“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.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Forearm Rotation

I once gave a lecture-demonstration to a group of piano teachers. When I asked for a show of hands in response to the question, "How many of you use forearm rotation," no one responded. Admittedly, it was sort of a trick question because not everyone is familiar with the terminology. But it's a good starting point for this topic. It is, in fact, not possible to play the piano without using forearm rotation.

If you you don't believe me, try raising your arm up to the keyboard. No, raise it straight up. Your forearm and hand will be in a karate-chop position. In order to place the hand on the keys in a playing position, it is necessary to rotate the hand in the direction of the thumb. Playing up and down the keyboard requires constant rotation toward the thumb. But this is only a starting point.

One clear example of rotation in music is the so-called Alberti figure, in which the music changes direction with each note. In this example it is called single rotation; when moving both to a given note, in a scale for example, and away from it to the succeeding note, it is called double rotation, except the thumb-crossing. Change of direction is always a single rotation and this concept is uniquely important in facilitating passage work. The nomenclature is not important, though a thorough understanding of the application of this underlying tool is essential to a well-coordinated and efficient technique.

This video of Edna Golandsky gives a very nice introduction to the principle. I highly recommend these videos for the serious pianist.

Golandsky Demonstrates Rotation in a Scale

Left Hand Octaves

If you are interested in the magic of fast octaves, have a look at this performance by Rubenstein of the A-flat Polonaise. This is a rare opportunity to observe octave shaping in action. Notice how he starts the passage using two hands (saving himself?) then switches to octaves. Notice also how in the first section, E-major, he starts out on the white key and moves in to the black keys in a continuous circular motion. Though difficult to see in speed, there is a slight under shape from the low B back up to the starting E. The movement is continuous and rounded, no sharp edges, and describes something like an ellipse. (I recommend fingering quick octaves one/five.) The shape is reversed when the passage repeats in E-flat.

I heard him play at Carnegie Hall and again later for a pension benefit concert with the New York Philharmonic. On both occasions the audience would not let him leave without playing the Polonaise, which was a signature piece.

Rubenstein Plays Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat 

Friday, December 16, 2011


If you happen to be shopping at Amazon or looking for sheet music, you can do that from this page. The prices are the same and the blog gets a few points credit. So go crazy!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Here is a marvelous echo of the romantic past. Mortz Rosenthal studied with Mikuli, a Chopin pupil, and later with Liszt. (And one of my teachers, John Crown, studied with Rosenthal in Vienna.)

From the Youtube poster: "Here, Moriz Rosenthal performs the second movement of Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor in a concert that was broadcast live during the pianist's 75th birthday celebration, December 19, 1937. The NBC Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Frank Black. Celebrants shown enjoying a piece of the birthday cake that was presented to Rosenthal at the conclusion of his performance are (from left), Rosina Lhevinne (wearing brooch), Josef Hofmann, Adele Kanner Rosenthal, Moriz Rosenthal, Ernest Schelling, Josef Lhevinne."

Moriz Rosenthal plays Chopin Concerto

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Russian Tradition

I didn't have the opportunity to study with Mme Lhevinne at Juilliard, though some of my friends were her students and I heard snippets from their experiences: "What concerto did you learn over the weekend, dear?"

My only brush with her was a near disaster as I nearly crushed her 90-year-old legendary self while going too quickly through the revolving door at Juilliard's Claremont entrance.

Here is a marvelous recording of her playing Chopin 1st concerto, which I think is a study in the power of restraint. Rosina Lhevinne plays Chopin 3rd movement.

This interview is a bit of pianistic history :

Rosina Lhevinne Part 1
Rosina Lhevinne Part 2.
Rosina Lhevinne Part 3.