A Cluster of Thoughts
Getting lost in a large group of notes beamed together
When more than four notes are beamed together, it is difficult for
some pianists to keep their eye focused on each note of the group,
especially the notes that lie somewhere in the middle of the group.
Exercise for the eye alone:
Take any such group. Perhaps six or more notes sharing the same beam. Without playing any of the notes, see if the eye can parse through the group without loosing their place. It may be helpful to say:
“Now my eye is on the first of the six notes.” “Now my eye is on the second of the six notes.” The third, and so on.
If the eye gets confused it will tend to be starting around the fourth note.
It is helpful to mentally divide the group into two parts, and then gradually change the point of division. “Push” to left all the notes left of the the note we are currently looking at. “Push” to the right all the notes, starting with the current note and going through the end of the group. It is like a Mel Brooks version of the exodus, in which Moses chooses a spot to part the Red Sea, then changes his mind and parts it a bit further downstream, and still not satisfied continues parting it further and further downstream.
The reason for doing this exercise with the eye only, and without
playing or sounding the notes, is because it is sometimes helpful to take apart what the eye does from what the playing mechanism does. Otherwise there is numerous semi-conscious cross-influences between the two. Unless the pianist is still a beginner, the physical and the visual automatically fuse together so that it is very difficult and misleading to try to determine what the playing mechanism is doing from what the eyes are doing. Or, to put it in a more East Coast way: it would be like driving through the Lincoln Tunnel from Jersey to Manhattan, and after a while, loosing a specific geographical sense of how into the tunnel we’ve already gone and much is left to go, based solely on the visual appearance of
the tunnel without switching to a reliance on our sense of how much time duration has passed since we entered the tunnel.
JM’s lesson 8/2/19 on Debussy’s “Soiree en Grenade”. It helps to know that JM has a small hand.
A sudden jump in the left hand without loosing the continuity of a
Somewhat late in the piece there is a measure where the pianist’s left hand needs to go with alacrity from the single note e1 to the octave a3-a4. How do we execute such a leap without loosing the flow of sounds.
One thing that helps in such a case is to focus on the fact that no matter where on the keyboard the E is, and where on the keyboard the A’s are, E going up a fourth to an A. It doesn’t matter how many octaves intervene or whether there are multiple E’s and A’s.
Now, play the following series of 4-note groups:
e1 a1 gs1 fs1
e1 a2 gs1 fs2
e1 a3 gs3 fs3
e1 a4 gs4 fs4
Focus on just what feels and sounds identical in all four cases. If they feel or sound different in any way, you are still conscious of certain differences and you want to make these differences become unconscious. The objective was for J.M. is to feel that she was playing exactly the same thing all four times: focusing on only one type of difference and ignoring all others. Everything but the names of the notes E A G# F# in their most abstract form – without position in one octave or another in the keyboard, have vanished from consciousness, including any physical sensation having to do with left- right motion on the keyboard (except a rise of five half steps). Also ignore any sound information to the ears about change of octave range. An E, for instance, should sound like an E no matter where it is located on the keyboard or what other instrument is playing it. An E is an E is an E (apologies to Gertrude Stein). And the same for A.
The only thing that is kept in mind physically is the fact that the E
lies on the right side of the clump of two black notes and the A lies
in the middle left of the clump of three black notes. Even when
changing octave, that should be the only thing remaining in consciousness.
The only that is kept in mind sonically, among all the other sound
data coming into the ear, is that A (anywhere on the keyboard) sounds a “perfect fourth” higher than an E, no matter how far the E is from the A on the keyboard. It should never sound like an eleventh for instance.
Here is another example in the same piece of a sudden jump in the left hand that cannot interrupt the fluidity of the sound motion.
It is located in the score not far from the previous example. It involves Jumping in the left hand from some low sounds to a four note B minor chord (b4-d5-fs5-b5) in the treble.
We began by focusing on just the B minor chord.
Play b4 with the left pinkie several times in a row and play the last one in the series longer than the ones leading up to it.
Now play the b4 and d5 together – several times in a row holding on to the last one longer than the preceding ones. This last iteration helps the notes to “settle in”. Play the two notes with the fingers that you will use when you eventually play all four notes in the chord simultaneously.
The same for b4-d5-fs5.
The same for b4-d5-fs5-b5.
Approached this way, through gradual addition, you end up with a balanced four note chord, played without a forced, overstretched or awkward hand position.
If you look closely at the hand as you play this exercise, you should notice that each time one more note is added, the entire hand automatically assumes a different overall shape. Part and parcel of this change in the whole hand, is that a single finger, especially one that is used used in more than one stage of the exercise, will be curved differently, angled differently, and aligns itself with its note differently.
To transfer the benefit of this exercise into the performance of the passage, imagine that the hand is going through all these four stages, one at a time, in order, in the short amount of time while the left hand is moving from the bass to the treble. Finish the fourth (the last) stage before acting to sound the chord.
Four-hands: as a way of inspiring a student
Four-hands can give a student a new motive to practice. In part it’s due to our working together rather than alone: learning together, sight reading yogether, solving things together, trying things out together. When practicing on his own he often gets to a point with a new piece where he no longer notices a return in improvement that is proportional with the time he is investing in practicing. And he gives up on the piece. When we play together, no matter how many mistakes happen, he is suddenly transported to a state that is much closer to how we wishes the piece could sound.
Accompaniment and melody.
S.B. Chopin: D-flat major Nocturne
The Nocturne begins with the left hand alone. The right hand has not yet come in with the melody. She finds it difficult to get the first measure to sound as she would like it to sound.
All it took to bring the left hand to life without the right hand, was to copy and paste the right hand melody from measure two into measure one. The left hand now knows instinctively what to do. It relies of the synthesis, both physically and sound-wise, of the two hands. What had been missing, when she originally played the left hand alone, was a clear intimation of what was going to happen next: that the left hand knew already what it would need to do to fit in exactly with the immanent melody.
Richness of the sound: spongey fingers
S.B. Chopin: F# Major Nocturne
She couldn’t get the melody to sound how she wanted.
I made a radical suggestion to her: depress each as slowly as you can, so slow that, you shouldn’t be able to produce a sound when you reach the bottom of the key dip. It’s not that you should play exactly like that, it is more in the nature of a countermeasure to balance out a chronic stiffness and tension in your fingers. Imagine a continuous spectrum from the most stiff hand to the most flaccid hand. You have been dwelling near the stiff end of that spectrum. We want to do something to offset that extreme position, using a restorative measure exerted in the opposite direction along the spectrum. When this is combined with the propensity for stiffness you will reach a balanced point at the middle of the spectrum – not too stiff, not too flaccid.
She tried it. The results where soulful, rich, resonant sounds, and
not as she had anticipated: that there would be no sound at all. “Oh — I think this can be life-changing!”
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).
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.
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.
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.
The Connection and Disconnection of Notes
I’ve had an idea lately that it would be nice to do a lesson and then post a blog post about it right afterwards. I think this will gain in spontaneity and insight, despite what it might loose from lack of editing and proofreading.
A.B. Was playing WTC I C f (which is my short hand for Well Tempered Klavier, Book One, C Major (C is uppercase), the fugue and not the prelude (f).
This is a new piece. The first thing he said, was how hard it was to read a fugue. It poked at his sore spots as a reader and a player. I said, forget all of that. Play the chord on the first beat of this measure, and ask yourself what it is the most natural and comfortable of playing it. By starting there, it is as if you were starting the piece, just from a different measure than measure one. So your hand had no allegiance to what it may have done a moment earlier if it had played the last part of the previous measure.
Now, before you go on any further, DON’T TRY connect the present arrangement of the fingers in the hand with the next one. Playing Bach clearly is not a matter of figuring out a fingering, or getting used to making certain connections in the hands and fingers. One never goes from “here” to “there”. All there is are “here-s”. Each one is undiscovered until right now. It is always as if you are playing the piece for the first time.
With each new note, or if not that frequently then at least with every new eighth note’s worth of the piece, pause and ask yourself “what is the most natural and comfortable of playing these notes”, especially if the hand need no longer “remember” where it was a moment earlier.
Playing through the piece is discovering, as if for the first time, a new position for every moment’s new notes. In doing it this way you enter into the joy and spontaneity of the fugue; the experience is wonderful, and in no way a chore.
A.B.: So what do I do the next time I play this spot, wouldn’t it help if I gradually got to know, through repetition, where my hands go next? Me (waxing poetic and philosophical): No, the only thing you have to remember is to forget. A.B.: But doesn’t that sometimes mean I get further and further into trouble with my fingers and dig myself into a hole from which I cannot get out. J.B.: There is a simple solution to this. When you are least sure where to go next with your hands and fingers, when you feel you’ve gotten stuck in the mud and don’t where to go, that is the time to take your hands off the keyboard. Remove the hands from the piano, even if briefly. Start with a new slate, for by removing you hands from the keys, you have let go of the immediate past, you can discover, as if for the first time, the most natural and comfortable position for the two hands together on the next notes. So, if you never know where you are going to get into fingering problems, remove your hands from the piano.
He tried it. It was a fine sounding connection. He said: but if I remove my hands from the piano there will be a break in the sound continuity, things will not sound connected. I said: then how comes what you just did, which involved letting go of the keyboard and removing the hands from the keys, ended up sounding more flowing and more connected than I have heard it before? By removing the hand, you have no choice but to find a new position, a new and most comfortable position, for the next notes.
Be careful, I said, of sixteenth notes (or eighths) in one voice that are moving in steps. That can lead you down a perilous path. You will stop looking for a new hand position for each sixteenth, until the fingers get caught in the keyboard and get bogged down because you have “run out of fingers”. No, you never run out of fingers, there are always five new fingers in the hand for each new note.
When I say “find the most comfortable position” I mean one in which no finger ‘remembers’ where it was a moment earlier. Nothing about its position in the hand is biased or coerced.
To save time in writing, I am using the convention of having:
|: Ernie is the name of my cat 😐
To mean that I have gotten trapped in an endless loop and am saying the same thing over and over. And in such a way as if I never had said it before, but rather someone recorded me, quickly hit stop, rewind, and play. The idea is that it becomes a spoken “mantra” whose efficacy is in its being repeated, until the mind’s state becomes transcendental, a state in which one does not connect things physically SO THAT they can connect sound-wise (sorry I’m sounding a little to “new age” for a cynical Jew from Brooklyn).
If you are a draughtsman, and you use the same writing implement over and over again during an hour of work, do you always consciously try to pick it up in the same way as before. Do you have to think of its position before taking it into your hand. No, it only becomes natural to do if you allow the body to learn unconsciously, so that the 100th time you take the pencil in your hand, it is consciously just as unplanned and spontaneous as the first time. From the conscious point of view (and not for the unconscious, which is busy learning and practicing) you are always finding something ‘new’ (not ‘old’) and finding it for the ‘first time ever’.
All of this started falling into place when I physically caused A.B. to remove his hands from the piano after each current sound. When he resumed, the next sound and all the newness of freshness of the morn: is it ever really the same sun that rises the next day (Thoreau says something about this in “Walden”. Every hand position is “discovered” spontaneously. So I sometimes started using the repeating mantra |: every position is new and discovered spontaneously :|. or just, |: find a new position 😐
Don’t be afraid to let go, for that is the only true way for the body to find what’s next. It is the opposite strategy that common sense tells us to follow. Consciously you forget it even happened before. You think you can’t do this “A”, but you can. You just need to keep an experimental mind, and prove it to yourself over and over with the freshness of every new sound.
And, by the way, when you find the ‘new position’ it always for both hands together, never for just one hand or the other. Let the body, let the ear, always synthesize together every new sound in the piece. And the listener has no desire to complicate the wholeness of the musical experience by knowing which part of what they hear came from your left hand or your right hand.
After a while, all I was saying to him was “let go” … “let go” … “find the new position”, “find a new position”. There was one moment I could tell that he was trying to figure out the best fingering for a series of consecutive notes. I said: that was not a new position, it was a ‘trying to get there from the old position to the new’. There is never a ‘there’ to which to get, everything is a ‘here’.
A.B. said, how can I have a totally new position in my hands when I am required to hold over one of the notes (holding down a note in one voice while the notes in the other voices change). I said: I agree that you have some issues with what I might call, by analogy, if it were spatial more than of time, “negative space” (E.G. is it two profiles or is it a vase). A held note is not due to a finger that holds tightly to its position on the keyboard. It is do to a new position that that finger assumes every time another voice voices to a different note. The fact that the finger remains on the same key is secondary and incidental from a physical point of view. There is no difference between writing a half note, in a score, and writing the same note as four eighth notes, each tied to the next.
Negative space also involves things like, the action of when to release a note in a voice after the finger playing has gotten inured to holding it down when it has been held for a while. Another example are rests, in general in a particular voice, which must be incorporated into the “sound” continuity of the piece.
So, abandon any noble effort by the left or right hand to connect the notes in the fingers. Don’t do that! Let it go.
I would love feedback regarding the usefulness of this type of blog entry. It probably suffered from repetitiveness but it did not loose my original excitement about discovering these things, and in keeping pace while writing how things evolved through time during the hour of the lesson. Thanks for reading.
Technical Challenges in Moszkoski’s Etude in F and Beethoven’s Sonata in E Major, Op 14.
A.J’s lesson today. Two works he is preparing for a competition.
-From: 15 Etudes de Virtuosité, Op.72 No. 6 (by Moritz Moszkowski), “Presto” in F major/.
#1. The “ear” as the abstract creator of the figurative shapes of sounds:
#2. The balance of sound between the two hands.
#3. A ladder falls apart if there are no rungs connecting the sides.
#4. The undulating patterns of three-note groups in the right hand:
-Beethoven: Sonata in E Major: Op 14 / 1 : I : The left hand sixteenths in the development section.
#5. “Additive” Clusters as a unit of pulsation through the passage with sixteenth notes.
#6. The desired effect in sound does not always follow upon a logical or teleologically designed set of causes.
-From: 15 Etudes de Virtuosité, Op.72 No. 6 (by Moritz Moszkowski), “Presto” in F major/.
#1. The ear as the abstract creator of the figurative shapes of sounds:
The ear, as the observer of the flow of sound content through time, may seem at first to be but a passive instrument. It listens, it notices, and only with a slight lag as the sound has already been physically produced.
If not distracted by the physical actions we make to start the sounds, there is an exact in knowing in the accuracy of the notes. The awareness of sounds in the ear and the more it is divorced from any muscle movements that physically give rise to the sounds–the more accurately and subtly it judges the sound characteristics of the music being played.
Through a miraculous confusion of tenses, the ear as a passive listener, after the fact that the sound has begun, yet can be the most effective force in controlling our sounds. In this regard it is far more efficacious than consciously controlling and gauging the quality of quantity of our muscle movements. This present tense in consciousness is not a mathematical instant, a point of zero duration. It contains, according to the French philosopher Henri Bergson, the spilling over of the past into the present and the impetus of the present to be on the verge of becoming the future. A duration, though recognized as the present, has yet the efficacy of having what has just happened to have an undefinable but definite effect on what is just about to happen.
#2. The balance of sound between the two hands.
A.J. is having difficulty coordinating the two hands in the Moszkowski Etude in F. His left hand seems to be pursuing its own course–not blending with the right hand, but merely showing up at the same time as the right hand – at the beginning of every third note in the right hand.
I suggested that as he played one of the left hand chords, hold it for a few moments along with the first of the three triplet notes in the right hand. He should see if his ear could spread its attention over the sounds from the right hand as well. And then determine quickly whether together, the sounds of both hands formed a cohesive whole.
With just a little attentiveness, just a split second after the notes start sounding, one will notice whether the sounds from both hands seem to reach out towards each other eclipsing the distinction between them and creating a larger sound-whole than either hand’s sounds alone. And this fusion takes place as he listens to the sounds. It takes but an instant for this synthesis to occur. At the first instant there are disjointed sounds from two sources, but a mere instant later these sounds have instinctively reached out towards each other to form a synthesis in consciousness. Or, to put it another way, it takes just a bare moment for the ear to note and to form a larger whole out of the sounds of both hands.
To his surprise, A. had no difficulty in causing these sounds to fuse together though physically they were made by separate physical acts pertaining to a coordination of the individual sides of his body. He was surprised since in as much as he wasn’t aware that had done nothing physical to effect this balance, but merely remained attentive to the sounds for more than a split second. This synthesis had nothing to do with any physical effort to make the sounds be simultaneous. Nor was there any specific mental ‘effort’ involved.
The combined power of his ear and his brain focusing on the notes, brought the sound together. His previous preparation and physical muscle memory came through in a moment where his head may have easily gotten in the way–thus is the power of the ear.
#3. A ladder falls apart if there are no rungs connecting the sides.
As an analogy for what had just happened, I suggested that the left and right hands were like the two vertical sides of a ladder. They can remain upright only if there are rungs crisscrossing between them. These sides had nothing to keep them together without the ear forming the rungs. Without the attentiveness of the ear those side pieces would fall apart.
Once such a sound-synthesis has been effected at any point in the piece, the possibility then exists to ‘mold’ and shape the forms of these connections. It now became possible to mold how one of these composite sounds morphed into the next one. Though intangible in nature, the pianist now has a focal point to help steer all the course of all the individual notes of the composition through the medium of time.
Though to the body, the sounds originating from the right and left hands seemed to exist spatially apart and separate, from the point of view of the attentive ear they were (already) fused together. It is more the ear, something intangible, than the body, something tangible, that ’causes’, these sounds to meld and form a resonant four-note chord. We need only seek whether they do.
It is only after the fact of their fusion into a single sound that we can, for analytic purposes, speak of these fused sounds as having two spatially distinct origins.
#4. The undulating patterns of three-note groups in the right hand:
Next we turned A’s attention to just the right hand’s stream of notes, a rapid stream of triplets. I suggested that each and every group of three such notes comes to life in a molten state, which the pianist can then form into a well-rounded shape. Despite their melodic and harmonic differences, all such three-note groups should cast into the same shape. This creates a form ‘texture’ that holds the entire piece together.
The most recalcitrant triplets, the ones that would most resist such shaping, occur when the right hand is playing a chromatic scale. No group of notes yields up so little harmonic value to a repetitive pulsation, The chromatic scale is most innately without a shape. If started on a C Natural, and if accompanied in the other hand by a C Major chord, the scale tries to break down into uneven units of, first four note (C C# D D#), then three notes (E F F#), then five notes (G G# A A# B). This is too much of a strain on the scale which therefore yields up little by way of harmonic implication. It is the changing size of the harmonically influenced note groups that render the scale inchoate rather than redolent with harmony. In this etude, the smithy of the mind resists this falling apart of the chromatic scale and obstinately takes every three note group, regardless of its harmonic implication, and shapes those notes into a three note melody without reference to harmony. If I had to express this using a spatial analogy, each three notes would be, in its unformed state a straight line, which the agency of the ear then coerces into the shape of a letter ‘U’.
Beethoven: Sonata in E Major, Op 14 / 1 : I : the development section:
#5. “Additive” Clusters as a unit of pulsation through a lengthy passage with sixteenth notes:
The chord with which the left hand commences, c3-e3-a3-c4, is a first inversion A Minor chord. For many hands this is an uncomfortable arrangement that promotes flitting moments of tension. There are two ways out of this dilemma. One is for the hand to change its overall shape as each finger takes its turn enunciating its note, removing if necessary the other fingers from the previous notes they played. The other way does away with all the physical difficulties by having the ear take on a constructive role, building up, one note at a time, the eventual cumulative sound of the 4-note chord (c3-e3-a3-c4). When doing this, each single note, in its turn, prepares the eventual and cumulative sound of the four notes occurring at the same time. It is only through the first iteration of this four-note sequence of tones that the full chord does not sound until the fourth note. But after that, and with the pedal down, the simultaneous sound of the four notes is continuous. The evenness in the balance of this four-note is not the result of mechanical manipulation but the result of the expectation of an ear focused on the simultaneous sound of the four notes.
#6, The desired effect in sound does not always follow upon a logical or teleologically designed set of causes:
A.J. didn’t see how such a passive, ear-based, technique could possibly effect the evenness and balance of the four sixteenth notes. This prompted the following conclusion from him, his most significant realization of the lesson though at the same time not a logical one.
“Mechanically what I did makes sense as a way of achieving the sound effect that I want in sound. And yet … the result is the sound which I desire. This apparent disconnect between cause and effect is a normal sign of a sudden breakthrough technically. The physical means of doing something, when considered in and of itself, may or may not seem to be capable of logically producing the sound effect that the ear is after.
Yet that effect is what is achieved. So it makes no sense. It takes bravery to abandon physical/logical sense of consistency between cause and effect and be accepting of what in “Big History” is called an “emergent form”; or a form that is not contained in the some of its parts.
You find that the way to the newly emerging form is not foreseen in its physical and mechanical causes. The means happens to produce the ends, but cannot predict the effect.