Angela Hewitt, Classical era sonata, classissima, Haydn Sonata in Eb Haydn Sonata in Eb Hob.XVI:52 (Rondo), Haydn Sonata in Eb Hob.XVI:52, piano lesson, Shirley Smith Kirsten

The value and application of slow piano practicing

Angela Hewitt boldly emphasizes the importance of slow practicing in this brief video segment. She states that everything you do behind tempo should be molded into a faster reading as to phrasing, dynamics, etc. And it goes without saying that fingering is an important component of foundational work such as occurs with circumspect rehearsals at the piano.

I’ve chosen a particular application of slow practicing to the challenging PRESTO Finale of Haydn’s Sonata XVI, Hoboken 52 in Eb. The tricky passage highlighted below is a thread of rapid 16th notes with right and left hand sharing these in broken chord patterns. Because both hands are practically colliding, since there are repeated notes often played between them, decisions about fingering are pivotal to a smooth execution.

My slow practicing, naturally had an analytical component in the blocking stage, which I fleshed out as I took a step-wise approach.

Haydn tricky passage finale

Haydn p. 2 tricky passage finale, presto

(Phrase shaping in behind tempo practicing)

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The premier piano “haus” on W. 58th!

Guggenheim white Steinway B Klavierhaus

The high point of my trip to NYC was inhabiting a paradise of pianos on “piano row.” That’s what they call “West 58th” between Broadway and 7th Avenue.

In the imposing shadow of Carnegie Hall that envelops the neighborhood, Klavierhaus manages to retain its unique character amidst a glut of piano restorers such as Beethovens and Faust/Harrison.

(I made a visit to Beethovens that will be covered in a separate posting)

For me, Klavierhaus was indeed center stage from the moment I entered its sanctuary.

Greeted by an eye-catching, Pleyel, circa 1890, I sampled its delicious tone and impeccably even feel from note to note. Perfection to a tee permeated its DNA–In fact, the restoration was an historic journey with a keen awareness of what European materials were used at its inception. Jeremy Denk, concert pianist, had videotaped a riveting exchange with Gabor Reisinger, President of Klavierhaus about the care invested in bringing this instrument to exceptional playing standard. It was more than a miracle of fate, but instead, an artistic and historically authentic undertaking.

In the course of my meanderings through Klavierhaus with the assistance of Jeffrey Baker,(Business Dev. Director and Concert technician) I was impressed by more than a dozen pianos that were each developed to their full potential. No detail of maintenance was left behind.

This is not a common state of the art in most piano establishments. In too many, the instruments may have a basically appealing tone, but regulation and other problems abound that are sadly ignored–most likely for financial reasons.

The ever-looming profit motive compromises the needs of pianists who desire a lifelong compatible musical companion in the present minus a future promise of satisfactory, tailor-made “voicing” and “regulation”

(I’d encountered this in-the-next-life, promotional mantra many years ago when I was looking for a Steinway to replace a damaged one) Most pianos sampled at dealerships were “cottonballs,” without heart-throbbing, immediate tonal appeal.

NOT the “case” at Klavierhaus.

What I heard and experienced hands-on was the golden glow of piano paradise in the here and now without the promise of a honey-dipped afterlife.

And speaking of other-worldly environs, one particularly extraordinary piano captured my attention: It was a shimmering white Steinway in a gorgeous art case that’s best experienced by viewing my on-site video. (Excuse the shaky camera–I was very titillated to the point of tremulousness, not having a bulky tripod to steady me)

In truth, the following three videos in “a row” exemplify the outstanding work of Gabor and his team of tuner/technicians/salespeople who immaculately prepare and showcase these beautiful instruments.

First the lusciously mellow gift that Guggenheim gave to his wife on Valentine’s Day:

Next, a 9-foot Fazioli (Angela Hewitt’s favored piano)

Finally, more Pleyel-dipping, followed by a Bechstein sampling, and visit to the Klavierhaus Recital Hall


211 W. 58th Street
New York, NY 10019
(The north side of West 58th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue)

OTHER: My visit to Beethoven Pianos on W. 58th Street

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A J.S. Bach Little Prelude: Making decisions about phrasing and articulation

The Urtext (original) editions of Bach’s keyboard music offer sparse directions about phrasing/articulation, (groupings of notes) so the player has to make important decisions that reflect a Baroque style. But what are the guidelines in a process that has an intellectual and affective dimension?

To the extreme, some pianists use pedal and soak up linear lines of counterpoint. These independent strands of skips and steps that move along at Andantino or Allegretto pace, etc. are drowned in sustain. (Phrase markings, detached note playing, etc. will not compensate for an over-soaked musical fabric)

In Bach’s Little Prelude in C minor, BWV 934, for example, my most recent undertaking, I was sent a score that seemed to be edited in a way that the harmonic rhythm (flow of harmony) and sequences were mostly ignored. Dynamics inserted did not necessarily reflect a fall down in measures that were modulations a step down. A counter melody in the bass (measures 33-37) that occurred in three sub-divided measures was marked off by pure legato slurs. (In this editing, an important line was lost)

In addition, there were long groupings of legato-slurred melodic phrases that would suit a Romantic era composition, not one originating in the Baroque.

But did I want to imitate the harpsichord as I took my pencil in a slash-mode fashion, making my own edits?

I had no intention of playing never-ending detached notes, especially where a melody had its own charming contour, and seemed grouped in two-measure frames at the start. My own aesthetic, based upon playing a modern-day piano, would not embrace imitating an instrument that had its own built-in character and form of expression.

Purists might think otherwise.

In my soul-searching, I decided to consult two pianists known for their interpretations of Bach.

Here are Glenn Gould and Angela Hewitt playing Little Prelude in C minor, BWV 934, followed by my own performance and that of a child. (Note the lovely ornamentation in Gould/Hewitt’s readings)


In the first section, Gould plays the soprano line detachee, while on the repeat of the same, he’s playing legato. His sequences have consistent internal groupings.

Characteristically, he seems to flesh out detached phrases as against the same in legato. I also noted his long lines of bass legato, against treble detached notes. Then he reversed it.

Gould exhibits a variety of articulations in a very relaxed tempo that suits this approach. (you can hear him singing occasionally, which matched the selected pace)


Hewitt’s performance moves more briskly in dance-like fashion, and I particularly underscored her bass sequence articulations in measures 33-37. In measures 16, 17 and 18 she detached the treble line quarters, which fleshed out the agogic dimension of tied notes. (a natural accent by dint of their length amidst surrounding shorter note values) I favored her note groupings at the cadences, A and B sections.

My own revised playing: (A tad faster than Hewitt’s performance)

A child’s lovely reading without repeats: (Listen to her phrasing/articulation)

These inserted edits, in the aftermath of my having separately studied the first two interpretations, were a synthesis of what made sense to me in Hewitt’s reading, re: phrasing/articulation/harmonic rhythm, and my own idea strands. (dynamics were influenced by sequences and harmonic flow)

bwv934 p 1

bwv934 p 2

My original, preliminary ideas about this Prelude, after I had carefully listened to Hewitt’s rendition, though I made changes in the course of practicing the work:

A section:

Angela Hewitt, Bach's tempos in clavier music, Baroque music tempo, classissima,, dance-like tempo in Baroque keyboard music, Elaine Comparone, Glenn Gould, Halida Dinova, Harpsichord Unlimited,, J.S. Bach's tempos, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano, Quantz, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word, wordpress,, you, yout tube,

J.S. Bach and tempo in his Little Preludes

A few days ago, I posted a You Tube of Bach’s Little Prelude in F, BWV 927, which is popular among pupils in the Intermediate range of study, though to be candid, these “Level” classifications should be taken with a grain of salt. Why? because all Bach’s compositions require an understanding of voicing and counterpoint that deepens with seasoned exposures. In essence, as eternal students, we commit to layered learning and study spanning a lifetime.

That said, the whole universe of Bach’s tempos can be a challenge to those of us wanting to play his music with a degree of authenticity. (Recommend: “On Bach’s Rhythm and Tempo” by Ido Abravaya:

My first inclination was to draw on the vast body of Bach’s choral works for tempo reference: Oratorios, cantatas, etc. as well as the solo concerti for violin, flute along with the composer’s collections of chamber music. (The Brandenburgs, for instance, contain dance-like movements)

Elaine Comparone, world-renowned harpsichordist and scholar suggested that I consult Quantz in my research endeavor, so I raced off to Google where I found the following:

Although the header pertained to ORGAN works, I benefited from tempo choices linked to DANCE movements and metronome markings.

Comparone, likewise characterized some of Bach’s music in a dance frame even when the composer didn’t specifically attach a French or Italian adjective to his manuscript.

For BWV 930 in G minor, she referenced the “Courante” as well as “harmonic rhythm” as cues for tempo decisions.

Courante: a) “Italian variety, in a rapid tempo and in simple triple time. b) French variety, similar to the above, but with a mixture of simple triple and compound duple rhythms, the latter pertaining especially to the end of each of the 2 sections. Occasionally, in Bach’s keyboard examples the conflicting rhythms are found together, one in each hand.”

Attribution: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, Third Edition, Editor, Michael Kennedy

Here’s Angela Hewitt’s dance-like reading:

Gould, by contrast, was thinking more of the vocal model in his chosen tempo.

I must confess that my original perception matched Gould’s even before I hastened to You Tube to check out his performance.

My latest recording, however, turned out livelier:

In BWV 926 (d minor) Gould fleshes out a definitive rhythmic dualism. He plays this Little Prelude rather briskly, suggesting, for me, at least, a sprightly dance movement. (His detachee–detached note approach is emphasized)

The artist, known for his many original, and sometimes unorthodox performances, perceives a stream of triplet 8ths at the beginning of this work, though the notes are seemingly comprehended as parcels of two to the quarter note (in 3/4 time)

He then reverts to duple division of the beat, fleshing out a perception that is uncommon to most performances of this Little Prelude. (two against three in the larger sense) If we agree with Gould’s interpretation as authentic to Bach, then the composer had something whimsically sophisticated up his sleeve. (Comparone favored Gould’s rhythmic disposition)

Here’s Angela Hewitt’s reading which I prefer in it’s more singable frame:

(I love the way she “relaxes” alternate measures in the opener, and responds so beautifully to the harmonic rhythm dimension of this work)

I adopted this same spirit in my rendition, before locating Angela’s You Tube offering.

Having matched up in tempo and character with an artist I revere as one of my favorite Baroque period interpreters, I was a bit puzzled by the tempo she chose in BWV 927 that I mentioned at the beginning of this writing.

Hewitt is so intrinsically musical that she seems to pull off any reading at whatever tempo frame she chooses.

Yet I can’t fully grasp the counterpoint in this rapid speed.

My own humble choice seemed to be one where two voices could be more easily followed, though a You Tube poster to my website asserted that I played the composition “too fast.”

Gould’s reading seems to corroborate my more conservative underlying beat, though taken a tad faster: go to 3:30 in the track.


Another Little Prelude:

BWV 999 (The broken chord pattern permeated C minor) is played in a very brisk tempo by pianist, Halida Dinova: Go to 1:46 in the track

Compare to Hewitt’s tempo (which I prefer)

The question remains what tempo would Bach have envisioned, and what character reference would he have chosen for any number of his compositions?

A partisan of separating the vocal model from that of the dance especially in these shorter works, I would favor such a point of departure.

Finally, does the character of the composition upend the metronome marking assigned to the piece? (or should they have equal weight in conjunction with Key/Major/minor tonality?)

I leave readers with food for thought.


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Angela Hewitt, pianist, plays J.S. Bach beautifully on a Fazioli

I must admit that when I journeyed to Piedmont Pianos before it moved out of downtown San Francisco, I wasn’t taken by a huge, 10-foot plus Italian piano with extra keys that was the featured attraction. (The Giraffe piano at Peninsula in Palo Alto upstaged it)

And the older, re-built Steinways on the S.F. premises were loaded with Renner hammers which produced a bright and angular tone–(I always preferred Steinway and Sons hammers for the New York models) The latter usually required more time in voicing to an aesthetically pleasing level.

Angela Hewitt, Canadian-born pianist plays the big, 4-pedal, Fazioli, and in her artistically fluent hands makes it work as if it were custom-made for her. (In truth a pianist of her caliber can make any instrument, with a full deck of working keys, “sing” and “dance”)

But notwithstanding the piano Hewitt chooses to express the music of J.S. Bach, she approaches his body of literature with a gorgeous lyricism that “purists” might question.

Example: A public You Tube posting to the French Suite No. 5 in G Major:

“Opinion is not knowledge: you may like ‘dying phrases’ and ‘mixed dynamics’ etc. but these dynamic features were simply impossible on clavier instruments. It’s a fact that cannot be dismissed if a performer doesn’t want his Bach to sound like Ravel or Chopin. Applying Romantic “tools” to Baroque music will lead to an out of style interpretation.”

I can’t join the conservatives on this one because Hewitt is so profoundly musical that Bach would have opened his ears to this new universe of “color” made possible by a modern-day piano. Why would he have opposed progress, and kept himself a status quo, artifact? As it happened, his harmonies, so adventurous for the time, revealed a futuristic, innovative tendency. (I’m awe-struck by the dissonances for example in the plaintive G minor Little Prelude BWV 930)

My view is not meant to dismiss Clavier instruments of the Baroque as having their own justified universe of expression. But why fuss over the medium and not the MESSAGE?

Hewitt excels in her range of nuance and phrasing from start to finish in the J.S. Bach French Suite No. 5 in G. (BWV 816)

She shapes and “dips” phrases to heart-fluttering levels (Not gushing with Romanticism), but in tasteful bounds, possessing an intuitive though deliberate understanding of sequences and their relationships. (She’s keenly sensitized to harmonic rhythm and its wedded relationship to phrasing)

Contrapuntal lines are clearly woven through the musical fabric.

Hewitt is an impeccable listener drawing others into her vestibule of focused concentration. This is playing that I would hope to emulate over the utopian horizon.


In a different podium of expression, she registers a definitive opinion about Bach’s equal temperament and its tie-in with modern-day tuning.

Her assertion that human “ear tuning” is far superior to the computer-driven “machine” is well taken.

Finally, I’m convinced that the artist is a miraculous tribute to her early dance and musical training. The latter encompassed the study of more than one instrument. The daughter of musicians, she learned the piano, organ, violin, and took voice lessons. What a rich instrumental bank to draw upon. (I can hear the violin bow drawn deeply and intensely in some phrases, or the ornamental vocal lines spun by a coloratura in others) Such a vast assortment of nuances, colors, and articulations permeate playing that is memorable beyond its expression in real time.

The dance dimension of Hewitt’s playing is the other half of her performance equation. It feeds an inspirational display of well-rounded virtuosity.

Just to compare a different approach to Bach, I listened to Andras Schiff perform the same French Suite in G.

If we cut to the chase and juxtapose 14:08 on Hewitt’s track to the end –the Gigue– with Schiff’s starting at 12:52, there’s no doubt in my mind which rendering would send me out the door jigging my way to BART.


Angela Hewitt’s official website: