notes
are held and for how long.
c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 a3 b3 c4 b3 a3 g3 f3 e3 d3 c3
The further I play into the scale, the more the C Major chord stands
out as against the changing notes of the scale. The ear becomes
infused with the chord and should remain so infused even when no notes
are being held over. Thus at least subtly changing the effect of
hearing the scale on the part of the listener.
Metes and Bounds**
This is a useful occupation for a spare part of your brain while
playing the prelude (or any other Bach piece, or for that matter any
piece by any great composer). It is used for instance to establish,
in an overgrown terrain, where the boundary line is between one where
the boundary is between one property and another, or in our case the
boundary in time between one governing chord and the next.
For instance in measure 25. Where exactly is the boundary line within
the measure between one chord and the next? You’d think it might
occur at the same moment in all the voices. But sometimes the
boundary is crooked: one voice crosses it before another.
Let us look at the middle of the measure.
We come across an unambiguous G Minor chord. But afterward, when do
the following notes stop outlining or reflecting the G Minor chord and
start outlining or reflecting another chord.
Is there is a brief, quasi, “secondary dominant” on the fourth
sixteenth note, fs5, that goes to an E-flat major on the next beat by
way of a “deceptive cadence” from a brief reference to a D Major (V)
to (VI) E-Flat Major. Or does it not exist? The answer depends on
how closely we want to look at the texture of harmonic changes? Do we
want to simplify things and make the changing harmonies seem more
granular and less frequent? One might argue it either way, but there
is a certain type of illumination that occurs to our harmonic
sensibilities if we look at this piece as fine-grained, with the
harmonies mutating at a faster rate than we might have assumed at
So does the fs5 in the top voice act as the squad member that goes “on point” and leads the rest of the voices into the next area of harmonic
terrain. If it does the other voices may not immediately follow the
top voice but don’t respond until the third beat of the measure.
Diminished-7 chord, a D major chord (with an appoggiatura in it), a
D-7 chord, a G Minor chord. All of these are in close succession.
Sometimes Bach is changing chords every two sixteenth notes, or even on every sixteenth note.
As my psychotherapist would remind me: “it’s all about boundary
issues…where are your boundaries…and what do you when someone
‘trespasses on one of them. Do I want it to sound like I’m going to
a new chord right away? Is this voice trying to get to the new chord
before the others? Or should I delay my harmonic reaction until other
voices have gotten there too?
In Bach, chordal boundaries are in flux. Every so often a group of
experts may get together to redraw the map, and often the new boundary between chords squiggles around and are not in the shape of a vertical line through the staves.
title of Bacon’s essay*) have to do with how far can we constantly
meander away from C major without truly leaving the key. There is
always a valid harmonic reason for what he is doing but it is
sometimes had to track because it is happening so quickly and
frequently: the average listener may not care to listen in terms of
the chords changing, and would rather follow strands of melody, which
remain quite consistent throughout the Prelude and which consist of 4
ascending or four descending scale steps.
* www.annacastle.com: “In times of turmoil, we can turn to Francis
property, or real estate. Newer systems include rectangular and lot and block. The system has been used in England for many centuries and is still used there in the definition of general boundaries. Wikipedia