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Piano Instruction: Pastorale in D Major, K. 415 by Domenico Scarlatti, a stepwise approach

The Pastorale in D, included in Margery Halford’s Scarlatti, An Introduction to his Keyboard Works, poses significant musical challenges. In the technical realm, the composer has a tricky landscape of two-note legato figures as offbeats in the treble, and these are set against bass, dotted quarter rhythms. (This counterpoint is later inverted in the middle section)-Note that 12/8 meter is felt in 4.

Intertwined with this mosaic are a series of apoggiaturas, or non-harmonic tones that resolve into the bass chords through redundant two-note groupings. These passing harmonic clashes in duple 8ths are strongly “motivic” meaning they reflect the composer’s main idea in its smallest form.

In realizing these redundant figures, the pianist has to carefully lean on the dissonant note, and artfully resolve it. A supple wrist helps to shape down these slurs.

In my video instruction, I show ways to practice the Pastorale, starting with separate hands, isolating voices, blocking, and tracking harmonies. The application of a flexible wrist is naturally indispensable to this whole learning process, and playing with a singing tone should underlie all practicing.


LIVE webcam instruction at POWHOW


Scarlatti Sonata in G, K. 431 Tutorial

Scarlatti Minuetto in C, L. 217 Tutorial:

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Learning a new piano piece quickly and thoroughly (Videos)

I challenged myself to quickly learn the shortest Scarlatti sonata on record (K. 431 in G) and share the principles of developing this piece to a level of fluidity with interested students. Perhaps it would help them navigate a new musical landscape.


Looking over the two-page Scarlatti score, we notice a preponderance of broken-chord figures in the right hand and these offer the perfect opportunity for blocking before unraveling them. Naturally, having a bit of theory under our belt, helps give context to these progressions. It provides another way of “knowing” them, and this “cognitive” mapping deepens our learning process as long as it doesn’t become an exclusive END in itself.

Same for fingering-driven learning. (Remember the paint by finger number kits?)

The musical side of knowing has to underlie the creative process, regardless of rational “assists” we devise along the way. That’s why the cognitive and AFFECTIVE ways of understanding a new piece should fuse together from the start.

In the video instruction below, I offer guidance about fingering, harmonic outline, phrasing, shape, form, nuance and mood.

When these ingredients are in harmony and balance, then the playing outcome will be satisfying sooner than later.


Play through in tempo:


Baroque Music for the keyboard, Domenico Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti Minuetto in C L. 217, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, pianist, piano, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, teaching Domenico Scarlatti, word, wordpress,, you tube video, yout tube

Piano Instruction: Domenico Scarlatti Minuetto in C, L. 217 (Videos)

Many of Scarlatti’s compositions are not within easy reach of most piano students, but Margery Halford, editor, has compiled an Introductory album published by Alfred, with technically and musically attainable works. And it’s a blessing that she’s eliminated ones with crossed-hand acrobatics. Yet trills, so emblematic of the composer, are an ever-present challenge.

Wrist Flexibility

My interest in the Minuetto, L. 217 centered upon its ascending broken-chord figures that alternate with upward step-wise progressions. These require a forward motion wrist movement to create curvaceous lines and pleasing contours.

In the videos below I flesh out this particular motion, while exploring the Minuetto’s harmonic outline and recurrent sequences.

The Instruction:

Play through:


Shirley Kirsten

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Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Mozart, Mozart Sonata in A Major K. 331, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano playing, piano teaching, playing piano, playing piano with crossed hands, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube, you tube video

Piano Technique: Here come the crossed hands in Mozart Sonata in A Major, K. 331 (Variation 4) Videos

Breathe a sigh of relief if you’ve managed to brave the difficult parallel octaves in forte legato! (Variation 3)

Mozart is not done. He challenges you in Variation 4 with left-hand-over-right maneuvers. So be ready to relax your wrists and arms. Otherwise, you’re in for a bumpy ride.

Count your blessings that Domenico Scarlatti had no HAND in this variant. If he’d risen from the dead and composed no. 4, you’d be snowed with hand-over-hand parallel 18ths–meaning a progression of Left over Right with an octave ABOVE the 10th distance in careening sequences. It’s worse than being on the ski slopes.

So take a deep breath if you dare to tackle the terrain.

Sonata in A Major comes to mind– K. 113.

Domenico’s dizzying acrobatics definitely puts Mozart into perspective–He seems more sympathetic to the player.

In any case, relax and enjoy the ride.


In the video attached, I examine ways to practice Variation 4, with attention to its largely homophonic motion. (moving in chords, with alternating thirds in the alto–doubled in the soprano) The soprano, alto and bass are parceled out, and then re-integrated in a harmonious choir. For certain, the soprano needs to take the lead to avoid being drowned out by the alto.

In the end, everything comes together with time-honored, thoughtful practicing and attentive listening.

My play through:

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What “authentic” edition should a piano student use when learning repertoire of the Masters?

I’m thinking back to my ancient days studying with Lillian Freundlich in New York City. During this period, like any fledgling I relied on my teacher as an “authority” figure to recommend what Mozart Sonata edition, for example, I should buy down at Patelson’s. (This was decades before the quaint hub for musicians seeking authenticity and desired discounts, went out of business.)

Schirmers, by comparison was considered the more pricey location with its yellow churned out publications that became home sweet home hand-me-downs from one generation to another. You might find these in your piano bench collecting dust with a culture of their own. Sometimes albums would crop up in odd places, sandwiched among soft-covered recipe brochures, or old Life Magazines.

I had one particular hard cover, antique edition of the Chopin Waltzes (not Schirmer) bestowed by Ethel Elfenbein, pianist, that literally disintegrated when I opened it. The flakes, spread far and wide over my carpet, were gathered up and moduled on a shelf overlooking my fireplace. So much for the living, breathing presence of Chopin in my musical sanctuary.


Over the years, I realized that Mrs. Freundlich and later teachers at the Oberlin Conservatory would redundantly select the Henle Urtext edition for Mozart and Beethoven Sonatas, as well as for the works of composers from Bach through Brahms, and on into the Impressionistic era. No questions asked, it was BLUE forever! meaning that I might also acquire Beethoven’s death mask or a colorful glossy rendering of a Master in attractive period attire wearing a frilly wig. If nothing else, I could extract a portrait to frame and decorate the walls of my piano studio.

But in a column of negatives, many of the Blues had a sea of emptiness on the page. The open space would befuddle me during my post umbilical cord years, as I journeyed to independence as a private teacher in Fresno, California, of all places. We not only lacked a Patelson’s equivalent, but Miller Sheet Music, our popular mainstay, disappeared one day, when the Internet grabbed the lion’s share of industry commerce.

With some Urtexts lacking simple phrasing and fingering suggestions, I would inevitably hunt around for an edition with more direction. In a word, that’s how Palmer landed on my piano rack.

Before long I had amassed his Introduction to Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin, etc. with its needed ingredients for my students who were otherwise barely able to adhere to basic fingerings. And what a nice extra  to have an opening set of pages explaining ornamentation, phrasing, and any Period practice formerly plagued by enigma. (I knew my pupils wouldn’t wade through these, but at least I did, so I could pretend to be an “authority” on a particular composer and his era) Little did I know that I might be channeling misinformation.

As an example, I recently posted a You Tube performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 1 where I had used Willard A. Palmer’s edition, “from the original sources.”

Here’s what was notated on page 3, for trill execution. (the recommendation was to begin the extended ornament on the upper note)

After I had shared my reading with the distinguished pianist/teacher, Seymour Bernstein, my bubble burst! His comments seriously questioned the edition I used and its trill instruction:

“First, what kind of edition is that with wrong pedal indications and suggestions that those long and some short trills begin on the upper note? Please consult with the Wiener Urtext (Ekier).” (Had I heard “Urtext” a zillion times over in my archived music memory?)

He continued with dismay. “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.”

(At least my “nutty” fingering comment in measure 37, met with Bernstein’s approval. He endorsed my autographed adjustment.)

In stars perfect alignment, I received a timely comment from a reader informing me that Seymour Bernstein had published Chopin Interpreting his Notational Symbols:

Immediately, I raced back to the piano and revised the direction of my trill, to my personal satisfaction. The melody now lingered from the start, without a hint of the Baroque style intruding upon a pervasively Romantic musical landscape.

And speaking of Baroque manuscripts, I’d been startled by performances of Scarlatti’s works posted by fine harpsichordists and pianists that had measures of completely different music than I had practiced for years!

A case in point, where discrepancies abounded, were found in James Friskin’s edition of a dozen or so sonatas in each of two volumes that I was raised on.

From Sonata in A Major, L. 345, K. 113, with its daredevil, crossed-hand passages:

Notice the first page printed below as compared to what is rendered in Gilel’s reading. To my surprise, only one performance of many sampled, reflected what was printed in measures 13 of Friskin. For all intents and purposes a repetitive bar that would have been correct measure 14, was missing. The same played out in measure 18 in most recordings.

Emil Gilels (I wonder what edition he used?)

Here’s one of the few performances that finally matched up with Friskin: (A very sensitive interpretation from Irina Bogdanova)


To further blur the Baroque landscape, I found supposedly missing measures in other Sonatas published by James Friskin, including the celebrated K. 159 in C Major with its hunting horn opener.

Elaine Comparone,  a brilliant harpsichordist with a discography a mile long, prefers to work with manuscripts that are not cluttered with annotations and the rest. She has enough of an erudite, academic and musical background to insert her own phrase marks, fingering, etc. with a high degree of established authority. (

In summary, we may be back to start on what we can trust as the best realization of the masters’compositions.

For certain, there will be clashes of wills and preferences among the finest pianists and scholars, but perhaps it would be instructive to read some of the best treatises and books associated with the composers’ works. Domenico Scarlatti by Ralph Kirkpatrick comes to mind. And I recall having heard Murray Perahia mention Barenreiter in connection with Bach’s manuscripts.

JS Bach.
Catalogues and critical editions

The standard Bach catalogue, with thematic entries, is the Wolfgang Schmieder Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV), first published in 1950. A complete listing of Bach’s works (by Richard Jones), incorporating new dating, is at the end of the “J.S. Bach” article in New Grove. Bach’s collected works were first published by the Bach-Gesellschaft (Bach Society), 1851-1900. A new edition, the Neue Bach Ausgabe, or NBA (Bew Bach Edition), using the techniques of modern scholarship, began publication in 1954 (from Barenreiter), and is still in progress.

More J.S. Bach sources:

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Yevgeny Sudbin, another Russian Pianist topples my day!

I had my heart set on working out at the gym before noon, but as fate had it, I was stopped in my tracks by the breathtaking artistry of Yevgeny Sudbin. (only 32 years old) And it was merely 24 hours after I’d cried over Nikolai Lugansky’s Schumann Intermezzo from Faschingsschwank aus Wien.

Could these two synchronized angels of the Muse share a gene for impassioned piano playing?

Regardless, I would sing like a nightingale about Sudbin, spreading his immense gifts far and wide.

Let’s start with the artist’s Scarlatti, a composer so very dear to me.

Three exemplary performances sweep the listener into a universe of beauty from the first measure to final cadence. Nuance, dynamics, impeccable phrasing, just the right touch, and tone to please. It’s manifestly clear that one of the pianist’s teachers was Murray Perahia. I can tell by the way in which the Baroque repertoire is communicated. Not too loud, too soft or frivolous in any way. A nice range of dynamics are bundled into the playing.

These examples are heartfelt:

Finally, a mouse tap to Sudbin’s official website fills in the missing details that surround his remarkable life and musical accomplishments.

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,, 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:

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.