‘Each note in a composition should be polished until it is as perfect as a jewel…those wonderful scintillating, ever-changing orbs of light. In a really great masterpiece each note has its place just as the stars, the jewels of heaven, have their places in their constellations. When a star moves it moves in an orbit that was created by nature.
Great musical masterpieces owe their existence to mental forces quite as miraculous as those which put the heavens into being. The notes in compositions of this kind are not there by any rule of man. They come through the ever mystifying source which we call inspiration. Each note must bear a distinct relation to the whole…’
Chopin comes before us, then, as a man of extremely complex make-up, and there is no easy solution to the problems which his personality and the music through which it was expressed present to his modern interpreter. One can only approach him by sweeping aside the clutter of trivial romantic legend which has accumulated around his name and his works. When all the sentimentality, pathos, patriotic fairy-takes and garbled ‘memories’ have been cleared away he appears in simple dignity as Thomas Carlyle saw him in 1848-a great artist and ‘a noble and much suffering human being’. He was more than any other musician of his period the ‘artist’ in that word’s most absolute sense. His mind was never diverted from its single, absorbing preoccupation by any chasing after will-o’-the wisps in the field of literature, the visual arts, politics, social questions or abstract theorizing. To some it will seem a weakness that he should have lived in a world of upheaval and rapid change without ever allowing himself to be ‘committed ‘or ‘engaged’, as our modern jargon puts it. Yet it was therein that his strength lay. He was dedicated to the one task of exploring the world he new best -that of his own heart and imagination; and in giving shape to what he discovered within himself it turns out that he was embodying in his music those unchanging essentials of feeling which ordinary inarticulate humanity recognizes but cannot express for itself. In limiting himself to the piano he in no way crippled or tied down his genius, for by his natural affinity with his instrument he was provided with a sufficient outlet for the wealth of sensibility with which his double inheritance had endowed him…
In the sphere of piano performance or piano artistry there are few human activities where the necessity for extraordinary physical prowess is so closely aligned with the greatest intellectual and emotional capacities.
The virtuoso must possess a memory capable of maintaining thousands of pages of music in the mind and fingers, under the stress and distractions of public performance; the virtuoso must be cultured and self-aware, musically able to convey the great range of meaning embodied within a chosen repertoire; the virtuoso must project both physical excitement and emotional communication; and the virtuoso must experience life to the fullest while remaining cloistered with an instrument in a relentless quest to maintain his or her craft at its highest level.
A capricious, even morbid, temperament is demanded, and there must be the fire that kindles and the power that menaces; a fluctuating, wavering rhythm yet a rhythmic sense of excessive rectitude; a sensuous touch, yet a touch that contains an infinity of coloring; supreme musicianship-Chopin was a musician first, poet afterwards; a big nature overflowing with milk and honey; and, last of all, you must have suffered the tribulations of life and love, until the nerves are whittled away to a thin sensitive edge and the soul is aflame with the joy of death’ James Huneker
The dimensions and layout of your piano room will undoubtedly have an effect on the overall sound. Have you ever listened to a piano that is too powerful for the room it is in?
Not only can it be deafeningly loud but it will often result in a poor quality of sound. As a rule of thumb larger pianos are built for larger rooms, this is because they possess qualities and characteristics that best present themselves in larger spaces. The mighty sound of a double octave run in the lower end of a concert grand would be lost in a typical houseroom as there is insufficient space for the sound to develop and resonate.
Remember large pianos are designed to move large quantities of air & produce comparably large sound waves. To do this they need to be housed in an appropriate sized room.
There are so many different ways of practising the piano and whilst it’s relatively easy to identify those that are ineffective or plain incorrect, it’s much harder to establish fail-safe methods which will work every time on every piece. Many believe slow practice is of little use and can be distracting or even damaging, but if worked at regularly and accurately, it promotes a much more thorough approach. In fact, practising at very slow speeds employing total concentration can transform a pianist’s playing.
The first obstacle to successful slow practice is encouraging students and young pianists to view it as a valuable process. Many think it is a good idea in theory, but when it comes to practice time, it’s far easier (and more pleasant too) to play as usual; up to speed with the usual hesitations or errors. It takes vast amounts of discipline to play at a fraction of the speed, which is no easy feat, but…
Fingering is a crucial element in piano playing and surprisingly it’s often overlooked even at advanced levels. Many piano students have never adhered to any at all. Fingering is necessary because it helps a pianist remember which one of their four fingers or thumb (in each hand) is required to play a particular note or notes. It is a really useful skill to cultivate as without it piano playing will become haphazard and uneven. It’s difficult to achieve any kind of consistency or fluency without sticking to the same finger patterns in a piano piece.
Some pieces will have all the fingering written in and others will need it annotated on the music or score. A good teacher will write all the necessary fingerings on the music so when you practice you will know exactly which finger goes where. This is vital for smooth fluent playing. Initially, your piano books will show you how the fingers are…