Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tempest 3rd movement fingering

After listening carefully to the Andras Schiff lecture on this sonata (, I think I want to play those opening left hand arpeggios exactly as notated by Beethoven: no/very little pedal, the second note tied. I'm leaning towards a new fingering now: 5-3-2-1 for the first D minor arpeggio and my earlier 5-1-3-2 for the A major. I think this works the best. Will update this post if this changes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lesson 2

I had my second lesson today. We talked about many important concepts. I played the third movement of Beethoven's Sonata in D minor ("Tempest"), Op.31, No.2. I chose to play this movement because I've been highly confused about how exactly to play it. I used to play it with a weird fingering that my teacher in Vienna had introduced to me as the simplest (it wasn't all that simple, I had put in a decent amount of work to get that under my fingers). Everybody I play it to here disagree with the fingering and for good reason. I used 5-1-3-2 for the left hand D minor arpeggio at the very beginning. Some teachers don't mind it as long as this doesn't introduce unwanted accents (usually the 3rd finger in my case). I recently attended a masterclass organized by a local music school where the teacher asked me to try a different fingering: 5-5-2-1. We talked about this fingering today for about half an hour! Here is a summary of everything that we talked about today:

1) Fingering: 5-5 is inherently jerky and choppy. Its just technically difficult to play that arpeggio evenly at the required tempo with 5-5. Now Barenboim does it, but then Barenboim does many things that I probably can't do in my lifetime :P, so I'm not going to concern myself with that. My teacher uses 5-2-1-2, a very manageable fingering at higher speeds.

I was slightly reluctant to let go of the 5-5-2-1 fingering. I'll explain. First, the function of that arpeggio is just to be in the background. It doesn't need any expressive exaggerated motions of any kind. Its a simple arpeggio according to my teacher (which is why he uses the simpler 5-2-1-2 fingering). That, I agree with. However, Beethoven put in a tied note, tied with the second note of the arpeggio and notated the first note with a downward stem. In some editions, the first note even appears with a staccato. So I argued that the second note was somehow more important to Beethoven. My teacher agreed with that argument and said that the argument was a valid one. I loved the fact that he didn't impose his interpretation on me. In fact, he said that I was the one who had to make the decision, given that the argument was a valid one. What he said next was really the key: The question however still remains if one wants a strong accent on that note or if one would still want a smooth soft arpeggio there, maybe with a subtle break between the first and second notes. This will preserve the required character of the allegretto (see later).

I think I like this idea very much. I would love to be able to play a light floating left hand arpeggio with an ever so slight emphasis on that second note. Now, the 5-5-.. fingering also allows me to achieve that tied note with the finger. However, the pedal is already in use and so that isn't crucial. The 5-5 transition also introduces a strong accent on the second note, which I'm sure with a lot of work can be done away with. However, it is a lot of work (and is probably work worth doing but lets think about this some more). The other issue with using 5-5 is that due to it being more difficult inherently, there may be compromises in the tempo that the piece starts in. Though it is marked allegretto, we don't want it to be too slow. Too fast is bad too (most people play it too fast). If we start too slow, we are going to have to come back to the same slow tempo for the repeat, and right before the repeat is a section that has a forward moving alternating dark and light character. The contrast in tempi is going to be too big. So we want to avoid starting too slow.

How do I practice the 5-5-2-1 fingering? Here are some ideas we worked on today:

a) Cross over the right hand over the left to play the lowest note of the arpeggio and play the others with the left. Achieve a smooth sound. Pedal after the first note. This will teach me what the target sound is. Then try to achieve that sound with only the left hand (5-5-2-1).

b) Sing the right hand melody, and play the accompaniment using the above cross over first. Then sing and play the accompaniment with only the left hand (5-5-2-1).

c) Then play as written.

Though we worked on this particular fingering today, I think I will explore my teacher's fingering and determine if that makes better sense.

2) The next comment was that I need to start feeling 1..1..1..1 rather than 123123123 because the harmony changed every 1 measure. So that's the appropriate rhythmic feel, not three. The singing helps with that too.

3) We then discussed what "allegretto" means. Allegretto (slower than the allegro) is not just a tempo, it is also a character. Allegretto implies graceful and charming (which is why the opening had to be light and graceful, with only half pedaling..not heavy footed pedaling).

4) Pedaling: The teacher told me that he had gained a lot of knowledge about pedaling from Nadia Reisenberg but had never mastered the pedal as much as she did. Josef Hoffman was known for his mastery of the pedal. Nadia Reisenberg once said to my teacher that she had a Ph.D in pedaling because of her teacher. My teacher opened up the piano today and talked to me about the various sound colors that both the damper pedal and the una corda pedal could produce.

The beginning of the piece, as described earlier, needs to be light. Heavy footed pedaling is to be avoided. A half-pedal will achieve the required sound. By keeping the dampers closer to the strings, maybe even touching the strings lightly, resonance is decreased and so the sound is kept light. (However, this depends on the piano and how well regulated it is, etc). The darker sections need a fuller pedal for greater resonance. He also showed me how the pedal is more like a dimmer switch instead of a regular on/off switch. So for the beginning left hand arpeggio for instance, pedal halfway after the first note and gradually bring up the foot towards the end of each arpeggio figure so that the first note of the next measure is clear.

5) After the tumultuous and dark bass D minor theme is played (measure 31), the C major pattern that I played was too light and playful. It needed to retain that dark character. So I played it heavier and with more seriousness.

6) He got me to play the chords (measure 42) before the "epileptic" forte section (43-47). Those harmonic resolutions needed to be clearer.

A long pedal needs to be used in the "epilectic" forte section. Also, without actually doing a crescendo, it should actually feel/sound like a crescendo (no point doing the exact same thing repeatedly over and over again.. it is not interesting musically). The long pedal helps with that as well.

The "epilectic" (not an allegretto character here!) forte section now needed to make way to go back to the graceful and light allegretto character starting at measure 48.

7) The dark/light alternating development section (starting measure 95): The light (p) section (95-98) needs to be legato and the pedaling needs to be lighter too. When the first dark arpeggio (G minor) comes in (99-102)), use heavier pedal. Also "think" dark.

8) Measure 110-118: The left hand is the leader here. Practice this section by playing a singing/legato DARK left hand, and by playing softer (but not too soft) accompanying chords in the right hand.

Measure 119-125: The roles are reversed now. The right hand is the leader. So practice this as above, with the right hand playing legato and left hand with accompanying chords. Make sure the pedaling is right, you don't want to pedal during the three note groups, you need to pedal on that first note of the measure and slowly come off it towards the end of the three note groups.

9) B flat minor section (starts measure 150): The crescendo needs to start small, and develop over a long time, so be careful about not getting too large too soon.

This sums up the second lesson. I felt like we talked about very useful concepts about interpretation today and this lesson was very useful. At the end of the lesson I told him that I had been working on the same pieces for a long time now and was getting bored. I told him that I hadn't played Debussy (or for that matter Schubert or Schumann or any of those great composers) so far. I have the Preludes and he asked me to learn I and III followed by IV in book 1. If I wanted to start working on some Chopin, he suggested that I look at one of the ballades EXCEPT the 4th one.

Lesson 1 (A new beginning)

I started lessons with a new teacher on my birthday. He is a Juilliard graduate and was a student of Nadia Reisenberg (whose teacher was the great Josef Hoffman). So I'm extremely proud of my newly acquired lineage! He is a professor of piano at the university.

In any event, none of that really matters.. what matters is that I loved my first lesson. The second lesson was even better. In this post, I intend to summarize my first lesson, for my own records. If you find it useful, that's even better!

I played Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C minor BWV 847, WTC Book I. Here are the things I was asked to work on:

1) Sing the theme as I wanted to hear it on the piano. Then work on reproducing the exact same sound on the piano, without unwanted accents and other bumps.

2) BREATHE! Breathing musically helps in many ways. It helps the music breathe (because musical breathing extends into the playing apparatus and so actual physical breathing can in fact cause the music to breathe as well if done right). It also helps with focusing. If we focus on the breathing instead of somebody in the audience coughing, we would naturally be less distracted while playing. So there are multiple benefits.

3) Work on playing different combinations of the voices with the right fingering (of course). So in any given phrase, play the bass and the tenor together, leave out the soprano/alto. Then play just the soprano together with the tenor, then the soprano with the bass. (This is a 3 voice fugue, which is why I grouped the soprano and alto together as one voice). This would help us hear the voices much better and decide on the balance required. This is how he said his teachers at Juilliard made everybody learn fugues (I'm sure people do this everywhere, not just Juilliard) and so he is getting me to do the same thing.

4) Think in terms of a trio! Each instrument is equally important in a trio. My version of the fugue was "too right-handed". So I was asked to bring to the left hand the same kind of smooth and flowing sixteenth notes that I was doing with my right hand. When the right hand played it, it led the other voices nicely but when the same thing appeared in the left hand, it was suddenly in the background. So I needed to work on giving sufficient importance to all the three voices.

5) Prelude: He liked most of it, except the presto section which I played like a machine gun firing sixteenth notes. He got me to think of that section as smaller groups of notes. He got me to pause at the end of each group. That way, I learned to think in terms of groups and not in terms of fast individual notes. I worked on it at home and it sounds way better. Thinking in musically sensible units also helps with speed. So I'm beginning to understand that the first step towards solving a technical issue is to think musically. When you get that part right, the technique will follow (in a lot of cases). The other comment about the prelude was to emphasize the low G right before the presto section. So those were to be treated like pedal notes (in Bach's time, there were keyboard instruments that came with pedal controls that could be used to play basslines with the feet!).

That sums up the first lesson!

A note of thanks to Ms. Nina Polonsky, a highly sought after teacher in Columbus who I auditioned for. It was her recommendation that got me into this teacher's studio. I also thank her husband, a violinist, who came into the room to meet me after hearing me play. Ms. Polonsky wasn't too impressed, I think (because she has wonderfully talented students who are half my age), but her husband took a liking to me and put in a strong word for me. Though she shoo'ed him away from the room, I think that may have helped her form a positive enough opinion of my playing that she sent in a recommendation because she felt that this teacher (who had more adult students) would be more suitable for me.