“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.”

Friday, July 31, 2020

Enslavement at the Piano

     I recently came across an article in a national magazine in which the author advocates what he calls "grounding." His idea is that in order to facilitate leaping in both hands, the right hand should cling to certain melody notes in an attempt to produce a finger legato, "grounding" them. The theory seems to be that by grounding one hand, the other will be more accurate. The piece under scrutiny here is Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Op. 9, Var. VI.
     He writes: "If the pianist keeps the melodic notes of the right hand legato during the leaps of the left hand, the pianist has effectively 'grounded' this passage. For those with large hands, the entire melodic contour of the right hand can be grounded." My first thought was, what about us smaller-handed folks?
     No, not really. My first thought was that this professor of piano doesn't understand about leaping. What he calls being "grounded", I call being enslaved. As much as I applaud his attempt to find rational, physical solutions to technical problems, I wish he were more in tune with the design of the playing apparatus, what it can do easily and what it shouldn't do. In the example below, he suggests using all of the up-stemmed sixteenths to form a finger legato. As the intervals become wider, the challenge is still greater even for a large hand, I would think.

Brahms Variations on a Theme
of Robert Schumann, Op. 9. Var. VI
As Printed
     Holding down the notes with up-stems (sixteenths, I hasten to repeat), causes an unnecessary stretch between the melody notes and tends to lock the hand into an open position. A more efficient way to solve this problem is to use
the note before the leap as a springboard to get the distance. I've indicated these leaps with arrows. After the leap, land on the next starting note. I've indicated these groups with slurs. This works in both hands, which, by the way, feel as if they are making the same gestures because they move in opposite directions. The pedal will provide ample connection between melody notes. I've included some possible fingerings, though there are other possibilities.
An Efficient Solution
        Other examples in the article would benefit from a reconsideration of more efficient ways to move: Leaping chords, unison scales (a grouping issue), alternating hands and octaves. "Grounding" is for me an unfortunate image, as it suggests being stuck in the keys. It is in fact easier and more efficient to move than it is to stretch.

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