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Making Pianistic Compromises: Schubert Impromptu in Eb, Op. 90

I was struck by a post at Piano about making compromises when playing difficult passages.

The writer referred to a technically challenging Chopin work:

“But I simply cannot manage to get every note in on the two long runs, the first of which comes on measure 15. When trying to play to speed, I just keep missing a note no matter how long or hard I practice it, and no matter what fingering I try. So I’ve just decided to play it the way I can. It sounds good enough, but not as good naturally as it would if I could manage it as written.”

I chimed in with my own response among a thread of others:

“The way I look at it, you do the best you can in the present, and hopefully in the future, as you grow in technical directions, things might change. A passage that reaches a plateau, doesn’t have to stay there forever. I like to think philosophically for the long term. Lord knows there are nearly impossible feats in lots of music.. Liszt, especially.. and Chopin as well. As for Scarlatti, one can go through the hoops, and crash, but still take another shot at it.”

My perspective remains level-headed when it comes to impossibly challenging passage work, ornaments, crossed-hand death defying leaps, and the rest.

For example, last night I double dared myself to YOU TUBE Schubert’s Impromptu in Eb, Op. 90, a composition with a relentless stream of ultra fast notes that make dizzying twists and turns at every TURN before they spill into a contrasting middle section that requires an instant mood swing. Before you know it, you gotta shift gears and be back IN the driver’s seat for the final spin around the track. There’s even an acceleration (accelerando) at the very end, that rivals the last lap of the Indy 500.

Oops, I didn’t mean to imply that this Schubert piece is anything like a NASCAR event, but for some who try to tackle it, a RACE to the finish line is a good comparison.

But here’s where we separate the men from the boys.

Schubert is about MELODY so no matter what break neck speed is chosen by a player, the melodic line must be shaped and preserved at all costs, not rendered as a moto perpetuo, Czerny type exercise.

With the Impromptu I think of the words, “Romantic music” as the framer of phrases.

So before I tweaked my tripod angling the camera toward the piano, I embedded my mantra, “fast melody–slow down, fast melody–slow down into my consciousness, hoping it would work a paradoxical effect.

Like I tell my students all the time, “Think fast when playing slow, and in reverse when playing fast.”

Did my mantra work?

In some places it did, but not in others, and that’s where the “pianistic compromise” issue comes full circle back to where we started in this conversation.

To sum up:

Accept where you are, and know it’s temporary because there’s never an end in sight, only a new beginning.

RELATED: A Slow Practice Approach to the Schubert Impromptu
in Eb, Op. 90

2 thoughts on “Making Pianistic Compromises: Schubert Impromptu in Eb, Op. 90”

  1. Thank you, Shirley, for your spirited and superb performance of the Schubert Impromptu in Eb Op. 90. Your comments on how to conquer difficult scores are inspiring and so visible in your teaching videos. I’ve been slaving over Ginastera’s La Danza de La Moza Donosa for two years – it’s evolving very slowly. I won’t give up, but shall apply your wisdom – not feel defeated but reach for new beginnings at each practice time. I love everything about this Danza, the melodies captivate me – I won’t compromise with a sloppy reading – I know I can do better and honor Ginastera with my interpretation. I deeply appreciate your insights as a teacher and artist.


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