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.

Classical music blog, Felix Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, piano blog, piano blogging, Romantic music, Songs without Words

Capturing the rocking motion of Mendelssohn’s F# minor Venetian Boat Song

In Felix Mendelssohn’s Op. 30, No. 6 Gondola Song, the very character of the lilting motion is sustained in the Left Hand with a metrical awareness of Two beats per measure, not 6. The composition (from the Songs Without Words album) is in 6/8 but translated as duple compound, giving a leaning emphasis on the first of two/3-8th note groupings. In the opening bass measures, rotation of the arm also assists the floating, flowing nature of the music, making the journey down a Venice canal a peaceful one.

Page 1:
Mendelsson Venetian Boat Song p. 1

This is a wonderful learning experience on so many musical/technical levels as I demonstrate in the attached video. Very slow practicing preserves all nuances of phrasing while a student manages the lighter half of each measure with arm weight transfer and a supple wrist.

Chopin Prelude in E Minor Op. 28 no. 4, chromaticism, classissima, classissima.com, Ffrederic Chopin, Frederic Chopin, Romantic era piano music, Romantic music, tempo rubato

Where harmonies shape phrases: Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, No. 4

Chopin’s doleful Prelude in E minor is all about harmonic rhythm and how it influences a relatively simple melodic line. Without a cushion of chords, the melody would be redundant, bare, and without support.

To express a pervasive sadness that permeates this music, the composer ingeniously devised a stream of sonorities in the bass that move in half steps, or “chromatics” in one or more voices. These progressions flesh out a melodic passion that would otherwise be absent.

The challenge is to “feel” and understand how the harmonic flow impacts the melody, and in reverse, how the melodic line intertwines and influences the bass chord underpinning. (Tempo rubato or flexible time is also a pervasive ingredient of interpretation along with the molto cantabile–singing tone)

Relaxed arms and supple wrists are needed to realize the total fabric in the Romantic genre. And thinking of chords in groups, with blurred boundaries created by meandering chromatic movement, helps to express the profound emotions embedded in this composition.

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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/

Nikolai Lugansky, pianist, pianists, piano, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano masterclass, piano repertoire, piano student, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano virtuosos, pianoaddict.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing piano, Romantic era music, Romantic music, Russian pianist, Russian piano teacher, Russian virtuoso pianist, Schumann Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Schumann Faschingsschwank aus Wien Intermezzo, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Tatiana Nikolayeva teacher of Nikolai Lugansky, Uncategorized, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Lugansky’s piano teacher, Tatiana Nikolayeva, displayed greatness in her own right


What an irony that Nikolai Lugansky, star pupil of Tatiana Nikolayeva was bestowed, perhaps by chance, the masculine form of his teacher-to-be’s last name. A prophetic link for both.

I noticed that the esteemed teacher Dimitri Bashkirov, refers to his daughter’s surname, Bashkirova, so the feminine equivalent of Russian names is often taken within a family.

But without having genetic link to a teacher, a student might play as if the fruit had not fallen far from the tree.

What insights we gain from listening to Nikolayeva’s performances, therefore, have DNA ties to her students who were, by osmosis, saturated with her ideas about phrasing, nuance, and yes, life.

I’ve heard stories shared by pupils of Russian teachers, that the experience was bigger than taking piano lessons from week to week. In one case, a well endowed, schmaltzy mentor prepared a favorite borscht recipe, handing a generous jar to the family after classes. Throw in a few bear hugs, and a reminder that piano is life, and life is piano, and you have the ingredients of a well-nurtured, eternal tie that is forever— indelibly carved into memory.

In a retrospective outpouring, Nikolai Lugansky rendered a touching tribute to Tatiana Nikoleva. (“Interviews” at http://lugansky.homestead.com/)

What did you take from the teaching of Tatiana Nikolayeva?

“It’s difficult to explain, in a few words, “Who was Tatiana Nikolayeva”! I would like maybe in ten or twenty years to try to write a book about her! She was like the sun. With her, you knew yourself much better… you could believe in yourself. She was a great musician. I was not only her pupil; we played music for four hands, we listened to music, to concerts. I was her pupil for nine years, until her death. But I was only eight when I made her acquaintance. She held an important place in my life. I recall a great many things about her, above all her love and her hunger for music. She was always listening to it. She said that she could not understand how one could be tired of it – that was impossible ! She was very open to different styles, and listened to other pianists with great pleasure. She was a great example for me, of how to be a human being, as well as a musician.”

What better way to understand the teacher and what she gave Lugansky and others, than by listening to her recorded performances.

First, I was astounded to find this particular posting on Faceboook: Nikolayeva plays the Intermezzo from Robert Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien that’s memorialized by her student, and generously shared across the Internet.

Now it’s the mentor’s posthumous return to the stage that draws our attention, made more compelling by her teaching relationship to Lugansky:

Tatiana plies phrases, takes her time, not rushing to cadences. She milks Schumann’s inner voices, that are often tucked into a musical fabric and forgotten. She draws out the bass line as if she were playing the strings inside the piano. This reading has an Old World flavor in the best sense of its meaning, as the pianist lulls over phrases, indulging the spirit of a lingering, Romantic character. It’s a passion-infused performance that no doubt seeped into the veins of young Nikolai Lugansky, who now plays it more briskly but with memorable pathos.

Both readings below (teacher and then student) are filled with gut-wrenching emotion.

***

Tatiana Nikolayeva’s artistry is celebrated many times over on You Tube, and if you’re fortunate to speak Russian, here’s an interview with the teacher and a youthful, Nikolai Lugansky.

Translations are always welcomed.

***

Tatiana Nikolayeva (Wiki)

Early life

“Nikolayeva was born in Bezhitsa (now part of Bryansk) in the Bryansk district on May 4, 1924. Her mother was a professional pianist and studied at the Moscow Conservatory under the renowned pedagogue Alexander Goldenweiser (whose other students included Grigori Ginzburg, Samuil Feinberg, Dimitri Bashkirov and Lazar Berman), and her father was an amateur violinist and cellist. She studied piano from the age of three and was composing by age twelve. At thirteen, she entered the Moscow Conservatory, studying with Goldenweiser and Evgeny Golubev. Goldenweiser, who had been friends with Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Nikolai Medtner, stressed the need to develop the highest proficiency in contrapuntal playing. Nilkolayeva graduated in 1948.

“After graduation, she studied composition with Golubev. During this time, she wrote a cantata, Pesn o schastye (Song about Happiness), and two piano concertos. The first concerto, in B major, was recorded with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under the conductor Kiril Kondrashin.

Career

“In 1950 Nikolayeva gained prominence by winning the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition, part of the bicentennial marking Bach’s death. More importantly, she met Dmitri Shostakovich at the competition, leading to a lifelong friendship, and was chosen as a first performer of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues. Nikolayeva made three complete recordings of the cycle.

“In 1959 Nikolayeva became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, later becoming professor in 1965. She made over 50 recordings during her career, notably keyboard works by Bach, including his Art of Fugue, and by Beethoven, but only became widely known in the West late in life. With the fall of Communism, she found herself in demand internationally, making several concert tours to Europe and the United States. She also sat as a jury member on many international competitions, including the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1984 and 1987. One of her best known recordings is a transcription of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, which was released by RCA Victor in Japan. She was known to have had an immense repertoire, and many enthusiasts await the reissue of much of her Melodiya back-catalog.

Teaching

“A teacher for over four decades, Nikolayeva taught many prominent pianists and worked closely with the young Nikolai Lugansky, who went on to great international acclaim.”

RELATED LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/nikolai-lugansky-pianist-plays-chess-and-loves-poetry/

http://lugansky.homestead.com/

***

About teaching:


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/should-a-piano-teacher-be-able-to-play-pieces-assigned-to-students/

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Nikolai Lugansky, pianist, plays chess and loves poetry

The nearly 7-minute You Tube interview was telling. Luganksy waxed poetic about poetry, and recited one of his favorites by Boris Pasternak. It was in Russian, but it’s lyrical lines stole the show. No translation needed.

He was seated beside a conductor named Petrenko, and both were being queried by the first bassist of the Israeli Philharmonic.

Lugansky: “In poetry and music there is no win, no loss, it’s like life….chess, it’s a game.”

Location: Israel, where a good percentage of the population speaks Russian.

I must admit that I was led to the You Tube interview after sampling Lugansky’s artistry on Facebook. (I can hardly summon the right words in English to describe the listening experience)

Perhaps an ever flowing reservoir of emotion and nuance: когда-либо проточном водоеме нюансов и эмоций

If pressed to further enunciate what I loved about the playing, I would say the pianist’s phrasing is liquid, and overall his approach is magical. It’s one of those rare encounters with the soul of a pianist and composer meet.

Debussy’s Arabesque no. 1

And as icing on the cake, Seymour Bernstein forwarded me this link to the Brahms Intermezzo, Op. 118 no. 2:

If this isn’t heaven on earth, then what is:

***

Nikolai Lugansky
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nikolai Lugansky

“Nikolai Lugansky (Николай Львович Луганский; born 26 April 1972) is a Russian pianist from Moscow. At the age of five, before he had even started to learn the piano, he astonished his parents when he sat down at the piano and played a Beethoven sonata by ear, which he had just heard a relative play. He studied piano at the Moscow Central Music School and the Moscow Conservatory. His teachers included Tatiana Kestner, Tatiana Nikolayeva and Sergei Dorensky.

“During the ’80s and early ’90s, Lugansky won prizes at numerous piano competitions. At the same time he began to make recordings on the Melodiya (USSR) and Vanguard Classics (Netherlands) labels. His performance at the Winners’ Gala Concert of the 10th International Tchaikovsky Competition was recorded and released on the Pioneer Classics label, on both CD and video laser disc formats. This was followed by more recordings for Japanese labels. He went on to make recordings for Warner Classics (UK), Pentatone Classics (Netherlands), Onyx Classics and Deutsche Grammophon.

“Lugansky has performed together with Vadim Repin, Alexander Kniazev, Anna Netrebko, Joshua Bell, Yuri Bashmet, Vadim Rudenko and Mischa Maisky, among others.

“In addition, Lugansky has collaborated with conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Valery Gergiev, Neeme Järvi, Kurt Masur, Mikhail Pletnev, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Yuri Simonov, Leonard Slatkin, Vladimir Spivakov, Evgeny Svetlanov, Yuri Temirkanov and Edo de Waart.

“As well as performing and recording, Lugansky teaches at the Moscow Conservatory.”

Links:
http://lugansky.homestead.com/

About Lugansky’s teacher:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/luganskys-piano-teacher-tatiana-nikolayeva-displayed-greatness-in-her-own-right/

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Chopin Waltz in Ab Major, Op. 69 No. 1–considerations of mics, recording conditions, and tempo, with performance comparisons

First, I have to admit that my prized Yeti mic suffered yet another break-down. “Break” is to be emphasized. I tripped over the wire on the way to Haddy Haddorff, and the sensitive connector from iMac’s USB port to the mic itself was altered. Yeti wouldn’t register on “Preferences” as an external no matter how I tweaked that little metal doo-dad that plugs into its host. The more I twisted, turned, cajoled, and said any number of prayers, the less anything registered with the powers that be.

So I didn’t want to abandon my recording session in any case, and decided to wing it with iMac’s own built-in job. Ugh! I had awful experiences that preceded this one, so I wasn’t expecting an overnight miracle or transformation.

Just the same, I figured, I’d swoon over the Waltz and hope some Romantic flavor seeped through one way or another. And then I reminded myself of those old, scratchy recordings where Arthur Schnabel played divine Beethoven, or Cortot lectured about Chopin with those hard-to-decipher playing samples. Still, people listened.

What about Grieg performing his “Butterfly” piece under less than perfect conditions, or any number of keyboard legends leaving bare traces of themselves on audio?

So what. While I was far from legendary, I could leave behind a less than perfect mic-ing of the Chopin Ab Waltz.

***

Well, since composing the previous apologia, I remedied the mic, and subbed in this video:

Next consideration: Tempo. So did I care what so and so pianist did with the Waltz in the way of pacing it? I certainly wanted a good example of tasteful rubato, and hunted down a few readings with that in mind. Stephen Hough was the first that popped up on my screen. (radar screen, perhaps) He was flashing back to the past, I think, coming toward the piano with a 40’s era hat. Everything was in black and white evoking an earlier time, but nowhere near the period that Chopin lived.

It was a creative mood painting.

I liked most of what he did in the way of interpretation, dynamics, give and take, but I couldn’t envision myself playing the Ab Waltz quite that fast all the way through, though his reading was very well styled. Would it fit me in the same way? There were sections that seemed a bit too casual, but still valid. He plied the phrases nicely. In all, I like parts of the whole, but the whole had parts I wished were more lingering.

My next stop was Leonard Pennario and his reading which I instantly doted upon. The only question I had related to the tempo change on page two. Suddenly everything took off, though I didn’t notice directions in the score to that effect. Perhaps I had been under the wrong impression all along about that specific section?

Pennario’s interpretation, overall, was my preference as compared to Hough’s. (I did note, however, that both pianists had apparently used different editions because there were some note changes between scores)

Regardless, I felt that Pennario registered a contemplative Chopin with a nice, fluid rubato. His tone was gorgeous, and he well paced the composition playing it significantly slower than Hough.

Finally came Artur Rubenstein, and as expected, I knew that I would embrace his performance. It seemed plaintively beautiful, effortlessly delivered, as if the music were allowed to play itself.

Similarly, I didn’t find any abrupt tempo shifts between sections, though, like Pennario and Hough he quickened the pace on page two, but less conspicuously.

Regardless of whether I favored one of these performances over another, a salient feature of all was the personality and conviction that came through. If nothing else, an individual and creative expression among pianists would be something to emulate.

To summarize, this You Tube outing proved to be a thoroughly valuable learning experience

For certain, tomorrow I’ll try to round up a decent mic and do my best to realize what the composer intended. Best case scenario, it should be without the handicap of a built-in sound system that could compromise a pianist’s playing in an any time or era.