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Haydn on the harpsichord or piano? (Competition interlude)

elaineshandshubbardScreen Shot 2015-06-27 at 5.07.40 PMElaine Comparone insists that playing Haydn’s works on the harpsichord stirs her “imagination to new heights.”

The harpsichordist’s upload of Haydn’s eloquent Sonata No. 52 in Eb Major ironically paralleled Reed Tetzloff’s piano performance in Moscow which introduces an aesthetic comparison or two.

Reed’s You Tube channel features the opening Allegro movement,
while his complete sonata rendering can be replayed on Medici: Round one, XV Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. (Start at 6:30 in track: the second offering on the grid that follows his Bach selection)

Elaine’s inspired performance of the towering late Haydn sonata is worth an attentive ear to detail in anticipation of her astute comments about playing the composer’s masterpiece on the harpsichord.

“In the late 18th century the pianoforte gradually replaced the harpsichord, but the original editions of almost all of Beethoven’s keyboard sonatas up to Opus 27 (1800-1801) bear the inscription: “Pour le Clavecin ou Pianoforte” (“For the Harpsichord or Piano”). Haydn prescribes harpsichord for his solo keyboard sonatas as late as his E minor Sonata (H. XVI: 34) first published in 1784. In letters from March and April of 1789 he refers to his C Major “Clavier” Sonata (“keyboard” sonata—a generic designation) and he includes a middle movement with the title “Adagio per Clavicembalo o Piano-Forte” (“Adagio for Harpsichord or Pianoforte”).

“All this shows that harpsichords were still widely used around 1800 and that music publishers were eager to accommodate the players and owners of the older instruments as well as those of the more modern ones. Haydn’s keyboard music is stylistically interchangeable between harpsichord and piano, except for the slight proliferation of dynamic directions absent in most harpsichord music. (Modern, non-urtext editions add many more dynamic markings than Haydn’s original ones.)

“Why not merely play and record these pieces on a piano? As a harpsichordist, my major argument is that it has been done many times in the “modern” era. Why not try a fresh approach? The harpsichord has a sound with unique acoustical qualities not shared by either modern or early pianos. I do not regard “early music” as the sole property of those who play antique instruments or modern replicas. Pianists who play modern grand pianos clearly share my opinion as is evidenced by their many performances and recordings of music by Bach. But, at the same time, their performances of Mozart, Haydn and even Beethoven are farther away from the aural imaginings of these composers than harpsichord performance might be. Harpsichord sound stirs my imagination as piano sound never did. That is why I try to play whatever music lends itself to the instrument. As long as it is idiomatic, I will play it!”

After listening to Elaine and Reed’s performances, make your own judgment about what is pleasing the ear and why.

Finally, I asked Maestra Comparone why she chose to “sit this one out,” since she’s well-known for standing at the harpsichord:

“Standing at the harpsichord was a pose requiring an audience.
#1. It added to the complexity of the harpsichord move.
#2. I had four sonatas to record. Standing requires more energy. I had to save energy, not to expend it needlessly.

“Standing was useful when I played LIVE with the entire QCB (Queen’s Chamber Band). Elevating the instrument aided in projection. My colleagues preferred to stand when possible so we all liked to be on the same level.

“In a recording session, the instrument didn’t have to be elevated to be better seen or heard. The camera and recording equipment took care of that. Also, if it had been elevated, it would have been next to impossible to accomplish overhead shots of the keyboard, so we all agreed that simplicity was the key to a smooth and successful recording session.”



You Tube Channel

Tetzloff REPLAYS Round 2 (Tchaikovsky Competition)

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Piano technique is about flexibility not finger strength

I remember my days at the Oberlin Conservatory pumping out meaningless Schmitt finger exercises, often holding notes down, while a selected persecuted finger had to brave the pain is gain ritual. (tap, tap, tap, tap, and move on to the next unlucky digit)

Looking back, it was a wasted effort which had NO relationship to fluid, beautiful piano playing. Yet so many “Performance” MAJORS hammered away through paper thin walls of stacked CON practice rooms hoping to build a SOLID technique.

NO doubt these Ex-CONS (at graduation) would surely find it a challenge to survive the rigors of mechanical drills outside prison confines, with injury being the price of senseless repetition and overuse.

finger in splint

And to think my beloved piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich that I left behind in NYC to attend her Alma Mater, had sent me off to do hard labor. (My apologies to Oberlin classmates who might have had exposure to better teaching methods in the LEARNING and LABOR school)

Learning and Labor better

To provide an example of how I emancipated myself from the no pain/no gain paradigm so respected back in my ancient student days, I’ve made this 9-minute video exploring how to learn a devilish fast passage, by organizing, blocking, singing and shaping the line. (No POWER DRILLS, if you please!)

It’s a NO sweat approach to playing a tricky phrase from Haydn’s HOBOKEN 52 Sonata in Eb (Finale: PRESTO)

Haydn sonata segment RONDO

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Piano Practicing: Taking the robot out of fast passages

It’s easy to stare at a Presto Rondo from the Classical era, and wonder how to navigate scads of notes that can end up on the assembly line, pumped out with no sense of individuality. And while herds of them might be corralled with a sensible fingering, their shape and direction often remain out of reach. That’s when the robot relentlessly controls the flock.

Repeatedly, I’d tried to stave off the mechanical monster in Haydn’s final movement,(Sonata in Eb Hob.XVI:52) but without success, until I carefully examined the harmonic outline of the Bass part as the organizer of Treble fast melody.

The “dips” that are part of harmonic resolutions–like Dominant to Tonic, and the longer approaches to cadences (resting points) from phrase to phrase, gave me a grouped sense of the notes above, without stealing their individual identity. It amounted to the happy paradox of playing well-shaped lines that sprang from notes cushioned in harmony as they robustly sang out their solos.

The video below tracks the journey.

Haydn sonata in E Flat Hoboken 52

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The very first lesson with a new Intermediate or advanced piano student: thinking creatively on your feet

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet a new adult piano student who had studied for a few years. Besides having this basic, preliminary information, I had no other tangible clues about her level of playing.

The suspense of not knowing what music she would bring was lifted when two contrasting era works were neatly deposited on the music rack.

The first, Minuet in D, HOB. IX: 20, No.1 was unfamiliar to me. The second composition, Children’s Piece, Op. 72 No. 1 by Mendelssohn was the same, but appearing to be of a more advanced level.

Nevertheless, as I glanced over both works, I mapped them out in a visual scan, knowing that I could adequately read through both. (“How to Improve Sight-reading at the Piano,” amplifies this encounter with a fresh piece of music)

The first lesson brought home how important sight-reading skills are, and their relevance to the very launch of a musical relationship with a new pupil.

In addition, having familiarity with the Performance practice of the Classical and Romantic periods, etc. allows a teacher to navigate “new” compositions, while assisting a student in the learning process from day one.

In the video below, I explored the Haydn Minuet from start to finish, in back tempo, illustrating execution of staccato during the Classical period, as well as ornamentation, and phrasing. (The Mendelssohn analysis will follow in a subsequent blog)

Following the first introductory lesson, I applied what I had examined in the tutorial to gain more refinement in my daily practicing.