Claudio Arrau, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano technique

Piano Technique: Shaking out Bach Ornaments! and the influence of Claudio Arrau

When working on executing ornaments with an adult student as they appear in J.S. Bach’s Prelude in F minor, I thought instantly of Claudio Arrau’s allusions to “shaking” these out, without having a thread of tension in the arms, wrists, and hands. One of his biographers, Joseph Horowitz, profiled the pianist in an extensive interview that drew out many of the virtuoso’s ideas about technique, of which ornaments were a particular focus. (Conversations with Arrau)

A central aspect of Arrau’s playing is arm weight technique as taught to him my Martin Krause: “Relax and let loose, never be stiff of cramped in any joint. Krause even recommended that pianists should engage in sports.”

It was no surprise that I had for years integrated the whole arm, “shake” out recommendation as it permeated Arrau’s teaching, and related it to playing long trills. (in Mozart sonatas, concerti, etc.), and then through years of studying the Classical repertoire, along with Baroque and Romantic era compositions, I drew upon Arrau’s resonating quotes, to unkink my Bach ornaments, freeing them of tension.

Rather than dissect the physical ingredients of the SHAKE ’em out approach to ornaments as they appear in J.S. Bach’s F minor Prelude, BWV. 881, I decided to let a lesson video illustrate the main points.

P.S. As it happens, one of Arrau’s proteges via his assistant, Rafael De Silva, was Ena Bronstein, who perhaps influenced MY SHAKE IT OUT, FREE THROW, ARM LOOSE, WRIST SUPPLE, ORNAMENT GRAPPLE. She was my teacher in Fresno, California for about a year before relocating to Princeton, New Jersey.

The following sources contain Arrau’s ideas about piano technique:

Piano Lessons with Claudio Arrau: A Guide to his Philosophy and Techniques by Victoria A. Von Arx. A book preview is found via the link below.
https://books.google.com/books?id=LGOMAwAAQBAJ&pg=PT141&lpg=PT141&dq=Claudio+arrau+on+trills&source=bl&ots=Lh77NME2Im&sig=DkZ0hWCAxBlFpzj5_3l0tijzo7A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwizl-bXhNvLAhUI82MKHehQB8MQ6AEILTAD#v=onepage&q=Claudio%20arrau%20on%20trills&f=false

By the same author from her Dissertation: The Teaching of Claudia Arrau and his Pupils: Piano Pedagogy as a Cultural Work (2006)

https://books.google.com/books?id=T8vOlfQyq3sC&pg=PA85&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

“Arrau explained relaxation as avoidance of stiffening within the joints that impair the body’s ability to move freely. Freedom of motion would allow the realization of musical impulse, the transmission of musical intentions through the body to the keyboard. The freer there body, the more the piano would be experienced as an extension of the player’s body, converting musical impulses into sound.”

Essentially Arrau “expressed the importance of experiencing mind and body as an integrated whole.” (There’s a substantial section on the maestro’s “Piano Technique” that’s easily accessed within the Von Arx Dissertation.)

LINK:

Conversations with Arrau
Conversations with Arrau
http://www.amazon.com/Conversations-With-Arrau-Joseph-Horowitz/dp/0879100133

Christoph Eschenbach, Classical era piano music, classissima, classissima.com, Claudio Arrau, comparing performances of Mozart Sonata in C K. 545, interpretation of Mozart Sonata in C K. 545, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Mozart, Mozart Sonata in C K. 545 first movement, pianist, piano, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Uchida pianist, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Comparing performances of Mozart Sonata in C, K. 545, Movement 1, Allegro (Tempo, alone can make a big difference)

Over time, when we return to a piece that is well-learned, and in some cases has become a bit too predictable without a touch of inspiration, a revitalized, updated version might be worth a try.

In this regard, I’m always re-recording time-honored pieces periodically, to refresh them.

To broaden my perspective, I search You Tube performances for ideas.

Starting with my newest playing that followed by an older rendition, I branched out to other readings for insight about tempo and interpretation.

NEW:

Old:

****
The editions used by these pianists are unknown:

Christoph Eschenbach (Takes fast tempo)

Why is the second theme played so loudly? And what about accents in the the bass over measures 5to 6; 6 to 7, etc?

Claudia Arrau (slower tempo) Plays the 16ths scales slightly detached. Executes longer trill on the initial ornament. (If you play slower, that’s a lot easier to do)

A bit Romanticized here and there. Has a few jarring cadences where he accents the tonic resolutions which I don’t comprehend. Notice his poco ritardando to the recap of the theme in F Major. (That makes sense)

Mitsuko Uchida

I like her tempo and overall performance.(Nice contrasting second theme) Notice different articulations, however, as compared to the other renderings, and a clipped staccato that I don’t understand. That’s the only part that tweaks my ears, perhaps, because I’m accustomed to the longer staccato of the Classical period. But up for debate. (It does change the character of the movement)

Sviatoslav Richter

Lovely Mozartean tone–refined, beautiful, and tempo seems just right.

Which is your favorite?

Claudia Arrau, Ena Bronstein, Ena Bronstein Barton, Fresno California, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Rafael de Silva, Rider University, Schumann Carnaval op. 9, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Westminster Conservatory of Music in Princeton New Jersey, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

My neighborhood piano teacher will return to Fresno to give a benefit concert! (Video)

It’s been well over 20 years since I sauntered just a few blocks over to West San Madele, a quaint street with manicured lawns and California ranch-style homes.

But one particular residence, with an adobe brick exterior, stood out because of its warm musical welcome mat. It promised entry into a magical space with a Yamaha grand taking up the lion’s share of a modest living room.

Ena Bronstein, “neighborhood piano teacher,” par excellence, drew students well beyond the boundaries of upscale Northwest Fresno. They came, young and old, to receive a touch of inspiration each week, returning to their private piano sanctuaries with a tad more motivation to practice the Masterworks.

For those of us who managed to find a spot on her teaching roster amidst a busy local and international concert schedule, we were further enriched by her Masterclasses that offered a rich serving of the pianist’s playing and commentary bundled into a divine gift.

Bronstein’s riveting performance of Schumann’s Carnaval sent me scampering home to embark upon my own Romantically imbued adventure. It was a journey assisted along by a great mentor with a bounty of wisdom to offer about piano and life.

A flashback 1981 performance excerpt from Tschaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 exemplified Ena’s passion and towering technique:

As a teacher, Ena focused on the singing tone and how to produce it. She bestowed the physical ingredients of molto cantabile playing–how the rolling arm and wrist motions were embedded in phrasing and sculpted musical expression.

These were more than refinements that grew my own hands-on understanding of technique and opened doors to greater love and appreciation of the piano and its repertoire. From my two-year association with Maestra “Ena,” I gained so much for which words cannot amply express.

An Arrau protege, the artist passed along her mentor’s distinguished pianistic lineage and that of his assistant, Rafael de Silva to her many students who raced to the pianist’s local performances at every opportunity.

So for those of us who treasured our ongoing musical relationship with Ena, we were sad to be informed of her planned relocation to the culture-rich environs of Princeton, New Jersey. Yet, we knew that our loss would be the gain of students, colleagues, and new audience members on the East Coast.

Thankfully, after a decades-long hiatus, Ena will return to Fresno for a long-delayed reunion–one that surely promises to be this season’s peak cultural event.

I’ve already reserved my ticket.

About the recital:

“First Congregational Church of Fresno will present pianist, Ena Bronstein on Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 3 p.m. in a concert featuring Beethoven Sonata Op. 111 and works from Liszt and Debussy.

“Co-sponsored by the Fresno Free College Foundation, the performance will benefit the Casavant Pipe Organ Restoration Fund at the church.”

***

Ena Bronstein Barton Bio:

http://www.rider.edu/faculty/ena-bronstein-barton

“Born in Santiago, Chile, pianist Ena Bronstein Barton began her career in South America, touring her native continent. After winning a national piano competition she traveled to New York to study with Claudio Arrau and Rafael de Silva. Her New York debut at Town Hall was received with critical acclaim. Since then, Ms. Barton’s career has taken her across the United States, back to South America, to Europe, the Near and Far East, Australia and New Zealand. Among her engagements abroad was an extended tour of Israel and Europe, highlighted by performances as soloist with orchestras in Jerusalem, Luxembourg and Rome.

“Ms. Barton has received many honors throughout her career, including an invitation to attend the Casals Festival, a 1976 Martha Baird Rockefeller Grant which resulted in a solo recital at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, and the 1996 Distinguished Artists Piano Award by Artists International. Her chamber music performances have included appearances with violinist Jaime Laredo and the Guarneri Quartet.

“Ms. Barton taught at California State University-Fresno for 13 years. She was artist-in-residence at Monterey Peninsula College in California and has conducted master classes at the University of Veracruz in Xalapa, Mexico, and in Santiago.

“Recently she gave a recital and master class as part of the centennial celebration of Claudio Arrau’s birthday being held in New York City at the Greenwich House Music School.

“Currently, Ms. Barton is head of the piano department at the Westminster Conservatory of Music, the college’s community music school. She is also a member of the piano faculty of Westminster Choir College of Rider University.”

RELATED LINK:

The Neighborhood Piano Teacher Lives On!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/the-neighborhood-piano-teacher-lives-on/

Beethoven Sonata Appassionata, Charles Alkan, Chopin, Conversations with Arrau by Joseph Horowitz, Conversations with Arrau by Joseph Horwitz, Faschingsschwank aus Wien by Schumann, fingering and phrasing at the piano, fingering and piano technique, Frederic Chopin, Gershwin Prelude no. 2, Gershwin Prelude no. 2 and fingering changes, Intermezzo Faschingsschwank aus Wien by Schumann, Philip Lorenz, pianist, pianists, piano, piano technique, player piano, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein author With Your Own Two Hands, Seymour Bernstein composer, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, swindle, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

The Piano Repertoire: Does making fingering/hand adjustments constitute a “swindle?”

Seymour Bernstein, author of With Your Own Two Hands, remarked that “Chopin wrote out an outline for an intended method of teaching piano. And when he died he left it to Charles Alkan who never finished it. Wouldn’t you think that Chopin would stress at the beginning that everything depends upon a deep emotional involvement with the music, or something like that? Well at the outset, Chopin wrote, ‘Everything depends upon the correct fingering.’ He knew that unless you were comfortable, there was no music-making.”

Bernstein had forwarded me a few of his tried and true fingering/hand shuffles as he’d notated them in a Romantic era composition. Did they amount to “swindles,” tongue in cheek, of course, incubating for a full length volume on the subject?

I’ll get back to that later.

In Conversations with Arrau, by Joseph Horowitz, the pianist weaves stories about fingering, and how his specific choices or those of his teachers, unlocked the mystery of playing bravura passages smoothly and effortlessly.

As testimony, one of the maestro’s former students, the late, Philip Lorenz, who assisted him with editing the complete set of Beethoven sonatas commented that fingering appeared to be “a conspicuous editorial feature” of their collaboration.

For example, in the opening of the Sonata Appassionata, Arrau’s autograph is revealed by these choices.

As Lorenz described them: “They insured tremendous security by keeping the hand balled and totally relaxed. It was like lining up the fingers in a natal position.

“The right hand makes a little circle down to the thumb; the left hand does the opposite, starting with a low thumb and circling up to the fifth. This way you don’t have to play with the hands spread open, which already risks tension or nervous trembling at the very beginning.

Horowitz then prompted Lorenz to discuss Arrau’s fingering of staccato bass notes in measure 10, where the pianist assigned fingers 3 to 5 in a stepwise interval, instead of ending with 4.

True to the form and attitude of his mentor, Lorenz emphasized that Arrau believed the sound could be “more controlled with the fifth finger than with the fourth.”

He elaborated:

“Because the fourth finger doesn’t have a separate tendon in the hand—you can’t move the fourth by itself.

“Going from the third to the fifth–you have more possibility to rotate.

“So throughout the Beethoven Sonata edition, you find that he goes from the third to the fifth finger skipping the fourth.

“The fourth he eliminates quite rigorously for being weak and hard to control.”

***

Seymour Bernstein disclosed his own particular fingering secrets as applied to playing various measures of the Faschingsschwank aus Wien Intermezzo by Robert Schumann. It was with an eye and ear toward executing extremely tricky passages that would otherwise be incomparably challenging. Above all, phrasing and nuance were at the top of his list of considerations.

In any case, the Romantic era composer, by and large composed music for solo piano that frequently appeared to require more than a single pair of hands. Inevitably, performers would have to make fingering/hand accommodations as needed.

Here’s Nikolai Lugansky playing the Schumann Intermezzo in its original form followed by Bernstein’s page 1 fingering changes and hand re-assignments as pertained.

In the same spirit, I found myself scoping out scores, often changing the editor’s fingerings, etc. so I, too, could more easily achieve technical/musical mastery.

My decisions were driven by what felt comfortable together with how these choices improved phrasing.

For example, I might take a whole section of music denoted for the left hand, and shift it to the right, largely because it sounded better and was easier to execute. Some might say, I was guilty of a swindle. (There’s that verboten word again) Or perhaps, a strict, conservative teacher would argue that I would more efficiently spend time improving my left hand.

***

In Gershwin’s opener to the Prelude no. 2, many pianists cannot reach a tenth between C# and E in the bass, yet the composer doesn’t show a roll for these notes. And to make it doubly challenging, Gershwin has indicated a smooth flowing legato in these introductory measures. The bass, in an ostinato form, will recur at various points of the piece, except in the contrasting middle section. Breaking the tenth would be less noticeable within the fabric of other voices as the composition progresses. Yet the very naked and exposed opening could definitely use a fingering fix. (Seymour Bernstein again titillates by using the term “swindle.”)

One solution, at least as applies to the beginning, is to re-finger a whole set of measures, with a hand/finger shuffle as demonstrated by this pianist in a You Tube video performance.

You can get a good close-up of how he avoids the broken tenth from C# to E scored for the Left Hand, and then the way he continues in later measures. Once the piece adds more voices, the shuffle is no longer possible.

Here’s the original scoring before adjustments were made:

This video could not be embedded:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sYWvKrLs0M

His alteration worked and smoothed out the opening.

***

So now that I’ve delivered my brief sermon on why these “swindles” are just innocent, well-intended fingering adjustments meant to improve musical performance, I can relieve myself and other pianists of any guilt attached to them.

Feel free to share your own personal finger/hand shuffles, and don’t be afraid to come out of the closet.