“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.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Forearm Angle: What About the Elbow?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Art of the Fugue

Some of my readers have inquired
about  the sight-reading book, Art
of the Fugue. Yes, it is available now
at Amazon and it is designed for the
late intermediate to advanced pianist
interested in advancing sight-reading.

Available Now

Improve your sight-reading by practicing it with a partner, a partner who helps keep the pulse moving. Of course, we learn to keep our eyes on the page and always look ahead. We know to scan for surprises of meter, accidentals or key change. We know, too, that setting reasonable tempos based on the fastest note values ensures a successful performance. But in the final analysis, we must learn not to stop for mistakes, the wayward flat, a dangling mordent or what-in-the-world-kind-of-scale was that anyway. It would be rude to abandon a partner in search of the aforementioned, so it is the duty of each to keep the other on track. Designed for partners of equal skill, this volume includes all 14 fugues and four canons in Bach's original work, the one he was working on at the time of his death. Only number 17 is omitted, as it requires two keyboards. I have also included solo versions of some of the two-part canons to be enjoyed while waiting for the partner to arrive.

J.S. Bach
 In order to improve sight-reading skills, I often suggest to students that they keep some scores on their piano that are several levels below what they can actually manage technically. One excellent resource is the church hymnal. These mostly homophonic melodies, some familiar, can usually be managed at sight if we find the right tempos. The absence of counterpoint makes this material more readily sight-readable. For the more advanced pianist, however, pieces with the added challenge of contrapuntal textures can be a way to advance reading skills and stimulate musical sensibilities.       
Art of the Fugue Subject
       Which brings me to J.S. Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. Begun in the 1740s and  left unfinished at his death in 1750, in The Art of the Fugue Bach once again has the last word on a given subject. His apparent intent was to explore as many contrapuntal techniques as possible using a particular theme, a summation, really, of his life’s work. Incomplete though it is, the master accumulated here fourteen fugues and 4 canons on some variation of his theme, infusing each in succession with ever increasing complexity. Some authorities argue that this collection was meant as a compositional study guide, not intended as performance material. In this context I offer up the solo cello suites as evidence to the contrary. Until the cello suites fell into the hands of the legendary Pablo Casals, they, too, were considered only exercises. All of these fugues were written in open score with no indication of instrumentation, except for number 17, which bears the note “fugue for two keyboards.”  (I omit this two-keyboard fugue.) Nevertheless, they can be managed quite nicely on a keyboard, or in various instrumental ensembles which, according to the distinguished pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen, was the intent.
         To the best of my knowledge, The Art of the Fugue has never before been transcribed for piano duet. Difficult to play with two hands, with four they make excellent and enjoyable fodder for sight-reading, albeit with some challenges. I have tried to maintain Bach’s voice-leading as much as possible, though it seemed prudent to relocate voices in cases where collision would be unavoidable, particularly between tenor and alto voices when present in the right hand of secondo and left hand of primo. Incidentally, if you are new to duet playing, be considerate of your partner by getting out of the way as soon as possible. You will notice occasional crossing of voices when they can be negotiated by one player. 
Should we imitate the harpsichord?
 Articulation can be a matter of some contention among performers, particularly among keyboard players who feel—and those who don’t—that virtually every note should be played detached in imitation of the harpsichord. We have evidence in Bach’s own hand that he favored a cantabile style of playing, which he declares in the introduction to the “Inventions and Sinfonias” as follows: One of the purposes of these pieces [the Inventions] is to “above all develop a cantabile style of playing (am allermeisten aber eine cantabile Art im Spielen zu erlangen).” Since these fugues and canons were offered in open score, it seems reasonable to imagine they might be played by strings or winds, which could imply a different style of articulation than that of a harpsichord. So, my advice is to think musically in a global sense. 

     My metronome and dynamic indications are only guides and not to be taken too literally. Remember, when sight-reading the right tempo is the one that allows continuity. You will find in my version the addition of solo incarnations of some of the canons, which may be enjoyed while waiting for a partner to arrive. Also, I have separated the rectus and inversus from the open score so that they can be played individually as intended. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tchaikovsky Concerto: Scherzo Bliss

Peter Tchaikovsky


My student brought in the Tchaikovsky Concerto, complaining of difficulty in this example from the scherzo section, measure 50, of the second movement. In my student's edition, the editor had placed the fifth finger on B-flat and thumb on the following A.
Fingering in the Scherzo, Measure 50
(Click example to enlarge.)
Though not impossible to execute, this juxtaposition of the two short fingers can feel cramped, a pinching together. Not nice. I recommended the fingering indicated in the example above and pointed out that the technical grouping falls into groups containing four 16ths, creating a hemiola (three pulses instead of two). I've been practicing this myself and find it quite easy. Incidentally, the B-natural on the first beat could also be taken with the left hand. Who'll know the difference? I won't tell.
     In measure 43 the composer also places the technical pulse, the technical grouping, against the beat by creating a hemiola. Keep the eighths constant and put the pulse in the left hand.
Grouping int the Scherzo, Measure 43
(Click on example to enlarge.)
Confused Conductor

     In  fact, begin the entire scherzo leading with the left hand as the pulse and the piece becomes much easier. True, the conductor has to figure out where the beats are in order to punctuate the passage. But that's his problem.
     Side note. I once played in an orchestra when the conductor did indeed become confused in this passage. He lost track of the beat entirely, even though the soloist played with the utmost precision. He stopped conducting and whispered loudly, "play, play!" Well, we did the best we could, but I fear a few punctuation marks went missing in that performance.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Name That Pianist: Chopin's Berceuse Played by 10 Great Pianists

     I've added a new listening assignment in the Listening Tab: Chopin's Berceuse played in many different styles. Can you name the pianists without looking them up?










Moving Notice: iDemos

Please notice, dear readers, that the iDemos are now located in the tabs bar above.