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Author Topic: Finger legato and pedal legato  (Read 687 times)
clouseau
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« on: August 26, 2017, 09:34:51 PM »

Hello everyone,

the reason of this post is to gain some more insights on this matter because I feel it is a subject which is not discussed much.

It all starts with Bach. "Don't use the pedal in Bach" will probably most teachers say, "connect with the fingers". Pedal works against this kind of complex polyphony. So there are interpreters, Schiff as one of the most brilliant examples, who play Bach "dry". Of course, there are many interpreters using pedal in Bach, but they are skilled enough to do it without ruining the polyphonic textures. But for the purpose of teaching polyphonic music, it makes sense to start out without pedal.

And up to that point, I can follow.
I have often heard the opinion that playing finger legato makes a difference in sound, a more beautiful sound, even when using the pedal. (therefore it is suggested to play finger legato in Beethoven and even Chopin). Are there any advocates of this opinion and if yes, can you explain this a bit?
This sounds quite paradoxical to me, and quite mysterious that even acclaimed pianists support this thesis.
Everyone who knows the basics mechanics of the piano is aware that when you press down the pedal, all dampers raise. Whether you keep a key pressed or not after the hammer hits the string, while the pedal is down, it makes no difference. That is not a matter of opinion, this is physics.

(I don't refer to the specific case where finger legato is executed with selective pedaling because in this case, it makes perfect sense as it gives more options in terms of sound color)
Some editions of Chopin nocturnes, for instance, indicate finger legato in places where more notes are held, like you would do in a fugue (this becomes apparent by the fingering, with finger substitutions being the most obvious indicator) but in places where the pedal is pressed down.

The thing is, that some passages are somewhat tough to play like that. Why connect with fingers AND pedal, when you can connect just with pedal with much more ease and control over your sound?
It seems to me that there is a lot of finger-legato-mania out there. Is it just my impression, or has become finger-legato an end in itself in teaching?

waiting impatiently for your opinions.
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brogers70
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« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2017, 01:06:13 AM »

Legato is not just a matter of one note continuing until the next note occurs. To create a believable legato you have to match the volume of the following note to the decay of the previous note. And then, unless you want to get into an infinite diminuendo, you also have to find places within the structure of a phrase that will let you increase the volume relative to the decay of the previous note while still producing a connected sound. If you practice creating this illusion of legato without pedal you will find that you are playing very differently than if you thought of legato simply as a brief overlap of adjacent notes. Simply holding down the pedal does not guarantee you a good legato sound. You can prove this to yourself several ways....

Play a legato phrase without pedal, but taking care to think about the volume of each note relative to the decay of the previous one. You should have a good illusion of legato. Then play the same way but with a tiny break between notes. If you are handling the relative volumes correctly, it should still sound pretty legato. Then play that way (ie with a good finger legato) with the pedal depressed. Again it should sound beautifully legato. Now play it with the pedal down but with a a finger staccato and identical volume for each note - that should sound quite non-legato, maybe even unpleasant. And that should convince you that just holding the pedal down does not produce a beautiful legato.
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clouseau
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« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2017, 02:37:01 AM »

brogers what you are describing is phrasing, and I agree, that this aspect of legato is created by the fingers. I did not make it quite clear at my original post, that I am referring more on how to connect notes. With that i mean, that there is not the slightest pause between them. And that on passages where multiple voices are played with one hand.
the paradox I am talking about might become more evident with the following examples

while pressing down the pedal, finger legato on:

double 3rds/6ths in fast tempi
trying to connect the upper voice on successive chords
holding notes and playing the melody with one hand.
 
typical scenario:
arpeggiated chords on the left hand (with pedal), while the right hand is playing a melody in octaves. An old teacher I had used to tell me I should connect the octaves with the fingers so they are connected even without pedal. That involves special and sometimes awkward fingering (using 5,4,3 on the right hand) while the same passage could be played just with thumb and pinky much easier, and with better phrasing, because there is no tension in the hand

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brogers70
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« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2017, 10:33:11 AM »

Yes, it is phrasing that I was talking about. I think the argument is that you get better phrasing if you do finger legato even if you are holding the pedal down anyway. But clearly there are practical limits. You can't finger legato a leap of two octaves, and, depending on the shape of your hands, trying to finger legato the upper line of parallel octaves may create more tension than it's worth, or may just be physically impossible. Then you just have to rely on the pedal to make the connection. My teacher, like yours, is always after me to use legato fingering, even when the pedal is down. Except when trying to do it makes things worse.
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hardy_practice
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« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2017, 05:18:45 PM »

I find it equivalent to not walking under ladders.
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adodd81802
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« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2017, 08:26:43 AM »

I think you can always get a cleaner sound connecting with your fingers rather than the pedal, even with the most skilled pedal work.

It also gives you more variety of sounds, it is also more difficult. Chopin I think imposes finger legato wherever it is possible, or where he wants a quieter more personal sound.
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malabdal
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« Reply #6 on: August 30, 2017, 09:21:36 PM »

brogers what you are describing is phrasing, and I agree, that this aspect of legato is created by the fingers. I did not make it quite clear at my original post, that I am referring more on how to connect notes. With that i mean, that there is not the slightest pause between them. And that on passages where multiple voices are played with one hand.
the paradox I am talking about might become more evident with the following examples

while pressing down the pedal, finger legato on:

double 3rds/6ths in fast tempi
trying to connect the upper voice on successive chords
holding notes and playing the melody with one hand.
 
typical scenario:
arpeggiated chords on the left hand (with pedal), while the right hand is playing a melody in octaves. An old teacher I had used to tell me I should connect the octaves with the fingers so they are connected even without pedal. That involves special and sometimes awkward fingering (using 5,4,3 on the right hand) while the same passage could be played just with thumb and pinky much easier, and with better phrasing, because there is no tension in the hand



I have to disagree with your observation that you can better phrase a melodic line in octaves just by using the thumb, the pinky, and the pedal.
I know that it would be impossible to make a truly convincing legato line without using the outer fingers (3,4, and 5) of your RH in passages like:
- The slow middle section of Chopin's Octave etude (Op. 25 no. 10)
- The development of Beethoven's E major sonata (Op. 14 no. 1) (first movement).
- The octaves in the coda of Beethoven's Waldstein sonata (1st mov.)
- The octaves interrupted by chords in Chopin's nocturne Op. 48 No. 1. (After the chorale section).
- The 7th variation from the 32 variations in C minor of Beethoven (WoO80)
.....
I can go on and on forever with examples of how important it is to use the outer fingers when playing melodic lines in octaves.
It is after all a question of hearing. Train your ears to hear how immensely beautiful an octave finger legato can be and you will never again use just your thumb, your pinky, and the pedal.
Of course, even with using fingers 3,4, and 5 to achieve octave legato, you still can use the pedal for 2 main reasons:
1- to add extra 'support' to the finger legato.
2- to deal with concerns of texture and color.
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clouseau
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« Reply #7 on: August 30, 2017, 09:30:32 PM »

I find it equivalent to not walking under ladders.

I quite agree.
I believe playing Bach without pedal is justified in many ways (nothing wrong with pedaling Bach per se)
in order to achieve:
1) transparent polyphonic texture
2) a drier sound closer to the harpsichord (a sound anachronism rather than imitation)
3) as a consequence, a musical way to improve the skill of finger legato

however, in music where the pedal IS required, there should be no dogmatic way of applying finger legato. I can give you many examples, here a more concrete example from Chopin etude op 10 No.4:



if you try to hold the full note value of the quarters with the right hand, the passage becomes very difficult, especially in fast tempi.  Of course, it is a technical challenge, and if you want to practice many hours every day trying to make that awkward hand position work, it is your right to do so. But I find there is nothing wrong with playing those notes staccato - since you are using the pedal -, in order to free up your right hand, in order to play the 16ths more effectively. There is no audible difference.
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clouseau
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« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2017, 09:40:57 PM »

hello malabdal,


 I did not say to play all octaves with thumb and pinky, I am saying that when there is a passage which is easier to play that way, with the help of the pedal, you should not be dogmatic and consider that as an option. Let's say, the final measures of the "black key" Etude, which if I remember correctly, is descending double octaves on the black keys. Would you bother there using 4th and 3rd finger trying to connect the upper voice? Of course not, you hit the octaves with 1-5, it's much easier.

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malabdal
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« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2017, 09:59:53 PM »

hello malabdal,


 I did not say to play all octaves with thumb and pinky, I am saying that when there is a passage which is easier to play that way, with the help of the pedal, you should not be dogmatic and consider that as an option. Let's say, the final measures of the "black key" Etude, which if I remember correctly, is descending double octaves on the black keys. Would you bother there using 4th and 3rd finger trying to connect the upper voice? Of course not, you hit the octaves with 1-5, it's much easier.



hello clouseau,
I think it ultimately depends on the musical context. I would certainly use a finger legato for the pieces I mentioned in my previous reply. Certainly not in the case of Chopin's back keys etude (10/5). Chopin marked these double octaves intentionally staccato. And yes it would be very difficult to play these octaves in a different context legato. But mentioning again Chopin's octave etude: some of the octave connections using finger 3,4 (3 in particular) are a nightmare in the slow section of that etude. But I would still work hard to achieve that kind of legato with 3,4, and 5 since the phrase immediately loses its intensity and direction when merely depending on the pedal. So again, I believe, it is always not a question of what is easier, but what the musical context dictates (no matter how hard).

A note on the op.10 no 4 passage you quotes: the legato line here is just for the upper voice (sixteenth notes) and not for the quarter notes. The quarter notes are just played with the thumb and can't be played legato. They should though be held for their full duration (or at least almost full duration at fast tempi) as this is the technical of this measure. Being able to hold these notes with the thumb meanwhile playing with 2,3,4,and 5 will only help you improve your RH technique. Just practice it in many ways (rhythmically) till this figuration becomes manageable.
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pianoplayer002
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« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2017, 11:00:38 PM »

And up to that point, I can follow.
I have often heard the opinion that playing finger legato makes a difference in sound, a more beautiful sound, even when using the pedal. (therefore it is suggested to play finger legato in Beethoven and even Chopin). Are there any advocates of this opinion and if yes, can you explain this a bit?
This sounds quite paradoxical to me, and quite mysterious that even acclaimed pianists support this thesis.
Everyone who knows the basics mechanics of the piano is aware that when you press down the pedal, all dampers raise. Whether you keep a key pressed or not after the hammer hits the string, while the pedal is down, it makes no difference. That is not a matter of opinion, this is physics.

(I don't refer to the specific case where finger legato is executed with selective pedaling because in this case, it makes perfect sense as it gives more options in terms of sound color)
Some editions of Chopin nocturnes, for instance, indicate finger legato in places where more notes are held, like you would do in a fugue (this becomes apparent by the fingering, with finger substitutions being the most obvious indicator) but in places where the pedal is pressed down.

The thing is, that some passages are somewhat tough to play like that. Why connect with fingers AND pedal, when you can connect just with pedal with much more ease and control over your sound?
It seems to me that there is a lot of finger-legato-mania out there. Is it just my impression, or has become finger-legato an end in itself in teaching?


I have a few arguments for finger legato.

If you consider the pedal as a coloring device, finger legato makes much more sense. Your reasoning works if you fully press down the pedal to fully preserve the resonance of one melody note until the next one is played. However, the pedal should almost never be fully pressed down, and most often advanced pianists use half pedals, 1/4 pedals, flutter pedals etc etc. Then you need the physical connection of one note to the next, using the fingers. In some advanced pieces physical legato is not possible and you have to produce an illusion of legato even if there are physical pauses between notes, but in pieces where legato is possible, why make life harder when it could be easier?

Finger legato tends to help with matching the tone and volume of successive notes very closely in order to produce the legato effect. It simply tends to make it easier to produce good legato. Cortot constantly insisted that his students play their melodies legatissimo.

Also, the Chopin Etude passage you quoted will sound like a messy blur with any significant pedal. It sure is easier to play that passage without holding the quarter notes to their full value, but that destroys the point of the etude. The point is to learn to play that passage as written, without it feeling "very difficult". The point is to learn how to play that passage effectively, with the held notes included.

Lastly, just from my personal experience, I've heard many pianists who had great technique, very fast and accurate, but who didn't have good finger legato and whose phrasing tended to sound very "notey".

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clouseau
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« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2017, 11:04:14 PM »

Malabdal, so we agree. "Depending on musical concept" is the key. What is more natural and more musical... depending on the situation, it could be 1-4, 1-3 or 1-5 fingering for an octave.

There are at least two ways of thinking about a piece:

1. A musical composition
2. An exercise

I believe the second way is a trap! The danger in it is developing an athletic attitude. There are different approaches and it's not the subject now, which one is better. But I believe one has to be a pragmatist.
See Kissin, for example, playing op. 10 No 4. Why is he, that pianistic demon, playing those quarters with the left hand? (can you actually or any of your students play that part the way you describe, up to tempo?)
I believe whether that is considered "dishonest trickery" or not, is irrelevant. It is the sound that matters.

You can go to work with your hands instead of your feet. There are certain benefits to it, for example, you will strengthen your arms, your "technique" in walking with your hands is going to improve. But I am sure, that you will arrive very late at work and eventually have not enough time finishing your other tasks.
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clouseau
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« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2017, 09:25:37 PM »

I came across another perfect example which might be of interest, to further give insight into this erroneous way of thinking (and teaching) with respect to unnecessarily holding the notes while pedaling.

This lady here shares her insights about the Chopin Prelude op.28 No.8:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w0VAVuyOn0
Her attitude is mirrored in her statements like "1024 thirty-second notes" and "this is a workout". And if you think about it, she actually made a workout out of it, since she chose to hold the inner-melody notes for their whole value with the thumb and suggests that this is the way to go. It goes without saying that the thirty-second notes don't flow as fast and effortless when you hold the thumb down.

It is a virtuoso piece indeed but does this mean we have to hurt ourselves? Try it out yourself, both ways and see how can you play faster and more expressively

Now see how a great pianist does it, for example, Marta Argerich (you can also slow down the video to see her hands better)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPNDM5bYnVo

A typical example of applying concepts blindly imo.
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anamnesis
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« Reply #13 on: September 12, 2017, 11:12:25 PM »

I came across another perfect example which might be of interest, to further give insight into this erroneous way of thinking (and teaching) with respect to unnecessarily holding the notes while pedaling.

This lady here shares her insights about the Chopin Prelude op.28 No.8:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w0VAVuyOn0
Her attitude is mirrored in her statements like "1024 thirty-second notes" and "this is a workout". And if you think about it, she actually made a workout out of it, since she chose to hold the inner-melody notes for their whole value with the thumb and suggests that this is the way to go. It goes without saying that the thirty-second notes don't flow as fast and effortless when you hold the thumb down.

It is a virtuoso piece indeed but does this mean we have to hurt ourselves? Try it out yourself, both ways and see how can you play faster and more expressively

Now see how a great pianist does it, for example, Marta Argerich (you can also slow down the video to see her hands better)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPNDM5bYnVo

A typical example of applying concepts blindly imo.


While I agree about what legato truly means at the piano (See Whiteside's book on the probably the most honest statement on what is involved with staccato and legato at the piano), it's actually fully possible to play this quite at ease while holding with full expression.

Before holding notes, one actually needs to have very good double interval technique, because holding something like is much closer to that in coordination (a series of double rotations with pronation on articulation/supination to release).  For reasonable cases of holding that don't involve stretches (the required speed is actually mostly irrelevant) that someone can't seem to do, I'd suggest someone figure out how to play Op 25 no 6 or 10 no 7 with ease first.  

Having said that...

Musically, absolutely insisting on gluey finger legato is actually wrong-headed (outside of really wanting that specific sonority) in terms of what is required.  

One, it's the wrong physical sensation being attached to legato. Continuity is felt by the upper arm/torso acting as fulcrum against the articulating forearm following through to the contact of the sitz bones with the chair seat. The only part of the upper extremity that has a continuous joint is the glenohumeral head; therefore, continuity and spacing of tones has to be organized from that framework. It's only from this perspective that one can sense how a continuous thread or coordination can be subdivided or parsed out rhythmically.  This helps solve the conundrum of the mix of sensations involved when trying to balance out continuity with articulation.  

Second, Chopin's use of bigger noteheads or notable long duration notes only hint at a process that goes much deeper.  See Whiteside's outlining approach for an immediate practical experience of this or go study Schenker and see how he models pieces in terms of different models of species counterpoint. You can't properly interpret if you only see the superficial rhythmic notation, and not their underlying structural organization in the background.  The effect of notes don't stop at their literal notational value.  You have to understand how notes are prolonged or how various important structural intervallic spaces are composed out or filled in.  

Because these events happen in longer time spans, and yet are still comprehended given a skilled performer and listener, it's clear that literal finger legato isn't the only tool we have at our disposal even when dealing with shorter time spans. Those who obsess over it tend to be too highly involved with surface level events.    

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clouseau
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« Reply #14 on: September 13, 2017, 01:04:17 AM »

anamnesis, hello again Smiley
 
It is possible to play the prelude with sticky thumb, but it takes more effort. The beginning bars are ok, but it is not always that easy as later you have to move in and away from the black key area while still holding the thumb(during the same beat) which results in either twisting or curled fingers. (in my situation, the fingers get stuck between the black keys)
But the question is not how, but why. Why do it here, when half-pedaling with rotational movements towards the thumb produces a beautiful sound, not too muddy or too dry, with the melody notes sustaining nicely through the figuration?

You open a vast subject now, that of analyzing and interpreting Chopin's works. I quite agree though that the rhythms/note values are not always to be taken literally. Don't know much about schenkerian analysis, you believe it is essential to understanding a work by Chopin?

btw op.25 No.6 is a monster(!), way more difficult than the prelude. Are you sure it is a good idea to go from difficult to easy?
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pianoplayer002
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« Reply #15 on: September 13, 2017, 01:42:37 AM »

It goes without saying that the thirty-second notes don't flow as fast and effortless when you hold the thumb down.

They do if you have a good technique. If your technique is not developed, holding down the thumb can slow down and make the small notes more straining, yes.

Quote
It is a virtuoso piece indeed but does this mean we have to hurt ourselves? Try it out yourself, both ways and see how can you play faster and more expressively

Holding the notes with the thumb does in no way have to cause us to hurt ourselves. Holding the notes with thumb does allow us to be more creative with the pedal though. What if you want to play some figures unpedalled, or with quarter pedal? Then you have to sustain that note somehow.

While I wasn't in the studio to verify for sure, I think it does sound like Cortot holds the notes in this recording. An insistent and very expressive legato that I believe is achieved with the thumb and not the pedal.
https://youtu.be/3e22O1PUJyw?t=527
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anamnesis
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« Reply #16 on: September 13, 2017, 01:59:45 AM »

anamnesis, hello again Smiley
 
It is possible to play the prelude with sticky thumb, but it takes more effort. The beginning bars are ok, but it is not always that easy as later you have to move in and away from the black key area while still holding the thumb(during the same beat) which results in either twisting or curled fingers. (in my situation, the fingers get stuck between the black keys)
But the question is not how, but why. Why do it here, when half-pedaling with rotational movements towards the thumb produces a beautiful sound, not too muddy or too dry, with the melody notes sustaining nicely through the figuration?

If you don't quite have the skill to hold it, then given no other choice, I agree.  I'm just mentioning how to actually get it done so that it feels like you are using the same amount of effort.

It's not the amount of effort between doing it or not that is the problem.  But the increase in effort from lacking the coordination.  So skipping to this part of your post:

Quote
btw op.25 No.6 is a monster(!), way more difficult than the prelude. Are you sure it is a good idea to go from difficult to easy?

If 25 no 6 seems daunting, it is a sign that holding notes will be an issue.  As I said earlier, they almost use the same type of coordination.  You need to be able to do fast double intervals with ease, which is actually an easier coordination because you are letting go each time. There's a certain timing and interaction with the instrument that's needed that greatly facilitates playing, and double thirds simply won't ever be easy without it, making it a good gauge.  

Here's what Whiteside has to say on the subject:

"A third reason for not using scales in acquiring facility is that with an inordinate amount of practice a scale can be played very well with fingers, and thus it does not help in making the pupil aware that virtuoso playing demands a balanced activity throughout the body.

There is value in using a difficult pattern early, but only the kind of pattern which balks until a right balance in activity is established. Octaves and double thirds are examples of this kind of useful difficulty. They remain difficult and practically unplayable until they are produced in the easiest possible manner. Thus they are extremely valuable in establishing a technique. But a good finger scale is of no assistance, or practically none, in playing arpeggios and double notes--so the time spent on scales is not used to the best advantage. They should not be used, as they still are in most conservatories, as a criterion of progress in accomplishment. Educators in other fields have learned to start with the large movements first in establishing a desirable coordination."

Quote
You open a vast subject now, that of analyzing and interpreting Chopin's works. I quite agree though that the rhythms/note values are not always to be taken literally. Don't know much about schenkerian analysis, you believe it is essential to understanding a work by Chopin?

It's essential to understanding any musical work in the sense that it actually teaches you how to structure music in your mind as something you can actually mentally manipulate.   Pragmatically if facilitates your ability to enjoy and hear a score without a recording or instrument.  
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clouseau
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« Reply #17 on: September 15, 2017, 09:41:37 PM »

If you don't quite have the skill to hold it, then given no other choice, I agree.  I'm just mentioning how to actually get it done so that it feels like you are using the same amount of effort.

It's not the amount of effort between doing it or not that is the problem.  But the increase in effort from lacking the coordination.  So skipping to this part of your post:

If 25 no 6 seems daunting, it is a sign that holding notes will be an issue. 

What you are suggesting is extremely difficult to do, at the tempo required. Op.25 No.6 does not seem daunting, it actually is! Even professional pianists are struggling with this, so I seriously have to question its instructive value (unless you have extraordinary students), and for the subject of "holding notes" I would suggest the more traditional Bach approach

I shall explain the problem that arises with this particular prelude, in greater detail:

This prelude is in F sharp minor which involves many black keys. I am talking about the right hand now: The inner melody is played always with the thumb. The problem arises when the thumb has to hold down a black key for the full time value of the note, while the other fingers play white keys. Playing white keys deep inside the keyboard has basically two drawbacks:
1) You have to use more power (lever principle)
2) Your fingers might depress the neighboring black keys

so you have two ways to deal with this problem of reaching the white key area:
a) twist the wrists at an awkward angle
b) Curl the fingers to an extreme
none of the above two solutions are really desirable
ok so far? now add 1024 thirty-second notes (if the lady was right) played at breakneck speed to the equation...
you still believe this is possible? Are you or any of your students actually able to play this prelude that way?
I am not debating here, just trying to understand, to make sense of the sometimes contradictory information. That is why I am asking you personaly, because it is easy to make general observations on a piece because you recognized a familiar pattern. Often patterns look similar and can be treated the same way, but often there are exceptions and unexpected difficulties.

The Cortot recording is one of the most beautiful interpretations of this. The melody is very pronounced but I don't find that to be sufficient evidence of holding the notes, as this can be easily done with careful use of pedal (pedal is evident in the recoridng)

Holding the notes with the thumb does in no way have to cause us to hurt ourselves. Holding the notes with thumb does allow us to be more creative with the pedal though. What if you want to play some figures unpedalled, or with quarter pedal?
https://youtu.be/3e22O1PUJyw?t=527

Your point is justified. If you want to do creative things with the pedal at some bars, yes, why not? But I am talking about how to approach the piece in a foundamental way: a way that can be used throughout the piece (or are you planning to play the whole thing without pedal?) That is also what I am telling Anamnesis, playing the whole piece that way, is quite dangerous.


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"What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune." - Rameau
malabdal
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« Reply #18 on: September 15, 2017, 09:48:26 PM »

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-ZNjQlP30E
(ivo pogorelich)
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