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Optimize Your Piano Practice Time

The Art of Piano Performance

Practice Tips for Developing a Solid Technique in Piano Performance

Practicing is both an art and a science. Every student of piano performance must remember that their achievement on the instrument will be the direct result of the amount of time and the quality of their practicing.

The art and science of practicing is not just time spent at the instrument but time spent listening to the music the student is working on, studying and understanding the harmonic analysis of the music as well as researching the time period and technical characteristics of the composer of the piece you are working on.

In addition to this, it is advisable for the student to prepare a weekly plan outlining the time spent on specific techniques, repertoire, sight-reading and review of old or previously learned repertoire.

Technique

The purpose of technique is to serve the pianist’s imagination and realize his/her interpretive ideas…

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Granados Inspiration for ‘The Goyescas’

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Quejas, ó la Maja y el Ruiseñor—The Maiden and the Nightingale

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Granados often called the poet of the piano is frequently compared with Chopin due to the highly ornamental figuration as well the influence of nationalist folk music in their melodies and rhythms.  Granados indicated they are Goya-like or Goya-esque hence the name ‘The Goyescas’.

Regarding Goyescas, Granados wrote, “I am enamored with the psychology of Goya, with his palette, with him, with his muse the Duchess of Alba, with his quarrels with his models, his loves and flatteries. That whitish pink of the cheeks, contrasting with the blend of black velvet; those subterranean creatures, hands of mother-of-pearl and jasmine resting on jet trinkets, have possessed me.”

The story of Goyescas is based on a series of six paintings from Francisco Goya’s early career, inspired by the stereotypical young men and women of the majismo movement. “majos” and “majas” are known for their bohemian attitude and spirited nature. In this tale of the goyescas, the four main characters are Rosaria an enchanting aristocratic woman, her lover Fernando the captain of the royal guard, Pepa the maja and Paquiro the majo / toreador. A love triangle is formed when Paquiro flirts with Rosaria and invites her to a dance. Although she ignored his advances, Fernando did observe Paquiro’s advances and now does not trust Rosaria. Pepa also infuriated by Paquiro’s attentions to another woman seeks revenge. Later at the party, tensions are high and culminate in the two majos seeking to fight a dual. Later Rosaria sings a mournful ballad to a nightingale as she fears she will lose him. Fernando approaches and she begs him not to go to the dual and tries to reassure him of her devotion only to him. He still does not fully trust her, and wishes to prove his majismo, and promises to return to Rosaria victorious. Alas, Fernando is fatally wounded in the dual, and the grief stricken Rosaria drags him back to the bench where she sang to the nightingale and professed her love to him. Fernando then dies in her arms.

Quejas o La Maja y el Ruisenor the fourth piece of the Goyescas is the only one in the set with a key signature. The monothematic piece is based on a folksong Granados heard sung by a girl in the Valencia countryside. Granados transforms the haunting melody into five variations. It is the scene where Rosaria sings mournfully to the nightingale. The variations start in f# minor, move to b minor and back to f# minor which follows with the nightingale responding in a beautiful cadenza of elaborate figuration. Although there are five variations of the folksong, the piece is written in an improvisational manner where the variations flow directly into the next.

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Quejas, o la Maja y el Ruiseñor

Alicia de Larrocha’s mesmerizing performance of Granados beloved
Quejas, o la Maja y el Ruiseñor (aka The Maiden and the Nightingale)

Beethoven’s Tempest

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Ludwig van Beethoven’s Seventeenth Piano Sonata
The Tempest
In 1800-1802 Ludwig van Beethoven experienced devastating internal turmoil in trying to come to terms with his hearing loss. To the outside world, his life seemed to be ideal, with his success as a virtuoso pianist and as a successful, sought after composer in Vienna. He gradually began to withdraw from society and friends, however, as he felt it would be detrimental to his successful career as a musician if people found out he was going deaf. People felt he was being misanthropic, yet it was quite the opposite. Beethoven lived in a great deal of solitude and loneliness due to his impending and eventual complete deafness, which would eventually have a profound effect on his spiritual and creative growth as a composer and a musician. The years of 1800-1802 were a transformative period in Beethoven’s life, and marked the beginning of his second stylistic period. As Beethoven’s outer hearing deteriorated, his inner hearing continued to grow.
Beethoven sought treatment in the village of Heilgenstadt in the late spring of 1802 until October of that year. Full of despair over the unsuccessful treatment, he considered ending his life. In a famous letter known as the Heilgenstadt Testament written to his brothers, he wrote “Thanks…to my art I did not end my life by suicide.”
Over and over in Beethoven’s music themes of victory over tragedy abound. In the internal struggle he faced, although his music showed the greatest despair and sorrow, it always transcended into triumphant victory. With that same inner struggle, Beethoven learned to transcend deafness and still be victorious in creating greater and greater masterpieces. During the late 1790s, Beethoven’s music began to show changes, as well as enlargement of form. After the Heilgenstadt Testament, Beethoven expressed dissatisfaction with his compositions and according to Czerny was “determined to take a new path.” [1] The changes included strong links between sonata movements, intensified drama, harmonic instability, motivic elements affecting the larger form, twelve measure structures, registral gaps, recitative and pedal effects.
Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata no. 17 Opus 31 No. 2, written in the somber key of d minor, is reminiscent of a violent storm with periods of calm and peacefulness. This Sonata is based on three different motives, which are then developed and used in different variations throughout the entire first movement, and continue throughout the entire sonata. The Sonata begins with a slow rolling arpeggio marked Largo on a dominant chord of A Major. This ascending arpeggio is the basic idea and the antecedent phrase of the exposition. This arpeggio is the dominant motive of this entire Sonata with an arpeggiated chord beginning the second movement and arpeggiated chords dominating the third movement as well.
Beethoven inner turmoil is clearly exposed in the tumultuous first movement, as well as the striving for inner peace in the impressionistic recitatives. The strong links between sonata movements is shown again as Beethoven uses the idea of the recitatives for the lugubrious second movement. Although the adagio illuminates the composer’s feelings of despair, at the same time shows transcendent spiritual growth with the beautiful lyricism in the second theme group of the Adagio.
Beethoven pushes the boundaries of harmonic instability by delaying resolution in the sonata to the very end of the finale. Beethoven has used the sonata form to support his creative demands instead of him conforming to the sonata form. It is as though the first movement is an introduction and transition for the upcoming finale which will take up in d minor where the first movement left off with the rolling arpeggios on the d minor tonic.
The finale gives way to a feeling of equilibrium with the principal motive of the arpeggio fading away on the d minor tonic. It is in the magnificent finale of the “Tempest” sonata where Beethoven shows victory over the funereal overtones of the Adagio which could be interpreted as a spiritual death and rebirth.
This sonata could be interpreted as Beethoven beginning to come to terms with his impending eventual deafness. The anguish and despair of the Adagio, the rage of the stormy moments of the first movement, contrasting with moments of calmness with inserted recitatives, the ferocious cadences and rhythms of the finale were his way of expressing how he felt about this affliction of deafness while writing the most extraordinary music and not being able to hear it.
Beethoven would live most of his life in a great deal of loneliness and despair with most of his life devoted to the development of his art and creativity. As this sonata was written towards the beginning of his second stylistic period many masterpieces would follow the “Tempest” sonata.

[1] Timothy Jones, BEETHOVEN The “Moonlight” and other Sonatas, Op 27 and Op 31, p. 15
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Funérailles – Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses

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Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses is a piano suite comprised of ten compositions, Liszt dedicated the suite to his companion princess Sayn-Wittgenstein.

I. Invocation

II.   Ave Maria

III.  Benediction de Deus dans la Solitude

IV.  Pensee des Morts

V.  Pater Noster

VI.  Hymne de L’enfant a Son Reveil

VII.   Funerailles

VIII.   Miserere D’Apres Palestrina

VIIII   Andante Lagrimoso

X.      Cantique d’Amour

Many innovative concepts are explored in this suite such as constantly changing meters, no key signatures in addition to emphasis on the tritone.  Liszt develops these innovations further in his later compositions.  Fifty years later Liszt once again returned to the exploration of atonality in his Bagatelle ohne Tonart (Bagatelle Without Tonality).

On the autograph manuscript of Funérailles,Liszt writes October 1849.  Liszt indicated it was an elegy written as a tribute to three of his friends who died in the failed Hungarian Revolution.  Prince Felix Lichnowsky,  Count Laszlo Teleki and the Hungarian Prime Minister, Count Lajos Batthyany. It was a colossal defeat to the Hungarian people.

Death of Chopin October 1849

The intuitive use of material from Chopin’s heroic Ab Major Polonaise Opus 53 leads to speculation that this piece was more than an elegy to the Hungarian people but also an elegy to his dearly departed colleague F. Chopin.