Author Topic: Virtuoso piano technique  (Read 5930 times)

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
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Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #25 on: 22 February, 2020, 11:03:24 am »
I have just been listening to tonight's Prom: Martha Argerich playing Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto, under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. Wonderful performance - and it's great to think that these two septuagenarians grew up together in Buenos Aires.
And here they are playing Mozart, with a piano each.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iePyP2HOr8&list=PL_SsI94tBifYXKMFLOpkI_qkZ9tLMsrpB&index=7
Bach without a doubt.

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #26 on: 23 June, 2020, 12:38:53 pm »
A different kind of virtuoso: Gerald Moore on accompanying.
Well worth an hour of your time (if your taste in music runs to Leider and the like).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ia7iOdRe9nk
I'm not sure why it starts in the middle...

road-runner

  • Currently in Slovakia
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #27 on: 23 June, 2020, 01:32:58 pm »


We have a new CD of this chap playing his virtuoso piano technique.

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #28 on: 28 October, 2020, 01:12:00 pm »
https://theartsdesk.com/classical-music/pavel-kolesnikov-wigmore-hall-review-stuff-dreams


There's a link at the bottom to a livestream of the concert.      R3 had him playing some of the Goldbergs this morning.  Lovely stuff.
Not fast & rarely furious

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CrazyEnglishTriathlete

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Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #29 on: 28 October, 2020, 05:58:31 pm »
Fredrik Ullen is finally releasing his last episode of Sorabji's Transcendental Etudes on BIS records in January 2021 apparently.  A recording project that probably matches the span of Leslie Howards recording of all of Liszt's piano music although in substantially less CDs
Eddington Numbers 125 (imperial), 175 (metric) 529 (furlongs)  112 (nautical miles)

hellymedic

  • Just do it!
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #30 on: 03 November, 2020, 07:04:53 pm »
St Mary's Perivale today did not disappoint too much, given YouTube failed and Vimeo succeeded.

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #31 on: 09 December, 2020, 11:21:49 am »
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY6jEH1tMAA&ab_channel=GlennGould

Andras Schiff and Bösendorfer again. I Want That Piano!

Meanwhile, at next week's piano auction in London, someone is flogging a Fazioli.

https://pianoauctions.co.uk/15th-december-2020-catalogue/lot-50-fazioli-c2003
Bach without a doubt.

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #32 on: 29 December, 2020, 10:08:23 pm »
I've been learning what I think it possibly the hardest piece of Bach I have tackled to date. I'm not trying to be pretentious by putting my rather poor efforts in here, but highlight a few of the differences between the genuine virtuoso and the run-of-the-mill grade 8 or so pianist who will never get any better.

The piece in question is the prelude number 3 from Book One of the Well Tempered Clavier. Bach placed these pieces in order of key: C major, C minor, C# major, C# minor, D major, D minor etc. up to number 24, in B minor. He wrote the first 24 (Book 1) in the early 1720s when he was at Anhalt-Cothen, and Book 2 in about 1737 when he was in Leipzig. Neither work was published until 1801, 51 years after Bach's death. No-one knows for sure exactly why he wrote them, and it certainly wasn't for a big powerful instrument like a modern piano. None of them has a range greater than 4 octaves, which implies a clavichord, and therefore domestic music with only a few, if any, listeners apart from the performer and, possibly, a teacher.

The first question has to be, in the piece in question, why did he choose C# as the key? The notes are exactly the same as for D flat major, but C# has 7 sharps in its key signature, whereas D flat has 5 flats. The result of all these sharps is that every note in the home key, white or black, is a sharp, so if he wants to change key at any point, and of course he does, you end up playing a whole sequence of double sharps. This, for the performer, means that you are playing a note written on the stave as, for example, an F of some description, but you are pressing the key you normally associate with being a G. As you can imagine, this really "does yer 'ed in" when you are first learning the notes.

My weaknesses as a pianist are several: I think my worst is inconsistency. In any piece, some passages are harder than others, and to master them you have to practice repeatedly and slowly. Gradually, as you ingrain the right notes into your hands and brain, you can speed up . This I can do, but I have a dreadfully annoying habit of not paying sufficient attention and I'm always liable to make a silly mistake through inattention. I don't know how to tackle this. It's the reason I'll never perform in public: I can't ever guarantee that I'll be able to get through a piece without some sort of serious error. Curiously, I've been far less nervous when playing for exams than I have on the few occasions I have played in public.

I've recorded myself twice, warts and all, once rather slower than the piece is meant to be played, and even in that I've made a couple of slips, and the second time, up to speed. I'll also link to Angela Hewitt, who has recorded this piece on her own beautiful Fazioli during lockdown. Angela is a top-notch international pianist and a Bach specialist.

My first take (sedate): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GXsn8Zf6wA&ab_channel=PeterWalker

Second take: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGO5cBvK4uU&ab_channel=PeterWalker

Angela Hewitt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_o3gMO5iqw&ab_channel=NatalieSchwamova

I would be very interested to find out how much time a great pianist like Ms. Hewitt has to spend on a piece like this to get it up to that standard. My guess is "Not a lot". I've not logged how long I've spent on it but I shouldn't think that it has been less than 2 hours on any day in about the past 10 days to a fortnight, and I've played pretty well nothing else. I'm going to tackle the fugue next, and that has precisely the same difficulty regarding the number of sharps, and is also about twice as long. It puts into perspective the enormity of the performance of Andras Schiff when he played the whole of Book 1 (about 2 hours' music) at a single sitting in the Proms in 2017. Having that much music memorised and concert-ready at once is, to me, absolutely mind-blowing.
Bach without a doubt.

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #33 on: 30 December, 2020, 12:24:41 am »
Thank you for sharing that Wowbagger, I really enjoyed the slow version.

I am heartened that there is someone else who has to put in a lot of work to make any of the 48 sound even half decent. In my case I have only learnt to play 12 of the preludes and 2 fugues, and I doubt I will be adding much to that. What I have found through playing them and listening to recordings is how different they sound at different speeds (and who knows what is 'correct'?).

I had the privilege of listening to Adreas Schiff at the Sheldonian in Oxford in 2016 when he came and played book 1, all the way through in one go. He came back the following year and did book 2. All from memory of course, but then my piano teacher always called these the 'old testament' (with Beethoven's sonatas being the 'new testament').

I do like that Bach composed the 8th prelude and fugue to be enharmonic (E flat and D sharp).

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
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Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #34 on: 30 December, 2020, 12:29:24 am »
Thanks!

I sent links to these with my dear pal Enid, who was another decent pianist in our college year’s music group. She commented about my use of the sustaining pedal - it is noticeable that Angela Hewitt is very much the purist and clearly doesn’t use it in her performance. About 30 years ago I discussed this issue with concert pianist Francis Rayner. He is also a very strong chess player and at the British Championships, one evening he gave a piano recital and the B flat prelude and fugue from book 1 were amongst the pieces he played. I played that for my diploma and I asked him afterwards about his use of the pedal. His answer was very sensible, I thought. “Bach never intended for these pieces to be played on a modern piano. I’ve got a sustaining pedal and I’ll use it if I think it’s appropriate.”

As you can tell, I’m using it but I have noticed one thing: the keys of my piano are definitely perceptible heavier when the pedal isn’t depressed. This has implications for each of the “joining bars” which intercede between the main phrase, which are all broken chords. I think this prelude really benefits from the use of the pedal. I would never use it, though, for (for example) the gigue from French Suite no 5.
Bach without a doubt.

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #35 on: 30 December, 2020, 12:31:33 am »
It's interesting whether you need to play it fast(er) for it to sound good. It maybe "should" be at a higher tempo but you can still make things sound good slower. I think the tempo at which you can make it sound good is a lot slower than the tempo a concert pianist would play it at. The way to do it is to add detail, varying tone, emphasizing certain bits, etc. The hard bit is keeping it all at that tempo rather than speeding up on the bars you're confident at.
I think your playing of it is pretty good. The faster version sounds fairly mistake free to me and you have definitely capture the point of the tune. Interesting as to whether Bach did compose for piano as while it was apparently invented in his lifetime it probably was only just becoming popular.
If you think Db major is hard try Gb major! I'm trying to learn 'graceful ghost' by William Bolcom. A and B section are in Db but C section in Gb. (It's probably too hard for me really but I enjoy trying, cos when I first started it I thought only the A section was catchy, but now I think it all is. Funny how it grows on you. Nowhere near good enough for a demo as you though sorry!) I can just about play the A and B sections which are in Db but the 3rd section in Gb is just ridiculous. So hard to read. It's got  basically all the flats but C flat as well, so all Cs are in fact Bs! with tons of accidentals, double flats, and broken chords of well over an octave (eg Db to F) thrown in for good measure. I've watched Cory Halls videos on it and I agree with him that most people play it too fast not least Bolcom's own stated tempo.

For what it's worth I find moonlight sonata by Beethoven which is in C# much easier to read (and play), the hard thing with that one is not just playing it but making it sound good.

One of the things about the piano I do enjoy is purely the fact of the mental thing of muscle memory, how once you've learnt to play a certain but you can do it without thinking about it.

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #36 on: 30 December, 2020, 12:59:44 am »
It’s not so much that D flat major is hard: it is that Bach wrote this in C sharp rather that D flat. The same keys would be depressed for either - it’s just a different way of encoding it on the page which makes it harder (in my view) to learn, because of all the double sharps that would, had he written it in D flat, become naturals, and therefore heading into more familiar territory. When Schubert wrote his G flat impromptu (6 flats), an unscrupulous publisher transposed it into G major (one sharp) so that he could sell more copies to less advanced pianists!

I seem to remember reading that Bach did meet a piano, such as it was, a d dismissed it as “only fit for rondos”. His son CPE was, reputedly, the leading keyboard player of his day, and Mozart said of him “We are the children, he is the father!” Mozart composed for a very lightweight instrument.

Apparently Beethoven wrote the Appassionata (1806) after he had been given a new piano and that very low F in the opening bars was the lowest note it could play, but he had worn it out by 1810. I think that was something like 6 octaves or a little more. He also had a Broadwood and there are lots of them still about. I don’t think anything akin to our modern piano was in use until after 1850 when Carl Bechstein, who I think had served an apprenticeship with Pleyel, in Paris, started building pianos.  Liszt was taking the world by storm then and his music and playing style demanded a very resilient instrument.

Edit: I just noticed your comment about the Moonlight sonata. That’s in G sharp minor - 4 sharps.  The prelude and fugue I am playing is in C sharp major - 7 sharps.
Bach without a doubt.

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #37 on: 30 December, 2020, 09:04:14 am »
oh c# major, sorry yes that would be hard.
The thing about pieces composed for different instruments is the key they are in may often be influenced by what was physically easier on that instrument, but even that doesn't explain the difference between C# and Db major as you say.
Yes I don't really know why anyone would use double sharps instead of naturals. Maybe it fits with transcriptions - so for example if you have the major chord of D major it's D, F#, A. But then if you transpose it up to D# major, you just sharpen them all - so it's D#, F##, A#. But why not write it as G natural, I don't know.
Doesn't explain accidentals either.
I guess if you could be bothered you could rewrite it and replace all the double sharps with naturals - it wouldn't sound any different. Tippex them out and rewrite over them - either literally or digitally (in photoshop or similar).

Talking of C#, should be doing some work  :D

road-runner

  • Currently in Slovakia
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #38 on: 30 December, 2020, 09:21:08 am »
Talking of C#, should be doing some work

I think at work you are meant to B#, although if you are a marksman, sure, you need to C#.

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #39 on: 30 December, 2020, 09:28:24 am »
Talking of C#, should be doing some work

I think at work you are meant to B#, although if you are a marksman, sure, you need to C#.

sorry it was a slightly tenuous reference to writing computer code in the C# language which is my job ...

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #40 on: 30 December, 2020, 09:48:10 am »
I do like that Bach composed the 8th prelude and fugue to be enharmonic (E flat and D sharp).

Sorry, just spotted my error; that should be E flat minor and D sharp minor; 6 flats and 6 sharps - the point at which one normally switches key signatures from one to the other...

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #41 on: 30 December, 2020, 10:28:40 am »
@Wow, have you taken ABRSM (or similar) exams?

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
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Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #42 on: 30 December, 2020, 10:54:21 am »
@Wow, have you taken ABRSM (or similar) exams?

My last ABRSM was Grade 7 in 1971. I passed an LGSM piano teaching diploma* in 1981. In this, I was one of the inaugural performers at the Barbican before it officially opened - although my performance was in a practice room and the audience consisted of two people, both examiners!

I reckon I had a spell of about 20 years in which I hardly touched the piano, until I retired in 2017. That was when I decided to start playing again, and bought my lovely piece of nazi memorabilia 1936 Blüthner.

*The three pieces I played for this were Bach, prelude & fugue in B flat major, Beethoven Pathetique sonata (I played this from memory) and a Brahms intermezzo, which I ballsed up badly. I scraped through by 2 marks, but was the only pass from teh 4 students who took the exam from the same course as me, an evening class at Southend College. When I was in my 20s I hadn't yet developed the annoying loss-of-concentration habit which dogs my playing these days.
Bach without a doubt.

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #43 on: 30 December, 2020, 11:02:43 am »
I do like that Bach composed the 8th prelude and fugue to be enharmonic (E flat and D sharp).

Sorry, just spotted my error; that should be E flat minor and D sharp minor; 6 flats and 6 sharps - the point at which one normally switches key signatures from one to the other...

Yes - I wonder why he chose to do this? I wonder whether he had a specific pupil in mind.
Bach without a doubt.

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #44 on: 09 April, 2021, 10:25:24 pm »
I've been working on the C# major fugue. It really is a git, but very jaunty. It doesn't want to be too fast - well, I can't play it fast at all.

Here are some words written about why Bach wrote it in C# rather than D flat, and a guy playing it for the All of Bach series. How utterly wonderful it must be to live in a house like that, and a village like that, and to be able to pay Bach on a harpsichord like that whenever you wanted to!

https://www.bachvereniging.nl/en/bwv/bwv-848/
Bach without a doubt.

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #45 on: 02 May, 2021, 10:53:24 pm »
I think I've taken my own thread off topic - nothing virtuosic about my playing!

I've re-recorded the C# major prelude for a friend's birthday - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0EUwWInSRg&ab_channel=PeterWalker . She was in my music group at college and although we lost touch for about 40 years, thanks to Facebook we are back in touch again. Her birthday is tomorrow.

I was hoping to record the fugue as well, but although I can play it reasonably when it's just me, when I've got a recording device switched on, I go to pieces. It really is a lovely piece - one of the most exhilaratingly joyful pieces of Bach it has been my pleasure to listen to and play. I'm still planning to record it, but sadly there are no short cuts here. I think I'm going to have to aim for a higher standard than I ever have before.
Bach without a doubt.

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #46 on: 06 May, 2021, 09:29:29 pm »
I had an exchange of emails with our choir director about the problem of recording oneself, and making mistakes one doesn't normally make. Here's his reply:

Quote
Dear Peter,

Thanks for your email.

The issue you raise is at the very centre of performing - whether in front of an audience or a microphone etc. It is a problem with which I can truly empathise.

The issues may be connected with security of notes, technique, concentration and focus and, of course, your own confidence and nerves.

Obviously, if you have any insecurity, whether it be of the notes, the fingering or other technical matters, then that passage is going to be particularly vulnerable under pressure. I remember reading in some book on piano playing ( I cannot recall its author) that his approach involved playing through a section at the beginning of the practice and noting all the places where there were any kind of “fracture”, however slight. He would then play each of those sections 25 times without a mistake at a comfortable speed.  If my memory serves me he used an abacus to keep count. If there was a mistake he would move a bead back. You repeat the procedure each day until the passage is secure at speed and you are confident that it is secure.

I remember as a student being told that if you could play a piece 50 times without a mistake you stood a good chance of being able to emulate that in performance. I believe some American psychologists suggest 35 times!

The other big issue is concentration - particularly allowing stray thoughts to interrupt your playing. Letting the process of the recording intrude into your thoughts puts incredible pressure on you and you immediately lose focus. I have been watching the Moscow Music School piano completion for outstanding young players very recently. The players are all taught how to focus their complete attention on what they are doing. Each one spends a few moments before starting, almost in self hypnosis, focusing their thoughts. I suppose the trick is to maintain that focus throughout the programme - but they all start with an immaculate playing technique and complete security of notes.

I don’t know if any of those thoughts are of any use. It has always seemed to me if there is a passage that might go wrong, it usually would go wrong because it is a major distraction in my mind  as I get nearer and nearer to it in performance. I am no piano performer but I have always found that playing from memory increases my accuracy because I do not have the distraction of the page.

Ultimately, I think you have got it right - keep working at it.

All the very best,

Colin

It gives an insight to how much work must be done by top pianists to be able to have a decent repertoire and to play a full programme of music at the drop of a hat. I'm thinking of Andras Schiff's marathon Bach sessions at the Proms 2 or 3 years ago. Also, we have been privileged that John Lill (winner, Moscow Piano Competition 1970) is a regular visitor to Southend, and a year or two ago we attended his concert. He told us at the start of the concert that the programme printed was not what he understood he was to be playing, so he gave the audience the choice of pieces to play. I'm trying to recall what all the works were, but it was a big programme. Definitely it included Beethoven's Appassionata, and Schumann's Kinderszenen, but there was also a Haydn sonata and some Brahms, I think a set of variations & fugue based on Handel. He had all that ready, and also some alternative which he left off, but I can't remember what that was. It's not just memorising all that music, it's having it concert-ready as well.
Bach without a doubt.

road-runner

  • Currently in Slovakia
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #47 on: 07 May, 2021, 08:18:38 am »
Quote
I remember as a student being told that if you could play a piece 50 times without a mistake you stood a good chance of being able to emulate that in performance. I believe some American psychologists suggest 35 times!

Not just pianists, Wow. I have discovered for myself that Julie Andrews spoke the truth when she said, "Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they can't get it wrong!" My experience leads me to tell people that if I practice a song 30 times then I will have learned it but if I practice it 300 times I will then be living it, feeling it, understanding the nuances and expression required. It is the same as many other things in life - any outstanding chef, carpenter, dancer, driver, acrobat, gymnast, football player etc. will all have practised innumerable times to perfect their performances.

Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #48 on: 07 May, 2021, 10:55:04 am »
Interesting, ... I read a good tip somewhere about recording yourself, can't remember where, but basically that if you are recording yourself and you make a mistake, always carry on, rather than stop and start again with another 'take'.
That way, you are freed from the mental stress of it being a 'wasted' effort, and you are carrying on just to enjoy playing it. Also if you stop and restart, you are never going to get as much practice of the end of the piece as the start.

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Virtuoso piano technique
« Reply #49 on: 08 May, 2021, 08:14:39 pm »
You should carry on in any case because you are trying to create a musical "whole". Going back and correcting just tells the listener "I just made a mistake and I'm reinforcing that in your mind." You have to do in practice what you plan to do in performance.

I don't know the source, but there's a quote along the lines of an amateur asking a top concert pianist how he managed to avoid wrong notes in performance, and he replied "I never practise any!"

There's a case in point in this performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqbY7AKiwmE&ab_channel=WigmoreHall

In the first movement of the Mozart, he plays a D flat when he should have played D natural (LH part, 5min 47sec in). I noticed it immediately I heard it but then I've probably played that movement more often than Eric Lu has! I learned it when I was at school, and played it in my finals when I qualified as a teacher. That was about 25 years before Lu was born!
Bach without a doubt.