“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.” Plato
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Some interested parties have written me commenting on Mystified No More, my newest book. What's up with the title, they want to know. And how is it different from the first volume? Well, the title is a reference to the first volume, Piano Technique Demystified: Insights Into Problem Solving.
So many pianists expressed interest in that first volume and so many questions about technique continued to pop up, I decided a sequel would be in order. The new book is a collection of essays organized like mini lessons on technical issues in a wide range of repertoire. The overarching idea is to prepare the way for what I call a more "practical technique," an approach to playing the piano that encourages efficiency not only at the keyboard, but in the use of time. It includes access to abundant video demonstrations.
The writing style is perhaps more literary, dare I say it, and revelatory of personal experiences and behind the scenes anecdotes. The first chapter, for example, explores connotations and denotations of the words work and play when applied to what we do at the piano. I recreate a scene in which a graduate student named David offers "a sturdy performance, quite effortful it seemed, as sweat dripped down the back of his neck and along the bridge of his nose, a precarious situation for his horn-rimmed glasses. Sound took on a physical presence in the room along with the students, drawing the paneled walls inward and giving me a sense that the room was much too small for the lot of us. Afterward, in the ensuing discussion David made a comment that has stuck with me all these
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
|Bach on Schnapps?|
You already get my admiration if you recognize the piece as Sinfonia No. 10 in G Major, BWV 796, for keyboard. Why did he write it, though, and even more pressing, how does one play it on a keyboard?
|Bach Sinfonia No. 10.|
Finally, how is it played on the keyboard? Look at the articulation. The soprano voice crosses the alto, striking the same note with two different articulations at the same time. This is impossible. Yes, even on a two-manual instrument, if that is where you are headed. Do you see that the soprano voice plays an eighth-note C while the alto sustains the same note? The pattern is repeated in each measure sequentially. (This is no problem in my string trio version, where violin and viola happily cross lines all the time.) The explanation, of course, is that the master is here concerned perhaps a tad more about the compositional technique of voice leading than he is about keyboard techniques.
There are two possible performance options. The first is my favorite, although something is lost by removing the short eighth and replacing it with a sustained quarter.
|Performance Option 1.|
|Performance Option 2.|
Thursday, October 13, 2016
|Bach's Reaction to Schnapps|
Here are your questions: What is it? Why did he write it? How do you play it? As soon as I get your answers, I'll be able to finish my book. (Just kidding.) Really. What was he thinking?
Friday, October 7, 2016
|J. S. Bach.|
It is rarely, if ever, necessary to use pedal in Bach. It can sometimes be a convenience, though, especially if you share my predilection for physical ease. In this example from the Sinfonia No. 7, it is quite possible to
|Don't Do This.|
|Sinfonia 7, M 5, Legato Sixths.|
|Bach Sinfonia 7, M5, Syncopated Pedal.|
|It's the One on the Right.|
The arrows indicate the direction of forearm rotation. For example, the second finger G-sharp in the alto sends the hand rotationally rightward, so that it may turn back into the sixth with four and thumb.
When playing Bach on the piano, use the piano's resources. Don't try to imitate the limitations of the harpsichord. Expand. Grow. It will still sound like Bach. I promise.
Monday, September 19, 2016
J.S. Bach was a teacher. In his day, teaching was not only about keyboard facility but also included elements of composition and style. In short, Bach taught music. In his preface to the Inventions and Sinfonias, he explains that he has created an “honest method” for the purpose of learning to play “clearly” first two parts, then three parts. Along the way he hoped the “amateur” would develop, in addition to the ability to handle all the parts well, “good ideas.” He writes that “above all” the player should “achieve a cantabile style in playing and acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”
Let’s talk about cantabile. This is my favorite Bach quote. I
raise it whenever I encounter a pianist who attempts a harpsichord facsimile on the modern piano. You know the type of player I mean. This is someone who feels that all Bach playing is detached. Even the great harpsichordist Wanda Landowska declared that her playing was connected, not detached. I understand why some pianists do this. They hope to imitate the quill plucking the strings. In the process they discard the natural reverberation that plucking produces.
So here we have a conundrum. On the one hand we are to play the parts clearly, but at the same time be expressive. No worries. We can separate out the two parts of the puzzle and put them back together again. Bach would be proud.
In the first Invention, I have noticed from time to time that students trip over the first leap in measure one. The intention is to begin lyrically with the sixteenths, but the leap from five on G to three on C sounds like a hiccup. Well, it is.
|Invention I, MM 1-2.|
Use the fifth finger as a hinge to move rotationally to three, and in the process separate the G from the C. It feels connected because of the rotation. Slightly shortening the G, however, gives the passage a characteristic articulation. This is still cantabile.
|Pluck and Rotate.|
We look for musical and technical shapes in order give expression to what we play. Here is a good example of grouping and shaping in both guises. Group notes together that move in the same direction. Class, what are the appropriate shapes? Yes, over on the way down, under on the way up. It's the reverse in the left hand.
|Invention I, MM 3-4, Grouping and Shaping.|
There is of course much more to consider, and it is a fascinating topic. Every student plays at least some of the inventions at one time or another. Maybe I should write a book on solving technical problems in the Inventions and Sinfonias. Oh, wait. I am.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
In this particular passage, we have to ask ourselves first how the composer intends for us to play the small notes. We know from notations he made in students' scores that appoggiaturas are to be played on the beat. (See Howard Ferguson, Keyboard Interpretation.) Personally, I sometimes find this idea not aways the most musical of solutions. Here, however, it makes perfect sense. I play this as indicated below.
|Chopin Ballade in A-Flat|