“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 26, 2015

Brahms Op. 118, No. 2: On Voicing at the Piano

Brahms at about the time of Opus 118
A student brought in this wonderful and ever so popular intermezzo from Brahms' opus 118. There is much to consider here in the way of voicing—by which I mean featuring the essence of a particular line—but my student missed completely the structure of the passage at  piú lento.

Brahms Intermezzo Op 118, No. 2
(Double click image to enlarge.)
   It's one thing to think in terms of featuring the soprano line, located as it so often is in the fifth finger. (There are those of us who ponder whether God actually meant us to play the piano, having put all of those luscious melody notes in that tiny appendage.) If we always feature the soprano, we would probably be more often correct than incorrect. However, in this case there is more going on that met my student's eye. Do you see the canon with the tenor voice in the left-hand thumb? 
Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2 Canon
(Double click image to enlarge.)
     Our job as pianist's—as musicians—is to first show what's there and then what's different. This passage functions as a transition to the return of the "A" material. But isn't it more than just a transition? Using the material of the previous eight bars, a section of subtle anxiety, Brahms takes us—now in F-sharp-major—to church and a moment of refuge before the greater storm emerges. What could be more liturgical than counterpoint? In this case, showing the canon gives us more than a singable hymn, and takes us not only to church but references an ancient time.
The chiroplast, a hand stretching apparatus
similar to the one Robert Schumann may
 have used, causing irrevocable injury.
    As a matter of technique, though, do not suddenly become an organist. The poor organist doesn't have the advantage of a damper pedal, which more often than not results in a lot of stretching and pulling in an effort to sustain these chords. True, this is hymn-like, but I rather imagine a brass choir playing somewhere off the nave.

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