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Recommended Book: The Russian Piano School

The Moscow Conservatory piano school enjoys pride of place among Russia’s musical institutions. Its outstanding graduates have included Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Medtner, Richter, Gilels, Ashkenazy and Pletnev. Yet while their mastery transcends any process of formal teaching, behind these great names lies a teaching process whose workings are little known to the outside world – except in occasional publications such as Heinrich Neuhaus’ The Art of Piano Playing.
The Russian Piano School offers a further and fuller insight into the views on technique and interpretation of several of the 20th century’s greatest Russian teachers and performers. Contributions come from the elder generation of Alexander Goldenweiser (a friend and contemporary of Rachmaninov), his pupil Samuel Feinberg, Heinrich Neuhaus and Konstantin Igumnov, as well as from a younger generation including Yakov Flier, Lev Oborin, Yakov Zak, and Grigorii Ginzburg, who tutored many master pianists of the present day. The book addresses several of the major technical and interpretative problems facing the pianist. This book should be of interest to both piano teachers and students, to professional performers, and also to many amateurs who aspire to reach beyond the first foothills of Parnassus.

Part One offers a series of writings that illustrate the philosophy and methods of the school:

  • The Road to Artistry, Samuil Feinberg
  • Advice from a Pianist and Teacher, Alexander Goldenweiser
  • Some Principles of Pianoforte Technique, Lev Oborin
  • Some Remarks on Technique, Konstantin Igumnov
  • Notes on Mastery of the Piano, Grigorii Ginzburg

Part Two gives a privileged insight into the classroom methods of various teachers as they work with students on that repertoire in which Russian artists have always particularly excelled – Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev:

  • Beethoven’s Appassionata: A Performer’s Commentary, Samuil Feinberg
  • Three Answers to Questions about Beethoven’s Sonata Appassionata, Sviatoslav Richter
  • Work on Beethoven’s Sonata in A major Opus 101, Heinrich Neuhaus
  • Chopin Etudes (based on classes with Samuil Feinberg), Maria Eshchenko
  • Reflections on Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, Yakov Flier
  • Notes on Chopin’s Ballade in F minor, Alexander Goldenweiser
  • Chopin’s Fourth Ballade in F minor, Konstantin Igumnov
  • Lessons with Yakov Flier (on Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1 and Prokofiev’s Sonata No 3), Nina Lelchuk Lelchuk
    Yakov Zak as Teacher (on Liszt’s B-minor Sonata, Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques, and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody), Olga Stupakova

Christopher Barnes
, professor of Slavic languages at the University of Toronto, has translated hitherto unavailable essays, critiques and lectures from the leading teaching lights at the Moscow Conservatoire. Pursuing a parallel interest in music, he studied piano privately and is known as a lecturer-recitalist and a broadcaster on Russian musical topics. He is currently at work on a monograph on Scriabin and a history of Russian pianism.

This book on amazon.com


The Complete Liszt Coverage – Dr. Alan Walker’s Liszt Biographical Works

Alan Walker’s three-volume biography of Franz Liszt, which took him 25 years to complete, has been very influential. Common adjectives attached to the work include “monumental” and “magisterial” and it is said to have “unearthed much new material and provided a strong stimulus for further research”. Walker himself says that when he found, as a BBC producer compiling notes for program announcers, that “there wasn’t a decent book in English on Liszt”, he eventually decided to write one himself, but was determined “not to make a major statement that couldn’t be supported by documents …and because Liszt himself was a traveler the archives were everywhere.”

The final volume of Walker’s monumental study (Franz Liszt, Vol. 1: The Virtuoso Years, 1811-47, Franz Liszt, Vol. 2: The Weimar Years, 1848-61, Franz Liszt, Volume 3: The Final Years, 1861-1886) draws upon some recent scholarship to present a more complete picture of Liszt’s life and achievements than had been previously possible. Liszt’s remarkably peripatetic existence creates manifold challenges for the conscientious scholar but Walker is more than equal to the task. His narrative is copiously footnoted yet never seems to bog down in minutiae. In fact, quite the opposite: the prose is so lively that the reader is often swept along by the narrative.
A particularly fascinating section concerns the infamous Cosima Liszt-Hans von Bülow-Richard Wagner triangle, which is skillfully dissected by Walker to separate legend from accurate history. Liszt emerges as an unmistakably generous and self-effacing man in his later years whose prodigious gifts as a composer and pianist were undimmed until the very end. Walker provides frequent musical examples throughout, and his comments on them are not too technical for the general reader. Walker’s meticulously researched and engagingly written book is well illustrated and contains numerous musical examples and insightful analyses. It is an impressive conclusion to a biography that should become the standard work on its subject.

“A conscientious scholar passionate about his subject, Mr. Walker makes the man and his age come to life. These three volumes will be the definitive work to which all subsequent Liszt biographies will aspire.”

– Harold C. Schonberg, Wall Street Journal

“What distinguishes Walker from Liszt’s dozens of earlier biographers is that he is equally strong on the music and the life. A formidable musicologist with a lively polemical style, he discusses the composer’s works with greater understanding and clarity than any previous biographer. And whereas many have recycled the same erroneous, often damaging information, Walker has relied on his own prodigious, globe-trotting research, a project spanning twenty-five years. The result is a textured portrait of Liszt and his times without rival.”

– Time Magazine

“If you want the single best study of Franz Liszt, and one at a surprisingly reasonable price at that, Alan Walker’s study is the one to get. It has won numerous awards, understandably, and can be recommended without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a long undertaking to read from 1811 (or rather, from the chapters on Liszt’s family background) to his death (and, again, the musical context of his surviving family members). But it’s also sufficiently readable to make even bedtime reading as much as responding to the work as a scholarly study. Enjoyable. Illuminating. Gripping. Definitive.”
– Classical Net

Books in the series, available from Cornell University Press:
Franz Liszt, Vol. 1: The Virtuoso Years, 1811-47
Franz Liszt, Vol. 2: The Weimar Years, 1848-61
Franz Liszt, Volume 3: The Final Years, 1861-1886

Two new Liszt books by Walker (2011):

Reflections on Liszt

In a series of lively essays that tell us much not only about the phenomenon that was Franz Liszt but also about the musical and cultural life of nineteenth- century Europe, Alan Walker muses on aspects of Liszt’s life and work that he was unable to explore in his acclaimed three-volume biography of the great composer and pianist. Topics include Liszt’s contributions to the Lied, the lifelong impact of his encounter with Beethoven, his influence on students who became famous in their own right, his accomplishments in transcribing and editing the works of other composers, and his innovative piano technique. One chapter is devoted to the Sonata in B Minor, perhaps Liszt’s single most celebrated composition.

The Death of Franz Liszt
– Based on the Unpublished Diary of His Pupil Lina Schmalhausen

“If only I do not die here.” After falling ill during a visit to Bayreuth, Franz Liszt uttered this melancholy refrain throughout his final days, which were spent in rented rooms in a house opposite Wahnfried, the home of his daughter Cosima and his deceased son-in-law Richard Wagner. Attended by incompetent doctors and ignored and treated coldly by his daughter, the great composer endured needless pain and indignity, according to a knowledgeable eyewitness. Lina Schmalhausen, his student, caregiver, and close companion, recorded in her diary a graphic description of her teacher’s illness and death. Alan Walker here presents this never-before-published account of Liszt’s demise in the summer of 1886.


Recommended book: The Piano Master Classes of Franz Liszt

The piano master classes of Franz Liszt 1884-1886,
Diary notes of August Göllerich
by August Göllerich
Indiana University Press, 1996, ISBN: 0253332230

Göllerich was student, secretary and companion to Liszt during the musician’s last two years (1884-86). The diary contains the dates of the master classes, lists of performers and the works they performed, and some general thoughts and reflections on the master pianist/composer.

Basing his translation on Jerger’s 1975 annotated German edition of Göllerich’s diaries, the editor Zimdars has added annotations, a glossary and two appendixes about Liszt, one a sketch by eminent pianist Jose Vianna da Motta. Though many of the entries are brief, some give wonderful insight into Liszt’s teaching style, mercurial personality, philosophy of performance and thoughts about contemporary pianists and composers. The book makes interesting reading and furnishes valuable knowledge of the piano literature taught and performed at the time, much of which is considered passĂ© today. Zimdars’s glossary is one of the most important sections of the book; it provides brief biographical information about dozens of famous and unknown pianists of the time.

There is very little technical advice in this book. If you were a student of Liszt, you had a good technique as a matter of course. Liszt seems to focus more on expression, tempo, and clean playing. Technique is not the purpose of this book. Göllerich records Liszt’s performance suggestions and for that this book should be read by all serious pianists. Liszt provides invaluable suggestions in interpretation, and suggests how the composer may have wanted his piece performed. Since he heard many pieces performed by the composers themselves (Chopin, Schumann, etc), his advice should be respected. Also, since Liszt was taught by Czerny — who was taught by Beethoven — his suggestions for the performance of Beethoven’s works are absolute gold.

Link: This book on Amazon


Recommended Book: Famous Pianists and Their Technique by R. Gerig

Famous Pianists and Their Technique has been a standard in the field since its first publication in 1974. This widely used and acclaimed history of piano technical thought includes insights into the techniques of masters such as C.P.
E. Bach, BartĂłk, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Clementi, Czerny, Debussy, Godowsky, Horowitz, Levinskaya, Leschetizky, the Lhevinnes, Liszt, Mozart, Prokofiev, Ravel, Rubinstein, and Schubert, among others.

Called “the bible of piano technique” by Maurice Hinson, this book is a comprehensive resource for the student, teacher, and professional pianist who seek to discover the secrets of how the immortal pianists developed and polished their mechanical and musical technique. This expanded edition contains a foreword by Alan Walker, a new preface, and multiple new appendices.

“… the expanded part of Gerig’s book [is] so impressive that this section by itself is worth more than the price of the book. Just one of the cross- referenced ideas would be enough to spur a thesis, dissertation, or lecture- recital…. Scholars will not be disappointed at the array of obscure facts and hard-to-locate bibliography. Pedagogues will relish this text as an indispensable reference for their courses and daily work. Pianists will be able to constantly refer and return to their historical heritage. Gerig’s book has not only withstood the test of time, but will continue to do so.” – Piano Journal


Recommended Book: Keyboard Interpretation – from the 14th to the 19th Century

Keyboard Interpretation from the 14th to the 19th Century by Howard Ferguson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993 (1975). 215 pp.

This inspiring standard work is an introduction to the interpretation of keyboard music from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. Dr Ferguson provides information about the instruments themselves, and discusses this vast, fascinating, and ever-changing subject under the headings; musical types and forms, tempo, phrasing and articulation, fingering, rhythmic conventions, the “tones” or modes, ornamentation, pianists’ problems, and editors’ problems.

This is also a compact and comprehensive reference for performance practice concerns. Although the material is presented with the performing pianist in mind as the audience, this book does deal some specifically with the clavichord and its literature. The book’s performance suggestions extend into the romantic era, but focus primarily on music before 1800. There are sections dealing specifically with all of the concerns of the keyboardist including tempo, articulation, fingering, rhythmic conventions, ornamentation, pedalling and problems specific to the piano, and limitations of compass. Especially helpful are the selective guides to literature on keyboard interpretation and music in modern editions. Although reading the book is the best way of gaining information here, the ornametation section is organized sufficiently well to be used as a reference at the keyboard. Because of the careful condensation of important material accomplished in this short volume, this should be the cornerstone of the informed keyboardist’s book collection on performance. It is a clear, detailed, and practical guide to authenticity in performance which all keyboard players will find indispensable.

“I cannot imagine any serious student of keyboard playing not wanting to have and study this wonderful book. It doesn’t take much study to realize that the notes on the page are just the outline of a piece of music. There is a great deal about each piece that is not notated. It takes an understanding of what is unsaid in the notation in order to bring a piece of music to life.”
– Craig Matteson

View sample pages on Google Books:

This book on Amazon.com

Belfast-born Howard Ferguson’s (1908-1999) reputation as a composer rests on the nineteen published works that he wrote between 1928 and 1959. Rhythmic energy endows his music with its exciting sense of momentum, underpinned by his command of Baroque and Classical forms and grasp of Romantic harmony and melody. With the cessation of composing, Ferguson began to concentrate on editing early keyboard music. His love of musical craftsmanship and his experience as a performing pianist prepared him well for this transition. He compiled anthologies of early keyboard music that appealed to accomplished musicians and amateurs alike. In 1975 he authored and published the book Keyboard Interpretation. Ferguson’s musical career was partly devoted to instruction. Between 1948 and 1963 he taught composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London; many of his students ended up becoming accomplished composers in their own right.

Composer Howard Ferguson´s recordings listed at ARKIV MUSIC


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