Tag: concert piano

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.

#1.

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.

#2.

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.

#3.

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
voyage.

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Details on Solving Technical Issues in the Chopin Etudes. Part Three.

Op 10: #5, #7, #8, #9, #12.   Op 25: #1

Chopin: Etude: Op 10 / 5 in G Flat Major

  • Op 10 / 5 : general, for the right hand

As I get older the black keys on the piano seem to get narrower and
narrower increasing the probability that I will be off center when
playing one. This could be a delusion on my part, or a result of
having undergone a major weight loss program. Since it is on my mind
today, I’ve experimented with steps to compensate for this effect
(real or imaginary).

I am looking at the spaces in between the adjacent fingers of my right
hand. When the hand is in a closed position these spaces disappear,
but as the finger tips move apart relative to each other a wedged
shape space develops between the fingers. The space is widest between
the tips of the adjacent fingers, and progressively narrows down until
the fingers join the rest of the hand. The bottom of this empty wedge
is located just prior to the bumps of the third knuckles on the upper
surface of the hand.

Now I take the index finger of my left hand, place it in between the
tips of two adjacent fingers in the right hand, and draw the left hand
finger along the narrowing space between the right hand fingers, until
the left hand finger is blocked and can go no further.

I keep the left index finger at this point. If I pull it any further
in the same direction I will, in effect, be pulling the entire right
hand away from the fall board. I proceed to do just this. The hand
and the fingers move towards the body. If one of the two adjacent
fingers happens to be lying on the surface of a black key, I can use
the pull into the body as a way also of depressing the black key.

As I pull horizontally along the longitude of the black key I also
apply a slight vector downwards. The further the finger tip slides
along the black key the more the black key secondarily is urged
downwards into the key dip. As the second finger nears the lip of the
black key, the black key has settled downwards into the altitude of
the neighboring white key (which is still at the top of its key dip).

I thus use this semi horizontal motion towards the body and away from
the fall board, to sound the black key. I think of this motion as
being along the hypotenuse of a long skinny right triangle, whose
shortest side is the distance the black key travels vertically
downwards to reach the bottom of the key dip.

By tracing the length of the black key before sounding the note, it is
like landing an airplane along a runway. I use the full distance of
the runway (the black key) to insure I am centered left and right.

It is then just a matter of internalizing this motion into my imagination. Subjectively I still feel that I am travelling along the longitude of the black key, but objectively my finger does not appear to change location along the key’s longitude.

Chopin Etude in C Major, Opus 10, Number 7.  Oscillating thirds and
sixths.

  • Op 10 / 7

Take a pair of right hand sixteenth notes that begin on an eighth note
beat, such as at the beginning of measure 1. We have e4-g4 and then
e4-c5. Combine those notes together into a single chord. The c5
repeats in both sixteenths, so we end up with a three note chord
e4-g4-c5. I use the thumb and second finger of the right hand to play
the e4, the third finger for g4 and the pinkie for c5.

The next step is to play that triad twice in a row, at an extreme
speed, the second just a ricochet off the first. As soon as the first one sounds,  almost before the fingers have had a chance to fully
release the keys, slap the fingers down a second time to repeat the
chord. We are aiming for a difference in time between the beginning
of the two triads that approaches zero.

I go into a loop and repeat the two identical triads over and over. As I do, I gradually try to be aware that there is a third (e4-g4) in the first iteration of the triad and a sixth (e4-c5) in the second.  There is no more than a hint at this awareness, so that the two iterations of the triad can be part of a single action rather than two separate actions.

Once I’ve repeated and repeated this triad twice, without thinking I
segue into the actual written order of the pitches. In each beat, the
third is barely more than a very rapid grace note to the sixth.

Chopin Etude in F Major: Opus 10 number 8

  • general

hold the right arm and hand several inches above the keyboard,
hovering over the part of the keyboard which contains the notes to be
applied. Apply a sharp, sudden torque of the wrist starting at the
pinkie side of the right hand and going to the thumb side. The total
rotation is no more than a matter of just a few degrees, but this
small quantitative measurement should be in inverse proportion to the
suddenness and force of the twisting action. Let that torque like
motion result in the articular of four notes in a row (such as a6 g6
f6 c6 in measure one).

Now we need to get the wrist and hand back into their starting
position before the action in order to use the same motion for the
next four notes in the next octave range. Something about the
suddenness of the counterclockwise jerk of the hand towards the thumb,
is so strong, that when it is arrested after just a few degrees
rotation, it ricochets back in the other direction, thus setting up
the hand for the next octave. By doing things this way the hand is
ready for the next octave without any delay in finishing one octave
and beginning the next.

The reverse procedure is used for ascending arpeggios.

Chopin Etude in F Minor, op 10 / 9

  • op 10 / 9: the beginning and in general

Play the pinkie note in the left hand, f2. Next, rotate the hand sideways
with only the pinkie staying in contact with its key. When in this
position, fully curl the entire length of the fourth finger. Do this
with great force and rapidity. The plane in which the curling occurs,
is horizontal. Act as if you are trying reach the fourth finger as
far as possible towards the next note to be played, c3. The pinkie
remains on f2 as you do this. Then, play the c3 with the fourth
finger. Once in contact with the c3 key, immediately restore the
fourth finger to its normal posture and spatial orientation.

A similar procedure can be used on the behalf of the fifth finger,
when the sixth note of the current left hand group of six notes is
about to go to the pinkie on the first note of the next group of six
notes. When you play the sixth note, c3, with the fourth finger, turn
the hand sideways, pinkie side down. Flex the pinkie rightwards (sic)
so as to make a slapping sound or concussive sound against the hollow
of the palm. Slap it over like a mouse trap closing. Now translate
the plane of the hand back to normal and have the pinkie go leftwards
instead of rightwards.

Chopin Etude in C Minor, Opus 10, number 12 (“the Revolutionary”)

  • Op 10 / 12 : measure 9, 13, et. al.

Take the right hand and surround and cradle the left wrist. When I
come over the thumb, which is playing c3, in order to play d3 with the
fourth finger, at first sight it may seem that the overall motion
should go entirely to the right – over the thumb. A closer analysis
shows that there is also a compensatory motion to the left. This
force is easiest to create using the right hand to prevent the left
wrist from rotating rightwards. It is only through the principle of
balancing two oppositely directed forces that we attain the stability
in the hand needed to effect the complex motion of putting the fourth
finger over the first finger. One force plays off the other force
with the result that neither vector by itself throws the hand offside
and cause it to loose equilibrium.

  • Op 10 / 12, measure 70, 71, et al

The arm is used consciously only to carry the hand carry the left hand
from the c2 to ef4 (in measure 70), or the b1 to the d2 (in measure
71). On the way from the lowest note to the highest note, the arm
ignores any motion designed to carry the hand from note to the next.

In making such an overall motion with the arm, the most important
thing is to have no foreknowledge, no adumbration in the hands and
fingers, of the notes that will later be inserted. For, in figurations like this, the required motions in between the lowest and highest notes are too subtle, too many, and need to be too exact, to rely on any conscious control over them. Intention can never duplicate the organic cohesiveness of the required of the melding and harmony of these component motions, one of which is the passing over the thumb of the fifth, fourth or third finger to continue flow of pitches upwards through the next octave.

That it is why we dictate to the hand only the scope of the motion by
defining its lowest and highest points, knowing that whatever else the
playing mechanism (including the individual fingers, the wrist, the
forearm, etc.) needs to proportionally contribute to the indivisible
series of motions required will happen automatically if not coerced.
We must let go of all intent, all trying, all tending to specific
details. There is no component, unnatural motion, that need to occur.

  • Op 10 / 12 : measure 73 and 74.

Just play the first note of every two sixteenth note dyad. You can
even use solely the thumb to articulate this chromatic scale.

Chopin Etude in A Flat Major, Opus 25 Number 1

General principle

Keep the hands soft and closed. Throughout each sextuplet, use the
arm alone to transport each finger to next note. Avoid any motion in
the fingers which would attempt to make a connection between notes.
Such motions by the fingers (or the wrists, etc.), if intentional, can
only lead to stiffness and inexactitude. Go through one sextuplet in
this manner, rather slowly, and immediately afterwards at full speed,
trusting that the playing mechanism will unconsciously add whatever
nuances and helping motions are required to supplement the simple
left-right motion of the arm.

This principle can be taken to another level of detail by applying it
to the notes of a simultaneous chord. Close the hand, turn the chord
into a slow arpeggio of individual notes, again with no motion in the
fingers to make connections between the notes, but only the ‘pick up
and deposit’ of hands by the arms of the required finger onto the next
note. Without any opening, or closing, of the spaces between the
fingers in response to the changing distances between the adjacent
notes of the chord.

Opus 10 / 5,  Opus 10 / 7,  Opus 10 / 8,  Opus 10 / 9,
                 Opus 10 / 12,  Opus 25 / 1
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The Fusion of the Hands

A.B. playing Albeniz: Orientale

#1

As a general principle the left hand should always be playing with and encouraging the right hand.  When nothing is written for the left hand in a particular measure, then, for practicing purposes, the left hand can either provide notes that support the right hand harmonically, or make gestures as if playing these notes but without sounding them – as long the physical effort involved is tantamount to or greater than the effort that would be made to sound the notes.

In the section where A3 is held and the remaining fingers play a series of parallel triads in inversion, AB’s right hand feels insecure; he says that it doesn’t feel balanced; the fingers feel awkward trying to play the exact notes of the triad. I asked him to play the octave a2-a3 in the left hand, and to re-play with each triad in the right hand.  “Miraculously”, his right hand no longer felt out of balance.  The reason that it is best when both hands are lending mutual support to each other is because we are bilaterally symmetric creatures – our arms and legs are mirror images of each other.

If we interlace the fingers of our two hands and then move our hands conjointly around in space (up and down, sideways, it doesn’t matter), we are no longer automatically conscious of what one hand is doing versus what the other hand is doing. They have lost their individual identities once fused together in a larger, single, natural entity. Starting with this larger unit, we can then farm out assignments to each hand.  There is a ‘pulse’ generated by the center of the body that travels like an electric current down both arms in concert.  This pulse can also cross from arm to arm in analogy to how the optic nerves crisscross on the way from the eyes to the brain.  We should assume, in both cases, that each gains support from the other.

The hands form a unity such that each hand suffers when that unity is broken.

#2

A chord is the same regardless which hand plays it:

In the same section of the piece, where a sequence of parallel triads occur over a held a3, A.B. says that if he uses his right hand to play all three notes of each triad, his ear is more able to be aware of the chord that is formed by the three notes.  I said that ideally, we want to reach a point where what we hear is not dependent in any way on which hand is playing which notes of the chord.  The chord exists as a single sound unit regardless of which notes in the chord are played by the right hand and which by the left hand – it’s always the same chord with the same sound. Physical differences are secondary.

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The Principle of Nested Parentheses

In simplifying algebraic expressions, one starts with the innermost
pair(s) of parentheses, simplifies and reduces it, then works
gradually outwards to the outermost parentheses, i.e. the full
expression.

Today, I want to advocate the opposite process for piano
practicing, one that begins, figuratively speaking, with the outermost
parentheses and works inwards until all the details are presented.

A.B. is playing a piece called “Orientale” by Albeniz. We set up our
first, our outermost parentheses, to surround 5, 6 and 7 of the piece.   We left the parentheses empty except for the first chord of measure five
and the first chord of measure seven. Everything in between was omitted. We tried to effect a connection between just these two chord/islands in time, a connection that was crafted to make those two chords in sequence sound musically self sufficient and meaningful. Bear in mind that, as with any good parenthetical statement, the words (notes) inside the curved brackets are of less importance than what lies outside the brackets.

We next subdivided the outermost parenthesis into two two nesting
parentheses. The first nesting parenthesis goes from the beginning of
the fifth measure to the beginning of the sixth measure, the second
from the latter to the beginning of the seventh measure.

Each of the new, nested parentheses is of less importance than the original, surrounding parentheses. Thus the chord at the beginning of measure six is of less importance than either the chord at the beginning of measure five or the chord at the beginning of measure seven. The presence of the sound of the chord at the beginning of measure six should in no way interfere with the way that the chord in measure five connects with the chord in measure seven. This inner chord is not quite trivial, but it is at a different order of magnitude than the other two. This difference in magnitude should be noticeable both in terms of the amount of physical action and exertion used to sound it and in terms of its musical importance.

We continued the process by further dividing each sub-parentheses into
more numerous shorter parentheses. This process continued until, at
the last stage, every note in the original passage is present and
sounding. Gradually all the chords and melody notes appear.* At each
stage the full, or final, picture becomes more and more fleshed
out. The new material added by way of detail is, as in the stage prior
to it, stepped down in terms of the magnitude of physical action and
exertion made to execute it.

In this system the final details, including all the individual notes
in the score which we insert at that last stage are, strangely
enough, the least important. At each stage we discover that we can
make a convincing musical phrase out of just the material constituting
that stage.* Though eventually there will be more notes present, the
notes that are there in each each level sound entire and musical, as
if nothing is being left out – no note or chord missing, each should
note in no way depends for its musical character on any implied notes
we will hear in the future.**

At the final stage, when all the notes are sounding, all the other steps which we have previously enunciated are still “there” in some sense, enriching the overall texture of the passage.

* In one possible stage, we discover, for instance, that playing just the first two of each group of right hand triplet notes, creates its own independent melody without requiring the third note.

** Generally speaking, it is too easy to make connections between two
things that come one right after the other in time. It is their very
proximity that calls our attention to the relation between them. But
who is to say that the current music note in time should not form a
relation with a note that occurs two or more notes later, or later
still. And if there are such medium and long distance relationships,
they are the building blocks of nascently growing organizational
units of the piece until the whole piece is interconnected. As these
units grow longer in time the beginning of the unit is only partially
retained in memory, first as an ‘after image’, and then deeper and
deeper in memory, until they back to mind if they are in some way
reiterated or altered.

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When Practicing is Emotionally Painful

S.B.’s lesson on 6/25/19

S.B. is sensitive to good music, his soul clearly derives sustenance from it.  Part of him loves being at the piano.  The fly in the ointment is his sight reading.

Because of his love for music he periodically subjects himself to prolonged periods of discouragement by trying to learn pieces. The discouragement stems mostly from the difficulties he experiences in sight reading.

He could possibly become better at sight reading if he did more of it.  But without a proximate aesthetic reward to be gained from the playing of the piece, there is little incentive to practice sight reading.

Reading pieces that are simple enough for him to sight reading produces apathy on his part. The music has little to offer his rather refined artistic sensitivities.

Analysis:

Difficulty in sight reading leads to prolonged practicing time before
the musical qualities of a piece begin to emerge in the player’s consciousness, which can then be savored by our aesthetic sensitivity. The longer this delay, the more bogged down the pianist gets in the tangled web of a forest–with no apparent way out. Just more and more forest, without
end.

Eventually, the displeasure of making gradual, fitful, disconnected small gains in learning the piece, that cumulatively don’t seem to be leading anywhere, outweighs any pleasure, even anticipated pleasure, that the learned piece would bring him. Thus a lot of work is continuously required without the goal of enjoying the piece seeming to get any closer. This is compounded by the growing feeling that he is incapable of learning the piece. Eventually one is forced to the conclusion: “this piece, musical as it is (when I first heard it in performance), may not be worth the effort I have to put into learning it.” With great patience, discipline and fortitude, one  might hold out against this discouragement, even for a long time, but time always wins in the end … the discouragement does not go away.

A tall order:

As a first step in dealing with these issues, I suggested that during the coming week’s practicing, he should take notice of the moments of
pleasure that may occur, even if they are in the minority. To identify to himself that THIS is the state he wants to experience at the piano; the one that makes it all worthwhile. Then to stay with that a moment before going on, to stave off heavy and seemingly ineluctable drift of displeasure that is waiting to take over.

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