Thursday, 29 December 2011

2012 Piano Anniversaries: Debussy, Thalberg, Ravel, Gershwin, Cage, Pollini, Barenboim

Thalberg (Liszt's rival) [image: wikipedia]
It's a new year and with it, a whole range of anniversaries. In 2010 we had the 200th anniversaries of the birth of Chopin and Schumann, 2011 of Franz Liszt, and now for 2012 we mark the
  • 50th  anniversary of the death of English composer John Nicholson Ireland (13 August 1879 – 12 June 1962) 
  • 75th anniversaries of the deaths of composers George Gershwin  (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937) and Maurice Ravel (March 7, 1875 – December 28, 1937) 
  • 100th Anniversary of the birth of American John Cage  (b. 5th September 1912 –  d. 12th August 1992)
  • 150th Anniversary of French composer Claude Debussy's birth (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918)  
  • 200th anniversary of the birth of  19th Century virtuoso pianist/composer  Sigismond Thalberg,  (January 8, 1812 – April 27, 1871) once serious rival to Franz Liszt (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886).  
Happy 70th Birthday to great Concert Pianists: 
  • Maurizio Pollini born 5th January 1942.
  • Daniel Barenboim, born 15th November 1942.
John Cage - Suite for Toy Piano performed by Steve Butters

So look out for special recitals and commemorations coming out near you in 2012.
If you want to list one below as a comment, feel free!

Monday, 19 December 2011

7 year old child prodigy passes Grade 8 Piano and Violin - Edward Tomanek - youngest to reach g8?

Grade 8 is the gold standard that most young musicians aspire to reach. Grade 8 piano pieces are the level which would include single movements from selective Beethoven Piano Sonatas (Pathetique, Moonlight).
My daughter just passed grade 2 piano with merit age 5 (nearly 6) and that was quite a feat, and we are inspired by my cousin's son, grade 8 piano in Hong Kong, age 9. So who is the youngest to reach grade 8 piano?

In nov 2010, the Daily Mail (UK) newspaper reported that Edward Tomanek, passed Grade 8 piano and violin at age 7.  Which is an astounding young age to pass the vigorous exams given by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. His parents aren't musicians and he was never pushed into music, however, Edward started playing the piano and lessons on the violin at age 3. He enjoys music and practicing, he can go at it for up to 3 hours at a time.  Previously, Edward had attained distinction for Grade 5 piano, and also for Violin Grade 8 (his main instrument) shortly before he turned 7.  Edward reached grade 8 piano also at age 7, though not distinction marking, as this would have been mentioned in the articles, a feat nonetheless! His prodigious talents earned Edward a place in the prestigious Royal College of Music junior school (a saturday school for the most talented young musicians in the UK).

Edward loves music, as he "paints pictures" with sound colour, and is fond of Chopin's emotional music. So let's see Edward play the piano. The Lark by Glinka-Balakirev performed by 8yr old Edward Tomanek (video), St Georges, Hanover Square, London 2010

8 yr old Edward Tomanek performing the Prokofiev Harp Prelude in C major Op 12 No 7 at St George's, London, 2010 (below)

Edward playing the violin (far right) performing the Vivaldi Concerto for 2 Violins in a minor, New Virtuosi Master Course, Queenswood School, UK April 2011

Well done Edward and best of luck for your musical career!

Further Reading

Monday, 12 December 2011

How to play Bach's Goldberg Variations BWV 988 analysis and tips by Danielle Osman

Danielle  OsmanGuest blogger Danielle Osman, once  member of the  Boston Repertory Orchestra and Harvard Musical Association Orchestra of Boston discusses Bach's Goldberg Variations, the technical and musical challenges involved and how she overcame them. 

Danielle, please tell us about the origin of the Goldberg Variations.
The “Goldberg” Variations were first published in 1742 as a keyboard practice consisting of an Aria and 30 variations by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).  Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was Bach’s student who lived with the Count Kaiserling, who was the Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony.  The Count was constantly ill suffering from insomnia and often called upon Goldberg to come and play for him “his” variations.  Thus they came to be known as the Goldberg Variations.  They start out with an Aria which is a Sarabande, and then go on to 30 variations with a similar bass line which go from being lively and crisp, to slow and sometimes very soft, sleepy pieces.  Bach originally wrote them simply for the enjoyment of clavier players.

 What attracted you to the Goldberg Variations? 
Definitely the Aria.  It’s a beautiful, sweet, dance of sorts.  Its been referred to as a sarabande in the Anna Magdalena notebook (1725). The ornaments are exquisite.  It’s filled with trills and turns which give it its body. It’s a loving piece and typical of Bach.   It’s filled with real emotion and delicacy. Had I never heard this piece in the past, I would have instantly known that it was a Bach piece.  In the middle of the Aria on the 25th bar, it gets very sad and touching.  You could almost feel Bach’s heart.  He was a greatly religious man and you can tell that this is a man who worships and loves his God.  It gets almost religious at this point.  Bach has that unique ability to make any work of his a form of worship, and being a spiritual person myself I was instantly drawn to this body of work and I decide to delve into the variations to see where he was going with it.

 What do you think Bach's message is in this piece, what is he trying to convey? 
Well, Bach initially wanted it to simply be a piano or harpsichord player’s enjoyment of music.  He didn’t compose it as an exercise or study like the Well Tempered Clavier Books I & II.  He just wanted it to be simple, fun, variations most of them being in G major but with quite ambitious trills here and there to give it that colorful effect and excitement.  Half of the variations are lively and exciting and the other half are slow and sometimes dark.

 Who are your favorite interpreters of Bach's Goldberg Variations and why? Who are of particular inspirations to you? 
The obvious answer would be Glenn Gould because of his famous 1955 recording which catapulted him into an international superstar.  Glenn Gould, to me, did the Goldberg Variations justice.  His execution of the music was just what Bach had intended out of it.  The fast lively variations, especially the 1st variation, were seamless.  He never misses a beat and all the trills are very crisp.  Those recordings were my inspiration and guide to play the Goldberg variations the way they are meant to be played.  He was simply a genius.  The ability to execute and articulate beautifully those ornaments at fast speed is almost unheard of, and no pianist that I know of has been able to do so at such a high tempo.  Therefore Glenn Gould by all accounts did the best interpretation of Bach’s work. I liked the 1955 recording that Glenn Gould did at the tender age of 23, as opposed to the 1981 recording when he was almost 50 and close to his ultimate death.

I feel that with a faster tempo and with the playing style of Glenn Gould at that age, he got it right.  Many pianists have played it over the years a lot slower and so did Glenn Gould when he was 50, and I feel that there is so much lacking.  The beauty and dramatics of the pieces disappear once you slow down the tempo as much as they did.  The power of the Goldberg variations are only felt when they are played fast, unless stated otherwise, and the ornaments are played and annunciated as Bach intended them to be.

What technical and musical challenges does the theme and variations present and how do you overcome them? 

Challenges of the Goldberg Variations
 There is some hand-crossing involved and the ornaments are not kind.  It’s a great exercise for the fingers and you would need to start out very slowly.  Some publishers issue out the works along with ornament executions and that’s a great help.  Therefore, the main challenge in this work are the ornamentation.  There are so many of them and executing them is where the fun is and where the challenges lay.  There are so many trills which I love to play.  Any music with trills is always fun but it is also very easy to get those trills wrong.  So, careful execution is key.  Take your time.  Tear the music apart.  Mark up your manuscripts, and get the fingering correct such that the movement is flawless and every note can be heard.  Annunciation, articulation, and accents here and there is what makes this body of work exquisite.

Tip: Articulation
First off, articulating every note is of utmost importance.  Some publishers of the Goldberg variations do have the original script along with the execution of the ornaments above it.  That would allow the pianist to play the notes slowly and get every note on time with the base line.  Typically, playing out the whole melody in sections until you are comfortable with that theme or variation helps the process.

Tip: Use minimal pedal
One needs to remember that this work is all baroque, so highly minimize the pedal.  Do more legatos and staccatos, as opposed to using the pedal.  I would recommend eliminating the pedal completely and that would help in the playing technique.  Let the notes speak.  It is important to allow the notes to sound off individually.

Tip: dynamics
Unfortunately Bach doesn’t really use the words pianissimo, fortissimo, mezzo piano, in this body of work, so the pianist is really left to execute as best as they can.  It’s a very colorful body of work and every individual can interpret it in the best way they can.  Albeit, there are some variations that seem to go against the grain of Baroque music.  Variation No. 25 in particular sounds very much like a Chopin Nocturne, and is therefore played very softly, dolce, and perhaps a pedal could be introduced here.

Tip: Always break them into sections.  Get comfortable with one section at a time, and then add it to another.  This work can seem overwhelming but you need to break them apart and study, and understand, and feel the music.

Tip: Practice hands separately whilst taping the rhythm
Start out with the melody hand and play all the notes very slowly until you have that section done right.  And then do the other hand, and once you are comfortable with the melody throw it together.  But practice over and over one hand at a time until you get a sense for the chord progressions, the melody, and the general theme.  Use the other hand to tap the beat.  Tapping is a great tool and helps with timing.

Additional Article Links

About Danielle Osman:  
Danielle has been a classical pianist for 20+ years.  She has performed at a few venues in the US, Australia, and the UK.  She has extensively researched composers and their works.  She is primarily passionate about baroque and romantic era composers.  She briefly was part of the Boston Repertory Orchestra and Harvard Musical Association Orchestra of Boston but realized that her true passion was in studying the works of her favorite composers and working on solo piano pieces which she continues to do today in her spare time.  She is very happy to consult and work with other musicians and is open to ideas about anything music related.  Her dream would be to work on some of Mozart’s Piano Concertos (No.21 first movement – Allegro Maestoso, in particular).  Contact Danielle Osman..

Monday, 5 December 2011

Pianist Sam Liu on Chopin Mazurka in A minor op.17 no.4

A Piano Sage blog exclusive, we interview up and coming Canadian-Taiwanese pianist Sam Liu
Sam Liu, winner of the Il Circolo Piano Transcription  Prize
on what his inspiration and tips to play and practice Chopin's Mazurka in Am, Opus 17 #4. Sam has taken masterclasses with renown Bach expert Andrea Hewitt and Liszt expert Leslie  Howard, and was 1st prize winner of the Il Circolo Piano Trancscription competition.

First let's listen to Sam Liu performing the Chopin Mazurka in A minor opus 17 no.4
 in Canada on a Bechstein Grand

What attracted you to this particular Mazurka?
 I heard this Mazurka for the first time on Horowitz' Deutsche Grammophon's (DG label) recording, what I regard as a truly transcendental performance. The sound Horowitz created, was simply surreal.  I recall fondly many evenings in Canada driving home from piano teaching, listening to this beautiful piece over and over again..

Horowitz performing Chopin's Mazurka Op.17 No.4 in Am in his home, from  "The Last Romantic" 1985

What characteristics of Chopin and the Mazurkas must you keep in mind when playing this piece?
A Mazurka is known for its "Mazurka pulse", or stressing on the second beat of the bar. Of course, this is just a rule-of-thumb, and the amount of rubato on the beat will have to be judged by the music and the taste of the performer.  In fact, the Mazurka pulse is featured throughout many of Chopin's oeuvres, and it is important to bear in mind that when a passage of Mazurka-like quality appears in any Chopin's music, e.g. theme A of the first ballad #1 in G Minor, the feeling of Mazurka pulse will have to be present, as the music suggests.  Understanding the mazurka pulse will help one to find the very essence of Chopinesque rubato.

What technical and musical challenges does this mazurka present and how do you overcome them? 

Challenge - Gracenotes As the Mazurka itself is not difficult to play, the only technical difficulty are the quick grace-notes which appears many times in different parts of the sections.  These grace notes have to be played with tremendous delicacy, with the aim that they should not at all feel difficult or even a struggle to play; or even noticed [they should not stand out too much].  To achieve this effect, one could break them into smaller sections to practice, make sure the tone and rhythm is even, and then join them together.

Mazurkas and Waltzes - Both of which Chopin wrote many, are in the same time signature 3/4 time,  can you tell us more about the differences and the requirements of the challenging (Mazurka) Pulse? In contrary, the musical difficulties are much more demanding than it looks on the page.  Waltzes in general should be play with equal rhythm between each beat of the bar, with an emphasis on the first beat.  It should be played rather flowingly, with a feeling of one beat per bar, as in contrary to the Mazurka where it swings on the second beat.  However, arguments have been made that the slow Chopin Waltzes should be generally treated as a Mazurka, with the famous recording of Cortot plays Waltz op 64 no.2 with the Mazurka pulse.  Nonethelss, the more general ones, such as op 18 and op 34 set, should be played as a normal Waltz character in my opinion.

On top of the finding and balancing the Mazurka pulse, there are several interpretative difficulties involved.  Firstly, the same phrases repeat many times, and section repeat at the end.  With all these repeats, it is crucial to play them a little bit different each time, as if you are on the journey and each time when you reached a same scene you evoke different emotion towards it.

How would you say the different rhythmic emphasis of the mazurka pulse adds to the character?
The Mazurka pulse has generally been known and studied by the learnt musicians ever since it's creation.  Just like when a trained musician during the Baroque period can immediately tell the tempo and character and recognize a French overture from the score alone, a learnt musician in the nineteenth century would automatically apply the Mazurka pulse to a Mazurka without questioning. It's part of the culture and understanding of music.  If the Mazurka pulse wasn't added to the Mazurka, then presumably it wouldn't be a Mazurka at all!  It would be just be a beatiful piece of music in 3/4.

Tip: Sustain and relate phrases
The ability to sustain a phrase is paramount for this mazurka.  If one only plays the phrase as it looks on the page, the whole Mazurka will be chopped into pieces and it will not make sense to anyone.  Playing through each phrase and making each phrase relate to each other is rather tricky and requires experience and understanding.

However, to get started to develop relating phrases to each other, a useful tip is anticipation.  After playing a phrase, a motive, or even a note, one should try to form the sound of the next note (anticipate) in the brain very vividly, from the pitch to the timbre of the sound and the dynamic of the sound.  It is just so often that people would play with "finger" [muscle memory] rather than engaging their musical mind via imagination.  A good exercise to engage the musical mind would be to play  the whole Mazurka on the piano with fingers touch the keyboard without making the sound, and imagine the sound in the brain as if it is been played.

Tip: Muscle Control
 In addition, it is very tempting to just play the Mazurka through, and enjoy the sound and melody rather shallowly.  However, to create an heart-touching sound, it not only demands a good piano, but great concentration of the mind and great muscle control, two elements I deem crucial.  As the Mazurka is so simple, it is in turn so exposed, that if the pianist's concentration falters, this will show immediately in the  playing. So, to develop muscle control, practice holding the group of the notes down i.e. the group of the grace-notes, then play each finger individually, play the notes of the finger that's holding and the adjacent notes, thus to create maximum independence of the fingers

How does this mazurka compare with his other mazurkas?
Chopin was still relative young at the time of composing the mazurka, both in terms of age and his musicality development.  Only a genius could create such beauty and simplicity as such a young age (Chopin composed this Mazurka around 1833, age 23).  Although this Mazurka does not have some of the sophistication he created in his later Mazurkas, such as opus 59 and opus 63, its pure melancholy and lyricism  is completely sublime.  The late mazurkas are much more sophisticated musically and demand a likewise more  artistic demands in interpretation and delivery.

Who are your favourite interpreters of Chopin's mazurkas and why? Who are of particular inspirations to you and why? 
Although I am drifting away from Horowittz's unique performance now, I still regard his interpretation one of the best I have ever heard.  However, Paderewski's rendition of the piece evoke much more sincerity, and I believe it might be closer to what Chopin would have intended.

Paderewski performing the Mazurka in 1912

  I also particularly liked the recording of Richter, which is so heart-touching, if not heart-acheing, and Richter's very own way. Richter performing the Mazurka in 1950:

Sam, any further words of advice you'd like to give?
To conclude, this is a tremendously beautiful piece, yet extremely difficult to execute.  It is enjoyed much by amateurs, because it is technically not too difficult to get around to the notes to get started. But, to polish it to great height can take a life-time for a professional pianist including hours of practice and experimenting with expressive possibilities.  Well, this is what a great piece of music, because of which, has it's demands and challenges, we are very lucky that these pieces have survived for us to play today. I wish you the greatest luck and best wishes for your endeavors.

About Sam Liu: Sam has won various awards such as the first prize of "Il Circolo" Competition at Italian Cultural Centre, Piano Transcription Competition, and had given recitals throughout UK and Canada including Yamaha Artist Service Europe at Chappell, London. Sam has also participated in masterclasses given by pianists Angela Hewitt, Leslie Howard, Joseph Banowetz, and Anton Kuerti. Sam frequently collaborates with his duo partner violinist Mansoon Bow, and they have performed throughout UK and in Osaka, Japan, featuring the complete Schumann Violin Sonatas. Contact Sam Liu.

Further Reading

Sunday, 27 November 2011

ABRSM Grade 2 Piano Sight Reading Tips - dotted crotched (quarter) notes!

Grade 2 Piano Sight Reading Tips

Look for recurring difficult rhytmic patterns. The following recurs often and is probably the most tricky.
It is: (A) Dotted Quarter Note - (B) Eighth Note - (C) Quarter Note (USA) OR (A) Dotted Crotchet - (B) Quaver - (C) Crotchet (UK)
Adotted crotchetBquaverCcrotchet

Now you can use rhythmic syllables such as the Kodaly Rhythm method (A) TUM -(B) ti - (C) TA if you find counting this rhythmic sequence difficult.

Rhythmic Exercises
Because the dotted crotchet is worth 3 quavers, and beat two starts on the 3rd quaver,  you count it 1 - 2.
  • Count (A) 1-2, (B) AND, (C) 3
  • Clap the beat.
  • 2nd get used to playing a single note in each hand with that rhythmic. 
  • C-D-C try two notes in that rhythm with each hand 
  • C-D-E or E-F-G three notes in the rhythm in each hand

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Top Global Piano Commercials (Adverts) from Cheetos to Shampoo

The piano sage blog is pleased to present piano featured commercials advertisements from the last 50 years.

Hamlet Cigars (UK) 1966, a piano teacher, a classic. Disonant piano playing which transforms to the theme of Bach's Air on a G String.

Michael Jackson - performs for a 1992 Pepsi Ad - with excerpts from "I'll Be There" (USA)

Bob Hoskins - It's Good to Talk Product - BT (British Telecoms) 1995. Bob Hoskins plays some excerpts of the great piano accompanied love songs, in this advertisement for phone company British Telecom.

Marks and Spencers (UK) - Loans Advertisement 1998. Jazz singing on top of a piano - perhaps inspired by the Fabulous Baker Boys movie?

Piano Stairs Ad for Volkswagen, which is shot in Stockholm, Sweden. The piano keys activate sounds as people step on them, clever genius! c2009

Myleene Klass was in the UK's Popstars tv competition band 'Hearsay, she's also a classically trained piano graduate from the Royal Academy of Music. Pantene (UK). This came out in 2009, to advertise hair product Pantene Pro V's 'Volume and Body'

Cheetos (USA) "Take a Cheetos Break"  2011 playing Chopsticks to the annoyance of the Piano salesman

Monday, 21 November 2011

Simple 5 finger Piano Songs - Easy Tunes for complete beginners

Chopin's Left Hand
It's a dillemna for many piano teachers and perhaps a frustration for beginning piano students. They want to play tunes they know and recognise, but in the interests of reading music, they'll have to plough through exercises in their tutorial book, playing one or two notes at a time. However, there's a lot of five finger piano tunes you can learn or teach quickly. Furthermore, there's merit in getting all five fingers moving to develop finger independence early on. It's also very motivating for a student to start playing familiar tunes.

Starting on C - Five Finger Position Pieces

Ode to Joy (theme) - from Beethoven's 9th Symphony

3 3 4 5   5 4 3 2  1 1 2 3  3 2 2

3 3 4 5  5 4 3 2  1 1 2 3   2 1 1

Oranges and Lemons
 535 31 234 2 5 31

Jingle Bells
333 333 35123 444 4433 3332 325
333 333 35123 444 44 33 55 421

Frere Jacques (theme)
123 1 123 1 345 345

Pieces that can be played on the black keys
Starting position 1,2,3 fingers on three black notes  (F# G# and A#) and the 5th finger on  the higher (C#).

Merrily We Row Along AND Mary Had a Little Lamb3212 333 222 355
321 233 322 321
Likewise these pieces can be played on the same five finger pattern starting on C as well.

Hot Cross Buns (submitted by Golda Levitan)
Played on 3 black keys
Left Hand; 1 2 3 RIGHT HAND 3 2 1


Young children like to sing and play it at the same time. Play one hand at a time - then play them together. Enjoy. When you've mastered this, why not take it a step further and learn Simple 10 finger Piano Songs - Easy Tunes for complete beginners

Further Reading

Monday, 14 November 2011

Advanced Piano Sight Reading Tips: for exams, playing, or learning a new piece

Alan Dorn performing Liszt's virtuosic Mazeppa
Following the previous post 8 Essential Piano Sight Reading Tips: for exams or learning a new piece, I am pleased to disseminate some tips from pianist Alan Dorn, LRSM, (Licentiate Royal Schools of Music in piano performance). Alan's skills at learning new pieces enabled him to rapidly prepare for the FRSM - the highest diploma level of piano performance. Here are his tips: 
  • If possible, have a quick ‘skim read’ of the whole piece before you start playing.  This helps you grade the dynamics, understand climactic points, set the right tempo etc.  Otherwise you can start off playing crotchets at 160 and then suddenly see some semiquavers!
  • If you are struggling to play all the notes, make sure of the melody and the bass.
  • Try and look as far ahead as possible.  Sight reading is basically looking ahead and memorising a short chunk, then playing this while memorising the next chunk.
  • Playing a difficult bit through on the surface of the keys (ie without sounding the notes) before you start can be helpful. 
  • Practice hearing the music in your mind before you play – then compare with the actual sound and see how you did.
  •  Trade-off between tempo and playability – it’s probably better to give a good performance at half-speed than half a performance up to tempo (?)
  • Articulation – don’t forget to play legato/staccato etc as indicated.
  • Phrasing – try to read phrase-by-phrase rather than note-by-note so you can play musically.
  • Voicing – don’t forget to bring out the melody.
  • Tone quality – even though you’re sight-reading, try to play with a full tone.
  • Poise – don’t make it obvious that you’re unsure about the notes – play as if you’re very confident.
  •  Rhythm – don’t play like a metronome – use rhythmic accents to bring the music across.
  • Practice reading chords so you can read them as quickly as single notes.

Monday, 7 November 2011

8 Essential Piano Sight Reading Tips: for exams, or learning a new piece

 As exams loom around the corner, I thought I'd offer some sight reading tips, which can be applied to learning new pieces too. Reading music requires regular, if not daily practice. With all sight reading no matter the instrument, you need to pay attention to these 8 elements, weakness in any one area will affects your delivery of the piece.

  1. Notes - play the correct notes, within the designated key signature, and in the correct register. Playing correct notes, sounds easy but can be problematic in key signatures with  lots of flats or sharps, and additional accidentals.

     Also, are you also actually playing in the correct register too, or are you an octave too high or to low? Students with non full sized electronic keyboards may find it hard to locate middle C, when it comes to playing on an exam full sized piano keyboard.

    How to improve? Music theory workbooks can help students gain a visual memory of the notes, make sure they play through the exercises on the keyboard though. 

    Books: Grades 1-5 (Beginner to intermediate)
    Improve your sight reading (Paul Harris) (Faber Publishing)
    Joining the Dots (Alan Bullard) (ABRSM Publishing) 

    Flashcards such as those by Hal Leonard and Chester can be have notes in the bass clef and treble cleff with a visual guide to where the note is on the keyboard. With these cards,  you can mix up or place in a sequence (C-G,etc.) and have the student try and play these on the keyboard.

  2. Rhythmcan you clap or tap the rhythm correctly? Are you giving silences to the appropriate rests. You can say "shhh" for each beat of the rest.  A minim (half note) rest would be two beats of "shh shh". 

    Younger students of the age of 4 or 5 may have problems counting the beats especially with dotted rhythms and quavers (1/8 notes) as they understanding counting and adding of fractions. So a solution for this is to use rhythmic words for complex rhythms, Quavers (1/8 notes)  you can use "ta ka", and Te for crotchets (1/4 notes). Some teachers make up words, for example a teacher I knew used Apple for quavers (1/8 notes) and Pie for crotchets (1/4 notes) You can use rhythmic syllables for counting notes Kodaly has a set of Rhythm syllables; and there's also a Takadimi method.

  3. Dynamics - monotone is boring! Did you play the piece in all one level. How do you bring this home to one student. Read a poem or nursery rhyme, or song with one monotone voice, next use dynamics in your reading - whispers, normal voice, and shouting, I'm sure they'll agree it's more interesting.

  4. Flow and Pulse Music is storytelling in time and therefore has a natural flow and pulse to it. Therefore, maintaining a steady uninterrupted pulse is another vital element to music making and sight reading.

    To understand the importance of keeping musical flow, play on the piano (if you are a teacher) or if you are a parent who doesn't play the piano play a youtube video or a music mp3 track to your student/child and pause the music every 5 seconds or so, get them to feedback on why the music wasn't enjoyable. This will quickly bring home the importance of keeping the music going.

    Another exercise is to play twinkle twinkle little star but suddenly stop playing every in random places. Imagine you are accompanying a singer or another instrument, you can't afford to stop the music.

  5. Tempo - "I feel the need for speed"  are you up to speed? Or should you put on the brakes? playing as close to the tempo marking as possible while maintaining accuracy. Dolmetsch provides a good guide to tempo markings from anything Adagio to Presto, complete with bpm - beats per minute metronome suggestions. 
  6. Coordination - Proprioception is required, meaning your hands and fingers know where they are on the keyboard without having to look at them constantly, so in effect, for some passages, you can play with your eyes closed! This helps prevent interrupting the music by constantly looking from score to your hand and finger position. Your fingers have in fact memorised the spacing between the notes of the piano. 
  7. Spirit - with "Emotional Content" emotional content, energy, and musicality and some clues are indicated in some sight reading tests. 
  8. Patterns - look for patterns, which is easier said than done. In other words, look for notes that may move up in parallel motion in the same direction, scale fragments, appeggio patterns, broken chords you may have practiced before, motifs. 

Further Reading

Please share your experiences and knowledge by commenting on this blog post, I'd love to hear from you. 

Monday, 31 October 2011

Andras Schiff on Chopin: legacy, character, and life.

Chopin Portrait by Maria Wodzińska 1836
In 1999, pianist Andras Schiff collaborated with Mischa Scorer,
Chopin with Andras Schiff 1999 production: Classical Tv Entire Video [high quality] : or on Youtube:  Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6. It's not the first time the two had collaborated, previously in 1997 they produced the Wanderer for BBC Omnibus about the life of Franz Schubert. Below is a summary of the ideas Schiff presents about Chopin, his life, composition characteristics,  musical influences, and legacy.

Characterising Chopin's Music
Chopin grew up in the Polish countryside, and the folk music such as mazurkas influenced his composition, it's considered by Schiff as the most Polish utterances (characteristic). It was his favourite genre of music, and kept his connection, adds Schiff to his country through polonaises and mazurkas.

Asked how he would describe his music, it always contains an element a Polish word 'zal' which means it contains an element of the polish word: sadness, nostalgia, sorrow,  regret, melancholia, up to a degree of fury and anger. Schiff says it is with his music he could open up and pour out his soul.

Chopin's musical upbringing and education
Born in 1810, Chopin grew up in Warsaw, Poland at the time when was under Russian rule.
Chopin's both parents were musical. Chopin's father, a teacher, played the flute and violin, his mother sang
and played the piano. Chopin picked up a lot from this experience, by listening and singing along.
It is interesteresting to note, adds Schiff that, Chopin never really had piano lessons. [Although, wikipedia indicates Zywny was chopin's first piano teacher] His first teacher, Czech Wojciech Zywny, a violinist and composer, taught Chopin love and respect of the music of Bach and Mozart, whom he regarded as having the best taste. Chopin's 24 preludes and fugues, in fact are directly inspired from Bach's - which are regarded as essential technique, which the impressario Hans Von Bulow called the "Old Testament of the Piano"

Enrolled at the, Warsaw Conservatory, studying under Jozef Elsner celebrated composer of operas, so he had a great formal training of counterpoint, harmony and composition, but never of piano playing, so Schiff wonders how he became one of the greatest composers of the piano, which he marvels as close to a 'miracle'.

By age 18,19 Chopin was firmly established in the musical society of Poland, he had written his both two Piano Concertos, and established as a national celebrity. He had even performed for the Tsar of Russia. It was recognised he needed to seek wider opportunities within Europe so he had to 'cut the umbilical cord' of his fatherland. In, november 1830, age 20, he left Warsaw for Vienna, a very important and vital step for Chopin. He never returned to Poland. On Chopin's wish, after he died,  his heart was taken back to his native Poland.

Paris & the soirees
September 1831 was when Chopin arrived in Paris, Schiff notes that this was a great time, with a new bourgeoisie class emerging, with a love of literature, architecture and the arts, and a good family would own a piano. So Chopin provided  piano lessons to these families and  attended these families' frequent soirees (small intimate circles of friends) improvising and playing till 5 or 6 in the morning.  Attendees could immerse themselves in Chopin's music forgetting all their troubles and miseries. Chopin disliked performing for large audiences, but had to in order to further his reputation. His concerts at the Paris Conservatoire, became legendary events.

Capturing Revolutionary Spirit
Europe was in turmoil politically and economically, following the Napoleonic wars at this time. On the way to Paris, he heard that the latest Polish uprising against Russian occupation had been crushed, which Chopin reflects in his Revolutionary Etude in C# minor, written at this time, which Schiff believes is the most tragic and dramatic in Chopin's music. In his diary, he writes of his despair fearing that his friends and family are raped and executed.

Chopin's pianistic innovations

After Chopin you couldn't write piano music the same way again, he has revolutionised and changed the sound and concept and approach to the piano.He has innovated piano technique, such as,  in fingering, using the thumb on the black keys, which was previously forbidden. Chopin's fingering allows more of a liberty of playing on the keyboard. Schiff displaying a plastercast of Chopin's left hand, describing it as elegant and aristocratic. Chopin had an enormous stretch in his hands and great suppleness. Chopin was the first to say the hand has a natural position on the keyboard, each finger has a distinct character and personality, and therefore should not be similar to each other. Chopin recognised that that 4th finger is a weak one (he called his 3rd finger a long nose and the 4th a disobedient one). So Chopin wrote to the requirements of the hand, which Schiff demonstrates with the Etude in Ab. Chopin's idea of virtuosity, the cultivation of the beauty of sound. Schumann and Mendelssohn revered Chopin's music, however Chopin was not as recipricol in his admiration, not even opening Schumann's Kreisleriana, which was dedicated to him for months.

Chopin's legacy 
Chopin was one of the greatest composers ever,on the highest level as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert. He has been portrayed as a wild flamboyant romantic, physically weak and fragile, dying of consumption; a very sentimental image; [however] there is no element of sentimentality in his music.
One of the great Chopin interpreters and womaniser adds Schiff, Artur Rubinstein said that Chopin's music was the greatest seducer.

Further Reading

Monday, 24 October 2011

Lefties: Poet, Pianist & Nobel Prize Winner: Tomas Tranströmer & Concert Pianist Leon Fleisher - Left-Handed Piano Playing and Repertoire

The first left handed piano was made in 1998, this is a mirror image or reverse of a normal piano - but with the bass up on the right and the highest notes on the far left. This assumes you can play with both hands, but what happens with you lose complete control of your right hand altogether. Can you still play? let's look at these inspiring stories from a nobel prize winner and some notable concert pianistss.

Tomas Tranströmer at the piano
Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011. Tomas is also a keen pianist, however, a stroke has meant that he can only play with his left hand. He still performs in recitals, in some cases, his poetry is read while he plays.

Interview with Tomas Tranströmer 

Paul Wittgenstein - Left Handed Pianist
Leon Fleisher lost use of his right hand fingers and thumb after a gardening accident which almost ended his concert career. However, he was inspired to continue on thinking of Austrian Concert Pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, whose right arm was blown off during world war I. Wittgenstein commissioned compositions for the left hand from distinguished composers, Richard Strauss, Korngold, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Ravel and Britten. So now, there's established repertoire for the left hand. Fleisher cites there must be over 1,000 compositions in existence for the left hand alone, including a Brahms arrangement for left hand of Bach's Chaconne for solo violin written for Clara Schumann when she injured her right hand.

Probably one of the most well known is Ravel's Concerto for the Left-Hand.
Ravel's Concerto for the Left - Hand performed by Leon Fleisher

James Rhodes, plays Etude Pour La Main Gauche "Etude for the Left Hand" Op. 36 by Felix Blumenfeld

Further reading (left handed pianists and repertoire)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Musical Monarchs: Queen Victoria, Felix Mendelssohn and King Henry VIII

By George!- Mozart, Handel, and JC Bach
The British Royal family has a history with music, and some of the greatest composers. Handel for instance, composed for King George I. Mozart, age 8,  performed for King George III and Queen Charlotte in the newly constructed Buckingham Palace in 1764. Queen Charlotte's music-master Johann Christian Bach, JS Bach's son, gave Mozart the ultimate sight reading test of the most difficult works of JS Bach, Handel and Alder, which Mozart performed with ease, amazing his distinguished audience. Mozart also accompanied Queen Charlotte, who sang an aria. The Mozarts (Leopold and Wolfgang) later dedicated six sonatas, the Opus 3 Sonatas to Queen Charlotte.

 Some of the Kings and Queens were excellent musicians as well as composers. King Henry VIII - King and Composer Notable royal musician tudor King Henry VIII, who composed the song - "Pasttime with Good Company"

Song With Words, but not by Mendelssohn
Queen Victoria loved singing and played the piano as well, she commissioned in 1856, an Erard Piano, the same piano brand from France that Chopin played. She also had many Bechstein grand pianos, including a gilded one at Buckingham Palace. Her favourite composer was Felix Mendelssohn, and especially loved "his" songs.

Felix Mendelssohn first met Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842.
Prince Albert and Queen Victoria meeting Mendelssohn
(srce: Mendelssohn Project)

Felix Mendelssohn Age 20, 1829

To honour Mendelssohn's visit,  Queen Victoria sang her favourite Mendelssohn song 'Italien' or 'Italy' but it turned out to be written, Felix admitted by his other talented sibling, Fanny Mendelssohn. In those days, women weren't allowed to pursue careers as composers, so Felix honoured her by publishing the composition under his name.

 Japanese duo Hiro and Akiko perform Fanny Hensel - Mendelssohn's Italien, a favourite of Queen Victoria

Felix Mendelssohn also performed his famous piano pieces "Songs Without Words" for the royal couple. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband was a talented organist and was thrilled to hear Felix Mendelssohn play the organ at Buckingham Palace. Mendelssohn, later dedicated his Scottish Symphony to Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria said of Mendelssohn on news of his death, he regarded him "the greatest musical genius since Mozart."

Further Reading

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Amazing pianists - austistic blind savant Derek Paravicini - musical genius!

Source: wikipedia
Derek Paravicini is blind, has autism. He has the skills classified as a musical savant, which means he can play any piece back perfectly he has ever heard (as most savants can). This reminds me of Mozart's superb memory when he notated the Gregorio Allegri's Miserere from the Vatican's Sistine Chapel music after just one hearing. He exceeds the skills of most musical savants, because not only can he play back any piece, but he can also play the song in another particular style (reggae, jazz) or particular pianist (George Shearing, etc.) He played on the BBC radio show "In Tune" he performed Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks in the style of Tango.Watch the following videos to see Derek Paravicini's remarkable talent in action.

Derek was featured in the 2010 Stan Lee's Superhumans in a jazz challenge showdown, with 95% accuracy! And then performs "Yes we have no Bananas" in the style of Scott Joplin in the key of Bb on the fly! See the video and be amazed.

Here's a trailer of Derek Paravicini highlighting his previous performance for London's Southbank

Derek Paravicini on US documentary 60" Minutes. In this documentary he can change any tune into the style of jazz pianists Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson.

Excerpt from Nova - Musical Minds (Oliver Sach's documentary)

Excerpt from The Musical Genius - see what happens in Derek's mind when he listens to emotional content in music

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Prince William and Prince Harry play the piano as toddlers!

The Daily Mail published an article showing video footage of Prince William and Harry playing the piano as children for a photoshoot. Here's the Youtube footage

It's great the young princes are exploring the sound world of the piano. No doubt, had they persisted in their interest, they would have had piano lessons.
Earlier in March 2011, before Prince William's Royal wedding, the piano spotlight was on Kate Middleton, who took piano lessons, reaching grade 3, when she was 8 years old in Bucklebury Berkshire, UK.

Kate Middleton's piano teacher David Nicholls composed a "A Song for Kate (and William)" in honour of their wedding. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

10 reasons to choose a Digital or Acoustic Piano - a guide to selecting

An acoustic piano is basically a traditional piano made out of wood, steel strings, with a wooden soundboard. It requires tuning of a minimum twice a year. Digital pianos as the name suggest are electronic pianos with touch response. A digital piano can be either a hybrid - combination of acoustic and digital, which are usually at the higher end range.

Roland Fp-7f Digital Piano, one of the state of the art digital pianos

Characteristics of Digital Pianos
  1. Digital pianos don't require tuning - tuning in the UK (London) can cost up to £55 ($85 usd) a piano.
  2. Depending on the model, can be very portable (especially the stage or performance models) and can be moved to different rooms, upstairs and downstairs of the house with ease. An acoustic piano would be very heavy indeed and would require a professional piano mover to do so to move up and down floors. 
  3. Are regulated evenly - so the touch response is even throughout the entire piano guaranteeing a consistent even touch. You can even vary the touch responsiveness of the keys too.
  4. The digital piano can be sampled on a more expensive and superior grand acoustic piano, so in effect you are gaining the recreated sound of a much more expensive piano at a cheaper price. 
  5. Can be used with headphones, so perfect for flats or apartments with thin walls.
  6. Additional sounds - you could have anything from a vibraphone, harpsichord or strings, and sound effects.
  7. Recording ability - play back your playing with a recording feature (not available on all models) 
  8. Midi - (not available on all models) capture your playing for computer studio recording and mixing 
  9. Some models have built-in metronomes and rhythm drum accompaniments (which is great for jazz and pop playing)
  10. Affordable with a range of prices to suit every budget.

Murray McLachlan, Chair of the European Piano Teachers Association, demonstrates the versatility the Yamaha Avant Grand N1 Digital Piano

Characteristics of Acoustic Pianos
  1. Harmonics - basically the strings of a piano will vibrate sympathetically with each other, the whole piano through it's wood will resonate, which in turn with the proper technique can produce a Singing quality.
  2. Double escapement - means you can play rapidly repeating notes, some digital pianos have started to introduce this, such as the Roland range.
  3. More nuance - to test this, hold down a key very gently to produce a small sound, the mid range digital pianos will have this feature.
  4. An acoustic piano is the minimum requirement to practice for serious concert performing, and a must if you are in the higher grades of piano 6-8 (ABRSM)
  5. Most piano exams are held on acoustic pianos, therefore, you'd have a distinct advantage in controlling the dynamics.
  6. They require tuning up to twice a year, which adds to the yearly cost.  Tuning in the UK (London) can cost up to £55 ($85 usd) a piano, so that's up to £110 ($160) a year in tuning possibly.
  7. Are not so portable, due to the weight of the steel strings and metal frame, you'll need a specialist mover to move an upright piano up a flight of steps.
  8. Performance of the piano is affected by  and can be damaged by atmospheric conditions - such as central heating (remember heat expands the components) or dampness (if stored in a garage - a no no - which can cause the soundboard to shrink)
  9. If buying used and privately, you'll need a piano technician to inspect the piano to make sure you're not getting a  lemon!
  10. Vary tremendously from one instrument to another in terms of the tone, touch (evenness) the pedaling (how far and how rigid you have to depress to get sustain)
How to Choose the Perfect (acoustic) Piano for you and your family (ABC 4 - Utah)

Acoustic Piano: The story of Estonia Pianos - hand crafted pianos from Estonia - virtuoso pianist Marc Andre Hamelin owns one!

Further Reading

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Gilmore Young Artist - Conrad Tao - Pianist Extraordinaire..

Conrad Tao and George Li are two US based young  pianists who have won the 2012 Gillmore Young Artist Prize. Previous recipients include Jonathan Bliss and Yuja Wang.  Conrad started playing tunes on the piano at 18 months and formally started learning the piano after the violin around age 3. His first piano performance at 4, and by age 8 he was performing his first concerto - Mozart Piano Concerto in A Major K414 with the Utah Symphony. His biography with the record label IMG reveals that he has even composed his own piano concerto and received from Obama, the Presidential Scholar for the Arts in 2011. As of August 2011, Conrad studies under Dr. Yoheved Kaplinsky at the Julliard School of Music (pre college level).

Watch his label IMG Artist's Press Video

Conrad performing the Bach Ouverture in the French Style, BWV 831, Movements 5-7 at Julliard in 2010

Conrad performs the Rachmaninov Prelude Opus 23 No.2 in B Flat Major

Conrad Tao performs Carl Vine Piano Sonata, 2nd Movement at Julliard in 2010

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Piano Prodigies Ying-Shan Tseng - Blind 8 year old child prodigy from South Africa

South African Taiwanese girl Ying-Shan Tseng is blind yet this child prodigy performs Tchaikovsky and Mozart piano concertos at the tender  age of 8. I read about Tseng from an article in the UK's Daily Mail newspaper. How does she learn music, you may ask? The sheet music or score is in Braille music format.

About Ying-Shan, she started playing at the age of 4 and has won many young junior piano competitions in South Africa. Her piano teacher - Elise Van Harken (sp?) realised her talent when she learned within one month, songs that normal sighted kids learned in several months. She's an inspiration to her teacher, with her amazing perseverance and dedication

South African news - Tv Show - Carte Blanche. This following clip tells her story.

2009 News Video on Ying - Shan

Her most recent performance on Youtube - in May 2011

A recital showcase age 7, in South Africa - later in the video she performs the theme to the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto.

Monday, 12 September 2011

How to play Rachmaninov's Prelude in G Minor: tutorials, tips, masterclasses Opus 23 No.5

 The Opus 23 preludes were dedicated to Rachmaninov's first cousin,  Alexander Siloti, and musicologist James Frazier notes that they owe much of their style to the second piano concerto (especially in the luscious B section).  Ashkenazy on the preludes: they contain  “an unmistakable Russian intensity, strong lyrical melodies, and changes of character that range from sublime sweetness to passionate virtuosity.”
Thailand based British expatriate pianist Paul Barton adds, that you get all these attributes in one go with the G minor prelude. In Paul's Youtube tutorial he describes the G minor prelude as a Paradox like so much of Rachminov's music - it's about staying in control while letting go at the same time; the immense technical challenge of playing the notes vs. at time soaring, passionate music, seeming desperate to escape from them. Written in 1901,  this prelude is second in  popularity to the C Sharp minor (opus 3) Prelude but Paul is convinced that popularity of the G minor is increasing.  Paul has clearly read Angela Glover's work and quotes from legendary pianist Josef Hoffman - anyone who could write this (prelude) must be noble.  Paul describes the form of this prelude like a Classical Rondo with A-B-Transition-A form and  the character of the 'B' section as ephereal, poignant with a Spanish flavour and feels like an improvisation [Thiollier].

Paul Barton's tutorial and tips of how to practice and play the G Minor Prelude

Excerpt of Paul Barton's tips:
  • First learn the notes. Try to resist playing at full speed to keep the musical ideas and enthusiasm fresh.
  • Avoid any tension in your arms, shoulders and wrists
  • Section A - Play Chords and Change Position [3:00] Play the first chord in any group which is repeated. Play it once so avoid repeating them first of all (rather than 3 times as indicated), in order to make the shape of the chords and to be able to change position, 
  • It's a great piece to work and focus on,  you can work on chords in one section then appegios in another.
  • Middle section or 'B Section' which creates a 'trio effect' - overemphasize in your practice the countermelody (so you can bring this out later) [10:30]
  • There are no pedal markings indicated in the score (so you'll need to balance the clarity of the melody in relation to the staccato chords)
  • In the B section, if you can't reach all the notes as Rachmaninov had extremely large hands, drop a note but retain those notes in the chord that retains the best colour.
Rachmaninov plays the G Minor prelude himself - notice how he gives equal emphasis to the thick chords in Section B (as opposed to bringing out the fifth finger top melody line)

Rachmaninov Plays Rachmaninov--Ampico Recordings (1919-29)

Paul Barton's favourite performance of the G Minor Prelude is by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Prelude in G minor, Op.23, No.5

Further resources

Monday, 5 September 2011

Ipad Piano Pianism - Piano Apps with Lang Lang and Stephen Hough

UK based concert pianist Stephen Hough reviews Piano Apps (Pianist Pro and the Magic Piano) on the Ipad for the Daily Telegraph in 2010. He even mentions to Lang Lang's Flight of the Bumble recording in San Francisco.

Lang Lang tries out Flight of the Bumble Bee on the Ipad

Lang Lang performs Flight of the Bumble Bee on stage with an Ipad in San Francisco. It's amazing that this unofficial recording has had over 1.3 million views! Now that's viral

Monday, 29 August 2011

Piano's Funniest Moments 5: Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie Piano Materclass

The British Fry and Laurie comedy doubleact were big int he 1980s and 1990s. Here their
sketch takes the form of a Piano masterclass with some interesting twists and innuendo!

A stage version - with Czech subtitles! PianoStreet cites the following performance from Hysteria! Hysteria! Hysteria!” AIDS benefit in 1988. The ending is different from the above!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

How to play Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu C# Minor: analysis, tips, masterclasses Opus 66

Chopin's Fantasie (or Fantasy) Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor Opus 66 is one of the most popular pieces for grade 8 and above musicians to play. In order to play this piece effectively I have found the most suitable
masterclasses and tutorials from youtube and summarised them.

Firstly, Paul Barton gives the background, inspiration and form of  the Fantasie Impromptu, and inspiration from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Moschelles.

Paul Barton Tutorial summary

Introduction, analysis, origin and influence of the Fantasie Impromptu C#m  [0:00 to 6:12]

  • The term Impromptu was first used by a musical publisher in 1817, so a Romantic period invention, and can be defined as freestyle. 
  • Fantasie Impromptu is in ternary form - or A-B-A.
  • Chopin didn't publish it in his lifetime
  • The fantasie impromptu has a lot of similarity, therefore likely to be inspired from Moscheles' Impromptu in Eb [2:30] (similar in character and tempo, and form) and third movement of the Moonlight Sonata [3:00] (similar in key - C#m and form) with one of the same runs.
Paul Barton's Practical tips (excerpt) [6:12 to End]
  • The right hand plays semiquavers against triplets in the left hand, if you have trouble fitting the notes together, Paul suggests accenting the notes that fall on the beats and the other notes will fall in place.
  • Play all the notes legato, clearly and even as you can, which takes lots of slow practice and try not to overpedal.

Katsaris Masterclass
In 1992, French Pianist Katsaris, first Prize winner of the  International Cziffra Competition 1974,  gives a masterclass on the Fantasie Impromptu for Japan's NHK TV (part 1 of 4)

Katsaris Masterclass Summary Part 1:

  • Impromptu is defined as unexpected or improvised, the piece is an elaborated improvisation [and should be played as such.]
  • The fast right hand melody is in two groupings of semiquavers (cut common time) so you could practice analytically and slowly the right hand melody dotted crotched (dotted 1/4 note) to build up speed.
  • Mood of the piece: The piece should be played more feverish, trembling, like leaves and trees in the forest quivering and trembling. 4 notes in the right hand against 3 notes in the left hand.  Think of a whispering wind blowing. 
  • Broken chords with accents: Play into the In this section, play the piano deeply (more weight) where the accented melody is especially when the thumbs play on the accent marks. Play them as chords to find the right balance with the thumb on the accent marks. Take time between the long phrases (this is demonstrated in part 2) by waiting a little bit at the end of each phrase. You can think of a bell sound effect for the accents. 
Katsaris Masterclass Part 2: 

Katsaris Masterclass Part 2 Summary: 
  • Turn your hand into the direction of the accented notes, in effect adding more weight to the accented note. Practice the accented note repeating it four times. 
  • Different colours in these phrases and this section - think that you are on a horse which runs in the wood, and your beautiful long hair is against the wind. So in effect a feeling of total freedom. [2:50] and at the end of this bridge, play pp pianisimo, to create a nice transition effect (perhaps a calming of the storm)

Katsaris Masterclass Part 3: 

Katsaris Masterclass Part 3 Summary: 
  • When Chopin played the same piece two or more times, or a repeating section, he liked to play it in different ways. So you can try with pedal and without pedal, which creates a different colour.
  • Or play a little bit slower
  • Some of the colouristic emotions you encounter in this section are: lamentations - which becomes revulsion which becomes anger (end of the section), [hmm sounds a bit like the Yoda mantra!add weight in the keyboard.
    Section B - Major Key [5:30] - Largo and Moderato Cantabile Section
  • The new colour effect is a sunny spell as it's in a major key. It's a new sound world.
  • Communicate the emotion but same time reserved, but it must always sing, each finger sings, think of the Bel Canto. Sing, even if it's not forte, sing.
  • Listen to the sound, control the sound, use the ear to control the sound (right hand melody).
  • Be aware of the tenor countermelody, [8:00] and also remember to make these sing.
  • Think of a little secret, something you haven't told anyone, communicate this here.
  • Bring out the following colours: Hope [9:30], delicacy and elegance.

Katsaris Masterclass Part 4: 

Katsaris Masterclass Part 4 Summary: 
Section B - Major Key 
[5:30] - Largo and Moderato Cantabile Section (continued)

  • Colouristic effects: Abandon yourself [1:15]  
  • In the pp pianisimo sections think of a 'telling your secret' motif as mentioned earlier.
  • Each note must sing with phrasing, think of the bel canto, or even a violin to make the piano sing and sound more than a mere percussion instrument [5:05 - comparison with Chopin Ballade #1 in G minor]
Finale - A Section [5:40]
  • When restarting the finale A section, start PP pianisimo not very fast and without much pedal. So in effect you are carrying over the mood and pianisimo effect from section B.
  • Think of the leaves trembling but in the night, not loud, very light. 
  • Bars 116, 117 and 118 Accent on the little finger, the upper part (right hand)
  • [7:42] Tortured and Suffering [bars 119-122]
  • Bars 130-137 Melancholic remembrance - phrase melody,  pianisimo and singing which dies and becomes almost nothing.

Further Resources

  • Alternative versions: Final version that the most performed version of the Fantasie Impromptu in C#m is the first draft, here Artur Rubinstein plays the final version which has differences

Monday, 15 August 2011

Actor Pianists - Hugh Laurie OBE (from TV Show House) plays the piano!

Hugh Laurie (source wikipedia)
Actor Hugh Laurie OBE, Golden Globe award winner for his role in US tv show House started learning piano at age 6. (more about Hugh's musical background)

Following the success of his comedy duo with Stephen Fry, where he performs a memorable piano masterclass sketch. Laurie has been able to advocate comedy and piano to entertain on tv and the silver screen.

Here's a song he performs a comedic song "Mystery"

His own humourous ode to 'America'

Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis playing 'Heart and Soul' in Stuart Little