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

Friday, 5 August 2011

Chopin Ballade No.1 in G Minor Tips, Resources, Tutorials, and Masterclasses (how to play) Opus 23

Score (
Chopin's Ballade #1 in G Minor (op.23) is a LRSM (Licentiate Royal Schools of Music), LTCL (Licentiate Trinity College of Music) level piece which is the same graded virtuoso level as Liszt's La Campanella, or equivalent to the final year recital for a Bmus degree in a specialist music convervatoire. I've found a collection of masterclasses from the Internet as well as academic resources as well as broad resources on how to approach and analyse this particular Ballade.

Before the masterclases, let's first listen to the Ballade by the great Krystian Zimmerman, winner of the 1975 Chopin Competition
Krystian Zimerman: Chopin/Schubert

Josh Wright from Utah giving suggestions for the Coda of the Chopin Ballade #1

Josh's tips - (Coda section) Presto con fuoco (fast with fire)
  • Don't just focus on the technique, focus on the artistry and the artistry will help the technique.
  • Voice the top hand melody and stay light
  • Feel the phrasing
  • Don't play too fast but focus on producing the artistic resolutions, colours,  images you want to portray.
  • Keep sensitivity at the core of your practice.
Oleg Stepanov Masterclass, who studied under Lev Vlassenko at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, won the Liszt International Competition in 1956 (Stepanov has dedicated a piano competition in his memory) gives a masterclass starting off with the Chopin Ballade #1
Masterclass with Oleg Stepanov
Masterclass with Oleg Stepanov

  • Chopin Foundation: How to Play Chopin's Ballades by Professor Regina Smendzianka (Chopin Foundation, USA)
  • Chopin and the G Minor Ballade by David Björling, Luleå University of Technology Abstract The purpose of this work is to make a general presentation of Chopin, the age in which he lived, his G minor Ballade and selected editions of the Ballade. I will also compare five recordings of the G minor Ballade, and make a presentation and a recording of my own interpretation of the G minor Ballade. This work discusses his life up to the time the Ballade was published, Chopin’s development as a composer, and the period in his life when the Ballade was composed. Background material on the history of the Ballade as a genre and its development is included to give the reader an enhanced contextual understanding. The issue as to whether Chopin had a literary model when composing the G minor Ballade and his relationship with the Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz is discussed. This work considers the issue of form in the G minor Ballade, Chopin’s personality, how Chopin played, his use ofthe term ‘tempo rubato’, and how he used improvisation and composition.
  • Chopin Ballade #1 in G Minor Opus 23 Sheet music (IMSLP) -
  • Wikipedia overview of the Chopin Ballades
  • Descriptive analysis of the Chopin G Minor Ballade (La Folia Online Music Review)
  • Brief Music Analysis of the Ballades (
  • Full text of the translated text of Konrad Wallenrod, poetry by Adam Mickiewicz, which is said to have inspired the Ballades.(Gutenburg Project)
  • Frederick Scott on the Chopin Ballade in G minor (Thetutorpages)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Percy Grainger's Paraphrase on Tchakovsky's Waltz of the Flowers

2011 is the 50th Anniversary of the eccentric Australian composer and virtuoso pianist  Percy Grainger's death (1882-1961). According to BBC Radio 3's Andrew Mcgregor, Grainger studied in Frankfurt with pupils of Brahms, Clara schumann, and Liszt. and he best known for his composition "English Country Gardens." If you're looking for a virtuosic and melodic piece for your concert repertoire or music collection consider his paraphrase on Waltz of the Flowers is from Tchaikovsky's Ballet - the Nutcracker.

Japanese pianist Aya Nagatomi performs Percy Grainger's Paraphrase on Tchakovsky's Waltz of the Flowers

If you enjoyed Aya Nagatomi's playing, she has released the following cd  Liszt: La Campanella Piano Works 

Tchaikovsky competition and Leeds piano competition prize winner Russian pianist Vladimir Ovchinnikov performs the full version