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Topic: Cortot's rational principles of technique  (Read 60636 times)

Offline gruffalo

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Cortot's rational principles of technique
on: July 02, 2006, 01:13:19 PM
i have bought this book to work extensively over the summer with, and i have problems already. at the moment i just need help understanding the "daily gymnastics section". first of all, i find it hard to see how all those 9 exercises can be done in 15 minutes each day. i have a translated copy of this, but the execution of some of the exercises i find quite difficult to understand. if anyone routinely does these gymnastics for 15 minutes a day (as Cortot says), would you be able to post your timing and what you do for how long with each exercise?

the first exercise is at a speed of 60-60 bpm at a semiquaver value (not sure the american version of that note value). does this mean, that you should go through 60-80 each day in each hand?

the execution of the second exercise is quite unclear, and i would appreciate if someone could describe it to me. the third exercise, i totally dont understand lol.

thanks for reading,

Gruff

Offline pianistimo

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #1 on: July 03, 2006, 01:56:12 AM
not having the book, i am at a loss - but i remember my teacher giving me various five finger exercises.  are these cortot exercises for the five fingers and repetetive or are they free form? 

i remember something like

12345432123454321....  in all of the major/minor/diminished V/V and to the next 1/2 step up.

so , it would be each exercise in C 2X:  CDEFGFED< CDEbFGFEbD<CDbEbFGbFEbDb< Db...major/minor/dimV/V

just that exercise - done 2X in major/minor/dim in all 24 major and minor keys took a good amount of time.  we'd do them at various speeds - the slower louder - the faster lighter and softer and closer to the keys.

the next exercise was:
1212 3434 5454 3232 1...  in major/minor/dim v/v  these are both hands together, of course.

then:something like thirds.  i have to find the paper with all 12 exercises.  are these the cortot exercises you are referring to?

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #2 on: July 03, 2006, 04:43:33 AM
I am afraid Cortot´s book is just a waste of time and money – just like Hanon and Dohnanyi. The same reasoning I used here will apply to Cortot:

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=13583.msg147163#msg147163
(Why Hanon is a waste of time – or not -  summary of arguments and many relevant links)

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,15701.msg171057.html#msg171057
(debunking Dohnanyi)

Of course, if you are completely satisfied with Hanon and Dohnanyi, just ignore the above.

Cortot was a superb pianist, of unsurpassing musicality. Yet he had a very faulty technique. Reading his book one immediately understands why he was always hitting the wrong notes. You see, he succumbed to the allure of the logical method.

His editions of Chopin and Schumann, and the preparatory exercises that go with them are the real thing: I can find no fault in them. It is the pragmatical approach in all of its usefulness: He selects a piece, and analyses its technical difficulties and recommends exercises to deal with them. When this happens, even if the exercise is ill-conceived (and many are) no harm is really done, because the piece provides a musical context to judge the appropriateness of the suggested exercise.

But in his “Rational Principles of Piano Technique”, he produces abstract exercises to be done without musical context. The same mistake done by all the piano pedagogues of the 19th and early 20th century. There is nothing rational in these exercises. Quite the contrary, once again we see a monumental ignorance of the basics of human anatomy and phisiology, all the silly talk of strengthening the fingers (even though there is no need to strengthen the fingers), the same talk of muscles in the fingers (even though there are no muscles in the fingers), the old ideas of finger independence (even though fingers share tendons and cannot be independent), the mistaken notions of passing the finger under (even though you cannot play fast scales this way) and so on and so forth.

I strongly recommend you return this book to the shop and get instead his editions fo the Chopin Etudes (but watch out – he changes notes and adds stuff that is not in the original).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline mephisto

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #3 on: July 03, 2006, 12:59:05 PM
the mistaken notions of passing the finger under (even though you cannot play fast scales this way) and so on and so forth.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.



How do you recomend me to play a scale(I am talking about fingering)?

Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #4 on: July 03, 2006, 01:25:55 PM
I am afraid Cortot´s book is just a waste of time and money – just like Hanon and Dohnanyi. The same reasoning I used here will apply to Cortot:

Best wishes,
Bernhard.



Welcome back!

Walter Ramsey

Offline daniel patschan

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #5 on: July 03, 2006, 02:27:43 PM

Yet he had a very faulty technique. Reading his book one immediately understands why he was always hitting the wrong notes. You see, he succumbed to the allure of the logical method.


His "faulty" technique was of course not the result of playing exercises like the ones introduced in his book. His technique was amazing - as good as the technique of the today´s best virtuosos. Some mistakes (hitting wrong keys - something Vladimir H., S. Richter and E. Gilels did on a regular basis) were the results of underpracticing. He was too much involved in many different things of cultured life that he just didn´t find enough time to polish everyday over and over again. Let´s say like Barenboim or like Pletenv during the early nineties, when he worked with the russian national orchestra. :-*

Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #6 on: July 03, 2006, 05:11:17 PM
The same mistake done by all the piano pedagogues of the 19th and early 20th century.
Best wishes,
Bernhard.


Welcome back my Hanon bashing friend.

Sometimes i wonder how the world ever produced any decent pianists in the 19th century, coz they obviously did not know what they were doing.

Thalxx
Curator/Director
Concerto Preservation Society

Offline gruffalo

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #7 on: July 03, 2006, 09:15:03 PM
Thanks Bernhard, your post was interesting, but i dont know what to believe simply because i dont have the experience to judge whether or not this book is effective. i have had absolute trust in my teacher since i started with him because he has transformed my piano playing into something really good in a short space of time and although he did not bring up the idea of Cortot's rational principles book, he has agreed to my study of it "in spare practice time". i agree with you about the Hanon and Donyani, but do you think that the Cortot book will do bad things to my piano playing? or are you just saying that it wont be very effective? the reason why i got Cortot's book was because i heard some pianists with a great technique say that they studied this book, so... monkey see monkey do.

I have the book of Liszt's exercises. would you recommend these?

Gruff

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #8 on: July 04, 2006, 10:34:22 PM
How do you recomend me to play a scale(I am talking about fingering)?

Have a look here:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2313.msg19807.html#msg19807
(Speed of scales – the important factors in speed playing - an alternative fingering for scales).

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2533.msg21955.html#msg21955
(an structured plan to learn scales and arpeggios – includes description of repeated note-groups and other tricks)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2619.msg22756.html#msg22756
(unorthodox fingering for all major and minor scales plus an explanation)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2701.msg23134.html#msg23134
(Teaching scales – the cluster method and why one should start with B major).

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2758.msg23889.html#msg23889
(scales & compositions – the real importance of scales is to develop the concept of key, not exercise)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2920.msg25568.html#msg25568
(how to play superfast scales)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2983.msg26079.html#msg26079
(Best order to learn scales – what does it mean not to play scales outside pieces)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2998.msg26268.html#msg26268
(Scales HT, why? – why and when to practise scales HS and HT – Pragmatical  x logical way of teaching – analogy with aikido – list of piano techniques – DVORAK – realistic x sports martial arts – technique and how to acquire it by solving technical problems – Hanon and why it should be avoided - Lemmings)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3499.msg31548.html#msg31548
(using scales as the basis for free improvisation)

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,2619.msg104249.html#msg104249
(Scale fingering must be modified according to the piece – Godard op. 149 no.5 – yet another example of the folly of technical exercises)

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/board,1/topic,16037.3.html#msg171612
(chromatic scale fingerings)


Best wishes,
Bernhard

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #9 on: July 04, 2006, 10:35:39 PM
Welcome back!

Walter Ramsey


Thank you. :D

I cannot let the Hanonites take over the forum without a fight! ;)

Best wishes,
Bernhard,
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #10 on: July 04, 2006, 10:50:54 PM
His "faulty" technique was of course not the result of playing exercises like the ones introduced in his book. His technique was amazing - as good as the technique of the today´s best virtuosos. Some mistakes (hitting wrong keys - something Vladimir H., S. Richter and E. Gilels did on a regular basis) were the results of underpracticing. He was too much involved in many different things of cultured life that he just didn´t find enough time to polish everyday over and over again. Let´s say like Barenboim or like Pletenv during the early nineties, when he worked with the russian national orchestra. :-*

This is the point I have been making over and over again.

Cortot´s technique was not amazing. It was labored, effort-laden and injury prone. He was educated at the Paris Conservatory, that hotbed of Hanonites, so it is little wonder that he tried to fit pieces to Hanon-like technique, instead of exploring a technique (ways of moving) best suited to the piece.

Chopin, who had a most unorthodox, effortless technique, knew that in order to play his etudes, a different way of moving was necessary. So he went to the trouble of indicating fingering in many of the etudes. That fingering, when approached from the point of view of an immobile forearm and lifting high fingers will seem completely impossible, and indeed it will be impossible. But Chopin understood that fingering implies a pattern of motion, so if one sticks to Chopin´s fingering and investigate which motion will make that fingering easy and natural to play, one will discover the technique Chopin had in mind.

But Cortot, in his edition of the Chopin etudes (a very valuable edition indeed, but one that must be apporached with the utmost care), consistently changes Chopin´s fingerings to fingerings that will make it easy for a Hanonite to play. By doing so, the true technique to play the etudes is lost, and instead one acquires the kind of "amazing" technique Cortot had.

What is the problem with that? The problem is that true technique besides being effortless and injury free, never needs to be practised once you acquire it It may take months or even years of investigative practice to figure out the technique to play a passage/piece, but once you get it, it will be like riding a bicycle: It will be yours forever, even if you do not practise/play the piece for the next ten years.

Cortot´s kind of technique on the other hand may well do the job (as I said Cortot was an amazing pianist). But because it is inappropriate, it needs to be practised everyday, or it will slip away. And worse, even if you practise it everyday it is still not trustworthy.  Cortot made mistakes not because he was too busy to practise. He was practising like mad and still not getting it right. To his merit one must say that he kept investigating and trying to figure out why perfect playing elluded him. Eventually he did give up.

Pianists who have discovered how to develop the correct technique (for them, for the piece) manage to play perfectly into their old age. Pianists with "amazing technique" who do not discover how to develop correct technique eventually see their "amazing technique" melt away and have to retire or give up the piano at a young age.

Have a look here for an interesting example of what I am talking about.

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,13208.msg143740.html#msg143740
(Reply # 29: an account on how Cramer’s technique deteriorated with age)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #11 on: July 04, 2006, 10:55:31 PM
Welcome back my Hanon bashing friend.

Sometimes i wonder how the world ever produced any decent pianists in the 19th century, coz they obviously did not know what they were doing.

Thalxx

Thank you. :D

Clearly in order to produce a decent pianist it is not necessary for the decent pianist to know what s/he is doing. ;)

Then again, maybe we should ask the converse question: How come - if Liszt´s phenomenal playing was the result of 2 years practising Czerny and Hanon-like drills (Hanon had not yet written his wonderfull opus - poor Liszt :'() - how come we are not overwhelmed by the sheer number of pianists of the same caliber? I mean, 2 years, 20 hours a day is not that demanding for sure? Maybe the Liszt story was not quite like that...

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #12 on: July 04, 2006, 11:08:30 PM
Thanks Bernhard, your post was interesting, but i dont know what to believe simply because i dont have the experience to judge whether or not this book is effective. i have had absolute trust in my teacher since i started with him because he has transformed my piano playing into something really good in a short space of time and although he did not bring up the idea of Cortot's rational principles book, he has agreed to my study of it "in spare practice time". i agree with you about the Hanon and Donyani, but do you think that the Cortot book will do bad things to my piano playing? or are you just saying that it wont be very effective? the reason why i got Cortot's book was because i heard some pianists with a great technique say that they studied this book, so... monkey see monkey do.

I have the book of Liszt's exercises. would you recommend these?

Gruff

There is no need to believe in anyone.

Do what scientists do: a controlled experiment. Put both theories to the test (Theory 1: Cortot will deliver everything it promises on the preface. Theory 2: Cortot is a waste of time and will not/cannot deliver what it promises). You cannot do this using yourself as an experimental subject since you cannot play and not play Cortot at the same time. So the best way is to get you teacher involoved into the project and assign Cortot to half of his students, and the other half must not touch Cortot. Make sure each half of the students is a random sample. Get a statistician to help you plan the experiment and anlayse the results. Compare both groups at regular intervals of time (say, monthly for a period of two years).

But is that really necessary? There is enough nonsense in Cortot´s intructions / preface (finger independence, lifiting fingers high, passing thumb under - and no mention whatsoever of thumb over, etc.) to make one highly suspicious of the book. If I try to sell you a guide that will teach you how to fly by flapping your arms vigorously do you really need a scientifc exeriment to show that the guide is balloney?

See? No need for belief.

As for absolute trust in your teacher. Why? Sure, you must trust him enough to try out what he suggests, but if he tells you, drink this weird looking beverage, and I promise you that after half an hour you will be playing like Liszt himself, will you do it? Religious people make faith (blindly believing what is clearly non-sense, and even if it wasn´t how would they know?) to be a great virtue, but them much money can be made out of the faithful...

My advice is to forget about exercises (technical or otherwise). Simply work on the pieces you love, and you will acquire all the technique you need.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #13 on: July 04, 2006, 11:40:31 PM
Thank you. :D

Clearly in order to produce a decent pianist it is not necessary for the decent pianist to know what s/he is doing. ;)

Then again, maybe we should ask the converse question: How come - if Liszt´s phenomenal playing was the result of 2 years practising Czerny and Hanon-like drills (Hanon had not yet written his wonderfull opus - poor Liszt :'() - how come we are not overwhelmed by the sheer number of pianists of the same caliber? I mean, 2 years, 20 hours a day is not that demanding for sure? Maybe the Liszt story was not quite like that...

Best wishes,
Bernhard.


I would be prone to agree, but then why are Liszt's published exercises nothing but mindless drills?
I often wonder if he got all his technique actually from improvisation, but somehow in his mind credited it with the drilling.

Walter Ramsey


Walter Ramsey

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #14 on: July 04, 2006, 11:51:16 PM

I would be prone to agree, but then why are Liszt's published exercises nothing but mindless drills?
I often wonder if he got all his technique actually from improvisation, but somehow in his mind credited it with the drilling.

Walter Ramsey


Walter Ramsey

Here is my take on the Liszt´s story:

When Liszt was brought to Czerny at age 12, he was already a full fledged pianist, with a few years of concert experience behind him. He played with great ease the most difficult repertory, having been allowed to develop his personal technique intuitively. The result was that he had found movements and motions that were completely natural for him.

That is when he had the great misfortune of meeting Herr Czerny. Czerny was horrified by Lizst´s natural and comfortable movements, since they did not conform to his own fixed ideas. He was convinced one had to play with one´s fingers and generally experience the utmost discomfort when playing. He proceeded to “correct” Lizst´s technique over the next few years, and Lizst complied and actually became very good at playing with a very limited and ultimately inappropriate technique.

In his twentys, he had become just another indifferent pianist playing with an inapropriate technique in Paris, just like so many other pianists in town. This was Czerny´s legacy.

Had Lizst died then, no one would have heard of him. He would just be another mediocre pianist amongst mediocre pianists.

But then two momentous things happened. Pay attention, exercise supporters, because there is a moral and cautionary tale for you all here.

Had Lizst not gone through these two momentous happenings and not died, he would still have been a mediocre pianist, and as he got older, his uncomfortable, inappropriate Czerny style technique would deteriorate and again we would never have heard of him.

Look at this thread to see the fate that would have befallen Liszt (and to a great extent has befallen Cortot):

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,13208.msg143740.html#msg143740
(an account on how Cramer’s technique deteriorated with age)

So what were these two life changing events?

It was his meeting with two men. Nothing would ever be the same after that.

The first meeting was with Chopin.

Chopin – like Lizst in his early years – had developed a highly idiossincratic technique (= way to move) when playing the piano. But contrary to Liszt he had not had the benefit of a Czerny to “correct” him. When he first arrived in Paris at 20, the most famous pianist of the day was Kalkbrenner. Kalkbrenner watched Chopin play and like Czerny with Liszt, was horrified at the neglect of Chopin´s technique. He offered to teach Chopin and estimated that in four years time he could turn Chopin into a piano virtuoso like the many swarming Paris. Chopin was actually tempted by this offer (he was impressed with Kalkbrenner´s playing), but in the end declined.

The interesting thing was that all those virtuoso pianists could not play to satisfaction any of Chopin´s pieces, in spite of their apparent superior technique. This was not lost on Lizst. Apparently Chopin´s idiossincratic technique was necessary for the correct rendition of his pieces.

The second meeting was with Paganini.

After witnessing Paganini in concert, Lizst was so overwhelmed that he vouched to do on the piano what Paganini did on the violin.

And here is where Liszt phenomenal technique starts.

Not with Czerny, because it became completely obvious to him that Czerny was completely inadequate to emulate Paganini, but with Chopin, because the key to the transference of Paganini´s umbelievable virtuosity on the violin to the piano, lies not with Czerny´s limited and limiting pedagogy, but with Chopin´s weird way of playing the piano.

It is now that Lizst will retire from concertizing for a while and feverishly pursue Paganini style virtuosity for up to ten hours a day.

But what do you think Lizst was doing for ten hours? Do you really believe he was practising Czerny or Hanon/Dohnanyi/Cortot types of finger exercises mindlessly hour after hour? Don´t be silly. If this would work, he would already have been the Lizst of legends. After all he had been there and done that with Czerny.

No. What he was doing during these ten hours was investigative practice. Not repetitive mind numbing repetitions of some finger pattern, but intelligent, totally focused piano work. He knew the result he was after, and he knew that in order to achieve it he had to recover the technique of his early years, the one that Czerny had destroyed. Chopin had shown him this, and Paganini was the ultimate proof that this was the only way to go.

When he was finished with the process (it didn´t take that long), he had so completely transformed his technique that it was a different pianist altogether that emerged from that practice room. And everyone noticed.

Lizst always refused to teach technique. He knew that the process through which he had acquired his technique could not be systematized. He knew Czerny was crap (and therefore never told his students to go through it - but being a good, polite boy, he never bashed his teacher for it). He knew that technique was highly personal, highly idiossincratic and could only be achieved by a process of intense investigation as he himself had gone through. Hence he never wrote anything about it.

His masterclasses – in which he never discussed technique – consisted of listening to the student play, and then playing himself in such a superior fashion that the student had to face the same experience he had faced when he first listened to Paganini: “sh*t, I am crap!” (incidentally, Chopin used the same pedagogical approach in his lessons)

After that time of intense, investigative practice – we do not know for sure but I am prepared to bet it was all based on repertory and most likely Chopin´s pieces – he never “practised” again. He had discovered – or perhaps rediscovered – his natural way of playing, and it felt so easy that all he had to do was play. And play he did!

Anyone who believes Liszt practised ten hours of exercises a day until the end of his life should consider this: Where would he have had the time? He was traveling around, bedding whatever pretty face happened to cross his way, running away from husbands, fathers, authorities, concertising, composing prolifically a daring, highly complex musical oeuvre, supporting new pianists and composers, teaching and even dedicating himself to a religious life.

To think that Lizst technique owes anything to Czerny is simply laughable. If so, every Czerny player would have become a Liszt by now.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #15 on: July 04, 2006, 11:54:50 PM
This is the point I have been making over and over again.

Cortot´s technique was not amazing. It was labored, effort-laden and injury prone. He was educated at the Paris Conservatory, that hotbed of Hanonites, so it is little wonder that he tried to fit pieces to Hanon-like technique, instead of exploring a technique (ways of moving) best suited to the piece.

I think it is an unfair assessment of Cortot; although the wrong notes, although the suspicious blurrings, he was still able to create unparalleled poetic effects and use piano sonority to the utmost, and that has to be included in any assessment of technique.  Besides, if you compare Cortot's recordings with Paderewski's, I think it is Paderewski that made the "labored, effort-laden" sound.
Just leafing through an Alfred Brendel interview, I found this:

Interviewer: "What was Cortot's magic?"
Brendel: "His unbelievable sense of sound, nourished by his experience as a conductor.  The ability to keep consistent control of various timbres and separate voices...."

But I wanted to quote Brendel talking about Edwin Fischer, when the interviewer ventured to say he was no "virtuoso," which is probably true.

"There is a control of the long line and the most subtle nuance - this, after all is part and parcel of technique!... I would say that this technical mastery is unsurpassed precisely because it serves the poetic purpose..."


What is the problem with that? The problem is that true technique besides being effortless and injury free, never needs to be practised once you acquire it It may take months or even years of investigative practice to figure out the technique to play a passage/piece, but once you get it, it will be like riding a bicycle: It will be yours forever, even if you do not practise/play the piece for the next ten years.

Elsewhere you have defined technique as, "a way to do things."  When you say a true technique never needs to be practiced, do you mean that once you know how to solve a particular pianistic problem through practice, that will never be forgotten; or that the practiced mastery of a passage will guarantee its staying power.   You've also said that there is no benefit in learning exercises such as Hanon for a technique that will serve in real music; but does that therefore mean that mastery over one passage in one piece, will not provide you with the technique for mastery over a similar but not identical passage in another piece?

Pianists who have discovered how to develop the correct technique (for them, for the piece) manage to play perfectly into their old age. Pianists with "amazing technique" who do not discover how to develop correct technique eventually see their "amazing technique" melt away and have to retire or give up the piano at a young age.

This is definitely true, see the case of Shura Cherkassky, who at the age of 80 played beautifully the Prokofiev 2nd concerto and Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto in the same concert.  He learned his method of practicing from Godowsky, who would have played masterfully up until the day he died, had he not been stricken by a stroke.

Walter Ramsey

Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #16 on: July 05, 2006, 12:00:32 AM
You tell music history so beautifully, as a compelling and powerful story!  One question, can you refer us to any source, hopefully from Liszt, that discusses Chopin's influence on his conception of piano-playing?  Or perhaps recommend a valuable compilation of Liszt's letters.
Thanks

Walter Ramsey



Here is my take on the Liszt´s story:

When Liszt was brought to Czerny at age 12, he was already a full fledged pianist, with a few years of concert experience behind him. He played with great ease the most difficult repertory, having been allowed to develop his personal technique intuitively. The result was that he had found movements and motions that were completely natural for him.

That is when he had the great misfortune of meeting Herr Czerny. Czerny was horrified by Lizst´s natural and comfortable movements, since they did not conform to his own fixed ideas. He was convinced one had to play with one´s fingers and generally experience the utmost discomfort when playing. He proceeded to “correct” Lizst´s technique over the next few years, and Lizst complied and actually became very good at playing with a very limited and ultimately inappropriate technique.

In his twentys, he had become just another indifferent pianist playing with an inapropriate technique in Paris, just like so many other pianists in town. This was Czerny´s legacy.

Had Lizst died then, no one would have heard of him. He would just be another mediocre pianist amongst mediocre pianists.

But then two momentous things happened. Pay attention, exercise supporters, because there is a moral and cautionary tale for you all here.

Had Lizst not gone through these two momentous happenings and not died, he would still have been a mediocre pianist, and as he got older, his uncomfortable, inappropriate Czerny style technique would deteriorate and again we would never have heard of him.

Look at this thread to see the fate that would have befallen Liszt (and to a great extent has befallen Cortot):

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,13208.msg143740.html#msg143740
(an account on how Cramer’s technique deteriorated with age)

So what were these two life changing events?

It was his meeting with two men. Nothing would ever be the same after that.

The first meeting was with Chopin.

Chopin – like Lizst in his early years – had developed a highly idiossincratic technique (= way to move) when playing the piano. But contrary to Liszt he had not had the benefit of a Czerny to “correct” him. When he first arrived in Paris at 20, the most famous pianist of the day was Kalkbrenner. Kalkbrenner watched Chopin play and like Czerny with Liszt, was horrified at the neglect of Chopin´s technique. He offered to teach Chopin and estimated that in four years time he could turn Chopin into a piano virtuoso like the many swarming Paris. Chopin was actually tempted by this offer (he was impressed with Kalkbrenner´s playing), but in the end declined.

The interesting thing was that all those virtuoso pianists could not play to satisfaction any of Chopin´s pieces, in spite of their apparent superior technique. This was not lost on Lizst. Apparently Chopin´s idiossincratic technique was necessary for the correct rendition of his pieces.

The second meeting was with Paganini.

After witnessing Paganini in concert, Lizst was so overwhelmed that he vouched to do on the piano what Paganini did on the violin.

And here is where Liszt phenomenal technique starts.

Not with Czerny, because it became completely obvious to him that Czerny was completely inadequate to emulate Paganini, but with Chopin, because the key to the transference of Paganini´s umbelievable virtuosity on the violin to the piano, lies not with Czerny´s limited and limiting pedagogy, but with Chopin´s weird way of playing the piano.

It is now that Lizst will retire from concertizing for a while and feverishly pursue Paganini style virtuosity for up to ten hours a day.

But what do you think Lizst was doing for ten hours? Do you really believe he was practising Czerny or Hanon/Dohnanyi/Cortot types of finger exercises mindlessly hour after hour? Don´t be silly. If this would work, he would already have been the Lizst of legends. After all he had been there and done that with Czerny.

No. What he was doing during these ten hours was investigative practice. Not repetitive mind numbing repetitions of some finger pattern, but intelligent, totally focused piano work. He knew the result he was after, and he knew that in order to achieve it he had to recover the technique of his early years, the one that Czerny had destroyed. Chopin had shown him this, and Paganini was the ultimate proof that this was the only way to go.

When he was finished with the process (it didn´t take that long), he had so completely transformed his technique that it was a different pianist altogether that emerged from that practice room. And everyone noticed.

Lizst always refused to teach technique. He knew that the process through which he had acquired his technique could not be systematized. He knew Czerny was crap (and therefore never told his students to go through it - but being a good, polite boy, he never bashed his teacher for it). He knew that technique was highly personal, highly idiossincratic and could only be achieved by a process of intense investigation as he himself had gone through. Hence he never wrote anything about it.

His masterclasses – in which he never discussed technique – consisted of listening to the student play, and then playing himself in such a superior fashion that the student had to face the same experience he had faced when he first listened to Paganini: “***, I am crap!” (incidentally, Chopin used the same pedagogical approach in his lessons)

After that time of intense, investigative practice – we do not know for sure but I am prepared to bet it was all based on repertory and most likely Chopin´s pieces – he never “practised” again. He had discovered – or perhaps rediscovered – his natural way of playing, and it felt so easy that all he had to do was play. And play he did!

Anyone who believes Liszt practised ten hours of exercises a day until the end of his life should consider this: Where would he have had the time? He was traveling around, bedding whatever pretty face happened to cross his way, running away from husbands, fathers, authorities, concertising, composing prolifically a daring, highly complex musical oeuvre, supporting new pianists and composers, teaching and even dedicating himself to a religious life.

To think that Lizst technique owes anything to Czerny is simply laughable. If so, every Czerny player would have become a Liszt by now.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.


Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #17 on: July 05, 2006, 12:51:03 AM
I think it is an unfair assessment of Cortot; although the wrong notes, although the suspicious blurrings, he was still able to create unparalleled poetic effects and use piano sonority to the utmost, and that has to be included in any assessment of technique.  Besides, if you compare Cortot's recordings with Paderewski's, I think it is Paderewski that made the "labored, effort-laden" sound.
Just leafing through an Alfred Brendel interview, I found this:

Interviewer: "What was Cortot's magic?"
Brendel: "His unbelievable sense of sound, nourished by his experience as a conductor.  The ability to keep consistent control of various timbres and separate voices...."

But I wanted to quote Brendel talking about Edwin Fischer, when the interviewer ventured to say he was no "virtuoso," which is probably true.

"There is a control of the long line and the most subtle nuance - this, after all is part and parcel of technique!... I would say that this technical mastery is unsurpassed precisely because it serves the poetic purpose..."

Walter Ramsey


I totally agree with you (and with Brendel). Cortot was truly the poet of the piano, and even with all the mistakes, I still regard his recordings of the Etudes as the ultimate ones.  His musicality was indeed unsurpassed. Which shows that you can get amazing sound even with less than efficient body motions. Another example is Glenn Gould - it is unbelievable he could play so beautifully with such awkward posture and movements.

What happens next is that students blown away - and rightly so - by the sound of such amazing musicians, decide that the sound is a consequence of their quirks. They start to believe that you can only play Bach porperly at the piano if you sit on the floor with your nose level to the keyboard. Or they blindly follow Cortot´s fingerings in his edition of the Etudes believing that Cortot´s sound will be attainable by them if they follow his fingerings. And when they find out that Cortot actually wrote a book on technique, they must have it and they must practise it since for sure therein lies the secret.

Leon Fleisher was another pianist with one of the most amazing sounds ever. And yet  - and this is my main point -  he used all sorts of inappropriate motions to achieve it without the need to do so he could have achieved the same sound with much better motions, motions that ultimately would have prevented his crippling injuries.

By the way, Brendel himself had to abandon concertising for a while due to crippling back pain, and anyone who watches his posture will understand why. I maintain that Brendel could still play with his great musicality with a good posture. Being all hunched over the piano is not necessary. (He also said in interview that he does not play the Hammerklavier anymore)

So at no point am I suggesting that these are anything less than superlative pianists/ musicians, but I am saying in no uncertain terms that the way they move can be vastly improved. Or at least that any student looking up to these pianists as role models should look at the sound they are producing, not at the way they are producing it, because this amazing sound is being produced in spite of all their inapropriate techniques.

Quote
Elsewhere you have defined technique as, "a way to do things."  When you say a true technique never needs to be practiced, do you mean that once you know how to solve a particular pianistic problem through practice, that will never be forgotten; or that the practiced mastery of a passage will guarantee its staying power. 


For me the ultimate test of technique is easiness. When something becomes easy, then the technique to accomplish it has been mastered. It is possible to play scales fast and pearly passing the thumb under, but it will feel difficult, no matter how much one practises it, and if one day goes without practising it, the fast scale will fall apart. On the other hand once one learn how to do a thumb over scale (which as I explained elsewhere consists of four different motions that must be integrated: shift - rotation - slanting - back & forth), doing a fast pearly scale will be a piece of cake. It will feel easy, it will feel natural, and it will not need to be practised ever again: the body will just happily fall into its motion pattern automatically. Of course, to get to this stage may require many hours of practice - mostly to understand the complex motion. Although the four basic components are the same for everyone, their integration is not. Each student will have a composition of these four motions that will be ideally suited for his physicality.  Even with a knowledgeable teacher it may take months for a student to figure out his optimum motion, his optimum technique. Then he will need to ingrain this pattern and this ingraining again may take a while - if the student has done extensive thumb under practice in the past then it will take a long while. Then again certain students hit on the right combination straightaway. I certainly had my share of students who could not play a scale fast, and after being shown the thumb over approach, were able to ripple through the keyboard after 20 minutes instruction. And after that, they never had to practise it again. Whenever they found a scale fragment in a piece they would just naturally play through it because the motions were the best ones, and therefore the unconscious had selected them for permanent storage

So, if one hits on the right technique it will not need to be practised in itself. Playing will take care of that. When one learns how to type, one needs to practise ASDFG, but after one has figured out how to type, one does not spend 15 minutes a day doing ASDFG just in case one forgets. The act of typing properly will take care of it.

I remember an old post by Robert Henry ( a superlative pianist) where he described his experiences with Chopin´s Op. 10 no. 1 - regarded by many as the most difficult of the etudes. He said he could play it well., but in a labored manner, and that he was never trully confident in it. Then a fellow pianist, showed him a way to move. He spent a few minutes trying it out, and to his amazement all the difficulty of the etude melted away. He suddenly could play it at ease, at great speed and no mistakes. He did not even need to truly practise the technique he was shown. It was so appropriate that the moment he
tried it was incorporated.

Many times it may be necessary to practise a piece not because the technique is gone, but simply because we forgot the piece. A pianist who for one reason or the other neglects a piece for ten years, may not be able to just sit at the piano and play it flawlessly (then again, maybe he can). But the reason will not be that technique deserted him, but rather that he forgot how the piece went - assuming he had the appropriate technique to start with.

On the other hand a pianist who finds himself in the uncomfortbale position of knowing his piece back to front, and yet from day to day keeps making blunders in spite of several hours of practice, is either using an inappropriate technique and insisting on using it, or has not yet figured out how to play the piece.

Quote
You've also said that there is no benefit in learning exercises such as Hanon for a technique that will serve in real music; but does that therefore mean that mastery over one passage in one piece, will not provide you with the technique for mastery over a similar but not identical passage in another piece?

I like to address each piece as a complete new piece that will need its proper specifc technique.

But of course similarities abound. Once you have learned how to play an Alberti Bass on your first Attwood Sonatina, you will be able to use this knowledge on any Alberti bass you come accross. Still, decisions regarding fingering and motion may need to be made specially between different composers using the same figuration (e.g. and Alberti may need to be played sublty differently in Scarlatti, Mozart and Cimarosa) but also with the same composer in different times (e.g. early versus late Mozart sonatas). Again, the more diverse music one plays, the more such fine tuning becomes subconscious. There is no way this can happen with abstract exercises (that is, exercises without musical context), quite simply because the aim of the technique must of necessity be defined by the musical context.

I have shown elsewhere how even a simple pattern as a scale must have his fingering modified from the fingering one uses for a scale per se to the scale used as a melodic fragment. I have also shown how the same scale played in two successive bars in the same piece must have different fingerings each time it is played if the musical context is to be served. There is no exercise that will prepare for that. Such passages must be tackled on their own and the technique to play them discovered through the piece´s passage itself. In fact, an abstract exercise may actually hinder this process by incorporating into one´s subconscious a standard technique that is inapropriate except for the exercise in question.

Here is the thread by the way:

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,2619.msg104249.html#msg104249
(Scale fingering must be modified according to the piece – Godard op. 149 no.5 – yet another example of the folly of technical exercises)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #18 on: July 05, 2006, 01:25:36 AM
You tell music history so beautifully, as a compelling and powerful story!  One question, can you refer us to any source, hopefully from Liszt, that discusses Chopin's influence on his conception of piano-playing?  Or perhaps recommend a valuable compilation of Liszt's letters.
Thanks

Walter Ramsey




A most thorough biography (considered by many as the definitive) of Liszt is

Alan Walker - "Franz Liszt" (Knopf)

Unfortunately, very little is said about Liszt´s practising routine (if he actually had one) or the means by which he acquired such prowess at the piano.

One must also remember that in Liszt´s time, piano playing was a bit of circus activity, and just like a magician will carefully guard his secrets, so a pianist would hide his means just in case the competition got hold of it. There is a famous story of Vladimir de Pachman where in the middle of a concert he used his left hand to cover his right hand as he was doing a fast run. Later they asked him about this and he said: "I saw Godowsky on the audience, and I did not want him to see my fingering".

So we may assume that Liszt was not going to reveal all!

A most interesting book that has many astute observations on Liszt´s technique and way of playing is

Amy Fay - Music Study in Germany (Da Capo)

Amy Fay was an American pianist who travelled to Europe to further her piano studies. There she studied first with Dieppe (ironically one of the first proponents of arm-weight playing as oppposed to finger lifting and who also abhorred technical exercises), and eventually was accepted in Liszt´s master classes.

Finally, a very good selection of Liszt´s letters is

Adrian Williams - Franz Liszt: Selected letters (Oxford University Press).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline pianistimo

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #19 on: July 05, 2006, 04:05:11 AM
according to 'the great pianists' by harold schoenberg (page 154) 'liszt worked like a maniac after leaving his teacher (czerny)...he wrote to a friend in 1832, 'my mind and my fingers have worked like two * ones.  homer, the bible, plato, locke, byron, larmartine, chateaubriand, beethoven, bach, hummel, mozart, weber , are all around me.  i study them, i devour them with fury; furthermore i practice exercises for four or five hours (thirds, sixths, octaves, and tremolos, repeated notes, cadences, etc.) ah, unless i go mad, you will find an artist in me.'

of course, the countess d'agoult put the 'final buff of social polish' on liszt (as quoted) but he really did go way beyond czerny - but didn't forget the idea of exercises.  he just started making them poetic.  he didn't want to practice things that were merely etudes.  for instance, when he was fifteen - he published an 'etude for the piano in fourty-eight exercises in all the major and minor keys' - technical studies in the style of czerny, his teacher.  but in 1837, he changed them (11 of them) into the grandes etudes, a 'compendium not only of the new piano technique but also of the lisztian brand of romantic poetry.'

maybe we're both right.  he continued to practice - but more and more became aware of the limitless possibilites of encorporating technique into poetry.  thus, after awhile - it seemed that he was continuously playing beautiful music and not really playing exercise after exercise.

Offline brewtality

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #20 on: July 05, 2006, 08:09:01 AM

This is definitely true, see the case of Shura Cherkassky, who at the age of 80 played beautifully the Prokofiev 2nd concerto and Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto in the same concert.  He learned his method of practicing from Godowsky, who would have played masterfully up until the day he died, had he not been stricken by a stroke.

Walter Ramsey


Godowsky? Wasn't Hofmann his main teacher at Curtis? Cherkassky playing well into old age probably also had to do with him practising 4 hours a day, everyday. Compared to Cortot who wouldn't have had the time.

 What is wrong with Dohnanyi? I found that his first few exercises improved my trilling and did improve my finger strength. Although I must admit not having the patience to comply with all his instructions (all keys, HS, HT etc).

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #21 on: July 05, 2006, 08:42:52 AM


 What is wrong with Dohnanyi? I found that his first few exercises improved my trilling and did improve my finger strength. Although I must admit not having the patience to comply with all his instructions (all keys, HS, HT etc).

Have a look here:

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,15701.msg171057.html#msg171057
(debunking Dohnanyi)

 ;)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.



The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline gruffalo

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #22 on: July 05, 2006, 08:57:52 AM
Whats your take on the 12 technical studies of Liszt (not the etudes)?

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #23 on: July 05, 2006, 09:38:56 AM
Whats your take on the 12 technical studies of Liszt (not the etudes)?

I assume you mean his Op. 1. If so, there is a fundamental difference between these etudes and Hanon/Cortot/Dohanyi/Brahms, etc in that they are not abstract exercises. They are actually pieces of music – as are the Czerny Etudes for instance.

Now the question you must ask yourself is this:

“Do I want to play this music? Would I like to share it in performance?”

If the answer is yes, then go ahead and do it. Chopin Etudes (and Liszt´s) are often performed in concert. Why? Because the public like to see pianists practicing and honing their technique? Certainly not. Audiences flock to hear these pieces because they are wonderful pieces of music. Most of them could be titled anything, not necessarily etudes. In fact, many of the etudes are renamed (Gnomenreigen, Feux Follets, Un Sospiro, etc.).

Scarlatti sonatas and most of Bach´s keyboard works were originally conceived as pedagogical pieces.

The point is that his music is of such a high quality that it completely transcends mechanical movement.

Together with such amazing pieces, we have a number of minor composers who produced a huge amount of mediocre music and that are still on the market for the simple reason that piano teachers keep assigning them to their students (Bertini, Beyer, Streabogg, etc.). It is dull, the students hate them, and yet they keep being pushed down our throats. There are many beautiful etudes by Czerny (e.g. op, 139 no. 49 which I particularly like), Heller and others, but in no moment I would consider playing those because they will improve my technique. The only reason to play them is because I like them as pieces of music.

I am not particularly bowled over by Liszt´s op. 1, and since my time on the planet is limited, I would rather learn something else. But this is just my personal taste. If you like them, by all means, learn them – in the process you will acquire all the technique you need to play them. But if you don´t like them, why should you bother acquiring a technique that will only be good for a piece you don´t like?

I have mentioned Heller a few times in the forum, and the next thing I know is that people decide to play all of Heller studies. This is the “method” mentality. I cannot really understand it. It is like going to a restaurant and feeling the obligation to order every single dish on the menu (perhaps not at the same meal), even though you may hate brocolli, because “it is good for you”. By all means try different dishes you have never tried before – who knows you may like it – but unless you are a food critic, I see no reason to make yourself suffer. You will get nourishment even if you only eat what you like (of course, I am assuming you are a gourmet – this is classical music we are talking about, not rap – so do not come back talking about McDonald´s and “Supersize me”).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline gruffalo

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #24 on: July 05, 2006, 10:09:41 AM
Ok, thankyou for putting so much time into answering my questions. so basically, i should just continue working through pieces and repetoire for performance, and my technique should develope? what about scales, arpeggios etc, are these necessary, seeing as one wouldnt perform them in a concert?

Offline pianistimo

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #25 on: July 05, 2006, 12:32:05 PM
my personal take, (and i realize ur asking bernhard) is similar and yet different to bernhard.  i think students should (as he does) have respect for the old masters - and probably first year students should become familiar with some of the exercises their teacher's espouse.  but, as bernhard says - if ur teacher is still having u do an hour or two of exercises in ur second or third or fourth year - something is wrong.  maybe 15-20 minutes - but not hours.

and, as bernhard says - u are practicing technical things that u actually are working in repertoire - and not random exercises.

i think a danger is that 'one size fits all' - but there are students that have so many different technical problems - that a good teacher hones in on the difficuties of a particular student and helps to give a clearer focus.  so instead of saying - work all 12 or 15 of these exercises - they pick out maybe one that the student is having troubles with - and suggest that they work the exercise AND memorize it at the same time.  i worked a bit of czerny this way (first year college) and it helped my fingers and memory.  but, i would be literally crazy today if i had to work the entire book and memorize it all.  other students are different - and like to run through entire books because it's fairly easy for them and they like practicing for long hours and mastering entire exercise books on their own.  not sure the total benefit of mastering all the czerny - though it probably wouldn't hurt.  just not -as bernhard said - recital material. 

liszt and chopin were definately kinder - to make their etudes so pleasant and beautiful.  but, not all students play etudes well.  i have fast fingers - but there are still spots where my smaller hands are very outdone by someone who has larger hands.  therefore , personally i find things that fit within my hands well - more fun to play.  and, more relaxing for my hands.  maybe i've always been overprotective of my hands - but if u do too much on the overexertion of exercises - u have nothing left to work repertoire.  i personally like the short exercises that my teacher gave me - but, also he gave challenging repertoire which DID include chopin etudes.  also, sightreading challenges.  the first time i saw the sightreading exam, i said 'are you kidding?'  but then, i realized that with any aspect of music - u have to keep taking it a step farther or you'll settle into mediocrity.  when u try something a level above where u are - then u say - ok.  i need some help.  i need some  pointers.  one thing i learned from my teacher is that he's really into helping students succeed and not feel like 'i can't do this.' 

*this is a different subject - but for sightreading he would have students play duets together of piano concertos - or piano duo repertoire.  it really helps to take popular ones first - so you sort of know the general rhythms.  it's funny, too, because most students have a little trouble at first.

Offline mephisto

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #26 on: July 05, 2006, 01:04:27 PM
Have a look here:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2313.msg19807.html#msg19807
(Speed of scales – the important factors in speed playing - an alternative fingering for scales).

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2533.msg21955.html#msg21955
(an structured plan to learn scales and arpeggios – includes description of repeated note-groups and other tricks)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2619.msg22756.html#msg22756
(unorthodox fingering for all major and minor scales plus an explanation)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2701.msg23134.html#msg23134
(Teaching scales – the cluster method and why one should start with B major).

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2758.msg23889.html#msg23889
(scales & compositions – the real importance of scales is to develop the concept of key, not exercise)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2920.msg25568.html#msg25568
(how to play superfast scales)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2983.msg26079.html#msg26079
(Best order to learn scales – what does it mean not to play scales outside pieces)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2998.msg26268.html#msg26268
(Scales HT, why? – why and when to practise scales HS and HT – Pragmatical  x logical way of teaching – analogy with aikido – list of piano techniques – DVORAK – realistic x sports martial arts – technique and how to acquire it by solving technical problems – Hanon and why it should be avoided - Lemmings)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3499.msg31548.html#msg31548
(using scales as the basis for free improvisation)

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,2619.msg104249.html#msg104249
(Scale fingering must be modified according to the piece – Godard op. 149 no.5 – yet another example of the folly of technical exercises)

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/board,1/topic,16037.3.html#msg171612
(chromatic scale fingerings)


Best wishes,
Bernhard



Thanks. Btu what is thumb over and thumb under? I think I understand it a little, because I can play right-hand scales down the keyboard fast, but not fast up. Naturally I can only play scales up fast in the left hand.

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #27 on: July 05, 2006, 02:07:30 PM
Ok, thankyou for putting so much time into answering my questions. so basically, i should just continue working through pieces and repetoire for performance, and my technique should develope? what about scales, arpeggios etc, are these necessary, seeing as one wouldnt perform them in a concert?

You are welcome. :)

Yes, of course. But “working on repertory” means much more than simply playing through it. Have a look here for a start:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,1867.msg14268.html#msg14268
(Getting technique from pieces – several important tricks: hand memory, dropping notes, repeated note-groups)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/board,4/topic,4880.3.html#msg46319
(discusses how to acquire technique and what technique actually is)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4082.msg37362.html#msg37362
(one cannot learn technique in a vacuum. At the same time one cannot simply play pieces – comparison with tennis)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4385.msg41226.html#msg41226
(technique is personal and relative to the piece – Fosberry flop – the best books on technique)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4123.msg37829.html#msg37829
(How to investigate the best movement pattern: Example Scarlatti sonata K70 – How to work out the best fingering. Example: CPE Bach Allegro in A – Slow x slow motion practice – HS x HT – practising for only 5 – 10 minutes)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4168.msg38569.html#msg38569
(Keeping pieces polished – learn/forget/relearn)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4244.msg39203.html#msg39203
(How long to practice – having an aim, achieving it and moving on – How to define aim)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4322.msg40260.html#msg40260
(mental practice)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4429.msg41217.html#msg41217
(differences between practice and performance)

https://www.pianoforum.net/smf/index.php?topic=5995.msg58928#msg58928
(when to work on expression - change focus every 2 minutes – comparison with plate spinning)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3085.msg44855.html#msg44855
(Hands together – dropping notes – when to learn HT and when to learn HS)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4954.msg46883.html#msg46883
(mental practice)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4851.msg47341.html#msg47341
(Practising for speed – Example: Beethoven Op. 49 no. 2)

https://www.pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,7810.msg80415.html#msg80415
(How to organise the breaking down of a piece over several days. Examples: CPE Bach Fantasia, Blow Sarabande, Chopin Cantabile; Chopin Scherzo no. 2)

https://www.pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,7664.msg77057.html#msg77057
(How to break a piece in sessions – Example: Invention no. 1).

https://www.pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,9540.msg96795.html#msg96795
(learning a piece back to front)

https://www.pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,9285.msg94312.html#msg94312
(outlining: example – with score – Chopin etude op. 25 no. 1)

Scales and arpeggios are also essential, but not for the reaosns most people beliee them to be.

Have a look here:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2758.msg23889.html#msg23889
(scales & compositions – the real importance of scales is to develop the concept of key, not exercise)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2983.msg26079.html#msg26079
(Best order to learn scales – what does it mean not to play scales outside pieces)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2998.msg26268.html#msg26268
(Scales HT, why? – why and when to practise scales HS and HT – Pragmatical  x logical way of teaching – analogy with aikido – list of piano techniques – DVORAK – realistic x sports martial arts – technique and how to acquire it by solving technical problems – Hanon and why it should be avoided - Lemmings)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3499.msg31548.html#msg31548
(using scales as the basis for free improvisation)

Just the tip of the melting iceberg.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #28 on: July 05, 2006, 02:09:54 PM
Thanks. Btu what is thumb over and thumb under? I think I understand it a little, because I can play right-hand scales down the keyboard fast, but not fast up. Naturally I can only play scales up fast in the left hand.

Have a look here:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,1918.msg15015.html#msg15015
(Thumb under/over – detailed explanation – Fosberry flop)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3100.msg27113.html#msg27113
(thumb over – hand displacement – practising with awareness – awareness is not thinking – learning by imitation)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,7226.msg72166.html#msg72166
(Thumb over is a misnomer: it consists of co-ordinating four separate movements).

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=17061.new#new
(description of thumb movement when descending rh scales)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline mephisto

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #29 on: July 05, 2006, 03:17:09 PM
Have a look here:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,1918.msg15015.html#msg15015
(Thumb under/over – detailed explanation – Fosberry flop)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3100.msg27113.html#msg27113
(thumb over – hand displacement – practising with awareness – awareness is not thinking – learning by imitation)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,7226.msg72166.html#msg72166
(Thumb over is a misnomer: it consists of co-ordinating four separate movements).

https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=17061.new#new
(description of thumb movement when descending rh scales)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.


Thanks, but....

This might sound stupid, but sinc I am norwegian some of the most important words in what you wrote is beyond my english skill.

Isn`t possible to just describe what it is, and not everything about how you do it. I have played the piano for 10 years so I am quite sure I know how to do it, but I just don`t know what it is.

Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #30 on: July 05, 2006, 05:28:21 PM

Then again, maybe we should ask the converse question: How come - if Liszt´s phenomenal playing was the result of 2 years practising Czerny and Hanon-like drills (Hanon had not yet written his wonderfull opus - poor Liszt :'() - how come we are not overwhelmed by the sheer number of pianists of the same caliber?

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

I could follow Linford Christies training programme, but I doubt if i could run sub 10 second 100 metres.

If anyone is interested my personal best is 13.96s.

Thal
Curator/Director
Concerto Preservation Society

Offline daniel patschan

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #31 on: July 05, 2006, 08:42:33 PM
Thanks for the thoughtful replies. I still would like to ask Bernhard a few questions:

In the past it happened numerous times that i played some scales; when i reached the 3-5 fingers it became somehow uneven. As a matter of fact, after having done one or two Pischna exercises (now you will become upset) that focus on these fingers, it was always a lot easier. Why that ? The majority of the movement patterns offered in his book seem not have something to do with movements in scales. I always have the impression that they help to develop control !? Another effect that i always realize is that stretching exercises (done by Godowsky, Rachmaninov, Lhevinne and strongly favoured by for example Adele Marcus) also help a lot in getting control - and this is not only my imagination. Since i have done them on a regular basis several things have become a lot easier (even the first Chopin study).

One more point with regard to Cortot: I think his technique was "amazing" (at least not worse than Richter's or Arrau's or even Freire's). If you only listen to the second Chopin study - he does it much cleaner and with more control than Richter and Freire. That says a lot. I think Marik, who seems to know a lot about piano playing and who knows a number of famous pianists personally, once pointed out that even experienced pianists have to polish this piece for years !

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #32 on: July 07, 2006, 02:59:13 PM
Thanks, but....

This might sound stupid, but sinc I am norwegian some of the most important words in what you wrote is beyond my english skill.

Isn`t possible to just describe what it is, and not everything about how you do it. I have played the piano for 10 years so I am quite sure I know how to do it, but I just don`t know what it is.

Here is the very short answer: Thumb under – the thumb goes under the hand. Thumb over – the thumb does not go under the hand (it does not go over either). In order to play a clean, fast, pearly scale the thumb must not go under the hand, therefore you must use thumb over. If you are happy with this explanation, go home. Otherwise, read below a slightly more elaborate one.

Almost everyone is taught to play scales (say, C major) by playing CDE with fingers 123 and then FGAB with fingers 1234, then move on to the next octave CDE with finger 123 and so on.

Playing CDE with 123 and FGAB with 1234 is easy.

The real difficulty comes when you need to move from E (3rd finger) to F (thumb) and from B (4th finger) to C (thumb).

Almost everyone is taught to bring the thumb under the hand in order to reach for the F or for the C.

For several anatomical reasons, this motion (known as “thumb under” because the thumb goes well under the hand) is very awkward. So several piano pedagogues (including Cortot and Hanon) devised all sorts of “preparatory exercises” to develop the ability to pass the thumb under the hand, and to make the motion less awkward.

Although these exercises do work to a certain extent, the anatomical limits cannot ultimately be circumvented, so the motion will always feel awkward, and will always have a potential for disaster (hitting the wrong note, uneven playing – both in rhythm and tone – at fast speeds, misco-ordination of fingers, etc.). Moreover, you must keep practicing it for the rest of your life. Any neglect and the illusory facility you have acquired slips away and you are back to ground zero.

Fortunately there is an alternative motion to negotiate the movement of the thumb. This motion is anatomically natural – which means that you are not constantly fighting your own body, and more importantly, once you figure out this motion, it does not need to be practiced anymore . The reason why it does not need to be practiced anymore is the same reason one does not need to practise eating with a fork after figuring out how to do it: you will do it all the time, since it is such a natural, easy motion.

This alternative motion is “Thumb over”. However, this is a misnomer: the thumb does not really go over the hand. Rather, it never goes under the hand. And the way to do it is to integrate four basic motions: shift, slant, rotation and back and forth movements. The link I gave above explains in detail each of these movements and how to integrate them.

A lot of people tend to focus in just one of these basic motions, so often in the forum you see people talking about thumb over as a simple hand shift. But that is not so. Just shifting the hand (although already much better than thumb under) will not lead to a clean, fast, pearly scale. You need to integrate the other three motions to it.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #33 on: July 07, 2006, 03:05:18 PM
Thanks for the thoughtful replies.

You are welcome :)

Quote
In the past it happened numerous times that i played some scales; when i reached the 3-5 fingers it became somehow uneven.

The way to deal with technical problems is not to dive head first on some exercise book.

You must investigate.

Why is the scale uneven when you reach 3-4-5?

Simple: you are using a single motion to bring all fingers down on the keys. Finger 3 plays fine, but the motion that brought finger 3 down will be the same motion that will bring finger 4 down, but now finger 4 is quite near the key, so its down motion is much faster than the down motion of finger 3 (it is closer to the key, so it travels a smaller distance), finger 5 will be even closer, if you are sort of either “rolling” your hand or moving the fingers down one after the other.

In order to correct this sort of unevenness, you must start again with each finger, that is, each finger must have a complete motion and start to press the key from the same distance to the key. So you press the 3, and this requires a downward motion. Now you must not take advantage of this downward motion to press the 4 and 5. You must – so to speak – “reset” the hand so that finger 4 is on the same height from the key as finger 3 was, and the same applies to finger 5. Each finger must be “reset”.

Now, there are two main ways to reset a finger. One is to lift by using the finger extensors located in the forearm and the back of the hand. The other is to rotate the forearm in order to lift the finger.

Using the finger extensors (“lift the fingers high without moving anything except the fingers” – as Hanon and Cortot encourage us to do) is anatomically awkward and if insisted on for several hours a day, will lead to injury. Most importantly, resetting the fingers this way will cause agonists and antagonists muscles to work against each other: you will feel your forearm “burn” if you keep doing it.

Practise in this way for a couple of months and you will find that the burn subsides, and now you can do it with a certain facility. You will think that the exercises are working! Look, no pain anymore! My muscles have developped (at this point most people will think that their “finger” muscles have become stronger – but there are no muscles in the fingers – they are all in the hand/forearm).

In fact, none of this happened. What happened is that insisting on a painful action caused your brain to block out the pain. The pain is there, you have just learned to ignore it. You have become dessensitised to it. Keep going for another couple of years and a nasty injury will suddenly and (apparently) out of the blue cripple you.

Rotating the arm to lift the fingers, on the other hand is a very natural motion (it must be, otherwise, why would Hanon caution us against doing it? Why put coins on the back of the hands to make sure that no rotation is taking place? You see, the body has its own wisdom, and it knows that the best way to lift the fingers is not by using the finger extensors, but the forearm rotators). It will not cause injuries, it is not tiring – you can do it literally for hours without burning, and it will allow you far more control over the finger´s motions. But you must resist the temptation of “rolling”, that is, using a single rotation to play several notes in succession. You must have an individual rotation for every single individual finger motion. As you get good at it, the rotations become so small (the secret of speed is not moving fast, but moving small) that you will not be able to see it. It looks like the fingers are moving up and down like little hammers (Hanon´s misguided ideal), but they are actually being moved by micro rotations . As an onlooker you will not see it. As a player, you will feel it – if you are not deluding yourself that you are doing something other that you are actually doing.

So, as you can see, there is a simple cause, but two very different solutions.

Quote
As a matter of fact, after having done one or two Pischna exercises (now you will become upset) that focus on these fingers, it was always a lot easier. Why that ? The majority of the movement patterns offered in his book seem not have something to do with movements in scales. I always have the impression that they help to develop control !?

No, I will not become upset. You must understand that everything that I say is for people who are dissatisfied, or who do not know better. If someone is completely satisfied with Hanon, Pischna, Cortot et al. I wish them luck and success. Why should I mind? As far as I am concerned they can paly them until their fingers fall (not long ago someone was telling of playing Hanon 3 hours a day). The fact that I am bored to tears with football, does not mean that I am about to initiate a movement to ban football.  As long as I don´t have to play it or watch it, then I am perfectly happy. But I believe that his same freedom should be extended to everyone else. If someone does not like football, they should not be made to play it (e.g in PE classes) or watch it. Likewise, with technical exercises. Although I encourage anyone that enjoys doing them to keep doing them, I will provide arguments for those who perceive that there is something wrong with the supposed wisdom their teachers are transmitting. So my posts are not meant for those who are happy doing their Hanon. My posts are for those who are very unhappy about it, and for those who do not know enough to be able to decide.

Now, back to Pischna. The main problem with all these exercises, is that they insist on the myth of finger lifting. You can use them for rotation, and everything will be fine. So why am I against them? Why don´t I just modify them, pay no attention to the author´s directives and use them for practicing the proper anatomical motion?

Now, pay a lot of attention because this has to blow your mind (if it doesn´t then nothing will).

You said that you experienced improvement when doing them. This is true. Some improvement of sorts does take place if you start lifting your fingers. However, because the motion is anatomically inefficient, this improvement will only last if you keep doing the exercises consistently on a daily basis for the rest of your life. Cortot, Hanon, Dohananyi, all make it perfectly clear that this is so.  Therefore, it would appear to make sense to buy the books: you will be using them for life. It is a lifelong investment.

Besides, lifting fingers high is a simple motion. There is little to learn or investigate. Just lift the fingers high and you can dive on the exercises.

Now, the rotation alternative is a very different kind of animal. To start with it is a far more complex motion. You will have several decisions to make when playing a passage: How much should I rotate? What sequence of double/single rotations should I use? You cannot simply dive on the book. You will have to spend literally hours trying different combinations of the rotational parameters until you hit on the perfect combination. And now comes the puchline: Once you hit on the perfect combination, you will never need to practise it again. So “practice” takes on a whole different meaning now. Instead of mind numbing repetition of an anatomically awkward motion in the hope of make it less awkward, you have, intelligent investigation of a comfortable movement that once found will not need to be repeated.

And because this complex movement can only be defined by the sequence of notes to which it is addressed, it will not be transferable. All you will learn by applying the correct motion to Pischna is… Pishcna! Mozart will require a different pattern that will have to be paisntakingly investigated.  Chopin will need its own pattern. And so on and so forth. Hence, unless you want to perform Pischna, don´t waste your time with it.

So what I am saying is that there are two (I am simplifying here) very different ways to play a piece: by using awkward motions and by using comfortable motions. You will be able to play the most virtuosistic repertory by using the awkward motions. But to do so you will be forever enslaved to methods like Pichna, Cortot and Hanon. And your piano life will be short lived: it will be curtailed by injury (as happened to Leon Fleischer, Gary Graffman, Glenn Gould – to name a few) or by old age – when your muscles cannot respond anymore to the effort required by them (Cramer, Clementi, Brendel). Like an Olympic Athlete, you will have your 4 minutes of fame and then you will be crippled for life by the injuries caused by the training, or you will simply not be able to do what you once did.

By using comfortable motions, on the other hand, you will never need to “practise” (in the sense of hours of repetition). Most of your practice will be investigative, and directed by the musical ideas you wish to bring forth. You will be able to paly the most difficult pieces well into your old age, and they will sound even better as you age (Rubinstein, Arrau, Horowitz, Earl Wilde, Tureck). The downside of this alternative is that it demands much mental effort, and we would all rather do Hanon while reading a novel.

Quote
Another effect that I always realize is that stretching exercises (done by Godowsky, Rachmaninov, Lhevinne and strongly favoured by for example Adele Marcus) also help a lot in getting control - and this is not only my imagination. Since i have done them on a regular basis several things have become a lot easier (even the first Chopin study).

My only comment here is that stretching exercises should not be piano based. Learn and do them within other activities (e.g. aikido for wrist and finger stretches will be far superior to anything devised by Godowsky et. al.)

Quote
One more point with regard to Cortot: I think his technique was "amazing" (at least not worse than Richter's or Arrau's or even Freire's). If you only listen to the second Chopin study - he does it much cleaner and with more control than Richter and Freire. That says a lot. I think Marik, who seems to know a lot about piano playing and who knows a number of famous pianists personally, once pointed out that even experienced pianists have to polish this piece for years !

You may well think that, but the fact remains that Cortot´s musicality was amazing and his technique often failed him when he needed it the most. Then again, neither Richter nor Arrau or Freire strike me as role models in regards to what I am talking about. Most of them developed their techniques at a very young age, and all of them had Hanonites as teachers. These pianists do not impress me for their “technique”, or if you prefer to use a less debatable term, their “mechanism” (Ahinton has suggested that in another thread and it may be a good idea). They impress me for their musicality. Richter in particular, had terrible posture at the piano.

And if you have been following my line of thought, you will see that there are two ways to regard Chopin 2nd etude. Some pianists learn it very quickly using an awkward mechanism (they learn it quick because they do not want to waste time investigating the optimum motions – or even because no one ever mention this alternative to them), and then they spend the rest of their lives “polishing” it. And many never have the nerve to perform it, because it is not polished enough – and possibly will never be. Then other pianists take the time to figure out to the utmost detail which sequence of motion patterns will best serve their particular musical idea. This may take a long time, but once figured out, there will be no need for polishing. So, as you see, a pianist can spend years on a piece, but not necessarily “polishing it”.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.


The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline mephisto

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #34 on: July 07, 2006, 03:16:25 PM
Thanks for the answers Bernhard.

Offline daniel patschan

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #35 on: July 07, 2006, 04:17:07 PM
Thank you very much Bernhard for investing so many thoughts and so much of your time to answer me ! I´ll definately try to work  more according to the movement concept. To be able to play a difficult piece like drivng the bicycle one day - sounds superb.  :)

Offline mephisto

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #36 on: July 07, 2006, 04:39:17 PM
Just a last question(and I am not trying to be sarcastic), but when reading through what you write one(I) get the feeling that EVERYTHING has to do with practicing right. And if one knows how to do this, and does it one would be able to learn and play anything.

So may I ask, are you the greatest pianist in the world?

Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #37 on: July 07, 2006, 05:54:17 PM
Just a last question(and I am not trying to be sarcastic), but when reading through what you write one(I) get the feeling that EVERYTHING has to do with practicing right. And if one knows how to do this, and does it one would be able to learn and play anything.

So may I ask, are you the greatest pianist in the world?

 :o
Eagerly awaiting the response,

Walter Ramsey

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #38 on: July 07, 2006, 07:14:37 PM
Just a last question(and I am not trying to be sarcastic), but when reading through what you write one(I) get the feeling that EVERYTHING has to do with practicing right. And if one knows how to do this, and does it one would be able to learn and play anything.

So may I ask, are you the greatest pianist in the world?

I am very glad you asked this question. :D

No, I am not the greatest pianist in the world :'(. Not only that, but judging by the several threads in the forum dealing with this question (“who is the greatest pianist in the world”), no one knows who s/he is. Or at least no one has agreed to it yet. ::)

But then again I have no desire to be a pianist (= performer artist). Let alone the greatest. You see, the life of a concert pianist would be my closest definition of hell: all the traveling, the hotel food and accommodation, the stress, the responsibility. Nah.

I did fancy myself at one point at being a good teacher, but even this I now regard as youth´s vanity.

On the other hand you are right. Anyone can be a competent pianist if they practise right. What is the alternative? Trying to be great by practising wrong?

And yet, practicing is just the bare start. It is like knowing how to read and write: it is the minimum, without which no one can became a writer. Can you become the greatest writer in the world by just having superb reading and writing (in the calligraphical sense of the world)? Certainly not. But without reading or writing, how can you possibly aspire to be a writer?

So it is with the basics of piano. These are taken for granted – even though many do not have a clue in this area.

To be a great pianist, you need far more than that. You need musicality, good taste, charisma, you need to enjoy public performing (as Rubinstein did and Gould abhorred); you need knowledge of spatial acoustics that can only be learned from the top concert pianists and from personal performance experience, you need exceptional public relations skills, you need a good agent, the right contacts, you need to understand the politics of it all, etc. etc. etc.

Correct practice is barely enough to get you there. And in fact, you may not need it at all (e.g. Maksim, Alicia Keys). It is after all show business.

But yes, even the most untalented, unmusical person will – if they know how to practise – be able to play competently the great majority of the piano repertory. Everyone can ride a bicycle. Everyone can derive the pleasure and benefits of riding a bicycle. But very few amongst bicycle riders can achieve the status of Lance Armstrong. Yet, most bicycle riders do not want to achieve that. They are perfectly happy with being able to ride a bicycle.

Likewise with piano playing. Everyone should have the right to play the piano competently. Yet, somehow, the idea has grown that piano playing is a forbidden province to the common person. You need to be a musical genius. You must start at one year old. You must be a prodigy. And then on top of it all you must do repetitious practice for up to ten hours a day. And people who are none of these things and try to learn the piano are stopped at every step of the way by misguided pedagogies and absurd practice methodologies. No wonder advanced piano playing is perceived as impossible by the common person.

Once upon a time, reading was also a closely guarded secret, and if you were not part of the clergy or the aristocracy you could be put to death by trying to learn how to read – or indeed by trying to teach it. :-X


Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #39 on: July 07, 2006, 07:17:31 PM
Thank you very much Bernhard for investing so many thoughts and so much of your time to answer me ! I´ll definately try to work  more according to the movement concept. To be able to play a difficult piece like drivng the bicycle one day - sounds superb.  :)

You are welcome. :)
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #40 on: July 07, 2006, 07:18:46 PM
:o
Eagerly awaiting the response,

Walter Ramsey


There. (See reply #38 above). ;)
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline gruffalo

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #41 on: July 07, 2006, 07:29:28 PM
Bernhard, did you want to be a performer when you embarked upon your musical studies? just wondering because i am collecting stories on how some people stopped searching to be concert pianists once they had finished their studies and just trying to form my own view of the whole thing. another question also, a lot of your stuff agrees with C.Chang's book (the one he posted on the forum that i dont think he has released yet) on piano pratice. do you agree with his stuff? have you ever read his methods? Just interested to see if Chang is a good way to go about the piano, his book seems convincing. if you havent seen it, let me know and i will post a PDF.

Gruff

Offline bernhard

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #42 on: July 08, 2006, 08:33:08 AM
I have never wanted to be a performer. I always wanted to teach (not necessarily music). :D
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #43 on: July 08, 2006, 10:12:38 PM
There. (See reply #38 above). ;)

Very satisfactory!

Walter Ramsey

Offline leahcim

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #44 on: September 12, 2006, 04:44:01 AM
No wonder advanced piano playing is perceived as impossible by the common person.

Yes, partly your reasons. But as another thread discusses, some of us buy pianos and try and try and fail. It seems impossible because we've tried doing it, not because we read it was difficult. Perhaps with crap advice, but Bernhard, you and Robert Henry and Chang and so on have posted your advice to this forum [or elsewhere on the internet] and your methods are, as you say, old and known.

Yet still we fail even with good advice.

Heh, someone saying it doesn't take years and years of 10 hours practise and we don't need to be kids is now more frustrating, you've now covered every excuse. We have your methods, our age doesn't matter, it's not our digital piano, it's not our sex, the size of our hands, the fact we only practise for less than 10 hours. What does that leave? Us :D So your ideas are saying it's elusive to us as much as the others afaict.

At least the 10 hour a day practise etc etc guys allowed us to believe that we can't do something because it is immensely difficult or we are too old etc etc :) You're basically saying it's like riding a bike, and let's face it, if we can't ride a bike then we're going to feel pretty much it's us that can't ride it, not that bike riding was made elusive by the church when we fail to ride it after several years of trying. The guy that keeps saying "Heh, it's easy, riding a bike is like playing the piano" is obviously going to learn martial arts.

Quote
Once upon a time, reading was also a closely guarded secret, and if you were not part of the clergy or the aristocracy you could be put to death by trying to learn how to read – or indeed by trying to teach it. :-X

Indeed, but language is more difficult if you're not young. I had a 3yo who mostly taught himself to read which again refers to the above, I'm trying to do with the piano what he did with reading and the biggest difference between us is our age - another thing the guys that are saying "you need to be young" have in their favour.

Offline pianowelsh

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #45 on: September 12, 2006, 10:07:47 AM
Finished repertoire is our end. Exercises are any means we take into account to get the works from pile of mess - to pinnacle of perfection. Sometimes if our trills need extra sources to hone our technical control before we apply it to music. Ie an engineer might do a durability test on a material before they would decide whether it might be suitable for a building etc. then we make our own exercises out of the pieces we play and we apply the truth that we have learned to the situation where its needed. As its previously been said I believe these exercsise are of their greatest importance in the formative part of a students development. They help you aquire the basics from which to explore, which is what practising is all about.

Offline m

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #46 on: September 12, 2006, 08:22:48 PM
I haven't read Cortot's book in ages and very vaguely remember what is he talking about. In fact, for a long time I do not read ANY books on technique or "how to play piano" at all, for number of reasons:
 
1) I feel these books are kind of from "Piano for Dummies" series from Barnes and Nobles. As such they deal with some generic advises, without any musical or student individuality context.
In this situation the authors mostly left helpless, as they desperately trying to get out of situation, which is absolutely contrary to what they are used to on daily basis (i.e. work with real people in real situation).

2) I feel that the authors' (even those who were greatests teachers) main goal is to become "profound", to give some universal recipe which would 'change the whole world forever'. In fact, such inavatible artistic self-narcissism is very understandable--they were great artists, but the fact is--it does not work.   

3) In light of the above, I also would like to draw your attention to the fact that Cortot (as H. Neihaus) were used to working with advanced students. Both did not know (or had very limited experience) as for how to work with kids. As such, they had very little idea as for how to ACTUALLY build foundation for technique--they did not really know or understand how to lead the student from the very first steps to the most advanced pianism; and so were giving some kind of abstract advises or hypothetical ideas, once again, without any correlation with 'real life', hoping that "somehow it will work".

4) Being taken out of context, most of the things they are talking about are actually not what they meant. Of course somebody would fairly object that: "That's what I read and that's what he's said", but... remember A. Schnabel, who would not listen to his students using his edition of Beethoven Sonatas for the reason of "I don't like to contradict myself". Music, piano playing, teaching, are all such illusive things and there are so many different ways of doing things and in the end to come to the same result, that it leads to an interesting phenomenon, where the person thinks one thing, writes another, and then does something completely different.

5) There is no possible way of learning piano from books. The one and the only way is to have a good teacher and learn from yourself.

There are only two books I can think of from top of my head I actually value--N. Medtner, Diaries and S. Feinberg,  Pianism as an Art.

IMO, unlike "Piano for Dummies", Petry and Busoni Commandments were written for intelligent people and mostly summarize the WAY OF THINKING about piano and technique, and that's is the biggest value of that.



Cortot was a superb pianist, of unsurpassing musicality. Yet he had a very faulty technique. Reading his book one immediately understands why he was always hitting the wrong notes. You see, he succumbed to the allure of the logical method.


To reduce Cortot technique as faulty for mere reason of missing note to me is a little bit careless, at the least. Let's remember, Liszt himself (excuse me) was not famous for his renderings being the most accurate, the Great Anton Rubinstein (who played Don Juan at tender age of 13), W. Giseking, Gilels, later Horowitz, had TONS of missed notes and for some reason nobody put their technique at fault. I don't quite understand how Cortot is different to the point that his technique was inappropriate.

If you base that judgement on the reason of what he wrote, I can assure you, he never did all those nonsenses from his book. His missing notes are for two reasons:

I) It was for underpracticing reason (As Daniel Patschan rightly noticed)--he was a very busy man, alternating his numerous activities with being on crack, so he simply did not have time for all that crap.

II) he simply did not care (that glorious time, when people could afford it!), rightly thinking that music spirit is above all.
I watched him on video (Debussy). To me his technique looks rational, fluid, effective, effortless, and economical. Besides, his masterclass shows the way he actually taught--incredibly poetic, spiritual, imaginative, inspiring (i.e. contrary to what he wrote). And now read 4) above.

And last, not the least, both, Liszt and Chopin explained technique as an art of sound. Cortot (as maybe nobody else in the history of piano) in his playing was possesed with this idea and used technique as a tool of self expression--isn't it the goal? Isn't it the ultimate technique?



Cortot´s technique was not amazing. It was labored, effort-laden and injury prone. He was educated at the Paris Conservatory, that hotbed of Hanonites, so it is little wonder that he tried to fit pieces to Hanon-like technique, instead of exploring a technique (ways of moving) best suited to the piece.



You completely lost me here. First, I don't understand what you mean by  "Hanon-like technique". Second, I don't understand what you mean by "Cortot´s technique was not amazing. It was labored, effort-laden and injury prone".

For quite a long time I happen to study with eminent Israeli pianist Pnina Saltzman, who for many years studied with Cortot, since she was a little girl. As such, she aquired his type of technique and his way of thinking about music and sound, so I believe, I know little bit about Cortot's technique and pedagogical principles little bit more intimately.

In short, the whole concept is based on feeling your body (starting from your toes) as a center, extremely flexible wrist, and finger tips sensitivity. The whole idea of the musical phrase was about putting it into the certain pianistic motion dictated by music, with weight distribution, and fingers sinking deeply into the keys and flawing one into another. If it is the "Hanon-like technique" you are talking about, would you care to explain what is wrong with that? Also, I'd be most interested to know how all of it is "labored, effort-laden and injury prone".


I cannot let the Hanonites take over the forum without a fight! ;)


I'd definitely be more than happy to accept the chalenge. ;)

Best regards,
M.

Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #47 on: September 12, 2006, 08:47:35 PM
I feell Ali v Frazier coming on.

This subject is indeed interesting.

Thal
Curator/Director
Concerto Preservation Society

Offline daniel patschan

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #48 on: September 12, 2006, 09:17:38 PM
I haven't read Cortot's book in ages and very vaguely remember what is he talking about. In fact, for a long time I do not read ANY books on technique or "how to play piano" at all, for number of reasons:
 
1) I feel these books are kind of from "Piano for Dummies" series from Barnes and Nobles. As such they deal with some generic advises, without any musical or student individuality context.
In this situation the authors mostly left helpless, as they desperately trying to get out of situation, which is absolutely contrary to what they are used to on daily basis (i.e. work with real people in real situation).

2) I feel that the authors' (even those who were greatests teachers) main goal is to become "profound", to give some universal recipe which would 'change the whole world forever'. In fact, such inavatible artistic self-narcissism is very understandable--they were great artists, but the fact is--it does not work.   

3) In light of the above, I also would like to draw your attention to the fact that Cortot (as H. Neihaus) were used to working with advanced students. Both did not know (or had very limited experience) with working with kids. As such, they had very little idea as for how to ACTUALLY build foundation for technique--they did not really know or understand how to lead the student from the very first steps to the most advanced pianism; and so were giving some kind of abstract advises or hypothetical ideas, once again, without any correlation with 'real life', hoping that "somehow it will work".

4) As taken out of context, most of the things they are talking about are actually not what they meant. Of course somebody would fairly object that: "That's what I read and that's what he's said", but... remember A. Schnabel, who would not listen to his students using his edition of Beethoven Sonatas for the reason of "I don't like to contradict myself". Music, piano playing, teaching, are all such illusive things and there are so many different ways of doing things and in the end to come to the same result, that it leads to an interesting phenomenon, where the person thinks one thing, writes another, and then does something completely different.

5) There is no possible way of learning piano from books. The one and the only way is to have a good teacher and learn from yourself.

There are only two books I can think of from top of my head I actually value--N. Medtner, Diaries and S. Feinberg,  Pianism as an Art.

IMO, unlike "Piano for Dummies", Petry and Busoni Commandments were written for intelligent people and mostly summarize the WAY OF THINKING about piano and technique, and that's is the biggest value of that.
 
To reduce Cortot technique as faulty for mere reason of missing note to me is a little bit careless, at the least. Let's remember, Liszt himself (excuse me) was not famous for his most accurate renderings, the Great Anton Rubinstein (who played Don Juan at tender age of 13), W. Giseking, Gilels, later Horowitz, had TONS of missed notes and for some reason nobody put their technique at fault. I don't quite understand how Cortot is different to the point that his technique was inappropriate.

If you base that judgement on the reason of what he wrote, I can assure you, he never did all those nonsenses from his book. His missing notes are for two reasons:

I) It was for underpracticing reason (As Daniel Patschan rightly noticed)--he was a very busy man, alternating his numerous activities with being on crack, so he simply did not have time for all that crap.

II) he simply did not care (that glorious time, when people could afford it!), rightly thinking that music spirit is above all.
I watched him on video (Debussy). To me his technique looks rational, fluid, effective, effortless, and economical. Besides, his masterclass shows the way he actually taught--incredibly poetic, spiritual, imaginative, inspiring (i.e. contrary to what he wrote). And now read 4) above.

And last, not the least, both, Liszt and Chopin explained technique as an art of sound. Cortot (as maybe nobody else in the history of piano) in his playing was possesed with this idea and used technique as a tool of self expression--isn't it the goal? Isn't it the ultimate technique?



You completely lost me here. First, I don't understand what you mean by  "Hanon-like technique". Second, I don't understand what you mean by "Cortot´s technique was not amazing. It was labored, effort-laden and injury prone".

For quite a long time I happen to study with eminent Israeli pianist Pnina Saltzman, who for many years studied with Cortot, since she was a little girl. As such, she aquired his type of technique and his way of thinking about music and sound, so I believe, I know little bit about Cortot's technique and pedagogical principles little bit more intimately.

In short, the whole concept is based on feeling your body (starting from your toes) as a center, extremely flexible wrist, and finger tips sensitivity. The whole idea of the musical phrase was about putting it into the certain pianistic motion dictated by music, with fingers sinking deeply into the keys and flawing one into another. If it is the "Hanon-like technique" you are talking about, would you care to explain what is wrong with that? Also, I'd be most interested to know how all of it is "labored, effort-laden and injury prone".

I'd definitely be more than happy to accept the chalenge. ;)

Best regards,
M.

Well spoken !  :D

Offline m

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Re: Cortot's rational principles of technique
Reply #49 on: September 12, 2006, 09:35:35 PM

Chopin, who had a most unorthodox, effortless technique, knew that in order to play his etudes, a different way of moving was necessary. So he went to the trouble of indicating fingering in many of the etudes. That fingering, when approached from the point of view of an immobile forearm and lifting high fingers will seem completely impossible, and indeed it will be impossible. But Chopin understood that fingering implies a pattern of motion, so if one sticks to Chopin´s fingering and investigate which motion will make that fingering easy and natural to play, one will discover the technique Chopin had in mind.
Cortot, in his edition of the Chopin etudes (a very valuable edition indeed, but one that must be apporached with the utmost care), consistently changes Chopin´s fingerings to fingerings that will make it easy for a Hanonite to play. By doing so, the true technique to play the etudes is lost, and instead one acquires the kind of "amazing" technique Cortot had.

Let's leave the part about Cortot technique, as I have already posted about it above.
As far as Chopin's fingering concerned, let's not forget besides purely musical reasons, Mr. Chopin put the fingering having in mind his own hands.

At different stages of my life I played almost all of his etudes. Some fingering works for me, some does not. What I do, I get all the editions I can get hold of, and after careful studying make up my own fingering, which very well might be contrary to what everybody says. Am I doing something terribly wrong? 

The fingering Mr. Cortot gives in his editions is only a "food for thinking". You don't have to use it, but have to think about. I highly doubt he was using it himself.

Ha, do you really believe, Mr. Schnabel was using his fingerings in Beethoven Sonatas?  :o :o :o   


Quote


The problem is that true technique besides being effortless and injury free, never needs to be practised once you acquire it It may take months or even years of investigative practice to figure out the technique to play a passage/piece, but once you get it, it will be like riding a bicycle: It will be yours forever, even if you do not practise/play the piece for the next ten years.


Well Bernhard, unless I misread it, it seems you got a little bit carried away  :D. You want to tell that once you learnt to ride a bicycle you will be equally ready to ride short distances and marathons, along with being ready for mountain biking and aerial one (or whatever it is called, when they jump up in the air with all those acrobatic tricks?)

Quote

Cortot´s kind of technique on the other hand may well do the job (as I said Cortot was an amazing pianist). ....it needs to be practised everyday, or it will slip away. And worse, even if you practise it everyday it is still not trustworthy. 


Unfortunately, in most cases it is true not only for Cortot's, but for ANY OTHER technique. There are only very few instances in the whole history of pianism, when someone did not have to practice like mad every day for the reason "it will slip away" and it is still "not trustworthy".

Quote

Pianists who have discovered how to develop the correct technique (for them, for the piece) manage to play perfectly into their old age. Pianists with "amazing technique" who do not discover how to develop correct technique eventually see their "amazing technique" melt away and have to retire or give up the piano at a young age.


Well, let me give just a few examples, which prove otherwise and speak for themselves.

J. Hoffmann, who had one of the most refined, effortless and natural technique in the history. The man, who going on the stage would ask his manager: "What do I play tonight?" And I don't buy the blaiming of his deterioration on alcohol.

L. Berman, whose natural and simply super human technique was legendary, when he was young. He lost it when he was in his late 30s and never was able to gain it again.

E. Gilels, supreme virtuoso, who won All Russian competition at age of 16, had to practice every single day of his life for many hours to keep his apparatus in shape, and still missing TONS, esp. in his later years.

G. Sokolov (won Tchaikovsky at age of 16), who has the most unbelievable pianistical reflexes one could imagine. I went to a lot of his recitals in 80s. One of his favorite encores then along with unbelievable rendition of Russian Dnace from Petrushka was Chopin Etude Op.25/11. Let me tell you, never ever in my life I heard something like that, not in recordings, not live. And it was consistently phenomenal from one recital to another... untill one day, when I heard it completely slipped. It was a mess!!! After the concert I came to him. Being very apologetic he explained: "I did not practice it for two days".

I am not even talking about A. Gavrilov...


Best,
M.
 

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