adult piano lessons, adult piano students, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, Romantic era piano repertoire, Romantic era repertoire, Romantic music, Schumann, setting a good piano fingering

A deep immersion in Schumann’s Wiegenliedchen, Cradle Song No. 6, Op. 124

Who would have thought that a Romantic era character piece of short length could have so much to savor on multi-tiered levels? Relentless triplets with double stemmed quarters, seemed at first glance to direct the player toward a horizontal rendering of a conspicuous melodic thread that’s reinforced by the highest notes in the Right Hand. It’s clearly a vocal line that requires a singing tone wedded to a seamless legato.

But the more one delves into the score, an awareness of note groupings, within phrases, requires the player to breathe as a vocalist would, with an attendant understanding of how fingering, harmonic analysis, rotational motions, and exploration of the bass line all factor into a deeper rendering of the composition.

While the piece only landed in Berkeley just two short days ago, having been emailed in attachment form from a Scottish Isle, it was “cradled” with great care upon its arrival in the Berkeley flats–having passed through an embryonic stage of discovery to a more heightened level of understanding.

Since a tutorial is like a diary of epiphanies, the one I’ve included below, is a springboard to further learning discoveries that grow from repeated exposures and more intense scrutiny of what the composer, Robert Schumann, intended.

piano lessons, piano lessons by web cam, piano lessons by webcam, piano lessons in Berkeley California, piano lessons on Facetime, piano lessons on the web, piano mentoring, piano repertoire, piano teaching, Romantic era music, Romantic era phrasing, Romantic era piano music, Romantic era piano repertoire

The value of studying short Romantic era Character pieces

Piano teachers often welcome the opportunity to use student repertoire requests as a springboard to nourish new learning adventures. Such pupil-driven musical endeavors can lead to deep-layered immersions in short, Romantically framed character pieces.

The value of dipping into miniature variety compositions encompasses taking on a learning challenge in compact form. For example, Schumann’s Album for the Young Op. 68 has a repository of picturesque musical samples that have dual artistic and pedagogical merit bundled into a page or two. The same economy of space/expression applies to Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Pieces Op. 39. Burgmuller, Dvorak, and Shostakovich, join many other composers in this genre, who have produced anthologies of program music in attenuated form.

***

In both the Schumann and Tchaikovsky collections, colorful titles inspire the imagination while requiring a satisfying fusion of affective, kinesthetic, and cognitive approaches to learning. The process of absorption is still layered and developmental but it must be focused on a mood-set that is promptly captured and sustained. (Contrasts in middle sections must include a shift in affect, and an alteration of tonal expression within a short musical space.)

Schumann’s “The Reaper’s Song,” Op. 68 no. 19, is a pertinent reflection of piano study that requires an in depth examination of “voicing” despite its brevity. This particular learning dimension includes an awareness of how an opening thematic melodic line in 6/8, (duple compound meter) meanders from the “Soprano” range into the “Alto,” while the bass line provides an important fundamental underpinning. One might consider the interweaving of voices as reflective of Romantic era “counterpoint.”

In addition, there’s a syncopated rhythmic dimension that evokes the machine-like mechanism of the reaper that appears initially in the bass, but fans out to the upper voice.

Finally, any and all key changes, though ephemeral, must be noted and assessed for emotional/expressive impact.

In summary, this particular musical undertaking via “The Reaper” requires an attendant balance of all voices as they interact and move along with the enlistment of an expressive “singing tone.” (Arms must be relaxed, while wrists are supple in order to realize vocal modeled expression)

A “counter-melody” springs up, (though not readily apparent), that if fleshed out, will relieve thematic repetition and provide more nuanced artistic expression/phrasing. Rubato and dynamic variation also become integrated components in this learning venture, while an embracing rhythmic flow in TWO is musical wrapping.

As contrast to the opening fabric of voices that supports a singable, meandering theme, Schumann inserts an Interlude of rolled out UNISON triple-grouped 8th notes in Forte that smoothly transition back to the initial theme. Repetition of this particular mid-section with a doubled VOICE octave spread between the hands affords an opportunity to nuance it differently, perhaps with a less intense dynamic upon the second playing.

At the piece’s conclusion, the composer charmingly adds a Coda of lighthearted staccato chords in choir where the soprano remains, without doubt, the lead voice. A parallel harmonic third to fifth to sixth sequence in this addendum hearkens Schumann’s signature “hunting horn” motif, though I’m not convinced that the REAPER, relentlessly harvesting crops would have stumbled into this particular milieu. (but who knows?)

Other samples of short character pieces that require in depth probing of voicing/phrasing/dynamics etc. include these two gems that I’ve recently learned.

Robert Schumann

“A Little Romance,” Album for the Young, Op. 68
(This miniature requires playing after beat chords as harmonically rich supports, but not intruding upon an impassioned melodic line. Once again, “voicing and balance” considerations are pivotal to playing this piece expressively.)

***

Antonin Dvorak

“Grandpa Dances with Grandma” (No. 2–Two Little Pearls)

Lots of thematic repetition requires expressive and dynamic variation. In a relentless 3/8 meter frame, a player must resist the temptation to sound mechanical and metronomic. A contrasting middle section that’s homophonic and in a modulating KEY, demands a shift in mood, needing prompt awareness and attention to tone/touch shifts. A Voicing dimension expectedly permeates the entire tableau.

classissima, classissima.com, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, Robert Schumann, Romantic era piano repertoire, Schumann, Shirley Kirsten

What’s Frightening about Schumann’s “Frightening? ” (Kinderszenen, Op. 15, no. 11)

What convinces most pianists that Schumann’s “Furchtenmachen” (Frightening) is an expression of fear or perhaps more specifically anxiety, are the markedly impulsive sections that contrast with lyrical, reflective ones.

Frightening schneller

And not to be overlooked, are the interjections of syncopated SF’s (accentuated outbursts) that are quite STARTLING and must be well communicated in measures 21-24, as well as in the Schneller (“FASTER”) sequences.

Frightening full page 1

Frightening full page 2

The challenge for the player, therefore, is to keep calm, centered, and focused during the agitated measures and not LOSE CONTROL!

Vladimir Horowitz referred to the fire/ice analogy when approaching testy passages. (particularly those in rapid tempo) so I would readily concur with the Maestro that presence of mind under pressure is central to portraying a potpourri of closely spaced, vacillating emotions.

In my instruction, I suggest an approach to the Schneller section that might relax the treble after beats so they don’t sound forced or too vertical, undermining the horizontal thread of notes in the bass. It’s easy for these to intrude if tension permeates the arms, and if harmonic rhythm is ignored.

Finally while “Frightening” may look frighteningly simple at first glance, it’s far from it, given its abrupt mood shifts.

Instruction:

Play Through:

Burgmuller "La Chasse", Burgmuller Inquietude, Burgmuller pastorale, Burgmuller Pastorale Op. 100, Burgmuller Tarentelle, Burgmuller The Chase, Burgmuller's Op. 100 Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces, classissima, classissima.com, Friedrich Burgmuller, music, music and heart, music teachers association of california, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano blogging, piano blogs, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano playing, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and phrasing, piano playing and relaxation, piano practicing, piano repertoire, piano student, piano study, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano technique, piano technique and the singing tone, piano world-wide, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing piano with expression, playing the piano, playing the piano with a singing tone, practicing difficult piano passages, practicing piano with relaxation, Romantic era music, Romantic era piano music, Romantic era piano repertoire, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, slow mindful practicing, slow piano practicing, Steinway M grand piano, studying piano, supple wrist in piano playing, swinging arms in playing piano, teaching a piano student about melody, teaching piano, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to children, teaching piano to teenagers, technique, The art of phrasing at the piano, Twenty five Progressive pieces by Burgmuller, video instruction, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Piano Technique: Burgmuller’s Tarentelle, Op. 100-Fueling and shaping fast passages with a dipping, supple wrist (Videos)

Most piano students will have been assigned a Burgmuller selection or two during their formative years of study. And most likely, these would have been snatched from the composer’s Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces, Op. 100 that advance by steps in difficulty, though it can be argued that all contain unique technical challenges.

Composed in the Romantic style, this music is strikingly beautiful while it advances specific technique-related goals.

One of my favorites, “La Tarentelle” in a fast and furious tempo, has its origins steeped in fear.

From Wikipedia

“In the region of Taranto in Italy, the bite of a locally common type of wolf spider, named “tarantula” after the region[3], was popularly believed to be highly poisonous and to lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. The stated belief in the 16th and 17th centuries was that victims needed to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism using a very rhythmic and fast music. The particular type of dance and the music played became known as Tarantella.”

It’s no surprise that over time, many composers tried their hand at writing their own Tarantellas. (Italian form)

Rapid, frenzied passage work characterizes Burgmuller’s “Tarantelle,” which requires whole arm activity and supple wrists.

And while it may seem that the fingers are propelling the composer’s music along, they can easily tire if not fueled by a bigger physical energy.

Breathing long, relaxed breaths, being in the moment and thinking slowly through fast stretches of notes, keep the music flowing.

Rolling through three note group figures that are characteristic of 6/8 time, also helps to style and phrase streams of eighth notes. This is where a supple wrist allows an infusion of energy when most needed. For shaping lines, it’s indispensable.

(Notice a SLOW MOTION video-only replay that’s sandwiched into the Lesson video)

A defined section of punctuated quarter note chords found on page 2, shifts the mood and character of the composition giving it a robust, march-like character. At this point, it’s best to style, cajole, and phrase the notes in such a way, that draws listener interest.

Piano Lesson:

Playing Tarentelle in tempo:

RELATED:

La Chasse (The Chase) by Burgmuller


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/piano-technique-re-arranging-hands-for-speed-and-agility-in-burgmullers-la-chasse-the-chase-videos/

Baroque era music, Chopin, Chopin Nocturne in F Major Op. 15 No. 1, classissima, classissima.com, harmonic analysis, harmonic rhythm, how to boos piano technique, Martha Argerich, pianist, pianists, piano, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons and parental support, piano masterclasses, piano pedagogy, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and phrasing, piano playing and relaxation, piano practicing, piano repertoire, piano repertoire for intermediate level students, piano student, piano students who drop out, piano studio, piano teacher, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano technique and the singing tone, piano tutorial, piano world-wide, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing piano, playing the piano, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace, publishersmarketplace.com, Romantic era music, Romantic era piano repertoire, Romantic music, Scarlatti Sonatas, Scarlatti Toccata in d minor k. 141, Seymour Bernstein, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, Teach Street, teaching piano, trills, Twenty five Progressive pieces by Burgmuller, videotaping a piano performance and self analysis, videotaping at piano lessons, whole body listening, whole body music listening, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press, wordpress.com, You and the Piano Seymour Bernstein, You and the PIano Seymour Bernstein on You Tube, you tube, you tube video

Practicing knotty piano passages, and tips on how to avoid fatigue while boosting technique (Videos)

At my You Tube Channel site, I routinely pick up comments daily, and the majority center on piano technique. While I lay no claim to being an expert in this complex universe, my trial and error practicing over decades has come with insights that I enjoy sharing.

Earlier today, I’d noticed the following note posted at my site that referred to a devilish strings of repeated notes found in Scarlatti’s D minor Toccata, K. 141:

“My God!

“I can’t believe I’ve found this video—I’ve been killing myself trying to loosen up my 3-2-1 repeated notes for this EXACT piece!

“You’ve helped me to try out new ideas because I was about ready to give up as I no longer take lessons and kept tensing up. I just couldn’t figure out just how to fix myself.”

He referenced one of my comments in passing.

“You mentioned getting fatigued doing the repeated notes later on in the piece…do you think that no matter how loose you are you will eventually get somewhat fatigued by the end of this piece?”

***

Naturally, I answered his final question, emphasizing the dangers of over-practicing knotty passages, especially those with redundant motions that could cause an overuse injury.

It becomes quickly apparent that if you keep playing 3-2-1 repeated note combinations for hours on end, even if you execute them with a supple wrist and relaxed, flowing arm, the oxygen to the cells is going to give out at some point.

Veda Kaplinksy, a Juilliard School Professor of Piano, had driven this point home loud and clear in one of her media interviews.

From ingesting her words of wisdom, it followed that a player should know when it’s time to take a breather. A few hours or more of needed break time would allow the muscles a period of rest and repair.

In the meantime, I had revisited two of my posted videos that might help those agonizing about those time-worn, bummer sections that required renewed fuels of relaxed energy.

The first dealt with those dizzying repeated notes in the Domenico Scarlatti Toccata and how to approach them. I used Martha Argerich as my role model, watching her motions as she generated perfectly formed scads of them. It looked like she was sweeping or dusting the keys.

You can be sure after watching the You Tube video following mine, that her arms, wrists, and hands were very relaxed to pull off such an amazing performance!

In my second instruction, I used Burgmuller’s “La Chasse” as a springboard to explore ways of dividing the hands to advance articulation as well as an effective crescendo in an Allegro vivace frame.

After the introductory measures, I examined the repeated broken octaves in staccato and how to play them easily without tiring.

**
Amidst this whole terrain of practicing passages that require redundant motions with regular infusions of supple wrist-generated energy, I noted my last night’s revisit of Chopin’s Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1.

Having already exhausted everyone’s patience obsessing over the “killer” MIDDLE SECTION, I still enlisted it as a potential overuse injury stimulant–that is, if rest and repair breaks were not taken, one’s hands could feel like they were about to fall off.

But before I was completely shut down at my sixth playing, I preserved the first, and uploaded it to You Tube, feeling some progress had been made.

There will be further attempts to unshackle the death-defying mid-section as time permits.

LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/a-dreaded-killer-middle-section-of-a-chopin-nocturne-and-how-to-deal-with-it-f-major-op-15-no-1-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/accept-where-you-are-in-your-piano-studies-know-your-limitations-but-still-strive-to-improve-video/

Chopin Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 no. 1, Chopin Nocturnes, interpretation of Romantic era repertoire, Morey Amsterdam, Oscar Levant, pianist, pianists, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, Romantic era piano repertoire, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

A long distance Chopin Nocturne Makeover that might help others

It’s amazing that at 3 a.m. in the morning, I’d be fussing around with the Chopin Nocturne in E minor (Op. 72, No. 1) that I’d previously embedded in a blog about revisiting old repertoire. Either my kind neighbors love classical music, or they’ve managed to double pack their ears with spongy stopples. (These can be permanently “embedded” if one is not careful)

So lucky for me, with my unplugged, wide open ears, I had the benefit of a long distance communication from Seymour Bernstein (author, With Your Own Two Hands) who emailed me constructive criticism related to the Chopin. Basically, he zeroed in on what I knew in my sub-conscious to be on point–but because of my DNA connection to the piece, I was just too embedded in it (not that word, again, please consult a Thesaurus)

It was one of those situations, where I knew that I’d over-exaggerated my rubato, perhaps, but of more concern was my tendency to play unsynchronized bass/treble notes. You know what I mean, when the right and left hand should come together and not be schmaltzed up to high heaven, and divided all over the place. It’s what Liberace might do, or the celebrated hypochondriac pianist, Oscar Levant, who played Gershwin. He made it a point to exhibit all his illnesses on 1950s TV, kvetching the whole time on the Jack Paar Show, sniveling, snorting- about to pass out before a commercial break.

My family had an old 78 of his Chopin which I’ll have to dig up. In those days, the vinyls were very long-lasting, like some of Liberace’s half cadences, rolls and flourishes.

I’d imagined a less mannered interpretation as had permeated my last reading, and having Seymour Bernstein’s long-distance coaching would level me out. It was nothing short of a mitzvah (blessing in Hebrew)

But before I go further, here’s a comparison of conditions for each home-based recording of the Nocturne.

1)The first performance, previously embedded, was rendered at a civilized hour so my fingers didn’t feel like icicles. Here in Fresno, it’s dipped below 32 degrees at night so we’re having a honeymoon, of sorts, because the next season is our normally sizzling summer, with 100 degrees in the shade. (We are basically bi-seasonal with the help of global warming.)

2) In the second recording made at 3 a.m., my hands were ice balls, so forget the trills, if you can manage to find them–For relief, I’d shoved my bare hands in front of a portable heater, blocked by Aiden Cat who didn’t appreciate being pulled from his sun bath. He would otherwise be rattling the blinds, or tipping over nick knacks.

To be more precise about what I was thinking about before I attempted a Chopin Nocturne MAKEOVER, here’s what Seymour Bernstein recommended after hearing my first performance:

(I hope this advice will help others who are studying the composition)

“Some theorists hold to Chopin always beginning trills on the upper note. But that practice ceased with late Bach and Mozart. It comes down to personal choice. And choices are usually made on what the melody is doing”.

My comment: Bernstein is spot on. I appreciated the advice that the trill should preferably start on the principle note. (If you can bake your hands in a warm oven, you have a shot at playing any trill in the dead of winter) I ended up reducing my first few to upper neighbor ornaments. Don’t copy me.

“I like your new fingering. I divide that passage rhythmically as follow: 123, 1234, 1234.” (He’s referring to measure 37 with those 11 insanely bunched up treble notes crowding into one beat)

My chosen fingering was 1,2, 1,2, 123, 1234

“If you record it again, be sure to play your hands together more often, especially on downbeats. Of course one divides hands for special moments.”

In my first reading I had too many special moments, so don’t copy me. I made it a point to have less of them in the second performance.

Second, improved reading: I’m not gloating over this one, but it’s on the way to the next, which will be followed by another. The process is never-ending. (But I’ll admit to being in a happier place listening to this rendition)

Mikhail Pletnev, the great Russian pianist, always bemoans the existence of recordings, comparing them to mirrors of fixed, undesirable images.

I like to think of them as springboards to improve one’s playing and to grow as a pianist over time.

LINK:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/seymour-bernstein-pianist-displays-wisdom-about-the-supple-wrist-and-its-influence-on-the-singing-tone-video/

About Oscar Levant:

A reminder that the man’s celebrity was based upon his reputation as a pianist. He studied with Sigismond Stojowski, a friend and student of Paderewski. He also was a member of George Gershwin’s inner circle.

Levant was considered a genius by some, in many areas. (He himself wisecracked “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity.”)