Well, it’s still not memorized yet, but the clips and staples mounted far too high on the rack, have been undone. I no longer need a giraffe’s neck to play through the sonata’s many first movement pages. The music has descended to eye-level.
Incidentally, my feeble excuse for using music was my relatively recent exposure to this work–It would take a while to absorb it minus an unreliable cut and paste exhibit.
And this brings up the subject of memorization, and whether it advances a composition’s performance. Many would attest that owning this masterwork without reliance on the score, would free the spirit and soul?
Or maybe not?
Here’s feedback from a few well-known music teachers/performers:
Irina Gorin: (creator, Tales of a Musical Journey, Books I and II–her own unique approach to teaching piano to beginners and on)
“For me performance with music looks a lot like practicing. I’m used to performing by memory, and I require from all my students that they perform from memory, unless there are some really big problems. But, so far, in 30 years of teaching, every single student of mine was able to perform from memory. There are tons of articles written about memorization and different tricks to help with that. I don’t think I have anything new to say.”
I interjected that Sviatoslav Richter, the great Russian virtuoso, often performed in public with music as exemplified in these videos:
Haydn Piano Concerto in D, movement 1
Handel Suite in D Minor
If I close my eyes, I enjoy these readings, without any distraction of watching the artist’s eyes glued to the score. And what difference should this detail of production make? It was Richter’s philosophy, in any case, that he “played for himself and not the audience.” His personal pleasure was transmitted outward.
To which Gorin responded:
“Richter had music only in a few very last years of performing, and he was over 70 years old. His late performances were not his best. Also, there are different types of performances” formal and informal. I would not mind sheet music if played for a circle of friends or home video, but the big stage is a different story. IMO “
Not to be argumentative, but pianists are put to a higher standard in this realm than instrumentalists such as flautists and clarinetists. The latter routinely march onto the stage with the music and no one much cares.
Certainly music critics, on pedestals of power, don’t specifically fault a performer for playing with the score.
A well-reviewed pianist, Leon Fleisher, played Book I of the Well Tempered Clavier with music propped on the rack at the Fresno Keyboard Concerts Series.
Would he have played better without the page turner peering over his shoulder? In some instances, the answer might be a resounding, yes!
I watched an awkward page turner push an Urtext album into accompanist, Martin Katz’s lap in Carnegie Hall. The soloist was either Milstein, violinist, or Shafrin Cellist. Ironically, MY MEMORY FAILS ME! Yet I do recall Katz carrying on gloriously without music to the final cadence. (A good example of MEMORY having come to his rescue!)
Seymour Bernstein explored this very subject in his popular book, With Your Own Two Hands, Chapter 10
Sub-heading, “Why Memorize?”
“There is something very important to be gained from memorization that many musicians themselves may not be aware of. Apart from freeing a performer in musical and technical ways, memorization, per se, despite current opinion to the contrary, actually sharpens the mind.” (He quotes, by analogy, students of ancient Greece who had to memorize all their texts and recitations as a key to mastery in public speaking AND to hone their minds)
Back to the piano: “Some performers are distracted by any visual contact with notation, and therefore prefer to play without a score. Better to risk forgetting, they feel, than do anything that might interfere with their involvement in the music. Other musicians have a complete sense of freedom only when the score is before them.”
Bernstein went on to discuss recording sessions, where he asserts, the decision whether to use music or not, resides with the recording company. He cites a case in point:
“I had been invited to record a recital for the BBC and was somewhat surprised to find in my contract, a stipulation that a page turner be present in the studio. The reason, of course, was that the BBC quite simply did not want to waste more time than was necessary with retakes owing to memory slips.”
In tune with Bernstein’s reflections, I noted a videotaped recording session memorialized on You Tube where Vladimir Horowitz has the mandatory page turner sitting beside him at a reading of Mozart’s Concerto No. 23. (Carlo Maria Guilini conducts)
“Memorizing is as physical as mental but it’s not at all an intellectual process as such. Once you memorize a composition, then those tools are useful for preparing it for performance– kind of as an adjunct practice tool. But the piece has to take hold of your subconscious as well as your conscious mind via your fingers and your ears.”
This statement dispels myths about over-reliance on the analytic ingredients of score, making one further probe the depths of a memorization process.
(As usual, thoughts and ideas are welcomed from the teaching and student community about a controversial area of performing)
See PIANO WORLD.com thread related to this topic:
And on this note, here’s my personal confession about memorization in performance that may ring familiar. It’s in the form of a letter sent to a piano teacher:
“One of the big issues for pianists is the psychological dimension of memorization, and sadly, many teachers equate a student’s inability to memorize with his failure to properly organize or analyze the score according to theoretical and structural content in his protracted learning process. (harmonic rhythm, modulations of course included in this universe)
“But as COMPARONE points out, this type of analysis is not enough.
“I once played a recital, that began without music on the rack.. it was being recorded for airing later on Valley Public Radio. It opened with the rather straightforward first Scene of Childhood, “Of Foreign Lands and People.”
“I knew that piece in my sleep, yet I don’t even know what I played for the first phrase. At that point my music was taken out and put up before me, with my page turner standing by.
“Am I to feel any less of a musician because I play with music? Did this mean that I hadn’t studied my pieces thoroughly, as you know my learning emphasis is ground up, baby-step, layering. (and impart this approach to all my students)
“I gave one of the most inspiring performances of my life at Temple Beth Israel WITH music, and I couldn’t imagine ever having played for two hours without my music.
“I guess I’m writing this because each musician must decide for him/herself what works, and what produces the highest performance standard at any given time that he is capable of.
“So it follows that I refuse to be hard on my students if they cannot play without music. I still say it’s a tradition-bound construct that does not universally apply across the board to ALL musicians. (flautists, violinists, cellists, and the like)
“Recently, I watched violinist, Sarah Chang perform Beethoven sonatas with music, and I enjoyed her performance just the same which affirms my opinions in this universe of discussion.”