“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.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Beethoven Sonata, Op. 81a. Das Lebewohl. Les Adieux.

     A student writes: I have a weakness at playing thirds which I can't understand. I can descend in the right hand 53 - 42 - 31, but climbing especially 42 to 53 feels totally unnatural and my fingers feel paralyzed when I try to play at speed. For example Beethoven op 81a (Lebewohl) allegro, I can play the rest of the movement up to speed (including bar 17 which is supposed to be much more difficult) but I can't play those rising thirds.
     Is there something about the technique I might be missing? Is there an exercise that might help? I doubt that simply playing rising thirds is going to work as I have practised that bar hundreds of times and still can't play it.

     The thirds is question are in measure 3 above. (Please excuse the water mark. It's a long story.) This is an infamous passage, although most pianists have trouble later on, with the repeated chord. 
     Here's my answer: Yes, you are missing an understanding about the technique. No, you do not need exercises. (Someone in the forum suggested Dohnanyi exercises, all copies of which should be burned in a ritual bonfire.)
     Fingering starting with A-C: 1-3, 2-4, 1-3, 2-4, 3-5. From your brief description it sounds as if you are trying to play the thirds as separate units, that is, by articulating with up/down arm or hand movements or by isolating your fingers. From the B flat-D (2-4), feel hinged on 4, release 2 and rotate slightly in the direction of the music (right). Then, turn back to 1-3 (left). The third finger will cross over 4, the principle being that a longer finger may easily cross over a shorter finger. 
     You mention that 4-2 to 5-3 feels unnatural. Again, it's likely that the rotation is missing. Feel hinged on 4, rotate to the right, turn back to 5-3. This has the effect of playing 4 to 3. Alternatively, moving from 4-2 to 5-3 can be accomplished easily by shaping slightly in the direction of in, toward the fallboard as you move to 5-3. These movements are much easier than they sound when described in words. A demonstration is much easier to grasp.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Stage Fright: Them or Us

     There are two possible scenarios for dealing with performance anxiety, otherwise known as stage
fright. One scenario is that we allow the audience to draw us out to them. We do this by buying in to what might be on their minds, by focusing on them. What do they think of me? Do they like me? Do I seem foolish and incompetent? This line of negative thinking  also includes the feeling of not being good enough, which is another way seeing ourselves from the audience's point of view—a point of view that is spurious at best. The audience has come to enjoy a concert and are not looking for failure. 
 The other scenario is one in which we on the stage draw the audience to us by focusing on what it is we have to say. Have you ever noticed that if you stop on the sidewalk and stare up at something, other passersby will invariably stop and look to see what it is you have discovered? This focus is a powerful draw.  If we can get to the point where we have prepared thoroughly enough technically and made clear choices about the meaning of the music, that is, what we want to share with the audience, then we will be able to draw them to us on the stage. When we walk out
and begin to bow, our minds should already be forming the topic sentence, so to speak. What is the first idea we intend to present and what does it feel like physically to play those notes.
     This is for some performers easier said than done. It requires calm at a time when the body is gearing  up for a fight or flight response. So, in preparation for walking out on stage in a state of calm focus, practice conscious breathing back stage. This is a focusing on the breath, slowly inhaling and exhaling. This can slow the pulse and increase the chances of finding the right tempo at the start.
     Butterflies are normal. Every performer has them. But I put this in the category of excitement at the opportunity to share something important with others who are eager to hear what I have to say. We want to be excited but not fearful. We can achieve this by focusing on the message and the means of delivery and not on the messenger or the listener.