“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, March 26, 2020

Grapefruit Cake Incident on Kindle

Dear Blogees,

Some of my readers—well, a few—okay, two have wondered why my semi-autobiographical book The Grapefruit Cake Incident and Other Stories Instructive and Cautionary from a Musical Life isn't available on Kindle. This set me wondering, too. And, having put the correct wheels in motion, the said book is now available for direct download to your own device or visit Amazon here:

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Chopin's Barcarolle: Trills and Other Imposibilities

     A student writes: "There are so many passages [in Chopin's Barcarolle] that at first view seem basically impossible. I am intimidated any time I see trills and other ornaments."
      Whenever a student complains of difficulty with ornaments, I feel moved to begin my standard lecture on the topic. It begins: All ornaments indicated only with a symbol require a place in time. We pianists have to decide which notes to play, how many, in what rhythm and how to fit them with other voices. When someone has trouble with a particular ornament, it usually means they are throwing themselves at it, trying for a machine-gun effect, when in fact, a carefully worked-out rhythmic plan will solve the problem. 
      This does not mean that in performance a trill or other ornament needs to sound pedantic. Once the design of the passage that includes the ornament has been carefully worked-out, it is usually possible to disguise the rhythmic regularity or abandon it entirely, leaving the coordination between it and the other voices intact.
       Consider this example in measure 20. It really is not necessary to hire an assistant.
Chopin Barcarolle, M 20
      Now have a look at a simple solution.

Where you see the arrows, use the 5th-finger E-sharp to rotate the hand toward the chord. It is not necessary to hold down the thumb eighths, as the pedal will do that for you. Likewise, measure 21 may be executed as follows.
Chopin Barcarolle, M 21, As Played
(Alternatively, the 16th-note F-sharp may be played with the left hand.)
     Understandably, my correspondent adds to his complaint several passages of trills in thirds, such as the ones in measures 27 and 28. They all may be handled in much the same way. I finger them using 1-5 to 2-4. It is possible to use 2-3 on the minor third.
Chopin Barcarolle, MM27-28, Thirds Trill
The upward pointing arrow signifies a slight move in toward the fall board. Remember, the thumb likes to play in the direction of in. The downward pointing arrow indicates a slight move back out again toward the torso. Practice these gestures first alone very slowly to feel the pulse. Then add the left hand to feel the coordination. At first, it may seem a little like patting the head and rubbing the stomach. Allow the hand to be mostly perpendicular to the keyboard in this case, rather than at a marked angle.
     The next impossibility has to do with playing passages in sixths. Very often, perhaps usually, the technical grouping is different from the way the notes appear on the page. The sixteenth-note sixths in measure fourteen are printed with six notes under one bar. This causes brain freeze. We could try to play in groups of two from upper to lower. This is already an improvement. But there is a still an easier way. Do you see it? Try this:
Chopin Barcarolle, M 14, Sixths grouped in pairs from lower.
A few comments: I play the dotted-quarter sixth with 1-5 (a small point). Remember, after a long note it is perfectly alright to start over with fingering; it is not necessary to make a literal connection to what follows. No one will yell at you, or even notice. The final sixteenth, the octave, will propel you very easily to the next downbeat if you use the fifth finger as a hinge and move rotationally. This approach to parallel sixths works well in other passages.