Category: Specific Pieces

Bach: the E Major Prelude and Fugue from Book Two

A.B.’s lesson on 11/4/21

The Prelude:

#1

Fingering.

The two hands spread out like a puddle of water on concrete.

The hands are like amoebas constantly oozing around and changing shape.

Whatever finger in whichever hand “shows up for duty” by being located at that moment over a key that is meant to be played next, plays that key.

Another thing that occurs due to the natural amoeba like motion of the hands is that a key under under hand at one moment may find itself under the other hand moment or two later.

It is almost like the hands are lava flowing down a hillside, at one  moment it may form two distinct streams, at another the two streams may converge into one molten mass.

What has no shape definable shape at one moment can have any shape at any moment.

Fingering confession: I can barely go more than a few notes in a piece without unconsciously using a finger substitution. These substitutions occur as the PASSIVE reflex of the fingers in response to a general movement laterally by the entire hand (rather than an intentional motion on the part of the fingers). It is the result of the same ‘amoeba’ like motion of the hands, which can expand and contract as a whole while at the same time changing shape.

#2

The mood of a harmony and how far does it extend in time.

While the prelude bears one key signature, E Major, there are moments which ruffle the surface of that harmony for a note or two, and there are longer sections which different ‘regions’ of the key (B Major, G# Minor, etc.).

Whether ephemeral or longer lasting, try to “evoke” or conjure out of the notes, the ‘mood’ of the current harmony, and not let your ear proceed on the inertia of the previous harmony. When the original theme comes in in B Major, try to see each note played in terms of how it fits in the emotional nexus of B Major, which is different than that of E Major. An ‘E’ for example in the landscape of overtones and their beats in B Major, is a different  sound, with a different color and shine, than that of the same ‘E’ in the surroundings of E Major.

Try to stay in the mood of the world of B Major for as long as is  harmonically justifiable, and banish the emotional association of what those notes say in the key of E Major. Let the listener make their own surmise that they are hearing the same ‘theme’, consisting o f the same melodic intervals, as occurred in the first entrance of the theme at the beginning of the Prelude.  Don’t worry about the constancy of the theme as an entity, let Bach take care of that for you.  Know when to share responsibilities between you and the composer.

#3

A technical issue affecting A.B’s playing is that his hands are always ‘itching’ to get to the next note while the current note is still sounding. I would rather he wait until the time has arrived for the new before making any commitment to a gesture that will “get him to the next note”, help situate or predispose his fingers to being already in the new location.

The connections, note to note, in this prelude are sometimes physically difficult to realize. Imagine the frog who remains motionless for an  indefinite amount of time until a fly is within several feet of its mouth, at which point its tongue extends itself in one, seemingly instantaneous gesture, to grab the fly. “The frog fires the tongue towards its prey at an astounding 4 meters per second.” (Google).

The frog knows how to wait for the right moment to act, and gets to the target without our even knowing exactly how it did it. Not knowing, nescience, is an important way of permitting the body to make gestures naturally, smoothly and seamlessly. Forethought prevents this naturalness in motion, by predisposing only certain components of the motion to occur and suppressing many others from occurring.

The Fugue:

#1

My concept of maintaining the nobility of the sound of this fugue.

While there are a myriad of three and four note chords constellated around the general key of E major. I want them to share the same underlying nobility of sound.

How do I achieve this oneness in spite of constant variety? First I produce a ‘model’ for this sonority on the piano. My choice of model for today is the chord: e2-b2-e3–gs3-b3-e4-gs4. I imagine it being played not by the piano but by the low brass of the Chicago Symphony orchestra in the late fifties and early sixties (of the 20th century).  My imagination doesn’t  really need the tuba, but I definitely need the bass trombone.

I play that model over and over, until the waves of its sound submerge all other sounds and thoughts. Then it is up to a vivid imagination and memory recall to play the written chords as if each were awash with this sound, was permeated through and through and through with this sound. The evenly spaced waves of the impact of the model wash onto the shore of conscious hearing. I imagine each iteration of that chord as a stand-in for the actual written chord that would have been played next.

I found my singing voice helpful in affecting the transmutation of Chicago brass to Steinway piano. With each iteration of the model chord, I sang and sustained the next note of the opening statement of the theme. I felt the chord reinforce my voice, as if from within, until my voice bore a complete resemblance to the chord.

Another variation was to alternate playing “the” chord then playing the next note(s) in the score, and so on back and forth. The chord was still vivid in my memory and so the next chord in the piece was automatically infected by it. If at any time I lost the “Nobilissima Visione”* of the sound of the  written notes I would simply lapse back into play just the chord at least a few times in a row. These latter could be a placeholder (or ‘warm-ups’) until I wanted to go further with the written note, or a stand-ins for a certain  number of the written chords. “Warm” is an apt verb. We are aiming to  ‘warm up’ resonance of each written chord until it radiates at a high color temperature.

#2

Every note gives up its life in the service of allowing the next note to come to life.

#3

A technical matter the pertains to just one hand, when it is holding one note down while articulating a series of more rapid notes.

When one finger holds a note down, while other fingers in the same hand, and at the same time, articulate two or more notes, often the shape of the hand distorts to the point that the fingers articulating the passing latter notes feel awkward and cramped and cannot clearly enunciate their notes. The paradoxical fix for this issue is to shift more of the weight of the hand onto the finger that is doing the holding down of the sustained note, rather than devoting more care and energy to the moving notes. Moreover the finger that is holding one pitch ‘enacts’ the same physical motions that the other fingers would are doing to play the changing notes. almost doing them in their stead. This includes bending and flexing and in general  changing its stance on the key surface. The sensation is that the holding finger is actually playing the shorter notes.

#4

measure 13

Making a smooth and instantaneous transition to connect, in the left hand alone, the bass and tenor voices, from gs2-es3 to a2-fs3. The ergonomic issue, that requires careful time-coordination in small fractions of a second, is that in the bass voice, you are on a black note to start with and have to slide down the vertical side of that black note in order to end up on a white note. The reverse is true (at the same moment) in the tenor voice, where you are on a white note to start with and have to travel up the vertical side of a black note and end up on the top of that black note. There is a sort of see-saw motion involved, both fingers gliding smoothly on the vertical
surface of a black key, at the same time, but in opposite directions in a vertical plane.

#5

I applied gentle downward pressure from one of my hands to cause A.B.’s hand to flatten out its palm against the key surfaces. The purpose was the opposite of trying limit the mobility of his hand but rather to encourgae the mutability of the hand changing shape constantly. It was to foster the plasticity of his hands in changing shape, that I applied an ‘external force’ (I.E. a force not created by his own muscles) to the top of his hand, pressing it mildly downwards towards the keys. It encouraged a more fluid consistency in the sound going from note to note.

All the notes, within the framework of the fugue, feel like they are connections made within one and the same matrix or pitch-framework, regardless of the momentary specific choice of pitch and pitch direction.

#6

There are magical moment in Bach fugues, when three or more voices start their sounds simultaneously (and are not too widely spread apart pitch-wise).  Try to hear the event as a momentary confluence among the voices, rather than the result of an intentional forming of a chord.

* Nobilissima Visione is a ballet in six scenes by Paul Hindemith, originally choreographed by Léonide Massine for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The libretto by Hindemith and Massine depicts episodes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi (Wikipedia).

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“Repertoire”: Chopin Nocturnes

W.B.’s lesson on 10/28/21

Chopin Nocturne in Eb Major (Op 9 / 2) : beg

Her hand and body are always anticipating the next note which subverts the secure enunciation of the current note, which can lead to an ongoing round of uncertainty in one’s play.

What we did:

Play the first note (bf4), and hold it with the pedal down, and ‘update’ with your ear, every second, the sound of bf4 at that instant.

Additionally. Believe that if you didn’t become newly aware of the sound of the note every second, the note would fail to sustain any further.

And during the time you are doing this ‘updating’ of the current sound, have no urge to go into the future to the next note. Feel as if there is no next note. The present of the piece (the only note) is frozen in time.  But you have opened up an inner dimension within time in which much activity is taking place during this note.

After an arbitrary amount of time has passed, play the second note (ef2 in the lh simultaneously with g5 in the rh). Think of this second sound as the only sound in the piece. There was no note that preceded it and no note that will follow it.  As above, by updating your conscious awareness to the continuing sound, you are going to sustain that for as many seconds as possible. Clear your mind of all else and think of it as the only sound in the entire universe – for the duration of the universe.

Continue this process until have moved several notes into the score, and
then try playing through the opening phrase of the piece at a more normal pace. However, we want to retain as much as possible of the previous
experience. Like William Blake, the poet, we “see the universe in a grain of sand”, or, in this case, hear the universe in a single note.

Since we are dealing only with hearing as a sense, and since there at this stage there is less overall time in which to repeatedly listen to each note, the
only thing we can do to approximate the original conditions, is to ‘literally’ speed up the tempo of our very consciousness, so that within each note there are still many conscious experiences of updating the sound. Like the person who says “I saw my whole life flash before my eyes!”, while an external clock indicates that only a small span of time has passed.  Our consciousness is ‘running’ so fast that more events than usual are filling that overall duration as testified to by the clock.  Each event, in our case, is just a re-focused listening to the current sound. No longer is the sound of a note a single event, just as a melody might on first impression seem like a as a series of individual notes*.

Earlier we spoke of not thinking about the next note when consciously focused on or  ‘supporting’ the current note. However, ‘thinking ahead’ is not in and of itself something bad. For instance thinking ahead ‘musically’ is fine, for it helps direct and shape the phrase and the broader relationship of events in time (in an art that is not spatial but only made out of time). It is, only, thinking ahead physically of what to do next that is perilous. It  makes the body make anticipatory movements, executed a little too soon, while something current is happening, and thus seize up the phyiscal playing mechanism, by spoiling the exact timing of the sequence of our physical gestures.

* a melody can can also appear to consciousness as being a continuous extrusion of sound, through time, that retains much of its wholeness rather than separating, in consciousness, into separated, individual notes.

.

Chopin Nocturne in B Major (op 32 / 1) : m8

W.B. asks me to go over to the second piano. She wants me to to play resonant chords, supporting chords, that define underline the harmony changes of the piece.

I decide to fit my chords in at the beginning of the tenure of each step in the harmonic progression of the piece, not in the middle of the reign of the chord, or as a summary of it near the end of its effective harmonic life span.

I also am ‘fleshing out’ or what I term ‘gestalting‘ the chord, into a large manifestation containing more notes than are written in the piano. Chords of which Chopin’s notes are just a part or portion.

For instance on beat two of measure 8, I fill out the implied chord so as to contain all these notes: d4-f4-gs4–b4-d5-gs5. This is an example of what I term  ‘filling in’, I.E. interpolating chords notes between the top and  bottom written notes.

At other times ‘gestalting’ the chord means adding notes in a lower octave than the written notes, to give the chord more ‘grounding’, more richness; so that the piano’s notes are felt as just a part of the ‘realer‘ form of the  chord: what we can call the “Platonic Idea” of the chord.

Or, I add notes that are higher than the written notes in order to adorn the chord with greater shine and brilliance. This too brings the actual sounding notes closer to the Platonic “Idea” of the chord which –  which philosophically is beyond any sensual rendition of the chord.

In my solo playing I am always reaching out beyond the actual sounds to the imagined sound of the Platonic, eternal, prototype of what the sounds are trying to represent. The actual sound will always fall short of the Platonic Idea, just as the everyday perceptions of objects in the external world are, according to Plato, mere shadows and glimpses of the ‘real’ object.

,

m12, right hand:

In this measure the physical intricacy is in knowing, each time a new note
appears, whether any of the previous notes should still be being held down with one of the fingers.

A very direct way of helping the student hold the e4 and fs4 for their full length of time is for me to physically push down on those fingers that still should be sounding their note(s), until their rhythmically intended course is over, and then physically lifting the student’s finger back up.

All this is to produce a physical sensation in the student’s hand of what it physically ‘feels’ in the hand and fingers, moment to moment during the
measure. More specifically, to create the exact sensation of what it feels like in the muscles of the student’s hand, when the e4 is held for two beats and then, in the middle of the e4, the fs4 begins to hold its note for two beats.    We are allowing the student to self identify the sensation of releasing one particular note that one  finger was holding during a nexus of other notes. It’s an education of sensations.

This is an example of direct physical intervention by a second person.
It is a two-person form of the broader category of “one helps the other” which is usually meant to refer to one part of the pianist’s body, for instance that is not executing certain notes, helping the other hand to enunciate those notes.

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m16

Once you have started the thirty-second long bites of sound, do not stop playing them until you come a resting place in the score. Always keep going. Many loose steam or concentration somewhere mid way. Some get further but they bog down near the end of the full group of notes or get more uncertain.

We used this practice technique, which we applied to the right hand only:

Play just fs6, then pause some moments.  Then play gs6 fs6, then pause some more moments.  Then play b6 bs6 fs6.  Etc..  Always adding one more not at the beginning (not the end) of the passage.  We are “back-forming” the passage until it can be played completely from beginning to end. Just to avoid confusion: the notes are always being played “forwards” in their  order on the page, and not retrograde; only additional notes were continuously being appended at the starting part rather than the ending point of the passage.

This process emphasizes the places where we are most likely to loose
cognizance, loose control, of what is going on note-wise. For this
reason we turned to the end of the phrase first and let the number of
notes we played gradually expand backwards in the score.

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m7

Barbara thought that the quintuplet sixteenths went a good deal faster
than regular sixteenths. But the time ratio of 5:4 doesn’t produce as
great a sensation of change in speed, as does 4:3. Which in turn is a
less noticeable difference in speed than 3:2, which is in turn is more
noticeable in this regard than 2:1. Of these ratios, 2:1 produces the
the conscious effect of the greatest difference in duration for two
notes sounding.

Here is a table that works out the above data:

6 to a beat is 20 percent faster than 5 to a beat

5 to a beat is 25 percent faster than 4 to a beat
(a difference of 5% from 6:5)

4 to a beat is 33+ percent faster than 3 to a beat
(a difference of 8+% from 5:4)

3 to a beat is 50 percent faster than 2 to a beat
(a difference of 17-% from 4:3)

2 to a beat is 100 percent faster than 1 to a beat
(a difference of 50% from 3:2)

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Repertoire: Debussy: “La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune”

J.M.’s lesson back a month or two.

measure 1: Opening chords:

We shouldn’t be able to distinguish by ear the line of demarcation between the notes played by the fingers of one hand and the notes being played by the other hand. We want a perfectly homogenized chord.

Look for the crease in the skin along the underneath side of the thumb, that lies across the diameter of the thumb from the first knuckle. Find the same crease on the other thumb. Hook the thumbs together at these spot. Allow the two hands as a whole feel yoked together like a pair of oxen. While in this position pull the hands (and arms) away from each other in opposite directions. This will provoke a direct sensation of the fusion of the two hands into one mega-hand. Mow play the opening chords of the piece. Not only will the two notes of each hand be blended better sound-wise, but there is also no longer any way for my ear to tell one hand from the other by their sounds. Every sound of the four notes in the chord is perfectly blended and balanced with the others.

beginning on the sixth beat of measure 1:

The place where the notes in the right hand suddenly double their speed into thirty second notes. “Clean out your ears” after listening to each thirty second note. Remember that each note counts. Counts for more, rather than les, than the slower notes that preceded them in the first measure.

For instance, the second note (af6) sounds just as distinctly with regard to its pitch as the first note of the series (g6) with regard to its pitch. And so on through every twist and nuance of the passage, until the notes pour into the bass.

During its entire course downwards, don’t loose track of where you are and of the unique contribution the current note makes to altering the quality of the sound of the passage.

Every time the left hand punctuated with an eighth note the series of right hand thirty-second notes, I tapped on the currently playing finger of J.M.’s right hand, to ‘remind’ it that there was a note to play even though the right hand was distracted at that moment by what the left hand was doing, either by the latter’s playing at the same time as the right hand, or being in the process of searching out the location for its next eighth note ‘punctuation’ point.

Measure 3: The cs1 in the bass:

When you lift your finger prematurely off a key, it is usually accompanied by sense in your playing of loosing interest in the sound of the note. In the case of the cs1, a loss of interest both its rich resonance, and the ‘lowness’ of its pitch. The sound should spread in waves over the entire pitch-space from bottom to top. The sound should “rEpand”* (spread, light up the atmosphere around it to the very horizons).

Measure 4: beats 5 and 6:

Feel your shoulder blades moving apart from each other. This will connect the the chords just in the left hand with the chords that are in both hands.

measure 7: first note:

This note is a portal into a new universe, it is a ‘surprise’ in an almost  cosmic way: the clouds parted and in the gap lay a new reality.

measure7: the chords

Don’t favor certain notes, in loudness, or in temporal alacrity.  Sometimes you play a chord as if the notes nearest each other in the two hands should sound first and the notes in the pinkies should sound last.

Try it first so that your left hand lies neutrally on the obverse of palm of the right hand. the former acts to settle the latter down onto the keyboard: it tells each finger of the right hand that it plays together with the others.

Now reverse the roles of the hand.

measure 7: the chords

Briefly, cross your hands so that the right hand is to the left of the left hand  on the keyboard. Just take in that sensation for a moment or two, then play the measure as written.

measure7: the eighth note chords

Whenever a series of eighth notes succeed upon a series of sixteenth notes, as in the middle of measure 7, don’t loose the flow that connects one note (or chord) to the next. It is as if you are a painter whose brush, overladen with pigment, smears colors from one place on the canvas to an adjacent place. In the same sense, take the sound of one chord and smear it around. Don’t think of each next chord as if it is a “new” sound, but more as if it is a distorted or smeared version of the previous sound, which somehow has persisted in spite of the changes wrought upon it.

measure7: last chord followed by the first chord of m8:

When you play the former, feel like it already “contains” the latter (even though the latter is octaves away in the bass). You have taken it and ‘smeared’ its sound pigments down into the deep bass. The object is to ‘complete’ the first chord.

measure 8: the left hand chord: f3-bf3-d4-f4:

We took the second finger of the left hand “out for a walk” before playing the chord. We did this by holding the other three notes of the chord down, while flexing and un-flexing the index finger. as it glided over the full longitudinal axis of the d4 key. This form of “practicing” just in advance of making a sound, provides greater control over that finger when it sounded its note in the chord, and so adjust it sound-wise with the other notes of the chord.

measures 10-11:

‘Smush’ your hands down on a flat surface, as if they were a single lump of dough. This will tend to unify the two hands into a single mass. It is then a matter of sub-dividing this unity into two, virtual parts. A part that is more to the left and a part that is more to the right. you can shake your torso and shoulders about as a way of shifting emphasis between the left part of your mega-hand (chords written for the left hand) and the right part of your mega-hand (chords written for the right hand).

gen:

Don’t sense the connection between one chord or note and the next as a physical analog to the sound effect you are aiming for in the connection. Although it is OK if you consider that sensation, if it is in addition to  sensation coming through your ear, and both are present.

measure 21 – 24:

I took hold of the top of her torso and shifted it, shook it, back and forth, made circles with it, to stimulate the motions needed for each hand to make through this passage.

m24: last two chords:

As Ives does in the midst of last movement of the “Concord” Sonata, the most consonant chords (from a traditional point of view) are, given the harmonic milieu of, the most “dissonant” sounding.

summary:

Joe to JM: Today I have shaken you, yanked you,** expanded the size of your hand and especially of the thumb ***

* The uppercase ‘E’ in rEpand is meant to suggest the French accent ague .

* *I pushed from the left side of her left hand as she played an upward arpeggio. I pushed faster than her hands wanted to move, because only
in that way do the necessary muscle groups kick in and are forced to do what is necessary to play the arpeggio seamlessly.

*** when the thumb wants to move to further from the pinkie (as for octaves with J.M’s smaller sized hand), it is not the part of the thumb from the finger tip to the second knuckle that leads the motion of the rest of the thumb, but as if one glomped on the mound of flesh on the palm that is adjacent to the thumb’s second knuckle to its ‘third knuckle’ near the wrist. That mound of flesh is propelled outward and away from the rest of the palm. The tip comes along for the ride. Before trying this J.M. could, with some effort span an octave; now she was spanning a ninth.

 

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Bach: The Goldberg Variations: Variation no. 11

#1  Arpeggios: Variation 11 : measure 5

In the right hand play the b2 with 2, then d3 with 3, and then, for
practice in loosening up the joints, rotate the forearm one hundred
eighty degrees, which faces the palm upwards, and turns the thumb,
which is still on the g3, upside down, then the third finger plays b3
but like the thumb, the third finger is upside down, but re-rights
itself by one hundred eighty degrees while still on the b3. at which
point the arpeggio completes itself ordinarily through the g4.

#2  Physical Glue: Variation 11 : measure 13

There are two instances of physical glue in this measure. By
physical glue I mean a physical connection between two notes in
different hands, that is not readily noticed in the score, and whose
challenge is often not experienced until it is already happening.

There is a d5 starting at the beginning of the measure in the right hand,
which is usurped by the left hand playing the same note at the sixth sixteenth of the measure, which hands the same note back to the right hand just one sixteenth later.

in the third group of sixteenths in the measure, the left hand plays
fs4, but no sooner plays it but it is usurped by the right hand playing
fs4.

This suggests the creation of a separate rhythm that concerns only
repeat notes (where the hand is changed at the repeat).

rh:  .e = e__       e        s
lh:                    \s/{s} s/

By concentrating on this artificially formed rhythm composed solely of the iterations of the note d5 as it goes from right hand to left hand to right hand, and the iterations of the note fs4 as it goes from the left hand to the right hand, we have exposed the skeleton, which remains hidden under the surface of the written notes, which physocally holds the passage together.

#3 Crossing and uncrossing the hands: In the Goldberg Variations

Variation 11 : measure 1 :

Move the right hand up one octave and move the left hand down one
octave. The hands can now play their respective parts without crossing or
bunking into each other. This helps define a ‘potential’ for what the
piece should sound like were it not for sonic confusing from the
crossing voices as well as the physical confusion of the hands
crossing.

When we again play it, this time as written, see if we can keep the
same amount of empty “air” between the two voices in the two hands. This air separates things physically as well as sonically. No less so than when the hands didn’t cross at all. Each hand now speaks its own pitch-shape without the other hand diverting us, or pulling our attention away from one hand to the other.

#4  “Sculpting” small groups of notes

There are only so many pitch-shapes you can get four notes, and a smaller
number when dealing with only three notes

Pitch shapes for three notes:

1  up        2   up       3
1  up        2 down   3
1  down  2   up       3
1  down  2 down   3

Pitch shapes for four notes:

up up up
up up down
up down up
up down down

down down down
down down up
down up down
down up up

Become a master of shaping each of them in its own unique way. Polish
each till it sparkles like a gem and cannot be mistaken for any of the
other shapes.

As one plays through the Goldberg Variations, in particular the more
contrapuntal sections, notice, before each group of notes, which type it
is of the types shown above, and then ‘sculpt’ its shape, like an actual
sculptor working with a mass of pliable material, till it’s clearly one of the shapes and not any of the others.  This does not happen automatically just by playing the pitches but requires an expressivity that helps display to the listener’s ear the upward and downward motion of the pitches.

Further subdivisions of the basic types can be based on whether the
motion from one note to another in a group is a step or a skip.  For
instance in Variation 9, measure 6, the last four notes in the bottom
voice (c4 d4 e4 d4) is from the point of view of pitch sculpting “up
up down”, and from the point of view of sub-type “all steps”, while
the first four notes in the next measure (cs4 a3 d4 cs4) is an example
of the basic type “down up down”, but is of the sub-type “skip skip
step”.

Although this may seem like a trivial and obvious subject, each shape and each subtype has its own aesthetic quality which can be brought out to the
listener. And there is an aesthetic quality too of saying to the listener “I’ve just finished sculpting one shape and I’m about to start sculpting another shape”.  A piece made up of an endless series of permutations of pitches, as in the Goldberg, can become a smaller, more manageable set of statements of pitch-shape types and if one wishes, subtypes.  This simplifying gives order to the overall design of the piece, and on the most intimate level.

#5  Variation 11: measure 1 : first half of the measure, et. al.

alternative to sculpting a sextuplet

Treat the first six notes as two groups of identically shaped three-note groups (the type of shape identified as three notes in descending steps). From the sculpting point of view, there is something to be gained by suppressing attention to the  entity of a ‘scale’ formed by 6 or 7* descending notes, and revealing  the two elegantly sculpted smaller and primal groups of three descending notes.**

#6 Conclusion

We may be stretching things to speak of sculpting a group of notes as
if we were sculpting a material object. However, if we consider what
the body of the sculptor does while sculpting and what the body of the
pianist does while playing piano, and what their intents may be, there are similarities. And it is not beyond reason to say that a motion that we would do as a sculptor, can be transformed and transported into the actions we take as pianists.  It is then up to the pianist to use their aesthetic imagination to reveal the shape thus created.

As pianists, we can imagine notes as viscous objects capable of
responding to our hands as clay to the sculptor.  In making these analogies there is always allowances for great jumps in the imagination between what we are externally doing with our body and what we feel like inwardly as to what we are doing with our body.   In this manner relevance can be gotten out of taking a group of notes and “bending”  it into the shape of a phrase.

Or working on a small group of notes until it takes a shape we are trying to gradually bring out in its sounds.  We can put it on a potter’s wheel until the shape we want develops and is eminently clear to the onlooker.  It is like taking out the notes on a lathe until we have created the proper curves of the pitch shapes.

* It is 7 notes if one includes the first note of the second half of the measure.

** If one can’t quite get the sculptural shape of the three descending notes, try singing Figaro’s aria wherein he calls attention to himself by repeating the syllables Fi-Ga-Ro, over and over on the same three descending notes.

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The Goldberg Variations: in General and in Particular When Crossing Hands

The Goldberg Variations: in general and in particular when crossing
hands.  The hands always start in a more remote position from each
other than is dictated by where the next notes are.

Procedure:

I held my arms in front of me, floating above the keyboard, the
forearms rotated so that the palms of the hands faced each other
across an empty horizontal space.  In that space I imagined there
being a tangible object.  The object was well defined but not quite
rigid.

I imagined the feeling that my hands were two gentle but strong
clamps* on opposite ends of an object that occupied the horizontal
space between them.  I stayed aware of the imaginary object tightened
the clamps pushing inwards towards each other and that somehow the
object, with some resistance, without losing its integrity, could be
compressed along its horizontal dimension.  I gently compressed it
until my hands were the same distance from each other as the two keys
on the piano that represented in each hand the most current sixteenth
note in the piece.  One of the notes being in a voice that was in the
right hand, the other in a voice in the left hand.

I would repeat that procedure by advancing to the notes that lay on
the next sixteenth note of the piece, and so on.   The distance between
the palms and the size of the object they held was constantly changing
in size as the piece evolved in sixteenth notes.  OFten one of the two
notes was a note longer than a sixteenth, and remained in its place,
while the note in the other voice changed.  In other words, things
were constantly changing.

Regardless of the distance between the hands, when articulating the
The next pair of notes ended up being greater than, lesser than, or the
same**, their mutual distance between when articulating the current
pair of notes, I nonetheless re-expanded the distance between my hands
so that I would have to begin again by compressing the imaginary
the object between my hands until the distance between the palms
corresponded to the distance between the new pair of notes.

This technique is also surprisingly effective even at those moments and
episodes in the Goldberg when the hands cross each other.  But even
when the left hand took up a position to the right of the right hand,
as the right hand correspondingly took up a position to the left of the
left hand, the position of the arms just prior to the ‘squeezing
together’ of the imaginary object that lay between the palms, was with
uncrossed hands, the left hand being as usual to the left of the right
hand, and the right hand to the right of the left hand.  The palms
would then squeeze the imaginary object towards a point when the two
palms would converge in space even though in reality that continued in
their motions until they crossed each other.  But the procedure for
the following notes, even if it still involved crossed hands, began
from a position when the arms were not crossed but moved into a
the position that was crossed.  This was most easily forgotten if a series
of pairs of notes got further and further away from each other; the
palms should always be moved towards each other to land on the next notes

Try to avoid feeling that adjacent fingers are setting themselves down
on the keyboard one after the other.  Each finger comes from afar and
converges centrally, towards the other hand, to get to its note.

One should never feel that they are simply setting adjacent fingers
down, side by side, on adjacent notes – without first drawing the
hands further apart and playing the next sixteenth note via an action
which brings the hands back towards each other.

This means that the action in the finger causing a key to sound is not
a motion that is strictly speaking downwards, since it doesn’t begin
from a static position directly above the key.  The motion of the
finger is always swept along the hypotenuse of a long skinny right
triangle.  From a physicist’s point of view, motion along a
hypotenuse can always be thought of as having a down component and a
lateral component.  It is like the path of a boat crossing a swift-flowing stream.  One does not steer directly towards the nearest point
on the opposite side of the stream, but always somewhat to a side so
as to compensate for the flow of the water.

What I am saying today seems to me to be an extension of things I have
said in the past take had the form of “never aim directly at the next
key you are playing, but overshoot it, and then settle back easily to
its location.  That this can be more accurate in the long run, instead
of betting all the money you have on getting to the goal through a
direct unwavering motion.

It is also similar to what I’ve said in the past about “damping
curves” where a series ever diminishing but accelerating motions,
first one way and then the other converges on the exact location you
have in mind on the keyboard.  I also realize that this is in
contradiction to the method I have often proposed for skipping from
one place on the keyboard to another more remote location, by using
“opposing vectors”: the current finger tries to stay on its key even
though the arm is already pulling as hard as it can towards the more
remote key; that tension builds up between the two opposing motion;
until like an overwound spring, the spring suddenly explodes, and the
hand is propelled in a single, unbroken motion, to the remote key.

* Each side was separately adjustable – not like a vice or c-clamp.

** Thus, even if the hands remained in the same place on the keyboard,
covering the same group of notes, with the five fingers of each hand,
during a series of notes, I would still oscillate the hands apart from
each other and then close up the distance between them.

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