“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.”

Monday, May 30, 2016

Grieg Concerto Cadenza: He Doesn't Mean It

Edvard Grieg
       I offer this post here now as a reminder to myself, well, all of us, that nothing should ever be assumed. On the one hand it's great to give the benefit of the doubt and let students explore on their own to see what they come up with. Sometimes, though, a simple word in advance can save time and effort. Sigh. But I know this. Really.
  A young student brought in the cadenza to Grieg's concerto (1868), proudly showing that he had carefully worked out the complex rhythms at the In Tempo Primo, where Grieg demands we play seven notes in the left hand against eight notes in the right hand. Not really. The composer is only kidding. It's a shimmering effect Grieg wants, not a rhythmic tour de force. As evidence of this, notice the admonition to play piu facile. Legend has it that Grieg was called the "Chopin of the North" by the great pianist-conductor Hans Von Bulow, all the more reason to take a poetic approach here. 

Grieg Concerto Cadenza as Written

   This student had indeed worked out a sort of alternating hand version of this passage, but he complained, understandably, that it "wouldn't go." I gave him my standard explanation that the score gives us the sound of the passage, not the feel of it in our hands. So, I offered the following practical revision. Notice the slight adjustment in the right hand thirty-seconds, one instance in which I agree with pianist-editor Percy Grainger. The effect of the right hand tremolo with the left hand arpeggios creates a vague curtain of sound, a musical impression of light filtered through mist. It is not meant to be clearly articulated.

Grieg Concerto Cadenza as Played
   After a bit of searching through my score library, I found my copy of the concerto almost where it should have been. It was  dated, well, never mind the date. I was fourteen, about the same age as this student. I showed him my very large and very deliberate  self-reminder scrawled across the top of the page in deeply indented graphite: S L O W   P R A C T I C E. My teacher probably made me put it there. It's good advice.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Grieg Concerto: Again Those Pesky Small Notes

Edvard Grieg
My student brought the effervescent slow movement of Grieg's concerto. He complained of difficulty with the pesante passage at letter B (Schirmer ed.), where rhythmic confusion reigned. (This, of course, is not the effervescent part.) We pianists sometimes get caught between  note reading and piano playing. We become enslaved to the notation.  Here is the passage as printed:
Grieg Concerto, Letter B as Written
   First, I said, play the passage without those grand-yet-annoying grace notes in the bass—in order to sense the basic three-eighths meter. This is already a little unusual. (Here we wandered a little off topic, as it became necessary to notice the melodic doubling in the tops of each hand.) Then, as always, our job is to give the small notes a place in time. Remember, just because the composer cavalierly tosses in some rhythmically unregistered notes—unaccounted for in the overall scheme of things—doesn't give us license to throw ourselves at the piano willy-nilly. We always have to tell our somewhat delinquent hands where and when to play. Give the grace notes a rhythm. This means they will borrow time from their preceding colleagues. Pedal with these bass notes.

Grieg Concerto, Letter B as Played.
   In an unrelated issue, in the preceding passage, the effervescent part, my student had heart palpitations trying to leap from the extreme treble to the lower bass with his left hand. We relieved considerable stress by combining the treble notes into chords in the right hand, which gives the left hand ample time to make its leap. 
Grieg Concerto, Re-divide.

Say it with me class: The score shows us what the music should sound like, not how it feels in our hands.
   You can listen to my favorite recording here, Dinu Lipati.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Blogger's Note

My "Amazon Author's Page" link is no longer under construction and is now working. You can browse my publications there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New DVD: Piano Technique Demystified iDemos (and More)

    Offered now for the first time on DVD, are the mini-lessons, the technique demonstrations heretofore available only on YouTube. Find them first at CreateSpace; they will soon be at Amazon. This re-imagined and re-recorded no-frills collection of technical illustrations gets right to the point of each of the indicated musical examples in the book, "Piano Technique Demystified: Insights Into Problem Solving." Plus, this DVD includes additional demos not available on YouTube, including illustrations of selections from Chapter 30, "Fifty Teaching Moments." There is also a bonus preview of the sequel, "Mystified No More DVD" on the subject of Chopin's Etude Op 10, No. 3, the treacherous middle section. Watch the entire 84 minutes through, or skip around by chapters. Finally, a resource to hold in your hand and store for future use. No more dependence on the fragility of the internet.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Piano Technique in a Nutshell

   It occurs to me that in this age of IM's and Tweets a simple and direct message might be just the thing. Here it is: Departure, arrival, conveyance.  Notice the travel lingo. An efficient piano technique relies on an understanding of how to get from

one position on the keyboard to another. It's almost that simple. When there's a problem, notice first where you are. Then, find out where you want to be. Finally, figure out how to get from point A to point B. 

   Ah, you say, "the getting there," that's the rub. Those readers who also play string instruments will be way ahead of me. This

"getting there" is like shifting on a fingerboard from first position to second, or from first position to fifth or higher—which can be made to sound scrumptiously expressive, especially with the addition of a tasteful, angelic portamento. But I digress.

    We're talking about the technical grouping of notes. Notes that fall more or less under the hand are, for our purposes, a group. This could be a five-finger pattern—plus or minus. The connection to a subsequent group can be accomplished in two ways, either by means of a thumb-crossing or a leap. In the first case, the thumb is the conveyance, which in my approach is accomplished with a rotational gesture. (Look in the iDemo Tab for a video demonstration.) If the connection requires a leap, that is from one spot on the keyboard to another by means of finger to finger action, not requiring the thumb, the trip is accomplished by means of a plucking or springing gesture in combination with a rotation. The pluck gets the distance; the rotation (and gravity) produce the arrival. (Look for a demonstration in the iDemo Tab under leaps.)
   So, in a nutshell, the last note of the first group always—and I never use the word always or the word never, so this is important—the last note of the first group always conveys the hand/finger/forearm collaboration to the first note of the next group.  Last note to first note. There. Isn't that easy? Or at least succinct?
   Of course, the notes in each group, that is, the notes "under the hand," may require some technical assistance. But that's another topic.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Beethoven Sonata Op. 28 and the Drama of the Small Hand

Beethoven c. 1801

   My student of the small-hand persuasion brought the first movement of Beethoven's sonata number 15, the ever so placid "Pastorale" sonata (1801). Virtually nowhere in this generally lyrical sonata do we hear anything of the brooding that would seem reasonable just a year before that fateful fall of 1802, the fall of the Heiligenstadt Testament: As the leaves of autumn wither and fall, so has my own life become barren: almost as I came, so I go hence. Even that high
 Heiligenstadt Testament autograph
courage that inspired me in the fair days of summer has now vanished.
We are so fortunate that Beethoven chose to remain among the living to fulfill his destiny. 

   For my student, the sonata was anything but placid, technically at least. She complained of feeling stretched in the gently undulating Alberti figures that outline octave positions. And her primary reason for taking this piece was to avoid octaves!
   As always, I listened attentively. Over the years, I've learned that it's best to first let the student vent, even though I knew immediately what the problem was and how to fix it. 
   This is a grouping issue, even in a normal-sized hand. On the third beat of measure one, release the eighth (thumb) D and feel (not hear) a new start from second-finger G-sharp, which serves as a hinge, a pivot point. There will also be a slight up on the second finger to down on the heavier octave. On the final quarter of measure two, I release the fifth-finger D because that 5th-finger next to 2nd-finger E creates too much of a stretch. Proceed in similar fashion. Voila. This avoids that uncomfortable feeling of staying open in an octave position. Discreet use of the pedal aids in maintaining the legato. 

Beethoven Op. 28, first movement, mm 88-96