piano,, piano, piano teaching, piano playing, pianoforte

Playing with Imagination!

Lately, I’ve been imbuing lessons with the word “imagination” particularly as it has applied to short pictorial works by Enrique Granados. Yet, drawing on the imagination crosses historical periods of musical composition, not limited to 19th Century “expressive” Romanticism and well beyond.

In this vein, J.S. Bach Preludes, Fugues, movements from the French and English Suites, etc. possess an “emotional” dimension that cannot be overlooked. In Bach’s Sarabande in D minor, French Suite No. 1, BWV 812, a profound sadness permeates a 24-bar movement that ends with a gorgeous Picardy third. Imagination in this context, encompasses tone color changes, or a delay in entering an “unexpected” Parallel MAJOR cadence, so it becomes a “surprise” for the player, and listener alike. (The player and listener, are one and the same in the cosmos of a layered learning process, so being “inside” and “outside” the music bears relevance when analysis is factored in.) The cognitive part of learning synthesizes with affective and kinesthetic dimensions of absorption.
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Within the D Minor Sarabande, there are poignant sequences that fill an Imaginative repository. They require voicing, weaving, interrelated responses, and an awareness of how harmonic flow is embellished with contrapuntal lines. (The B section opens with a restatement of the opening theme in the bass where a “cello” perhaps is “singing.”) I often draw on the chamber music universe to fuel the imagination and influence tone production.

Recording helps a student to perceive his/her playing without the encumbrance of too much physical preoccupation so that a form of ear attentive objectivity can expand and deepen the “interior” or “subjective” dimension of expressive playing.

A student might ask, “What could I have done differently to create better phrasing that has meaning, expression, and shape?” (The answer might encompass a less percussive approach–or one that is tempered by a supple wrist—part of the imagined “sound” or tonal ideal.) Naturally, a pupil can examine more than one area of necessary improvement.

“Imagination” by itself has little value if unwedded to a thorough understanding of a composition’s structure, harmonic rhythm and development–including what modulations transpire, and how secondary dominants, or deceptive cadences, sequences, etc. “color” musical expression. And then there’s the importance of Present and Past in the unfolding of a piece: “How many times has the theme been repeated, and how can I render it differently and more poignantly each time–or might it need a “veil” in the final iteration?”

What happens BEFORE affects what is to happen AFTER in musical flow. And I personally think three-fold: The BEFORE, the HERE and NOW, and the FUTURE, all bundled into a composition. (Future is where the music is heading based on what preceded.) In the Bach Sarabande, pianists decorate both sections on repeats with ornaments or varying passagework that require a sense of what was initially stated with less adornment. Sequences, as well need responses so they have inter-relationship. (Dynamics can be varied as echoes, and Harmonic surprises allow for individualized expression.)

Finally, while a piano teacher can prompt a student to play a piece such as Burgmuller’s L’Orage, with “stormy” imagery as an emotion-driven springboard (no pun intended), the association cannot “shape lines,” or create a palette of dynamics through “waves” of measures. Deeper analytic probing tied to the composer’s “programmatic” framing makes more sense. And here’s where imagined “tone” color imbues the playing at various junctures with an awareness of “choreography.” (“How do I realize what I want to hear?” in a fusion of the musical and physical.)

In the video below, I explore the expressive (imaginative) contours of Enrique Granados Sensitiva No. 7 from Apariciones with a play-through and follow-up tutorial.

Through the opening measures, a prevalence of agogic notes in the treble, (those tied over) affect the “entry” into them, and the departure from them as they decay, and “connect” to notes following in scale-wise descent. (I flesh out “traction” at the inception, with relaxation in the sequence.) Key transitions are of particular relevance in the response zone of playing in this short piece, especially when they are unexpected.

And many thematic repetitions that flow into first and second endings with a Da Capo al fine, require variations in dynamics and a sense of interpretive freedom or rubato that fuel “imaginative” playing.

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3 thoughts on “Playing with Imagination!”

  1. I so enjoy and learn from your videos. I’m wondering what level the Granada piece is? I realize that leveling piano scores is somewhat subjective but as an intermediate older adult new to piano lessons I find them helpful. For exp most selections that state 4 to 6 are within my reach with my instructor.
    Question: can type a personalities ever learn to relax at the piano.? Suggestions if so?

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Yes, it’s hard to specifically level pieces, in that one or the other might fit a particular student with a set of skills, while not suiting another, whose strengths are firmer in certain areas. Examples are Granados No. 1 in C (Valse Poetico) with consecutive octaves in the treble. Suffice it to say that No. 7 as embedded in my blog is approx. middle Intermediate to Advanced Intermediate level. As for Type A personalities, I am sure that relaxation techniques including breath control, here and now Oneness with the piano, self-hypnotic routines, can benefit anyone who tends to be in the high intensity personality realm. I recommend Just Being at the Piano by the late Mildred Courtney Chase. You can probably find on Alibris and other sites where books are out of active print. Should cost about 7 or 8 dollars.. not any more.. Amazon has a few with outrageous prices.. It’s a soft cover and reads easily.

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