Tag: Mozart

Poetry and Emotion

Mozart: The C Minor Fantasie (K. 475):

-the piece in general:

#1

The piece as a whole is very cohesive and organic  n spite of being made up of many small parts, parts that are very different from each other musically, tempo-wise, rhythmically, and  most of concern to the piano, requiring very different technical masteries.

#2

Some of the contrasts in the piece are vividly displayed in a way that suggests an almost tangible sense of change of orchestration, as if referencing a full orchestra, sometimes strings, or strings deepened by the  sonority of french horns, sometimes winds, sometime voices.

-the opening measures:

Of all the ways I’ve tried to start this with piece so as to achieve a sonorous, commanding sound (similar to the C-s played by the piano alone at the very beginning of Brahms Third Piano Quartet) these have worked, albeit not consistently and not every time I try them.

#1

Practice elevating the arms quite high, and then, very slowly, then lowering them back down.  Keep lowering them. past the key slip until the arms and hands are lower than the keyboard.  To transfer this feeling into actually playing the opening c-s, subjectively feel the arms descending very slowly, and be un-conscious of where, in the arms’ downward course through space, the notes start sounding.  We simply notice unexpectedly that the notes have begun to sound.  We just don’t know why. “Somewhere” in the slow descent of the arms. the sounds just begin, but we are unaware of where that happens, and when it happens.  Somehow, at some point, the fingers have depressed the keys.  We’re not even sure how fast the fingers moved to depress the keys.

#2

If we want to know for certain whether the first note of the piece is resonant enough, it is not what we hear at the onset of the sound that provides an adequate way of determining this.  It is more at being what we hear at the end of the sound or, perhaps more useful still, what we would still hear of it if it continued to sound indefinitely, with a next note happening.  It is only by delaying our appraisal of the sound of the c-s, that we can first know whether the sound had begun resonantly enough.    We are trying to make the ‘decay’ curve of the sounds occur as slowly as possible.

Unconsciousness of how we start the first sound plus waiting at least a second or two before fully listening to the sound.   How strange!  We control best the present tense by the future tense, at a point in time when arguably we should have no control of how the notes started.  This is one of the paradoxes of time that occur in many hidden aspects of music and the performance of music.

She tried first to control the sound at its onset, and then, after a pause, she tried to ‘control’ the first sound after it was already attacked.  Comparing the second try to the first, in the second the first instant of her sound was  less ‘brash’ and ‘angry’ but  the decay curve was slowed down, with the result that the duration of the sound was, as a whole, more resonant than the first time.

#3

The first measure in general.

Let us make in our body’s imagination, a subjective analogy between pitches ascending along the keyboard (I.E. movement horizontally to the right) and the pitches somehow moving upwards a vertical direction, higher and higher off the keyboard.  C is now “ground level.” The more the pitches rise through the measure, the stronger the build up of potential energy to return the notes to the ground (C).

As the pitches travel (vertically) “UP” from the C, it is as if we are trying to stretch a very strong spring, and the more we stretch it (as we go through Eb F# G and Af) the greater the resistance of the spring and the harder it is to raise the pitch any further.  When we have reached the A-flat we have exhausted our strength, and sink back down to C.  We are so exhausted that even C-natural does not stop things but we slide to new ‘ground level’ a half step below C (namely  B-Natural).

#4

Measure two. The sixteenth note followed by the sixteenth rest.

possibly Mozart’s way of insuring that the emphasis goes on preceding eighth note chord, which represents distress and tension, and not on the chord which follows it, which represents a letting go, a surcease. an emotional giving in.

-the left hand starting measure 5

So here’s the deal: you are only allowed to play one note at a time, but you must get, starting with the first left hand note,  the effect of all four notes sounding together.  These ‘sustaining’ chords assimilated from the sixteenths in the bass fructify and enrich the glow of the sound of the melody notes in the right hand.  The left hand is not simply an Alberti Bass, it generates warmth that baths the right hand.

-starting measure 10

how to control the repeated thirds in sixteenth notes in the right hand:

#1

Sometimes the ultimate form of control to get each third balanced with the next, and each balanced internally between its two notes, is the most passive method..   Sometimes when playing this passage I simply look at the notes going down and then back up.  Nothing more than to look carefully at the keyboard and witness the specific keys in each third going down and then back up.  For many of us, just watching the keys move vertically allows the body with its many subsets of muscles to perfectly coordinate among each other and achieve the desired quality, evenness, and balance among the sounds.

#2

In your imagination add a vibrato on each and every note as if the thirds were being played by the first and second violinist of a string quartet.  There is nothing you can do physically to create the effect this vibrato, a vibrato that seems to crescendo and decrescendo in warmth within the small compass of time of each sixteenth note.*

#3

The fortes in the left hand at the beginning of the measures, can suggest added warmth and emphasis more than sudden, sheer loudness.  It is the effect we get in orchestration when we double an instrument in the bass range with another instrument an octave lower.

-measure 16 and 17

…squeeze “the universe into a ball”…To roll it toward some overwhelming question,” (T.S. Elliot)/

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand” (William Blake)

Such are the microcosms formed by the first two sixteenth notes of each quarter note beat.  Within each two notes one runs the gamut of human emotions.

-measure 17 going into 18

The last three notes of measure 17 are d4-s and they sound inside a B-Minor chord (as the third of the chord).  Then, suddenly, at the beginning of the next measure, through the d4-s continue to sound,  they now appear in the setting of a G-Major chord (as the fifth of the chord).  This is no mild switch of mood.  The entire meaning and sound quality changes.  I make this contrast of chord quality as extreme as possible.  Enough that the listener truly thinks the note they are now hearing is not the same note (d4) as the note they were hearing just before.

-measure 25 going into 26

If there is a more extreme example of the last item, it is here.  Can we, in our musical imagination, hear the D major chord sounding before completing the fourth, even before completing the third, of the four repeated fs4-s that sound with the F-sharp major chord in measure.  So, when it changes to an fs4 in a new chord, a D Major chord, in one way we are very surprised (like a new day has dawned, the sun has just risen and bathed the landscape,but in another feel) but in another, harder to figure way, that somehow we had received an adumbration of that D Major chord.**

J.M said something very nice at the end of the lesson: sometimes my experience with you at lesson is more that of a master class .

* Some string players who also play piano can be seen using a finger on the piano keyboard making the same gesture as on the violin when creating a vibrato.

** A thanks to David Garner at the S.F. Conservatory of Music who, when coaching recitatives at the Bay Area Summer Opera Institute (many years ago), told the singers that when singing the last few notes that are under the control of the current chord from the harpsichord or piano, they should already be hearing those notes as if sounding together with the next chord to come.  Thank you David… : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Garner_(composer).

 

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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.

 

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How one hand can help the other

Summary: Play runs evenly. Be your own teacher by having one hand help the other.

Years ago while I was playing a Mozart Concerto, I was frustrated in the first movement because I could not play evenly a scale-like run in the right hand.  The notes were not pearly.  They were not pellucid, they didn’t shine because of their evenness.

I could not seem to solve this issue myself.  I was an adult pianist, yet I felt I needed a guide, a teacher, to help me.  I needed someone to give me a model of the evenness for which I was striving; a teacher, or if not a teacher, then a conductor to follow.  I wanted something more than just a sound-model – hearing someone else play it and then trying to imitate it.

Quite by accident I took one of the fingers of my left hand (my fourth finger), and began flexing it over and over at the speed of the run, as if chiding my right hand: “why can’t you play it like this?”  Fortunately, the next thing I did was to play the right hand while making the repetitive gestures in the left hand.  All of a sudden, the right hand sounded its notes evenly.  Somehow it seemed as if the finger of the left hand was in control of the fingers of the right hand.  From the right hand’s point of view it seemed something more than just following an example.  What sort of connection had changed between my two hands?

Our body exhibits bilateral symmetry.  The center is unique but the left and right sides are mirror images (or nearly so).  When we clap our hands we take full advantage of the power one arm lends to the other when they make mirror like motions.  The center of the body acts as the mediator and connects and transmits the reinforcing motions of the arms.  Take any passage that is done by the right hand and make corresponding mirror-like gestures with the left hand.  The right hand will feel less isolated, less like it has to take care of the task all by itself.  Something is balancing it, something is making it whole.  It no longer seems awkward or happening at an extremity, “out on a limb,” as it were.

The teacher lies in yourself.

I used to say to tell my students “lessons are all about practicing.”  Everything we do at a lesson is but a model, a sample of a dialogue between the ‘teacher in you’ and the ‘pupil in you.’  Eventually you will successfully internalize both people in this dialogue.

I remembered these words when I was wiggling my left hand finger to even out my right hand fingers.  That wiggling finger had taken on the role of the ‘teacher in me’ and showing the other ‘student in me,’ my right hand, how to go about playing evenly.

It was more than just ‘moral’ support or advice being given from myself to myself.  There was a direct transference of physical energy from one side of the body to the other, each completing in space the movement of the other.

I instinctively had given the single finger in my left hand an important advantage over the right hand.  It was not cramped down onto the keyboard forced to depress certain keys.  It did not have to articulate different fingers according to a certain order.  So, it was more than a model of evenness, it was a model to the right hand of liberation, of not being constrained by which particular finger was playing which particular note at a given time.  My right hand took vicarious pleasure in what the left hand did.  Perhaps due to the “mirror” neurons in my brain, the right hand could take on the feel and internal sense of motion of the left hand, more so because of the literal connectivity of the arms through the center of the body.

Future blogs:  1. Contrary motion versus parallel motion.   2.  Parallel motion in even steps in one hand versus uneven steps in the other.

Reminder:

These blog entries are not ‘timely’:  they do not address issues that relate to the present news of the world.  They address perennial issues faced by most pianists when striving to excel in their playing.  I encourage you to search backwards in the blogs to find the ones that will yield the greatest benefit to you.  You are also welcome to contact me to suggest a topic that you would like to see appear on the site.

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