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In a live recording from the Amerikahaus, Munich, Friedrich Gulda reveals the versatility of his keyboard playing by performing the old master's as well as his own compositions on both clavichord and piano.. Read more >>

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Author Topic: Is Mozart the ultimate test for a pianist?  (Read 33958 times)
cloches_de_geneve
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« on: December 13, 2008, 02:32:43 PM »

It is reported that the famous Hungarian-Swiss pianist Geza Anda worked for over 5 years to develop a specific Mozart touch. Only then did he go on and made a recording of all the Mozart piano concertos. Anda, it should be noted, was an intimidating virtuoso pianist already as a late adolescent and could pull off anything.

In a recent masterclass I asked one of my colleagues why he chose to perform Liszt's first Mephisto Waltz and not the first movement of Haydn's last piano sonata in the final concert. He answered what Anda might have answered: "Oh, because the former is much easier than the latter."

I think that there is a grain of truth in this. Certain amateur pianists stick to the classics because they could never play advanced pieces by Liszt or Rachmaninov. However, this does not mean that the accomplished concert pianist, who can make it through Liszt's and Chopin's Etudes with little effort, is able to play Mozart well. 

Mozart, it could be argued, is the ultimate test. Mozart requires light, mobile, highly reactive fingers. He requires exceptional talents of articulation and the ability to produce a highly nuanced range of sounds. There are no crutches, such as a thick texture to hide the single notes, distracting virtuoso figurations and the possibility to rely on pedal.

But how does one develop the skills to play Mozart well?
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cmg
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« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2008, 03:35:28 PM »

Excellent question and the prevailing common wisdom seems to be that Mozart, indeed, is the ultimate test for a pianist. 

But, I'm not so sure that this is so. 

When I was in my early years of study, I read through as much literature as I could.  Not polishing it, but plowing through it and sharpening my sight-reading skills and, of course, learning what was out there in the pianist's vast repertoire.  Along with Haydn and Beethoven, the early and late Romantics and some early 20th-century composers, I plowed through tons of Mozart -- the sonatas and many of the concerti.  In a superficial reading, they were easier to pull off than Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Chopin, Schumann, etc.  There were less notes, obviously, simpler textures, for the most part, and chords of classical simplicity.

When I matured, all I ever heard from pianists and teachers was that Mozart's writing was so exposed and therefore required much more attention to articulation, touch, phrasing, etc.  I quickly realized that, yes, that was true, but not true for Mozart alone.

For example, in Chopin, you can find the same exposed writing, the same need to voice chords perfectly, the same need to phrase with delicacy.  In fact, the notion that somehow the thicker textures of later composers require less diligence than one needs for Mozart, strikes me as absurd.  Thicker textures require MORE diligence to offer up a clarified, polished performance.  To play a Chopin "Prelude" with taste and finesse is no less difficult than it is to play Mozart.  Thicker textures indicate greater combinations of "simplicity," i.e. doublings, etc. that require a pianist to have a strong control of counterpoint.

The work of every worthy composer demands the same attention one gives to Mozart.  It's my very personal feeling that Mozart's keyboard works have been deified and set up as paragons of perfection.  I suppose this is the result of his stock having been devalued during the rise of Romanticism.  Sort of a Mozartian counter-revolution.  Perhaps not.  But because of this rather inflated reverence for his work, I think pianists assume that to approach him is more intimidating than approaching Chopin or Brahms.  I disagree with this assumption.

That issue aside, I still don't regard his keyboard challenges, overall, as being any greater than any other composer's. 

Bach, of course, is outside of this discussion.  It's a given, I think, that his work is indeed the ultimate test because of the extreme intellectual demands  -- beyond digital -- that his work demands.
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minor9th
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« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2008, 05:46:18 PM »

Test of what...an ability to play Alberti bass?  Grin
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thalbergmad
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« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2008, 06:10:19 PM »

Test of what...an ability to play Alberti bass?  Grin

HAHA, you are going to get flamed for that, but i sometimes wonder if Mozart realised that a large percentage of pianists actually do have 2 hands.

I agree with what cmg said. He presents no greater challenge than any other composer.

Personally, i have no great love of his sonatas and find them predictable. Perhaps i have only ever listened to poor recordings.

Thal


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argerichfan
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« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2008, 07:07:34 PM »

Personally, i have no great love of his sonatas and find them predictable. Perhaps i have only ever listened to poor recordings.
I can't say I love all the Mozart sonatas (unlike Beethoven's), but several have been very special to me since I learned my first one in secondary school.  (I think it was the K332, too lazy to check.) 

With the piano concertos, we're IMHO in rarified territory.  The OP had some interesting observations about Anda, and indeed his complete set gets my highest recommendation.  It should be in any serious library. 
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kitty on the keys
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« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2008, 12:51:40 PM »

I must agree with cmg. Bach, Haydn, and Mozart demand certain challanges to us--and really help us with the Romantic literature too. Great post. Smiley


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James Lee
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« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2008, 08:41:15 PM »

Had to respond to this one because it seems that either people love mozart or hate him.  It's hard to find someone inbetween.  And, for good cause on both sides.  The repetition, the predictability, the fun loving youthful - almost immature side, and also the 'jokester' and the way characters change so fast - as though you are suddenly moving from villian to innocent.  It's really shakespeare, in my mind.

The reason I LOVE mozart is - IT FITS IN MY HAND.  There are so many composers of which i struggled to reach these long reaches (ie chopin, rachmaninov, etc) and I find Mozart and Debussy much more reliably easy.  Not sure of their own hand sizes, but i think it has something to do with it all.

And, of course, if you love mozart - you love reading stories.  Dramas. Operas.  You like to become involved in what is going on quite intensely.  Maybe more intensely -or a different intensity from Rachmaninov.  Rach was intense - but it was more on the intellectually dark side.  Mozart seems intense on the lighter, get rid of your worries, side.  After I play Mozart I literally have less worries, am happier, and i feel like it is almost some kind of cathartic thing to have played a composition based upon the theory of 'the golden mean.'  It's exactly like finding a shell on the beach.   It's symmetry is perfect. There is nothing unperfect about any of mozart's pieces that i can find.

Alberti bass aside - mozart was a great improviser.  He could build a cadenza from literally anything. 
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goldentone
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« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2008, 07:54:00 AM »

As I consider and look back, I believe the one who is the most challenging to me is Chopin.  There is something about his idiom, his creativity's unique reaction to the piano that is distinct from the rest.  I don't know that he is the ultimate test of a pianist, but he certainly demands something that the other composers make no demand of.  And it pervades everything he wrote it seems. 
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amelialw
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« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2008, 02:26:28 PM »

yes, it is. you need to have a certain touch, not too light or heavy. the notes need to sparkle and have that brilliance. every note is important and no matter how simple the piece is, it has to sound clean and mistakes show easily.

I believe though that it is something that cannot be taught, rather it is something that every pianist has to discover for themselves, so does my teacher. My teacher tried teaching me that for the 5yrs that i was with her but i could never really understand what she meant. However after i listened to the coronation concerto for a year+ (aimi kobayashi)and started learning it in oct this year, I discovered it for myself and my teacher was very suprised when she came back to singapore for a visit. She said it was as though I had shown her every aspect that was required to play Mozart well....I won't drag on. But when you achieve that, it is something that feels wonderful Cheesy
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theodore
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« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2008, 05:14:17 PM »

Beethoven himself acknowledged that he probably would never write anything as beautiful as Mozart's C minor piano concerto, K. 491. Great modern composers such as, Stravinsky, who certainly employed controversial musical ideas and ample use of dissonance, acknowledged Mozart's mastery of the formal elements of music, including his use of dissonance. Actually, Stravinsky borrowed /learned this very issue from Mozart. Alfred Brendel, the great pianist, said that Mozart's Adagio in B minor for piano is the greatest piece of music ever written for solo piano.

Not just composers--nearly all great philosophers, writers, poets, musicologists, consider Mozart to be the greatest musical genius that ever lived. That does not just mean that Mozart was a prodigy, which he was. Or virtuoso which he was.   It means, in plain English, that his music is deep, both musically, technically and spiritually.   Kierkegaard, Stendhal, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, etc, etc and on down the list have argued such.

No, it requires a great deal of skill to learn the musical language of Mozart.  But its beauty is that it can be appreciated on many levels.  Those who appreciate its revolutionary aspects, as well as those who appreciate its melodic or thematic simplicity.

And, finally, Shostakovich, in an interview; quote:  “The Russian Conservatories today which produce most of the world's great pianists, say that it is Mozart that stands at the peak, that great pianists must learn to play Mozart well.  Not Rachmaninoff (their own), not Chopin, very difficult, not Tchaikovsky (one of their own AND very difficult), but MOZART.  Yes, his music sounds simple, but it is anything but that.  A sophisticated musical ear understands this concept.” 
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aewanko
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« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2008, 12:45:44 AM »

Copy-pasting your own post, I see?
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darnmat
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« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2009, 03:11:25 AM »

hi...

i've been performing Mozart a certain sonata and a concerto. I only had "one" very successful performance of a Mozart work. To my standards, i didn't get the light-hearted magnificence of Mozart's music. to me, i wanted it bathed in the light of relaxed beauty - just like how Horowitz would play his Scarlatti. My Mozart always seems very 'mascular.' My mentors tell me that masculine Mozart is my signature...

it seems it's a real test for a pianist...
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term
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« Reply #12 on: January 05, 2009, 02:13:16 PM »

Mozart, it could be argued, is the ultimate test. Mozart requires light, mobile, highly reactive fingers. He requires exceptional talents of articulation and the ability to produce a highly nuanced range of sounds. There are no crutches, such as a thick texture to hide the single notes, distracting virtuoso figurations and the possibility to rely on pedal.
It could be argued that that's what you need for bach. Why not use bach as the ultimate test for any pianist?
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gerryjay
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« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2009, 03:58:32 PM »

hi there!
i think that any composer, if you push him to the boundaries of perfection, could be the ultimate source of pianism. why i think that? because i think that we play some composers (liszt and messiaen are the first to pop in my mind) in a lazy-generalistic-shallow way. it seems to me that the general approach to mazeppa is: play as fast as you can. period. and people really look for that. what is the first critic you listen of someone's chopin opus 10/4? "oh, well...it was a bit slow..."

that, by the way, is a remarkable example: the quest for speed overpower everything else, and most of the recordings are just boring. this piece have very much to give. cmg have commented that already in a post above.

just another example that come easily: bach. what could be most boring that a hush performance of - let's say - the prelude of the second english suite?

hence, two common notions that i must disagree. first, the thread proposition, that only mozart have such particular characteristics that make him unique and - thus - of a unique difficulty. then, the fact that amelia pointed out, that i heard so many times: mozart doesn't accept flaws, because everything is clear. well, that is true, but to my ears messiaen (just to stick with my example) is as clear as him, and much more difficult to render properly. pick up any hardcore piece by him (one of the ile de feu, for instance) and use the same level of depth given to mozart: take care of the touch, articulation, pedalling, phrasing, sound, etc of each note. well, i admit it can be only myself, but for me it is way (way way way) harder.

finally, and not being any original, it's very difficult to play anything really well, and even more difficult to make it touch someone else. this is the ultimate test for myself.

best wishes!




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