Category: Sound

Rantings of a Philosophical Pianist

Rantings of a Philosophical Pianist 



Layers of Timbres Along the Piano Keyboard



Schumann: Davidsbundler, #11, B Minor: second section, measure 9:

Situation: Octaves in the right hand forming a medium-slow melodic melody.

I want to train the point of my elbow to feel like it is in contact with the key to be pushed down to sound the next note. In my imagination, the point of the elbow should have the same sensations that the finger encounters when -pushing down on the key, meeting and overcoming the resistance of the key mechanism.




Schumann: Davidsbundler, #13 (Wild und lustig), B Minor: measure 1


So much of what I am doing today relies on imagination. In this entry, I wish to propose an alternative concept of the piano keyboard, which we usually envision as a linear object with gradually lowering or rising pitches. On the one hand, I can take the full range of the eighty-eight notes on the keyboard as producing one similar timbre, with differences between one note and another limited to change in the sound due to the pitches they emit.  But I am also free to take the whole keyboard and divide it into any number of different “strata”‘.

Within any one of these layers, I treat the overall timbre of the sounds of the keys as sharing a similar characteristic, while the notes within another stratum produce a different timbre as if it is a different instrument. As soon as I leave one stratum and move into a neighboring stratum of pitches, I focus fully on the fact that I think I hear a new timbre or tone quality, independent of the pitches in the sound. IF we accept this idea, then we are free to have as few or, more excitingly, as many different tone quality strata as our imagination can sensitize itself to perceiving. I have seen pictures in geology textbooks, where along a cliff or canyon wall, one encounters changing layers of sediment and rock, one after another of rocks, with discrete boundaries between them, each layer having been created in a different geological era. On the piano, there can be few strata or many, many strata.  A stratum can be as wide as an octave or more, or as narrow as just one piano key. For instance, in the case of Davidsbundler, #13, I can think of the opening b1-b2 as belonging to one timbre-stratum, the d2-d3 as belonging to another. and fs2-fs3 yet another. This is on the antipodes from my thinking of B, D, and F# as forming a B Minor Chord: a single entity that supersedes the individual notes. This is not to say that the chord cannot easily be deduced from the pitches of the three notes as I play them through time. However, here it is a question of whether I, as the consciousness of the pianist, gain anything by postponing for a moment the summarizing action of the chord and shift my awareness to the astonishing difference, the uniqueness of each note separately, produced in its own local timbre-space, sounding so much different than every other note. If I do this, may I not heighten rather than reduce the recognition of the chord when it occurs moments or instants later. Let the listener draw whatever chordal conclusions they wish but in my consciousness, I only realize the chord as a synthesis of what I first conceived of as different instruments playing different notes. There will always be the alternative to thinking in terms of pitch-timbre strata, if I shift my first awareness to the relative pitches of the notes, higher or lower, and how I can ‘shape’ a phrase or melody.  This too is of great importance but like the ‘chord’, is something that is the result of combining, summarizing if you will, a series of notes.  I am interested, at least today, in avoiding all summarizing activities (even though they may occur quickly in time) and start with the basic building blocks of timbre, which in the case of this Schumann, I conceive of as changing with each note.

This is not always easy to do if the piece is at a fast tempo and I try to place each note, or each couple of notes, in its own timbre-pitch-stratum.  How fast can my consciousness abandon the timbre of the current sound and prepare to search for and find a new timbre in the next note?* Where do I look for it?  What I’m looking for is not a different spatial position on the keyboard but a different timbre-world, a figurative place where if I play a note it will strike me with the maximum instrumental difference from the previous note.  A totally new sound. It is as if my ear rather than my eye is searching for a ‘place’, or better yet, creating or carving out a place, whose existence is not known hitherto, in which to situate the next note.

And when I play that note I am aware that the timbre as much as or more than the pitch has changed. I have established an ecological niche for the next note, one that may or may not endure for more than a moment. It’s about realizing extraordinary differences from one note to the next, in a consciousness used to summarizing and thinking in a group of notes.  It is so much harder for the ear to ‘search’ for something than for the eye to locate something already in our current field of vision. Here, I’m talking about each note being uniquely born and uniquely different from the other notes. I am describing something very different than what I call the additive-chord-thing: that I want the succession of notes I play to blend together and form in spite of time passing, first in anticipation, and then moments later in retrospect, a certain chord. Or a certain harmonic progression. Or scale. These, too, are very important but simply not my concern at this moment.  I am trying to pin down something more fleeting in time, created during the age of the demiurges when they took the primitive masses and gave them shape and form.

*I am describing something very different than what I call the additive chord-thing: that I want the succession of notes I play to blend together and form in spite of time passing, first in anticipation, and then moments later in retrospect, a certain chord. Or a certain harmonic progression.  Or scale.  These, too, are very important but simply not my concern at this moment.  I am trying to pin down something more fleeting in time, created during the age of the demiurges when they took the primitive masses and gave them shape and form.



Perhaps because the elbow is vaguer in space than a finger already attached to a note on the piano keyboard, I believe that part #1 above is related to what I go on to talk about in part #2. What I’ve been saying today, also conjoins metaphorically with the idea of opening up space’ for every next note, and then my ear then ‘seeks’ the next sound in that place.  The keyboard is a complex ecosystem where many species interact but each can be in its own niche. Prior to examining how animals in different niches interrelate and interact with each other, we could start with what in each niche is unspoiled by the others. There is an analogy between ‘looking with the ear’ to open up a ‘space’ for a next note to sound in, and thinking about where to find it, which is important, and were on the keyboard, relative to other places on the keyboard, where one is looking to find the spatial location of the area opened up for the next note.

Here’s Another Example:

Brahms: Rhapsodie Op 79 / 1 in B Minor.

The increasingly dense and complex section ending the first section and leading up to the change to the key to B Major. How quickly can I find an isolated niche for each sound? Even when they succeed each other rapidly.  Or even in a wide chord which contains many notes, where for each note I might want each note to exist in its own sound-timbre-niche. How quickly can my ear change registers, and fully recognize the difference between a one-octave range and another? So, for instance, f3 and an f5 sound more towards being different than each other and losing some of the commonality they both have for being F’s. How quickly can I play notes of the same letter-name in different octaves, and situate each in as unique a timbre-stratum as possible? That my ear has already quickly found a new pitch/timbre niche for the next note, and thus expect to find its sound where I have predicted it to come into existence.

I think there were certain things I wrote about in the past that prefigure what I am talking about today. Most recently, I wrote about spreading the fingers wide apart, range them over the keyboard, and then barely flexing the fingers in the order they will play some current passage. Optically, it would be like ‘zooming in’ on a local part of the keyboard so that the notes seem much wider apart than they normally do, which in turn brings up an earlier concept of the difference between “objective” and “subjective” distance on the piano keyboard, the latter existing in the imagination and in the way we experience the inner muscle sensations that may be invisible to a viewer. For today, I am talking about the qualitative difference between two notes being greater than their measurable distance on the keyboard. There are most likely other things that I did in the past that prefigures today’s discussion of timbre-strata. For example, making sure my finger is on or touching the key that I want next to play, before sounding it. Although misguided on my part, was it nonetheless an adumbration of the same sonic effect I am describing today. Or again, when I would take a series of notes like c3 d3 e3 f3, but play them first as c3 d4 e5 f6.  Each one in a new octave.  I did this to maximize the difference in sound timbre between notes in spite of their initial proximity to each other pitch-wise.* What did I retain of the ‘closer’ melody if I scattered its notes apart? Was there quality of the melody in its original form, that I could only access with my ears when the pitches varied in octave range? And today’s insight may go back to one of my original insights about playing piano, what I call the “original dissociation thing”,** which I thought was motivated by wanting to free up the physical mechanism, but had in it an adumbration of wanting each note to ‘sound’ unique in its qualities, including qualities of timbre. The stars as they appear in the night sky seem close together and form constellations. In reality, the stars in a constellation are light years apart and differ in distance from the earth by magnitudes of light years. Rarely do the stars in a constellation bear any relation to a common entity.

*Sometimes I placed the melody notes in descending octaves. Or, I suppose, I could have placed each note in a random octave.

** Dissociation is probably a bad term to use.  What it was meant to describe was a concatenation of beliefs:  

  1. That for every note or chord played there is a most comfortable position for the body, hand, and fingers.
  1. Finding this position requires letting go of the last most comfortable position that applied to the previous note or chord.
  1. That the mechanism had to find each new position with alacrity, naturalness, just as when we pick a book or fork, etc., off a table. There is no thought or conscious planning involved




Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Commitment to Every Note and Its Meaning

C.R.’s lesson on 7/9/19: Beethoven’s Rondo in C Major, Op 51 / 1.

This lesson was about total dramatic, musical and emotional
commitment to the work one is playing.


Take for example the left hand at the beginning |: c4-e4 g4 :|. This is no trivial Alberti-like bass figure. It is no simple or gentle oscillation. It is Atlas with the world on his shoulders, shifting its weight from one shoulder to the other and back and forth. As a result, people on earth are first washed into the sea, and then hurled on shore again.


Never let your personal dislike of or disinterest of a passage, affect your ability to be a dedicated advocate if that passage. It is the same as being a
“Paraclete”, or a great defense attorney, who still puts on the best defense regardless of any personal feelings about their client. Or, think of yourself, as a great actor who regardless of their feelings about a particular line says it as if it were a great line. When I listen to you play this piece in concert, I would be able to say to someone at intermission, “Well, I happen to know she doesn’t really like the sound of those diminished chords, but portrays every one as being something wonderful. It is as if she takes what is
disagreeable in the sound of that chord, and magnifies it in its disagreeableness until striking the essence of the effect of the diminished chord.”.

The piano is a marvelously safe place to “act out” at the same time as “hide”.  For no one in the audience knows whether whether the effect of what they hear at any moment is due to Beethoven or to you. In fact if you are playing the piece well, you are eclipsed as an entity leaving just the music.


In the piece where there is a long quasi-chromatic scale upwards in
groups and fours and then downwards in triplets.

“Is the way down usually the same as the way up”. Do you subscribe to the view of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said “The way up and the way down are one and the same.” I feel that in music the way up and the way down are substantially different in aesthetic and in structural meaning.*

The scale up, because of its use of chromatic, non-scale tones, is
like the first long, slow incline up a roller coaster, a time during
which one’s anticipation of the rapid descent to follow builds and
builds in one’s apprehension and/or excitement. And when it changes
direction at the top, we get sea sick. Afterwards, for a moment here
and there we may level off, but it is those minimum and maximum points along the curve of the track that keep us clinging to the coaster – to the melody. One the way down, the scale of the melody, faster and less chromatic this time, pushes aside all obstacles on its way to is eventual goal.

As your listener, I want you to make me seasick, just from the changing direction of the pitches, slowed and sped up by the melody’s rhythm. If you don’t make me sea sick I’m just not that interested in the kinetic motion of the passage.

* There are exceptions of course, some passages are designed to simply
move away from something and then return in an inevitable circle.
Where the meaning lies in the starting point / = ending point and not in the

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shifting Perspective to Play Easier

Albeniz: Orientale (At A.B.’s lesson of 6/20/19)


A.B. begins his process of learning a new piece by getting ‘hooked’ on
a detail: what did Albeniz mean here, near the beginning, by joining
two sets of notes with a slur mark but, under the first of the two puts a staccato – it is illogical. He’s seen the staccato on the second of two notes under a slur but never the first.

I get instantly trapped into his way of framing the issue. So I come up with a spread of possible explanations ranging from general comments about the inexactitude of that part of music notation that doesn’t deal with pitches and rhythms, to a mistake by the printer.   The latter A.B. corrects: but, he says, it is a Henle edition and the edition is based directly on Albeniz’s manuscript. Being thus cut off at the pass, I attempt to turn his entire process upside down. Why don’t you, I said to him, start with the effect of the piece as a whole. Once that effect is clear to you, extrapolate from this
overall effect to any specific detail you happen to pick up. Make a judgement about that detail that keeps it in line with the overall mood and effect of the piece.


He becomes fixated on the different possible ways of playing the repeating D minor chord at the opening. It is too big for his hand. Should he roll the chord? Play the top note with the right hand? Meanwhile, over inside my head, the only thing I am noticing, as he tries one technique after the other, is that at no time does he effect a balance and unity between the notes of the chord and the notes of the upper melody. Eventually I say this: listen instead to the effect of the d4 (at the beginning of the melody) with the d2, a2 and f3, in the chord that sounds with it. Do all four notes unite into a
balanced, D minor chord? And the same question about the second melody note, the e4, and the chord that is still sustaining. Would anything be gained by keeping your ear on the formation of these overbraced chords between all the notes in both hands, both when the melody in the right hand has a chord tone in its melody and when it has a tone of embellishment. Hear the latter, as being the latter: a purposeful dissonance adding to the richness of the complexion of the chord.

A way of snaking up on this effect is to separately practice the connection between just the d2 and the e4 in the melody.  Additionally, if you care to, practice the connection between the a2 (extracted from the chord) to the e4 in the melody (or the same for the f3 and the e4). When A.B. tried this, suddenly all the other problems which he had both went defined and then worried about, went away.

As in number 1, above, often the solution to a perceived problem lies in a shift of perspective, an approach coming from an entirely different point of view than first used. We get stuck with our way of perceiving a problem in our playing the piece, and magnify rather than eliminate the problem by focusing in greater and greater detail on problem as seen from this perspective.  Yet often has to wave an arm and dispel the view one has of the passage. To form a new perspective on so that it appears in a totally new light.


There are in this piece frequent passages in which a note is held in the bass while the remaining fingers of the left hand in conjunction with different combinations of fingers in the right hand play a series of parallel triads (often in inversion).

As is his wont, A.B. searching for the fluidity of connection between these triads in the fingering that he is using. I suggested a shift of point of view. Think, I said, of the enunciation of each triad as being broken down into two distinct parts. One is the physical action causing the onset of the sounds of the triad, and the other, a separate, equally specific physical action causing, at a specific moment after the first, the release of those sounds. It is as important that the three sounds of the triad terminate at exactly the
same moment in time as each other, as it is for them to start at exactly the same moment. Without the terminating motion, the different fingers playing the triad all have their own habitual way of letting go of their sound.

Suddenly fingering was no longer an important issue. We had side stepped it. Releasing the notes of the triads at a specific moment unconsciously caused him to control what fingering he was using on each next triad.* The way the pianist ends a triad unconsciously controls the physical way they start the next triad.**

* In the case of number #3. we also experimented with making a single motion (a “heel-toe” motion ***) to play two consecutive triads. This
falls under the heading of the principle of the using the fewest possible motions to execute the largest series of notes.

** Two additional and semi-related points came up while working on
this passage of parallel thirds.

#1 There is a basic difference in effect between a legato achieved
through the use of the pedal and one achieved without the use of the
pedal. It is always best to practice a legato first without pedal: as
best as you can effect it, even when the composer has indicated in the
socre the use of the pedal to sustain one sound into the next. We
want to hear the legato is its purest state before dealing with all
the extra ramifications sound-wise of adding the pedal. Then, feel
free to add the pedal – as much as you want. Just be aware that the
heart of the legato resides in the use of the muscles throughout the
body as well as in the fingers in particular.

#2 on Henle page 1, line 4, measure 2, When one of the fingers playing
the current triad has to, en route to the next triad, ‘dislodge’ from
its current position one of the other fingers playing the current
triad. Feel as if the former finger is able to exert a pressure
through a vacuum to cause the other finger to move out of the way.

*** I refer you here to my forthcoming blog “two or more notes from
one continuous gesture through time”. Among the gestures described is
the one that I refer to here under the nickname of “heel-toe” (a
borrowing from organ foot technique).

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Microtonal Musings

Microtonal Musings:

1: “in tune” or “out of tune”:

The tonally trained ear expects to hear things in a certain way, and clings to that way in spite of gradually mounting evidence that what they are hearing is not tonal but microtonal.

I’ve demonstrated this with a sound experiment in which a major triad (such as C-E-G) is gradually transformed into a minor triad (C-Eb-G) followed by a reverse direction.  The root note and fifth remain constant; the third is gradually lowered over the course of a certain duration until it has fallen a half step, at which point the third starts rising in pitch, at the same rate as it the pitch was lowered, until it is back to its usual position as the third of a major triad.

In this particular experiment the third is lowered (and later raised) at the rate of one hundredth of a semi-tone (a “cent”) every third of a second.

For many people, no change is noticed for a while.   Their ear continues to hear, or cling to hearing, a major triad – one albeit that is “out of tune” but still clearly intended to be a major triad.  The ear does not accept that it is perceiving a microtonal tonal triad that is neither major nor minor.   The microtonal change is considered an imperfection in the intonation.  There is no recognition of the triad as being of a new aesthetic species – neither major or minor.

Then a sudden switch occurs.   At a certain point in the migration downwards of the third of the triad, most interestingly a point that is closer to the eventual minor chord and further from the initial major chord, the sound, almost instantly, changes in the listener’s ear from being heard as an out of tune major triad to an out of tune minor triad.

This “inaccurate” minor triad persists until the third is close to its final value, at which point the sensation the minor chord at last is getting more and more “in tune”, until at the end it sounds very in tune.

The most interesting part of this sound experiment is that when the third starts traveling in the other direction, the location of the point where the ear ceases to hear the triad as an out of tune minor chord and flips over to hearing it as an out of tune major chord, does not occur at the same point as the similar position during the first phrase of the experiment.  This change in perception now occurs when the triad is closer to the final major chord and further from the minor triad.

2. A self-similar “fractal” chord:

I’ve made many experiments in discovering types of microtonal chords that have a distinct effect that is aesthetically interesting.

My aim was to create a microtonal analogy to a ‘self similar’ fractal design.   The results I got were extremely beautiful, and unlike in case number one, above, could not under any circumstances be heard as an ‘out of tune’ version of a more tonal chord.

I started with an arbitrary selection of a lowest and a highest pitch.  I then inserting a medium pitch that had the effect of dividing the overall range into two parts that bore a certain ratio (in my first experiment this ratio in pitch was 2 : 3).  I continued to divide up each of the smaller pitch intervals by the same ratio.  What started as just two pitches, became successively, hree pitches, five pitches, nine pitches, seventeen pitches, etc..*

*In computing the frequencies of the microtones I started with the unit of the “cent” (one hundredth of a half step) and then converted each cents value to a frequency.

3. Overtone series:

When an ear perceives a single tone or pitch from an orchestral instrument or the voice, an analysis of the sound vibration shows that there are actually a ‘chord’ of different pitches executing separate vibrations.  These additional tones are known as overtones.  If one could separate one overtone from the rest we would hear a sound at a different pitch from the one the ear first perceives.

One of the properties of the overtones is that they are the most spread out in pitch near the ‘fundamental frequency’ (the pitch that the ear perceives) and clump closer and closer together as they continue upwards in pitch.

There is a piece by Stockhausen called “Stimmung”* which has a group of singers each singling one of the upper overtones of a constant fundamental frequency.   A ‘range’ of overtones is chosen by the composer.  The fundamental is never sung, but a consecutive group of overtones is used.  A variable in this selection is what should the lowest pitched overtone in the overtone series that should be sounded and which is the highest pitched one, and how many overtones does that ‘interval’ contains.

In its application to microtonal music, such a group of overtones, can be used as a ‘scale’ of available pitches out of which the notes of the piece are formed.   However, one property of a scale is that it repeats over and over, usually at the octave.  We can make a series of overtones do this by taking just one octave of the overtone series and transposing its pitches up and down various numbers of octaves so as to form a continuous scale from bass to treble.

For most orchestral instruments the overtones are linear in frequency.  The first overtone is twice the fundamental frequency, the second overtone is three times the fundamental frequency, etc..   But the more three dimensional the instrument is the more it deviates from this simple linear pattern.  A bell, for instance, whose vibrating mechanism does not approximate a one dimensional line, has a different arrangement of overtones.

And if a four-dimensional creature were to suspend a four-dimensional bell from a string, and then set it into vibration, there would be an less linear overtone series.  It does not matter that we cannot construct such an instrument, for mathematics enables to predict what the overtones would be, and they can be reproduced exactly on an electronic synthesizer that is set up for microtones.   So we can form scales out of the overtone series for n-dimensional objects (where n goes beyond three).

Here is a list of sample possible constants for generating an ‘altered’ linear overtone series on a particular note:

In the following n is a whole number, and ff the fundamental frequency:

(pi) x (n) x (ff)

(e) x (n) x (ff)

Here are some other possibilities of generating a linear overtone series not based on multiplying the fundamental frequency by whole numbers.


2 to the 1/2 power

pi times e

sine of an angle

* There was work by Maurice Béjart’s modern ballet company which was set to the music of Stimmung which was sung on stage at Carnegie by the “Swingle Singers”.  Each singer intoned the pitch corresponding to one of the linear overtones of a single fundamental pitch.  So that the tones were not too widely separated pitch-wise, they used a part of the overtone series where there were approximately as many overtones within the scope of one octave as there are notes forming one octave of a more familiar scale.  For instance the following numbered overtones, in the fourth octave about the fundamental, span an octave and divide that octave into 8 parts: 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15  

4. Graphing a mathematical function:

There is an aesthetic fallacy in trying to find a means of translation between something spatial (as a graph) and something temporal (as music).  However, if one is willing to experiment, one could try to derive the notes of microtonal chord from the y-values of some function f(x).  Each next note in the chord would be f(x) for each whole number value of x.  What would a parabola sound like?  A hyperbola?  A sine way?  We don’t know until we ‘hear it’.  We may stumble on a function whose sound as a chord is pleasing and unique aesthetically.

5. Expanding or compressing a tonal piece around a constant center of pitch:

This is more productive of interesting sounding tone groups.  Bach Chorales lend themselves nicely to this procedure.

Take each chord, translate it into cents, and then either increase or decrease each pitch in the chord relative to some stable frequency that is either be one of the pitches of the original chord or a pitch that is chosen randomly but which remains throughout the chorale as the center of expansion and/or contraction.   Or, another way would be to use the notes in one of the four voices as the “stable” pitch (even though it may change from beat to beat) and contract or expand the pitches of the other three voices relative to it.


For those of you who dabble in microtones would you let me know what methods you use or whether any of the methods described above have proven useful.  Thanks, Joe

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Importance of What is Not Heard

Brahms: Intermezzo: Op 116 No. 4 in E Major

Often in a well constructed piece, the meaning of something lies in how it stands out in contrast, or in relief, to something else.  Much of this has to do with memory, and what the listener may expect to hear at a certain time.

An example:

In the recapitulation of the Classical sonata movement, the second theme comes back in the in the tonic, not as we remember it, in the Exposition, in the dominant (or relative major).  What happens at that moment is that an expectation is momentarily revived and  enhanced by the composer but a new present reality is superimposed upon it. For a moment the two tenses interact*, but a moment or two later our ear has taken up its bearings in the new.

The ears of a sensitive listener will even prick up before the second theme, at the exact moment when the composer deviates from the harmonic path that led to the second theme in the exposition.

One of the things that makes late Brahms difficult to hear lucidly is that when something stands in relief with something else, we often haven’t had an opportunity to hear that something else earlier in the piece.  So how does the pianist make a contrast with something that is not ever heard, but whose meaning lies entirely in its contrast to this unheard base or reference?

An example from the Brahms Intermezzo:

Consider the passage in measures 10 through 14.  Contrapuntally, what is going on has less to do with the triplets in the right hand but in implied, but not literally heard, duplets, which are formed from the second and third triplet notes, if the first triplet note is put back onto the beat, omitting the first triplet note entirely, and playing the third triplet note as the second note of a duplet.  If we do this, we suddenly hear a very conspicuous appoggiatura.  In measure 12 for example the e5 is clearly heard as an appoggiatura to the d5.**   As we shall see, this perception need not become vitiated by the delay of the restoration of the appoggiatura to its original position in the measure (one triplet eighth later than the sounding of the chord in which it functions as an appoggiatura).

The same relation of appoggiatura applies to the c5 to b4 and the a4 to g4.   When performed successfully, this passage haunts the listener with the sustained feeling that something else is going on other than what is most obvious to the ear (delayed triplets).  There lurks this implication of regularly arriving appoggiaturas on the beats.  Similar appoggiaturas occur throughout the passage.

Brahms doesn’t stop there.  Once he establishes to the ear that this comparison to the implied simplified counterpoint,  he is able to take a further step to hide the actual appoggiaturas by attracting the ear, in measures 11, 12 and 13, to a descending scale in the top voice.  But let’s pause for a second.  Do we hear a scale?  Almost.  At least we get the feeling that there is a scale present.  For here too, there is a layer of removal from what is heard to what one might call what is meant-to-be-heard.  We hear a melody stopping and stopping in two note groups, which if there were no interruptions would be a coherent, fluid scale: b5 a5 g5 fs5 | e5 d5 c5 b4 a4 g4 | etc.  The beauty of a melody arising from following this scale depends on the implication that our consciousness is able to pass lightly over the first the first of each group three triplet notes (a note that is merely part of an  accompanying chord) so that the notes of the scale seem to flow connectedly one into the other.

I have my students leave out the first triplet note, and change the next two notes to regular eighth notes, putting the first of the eighth notes back onto the beat.  The scale is now much clear to the pianist’s ears.  Crucially, if that point, the student goes back to playing the written notes, the reference to the fluid duplet scale is not lost.  It attempts to maintain itself in spite of the pauses.  It haunts the image of the passage and changes a somewhat trivial passage in triplets to something more transcendent sounding.

Thus a passage can transcend itself.  It becomes beautiful only in relief to something more basic, not literally heard, to which it yet can refer itself.   Generally, in late Brahms, we often must try to make a passage sound like what it isn’t! (something clearer in harmony, clearer in rhythm, and clearer in voice leading and counterpoint).

* This momentary contrast, if it were prolonged would lead to a confusion in the sounds, like when a person accidentally takes a double exposure with a camera.  If, however, the process could be frozen in time, and experienced just in space, we would have the equivalent of a biologist looking through a microscope that allows on eye to view one slide and the other eye view another slide, as for the purpose of noting what contrasts there are between them.  A side by side comparison.  In music it is more sublime.  It is a a sound image from time past that melds with a sound image from time-present.  The past isn’t gone it lives in memory, for many in the form of a sound-memory.  The past sounds do not really sound in the glare of the light of present, but colors it.  But a comparison is made.


e5  d5



Clearly there is a D Mjor chord trying to fully form and as an e5 yields to the partially formed chord and resolves to the chord note d5.


Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *