Arthur Schnabel, piano

The Shallow pedal, Shaping lines, and links to Artur Schnabel, Tobias Matthay

This past week, shrinking degrees of musical separation led to an intersection of my own ideas about phrase shaping and pedaling with those of Schnabel, via his pupil, Eunice Norton.

Norton’s bio is capsulized at Graham Fitch’s website, https://practisingthepiano.com/eunice-norton-schnabel-matthay/

“A student of both Schnabel and Matthay was American pianist Eunice Norton (1908 – 2005). She studied as a child at the University of Minnesota with William Lindsay, who later introduced her to Dame Myra Hess. Hess was so impressed with the 15-year-old Norton’s playing that she arranged for her to study in London in 1923 with Hess’s own mentor, Tobias Matthay, with whom Norton would remain in association for 8 years. A glittering career then followed. A decade later she heard Schnabel’s performances of Beethoven’s sonatas and spent three successive seasons under his tutelage in Berlin and Italy, and later enjoyed many rewarding years of friendship and association with him.”

As a tribute and lasting legacy to her mentors, Schnabel and Matthay, Norton has produced a series of videos that flesh out their respective teachings through her own narratives and demonstrations. These can be found on You Tube.

In part 1 and 2, of a series that enshrines the teachings of Schnabel, I stumbled upon Norton’s reference to “shallow” pedaling as it “played out” in the music of Mozart, and other Classicists. (i.e. with early Beethoven sonatas as well, that are often described as Mozartean)

By way of scale-like passages lifted from Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 576, Eunice Norton applied what she interchangeably termed “surface” or “shallow” pedaling used only with a “descending scale.” (one of Schnabel’s signature techniques)

Part 2 of 18–(shallow pedaling intro)

***

Part One of Norton’s Schnabel series imparts narrative background about her mentor’s teaching/philosophy; description of the ambiance in Berlin with two side-by-side Bechstein grands intertwined with Schnabel’s embracing philosophy to “think of music in shapes.” (There’s a generous serving of foundational material in this first part that flows into an unfolding archive)

Ironically, I had posted a tutorial about “shallow pedaling” prior to catching Norton’s presentation. My personal illumination regarding this type of mild sustain, had more of an intuitive origin, where my ear directed adjustments of my right foot in the opening Burgmuller tableau, “La Candeur,” Op. 100, Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces.

This short work, permeated by quick-paced skips and steps, is easily muddled with deep depression pedaling. Nonetheless, not wanting such a charming opener (from the lyrical Romantic era) to sound like a dry etude (or “dehydrated,” in Norton’s own words, lifted from Schnabel), I demonstrated a quick “lightly” applied pedal down/up, that was captured by a webcam and desk lamp at my feet. (The miracles of technology)

***

Norton has an ample view of her right foot down below as well as her hands above at the keyboard that well communicates her shallow pedal technique, and within this framing, she elaborates on Schnabel’s ideas about musical “shapes.” (She memorializes his “evolution” of the opening D Major broken chord “motive” as it is “developed” through the first movement )

In this context, Norton mentions Schnabel’s impatience with players who rendered unnecessary first beat accents through classically framed phrases. She asserts that her mentor absolutely despised “downbeat” prone players who felt the urge to pound on these, regardless of a longer flow of notes to resolution beyond bar to bar fixation. (In her discussion of phrases, she references”feminine” cadences without gender prejudice)

Norton’s complete set of videos allied to Schnabel and Matthay’s teachings are particularly timely where cross fertilization of approaches abound in today’s piano method/technique arena. (Taubman, “Russian” school, etc.)

Finally, as teachers, we can sift through the writings of Schnabel, Matthay, et al, discovering a kinship with them, though we can better assimilate their approaches by viewing demonstrations by their own students at the keyboard.

Reading about “phrase shaping,” or “weight transfer” (Matthay, for example, in his many manuscripts, including The Invisible and Invisible in Piano Technique) can certainly be valuable with their myriads of attached hand diagrams interspersed by sections of text, but the joy of music-making as it plays out in videos as Norton produced, are invaluable treasures that vividly preserve a historical legacy.

***
An additional link to the past via another Tobias Matthay pupil:

Here in the California Bay area, I was recently introduced to the writings of pianist/teacher, Rose Raymond.

She happens to be the great, great aunt of a local resident who brought her relative’s manuscript to me. In my New York Times archive search, I found a few references to Raymond whose primary mentor was Leopold Godowsky though her 118 page, The “How” of Piano Technique and Interpretation including Lessons for Beginners, is a tribute to Matthay. (It concludes with his emblemed photo portrait and two renderings of his hands in playing position)

Raymond’s Table of Contents- (Note the p. 118 entry in bold: “Rose’s Mentor, Tobias Matthay”)

ROSE RAYMOND’s Obit: 1984
“The pianist Rose Raymond, a student of Leopold Godowsky and former president of the Associated Music Teachers League, died Jan. 9 in her Manhattan home after a long illness. She was 94 years old.” (Note that Raymond was also a student of Emil Pauer in Pittsburgh) He was the esteemed music Director or the Pittsburgh Symphony.

***

“The pianist was a Faculty Member and Adjudicator or the National Guild of Piano Teachers; a member of the Music Teachers National Association, the National Association for American Composers and Conductors, The Piano Teachers Congress of the New York and other organizations.”

Raymond who was born in 1889, might in some way have intersected with Norton, (June 30, 1908 – December 9, 2005) when both were mentoring in Pittsburgh PA and had been members of the local music teachers association. (Though their 19 year separation in age might have precluded their having met) It’s also unclear when Raymond studied with Matthay, though she had been in Europe working with Godowsky and would have made a side trip to London.

Raymond eventually moved to the West Side of Manhattan and gave many concerts in Town Hall that were well reviewed in Musical America and other print media.

If there are any students of Rose Raymond who might recall her mentoring, particularly during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, if not before, please get in touch with me through this website.

***
LINK to my video interview with Schnabel pupil, Jeanne Bamberger in Berkeley CA

(Correction: the opening work is by Schubert)

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