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Topic: Octave technique in some Brahms...  (Read 2780 times)

Offline rosejaune177

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Octave technique in some Brahms...
on: September 02, 2019, 09:20:51 PM
I'm going to begin with an apology because this message sounds really ignorant :-[ but I'd very much appreciate some advice.

I've recently been learning Brahms 118/6, and I'm not sure what technique to use for the octaves in the contrasting middle section. I have the notes under my fingers (well, most of them...I have small hands!) but it's still massively underspeed. Here's my problem: when I play the octaves 'from the wrist', it feels like I'm using way too much movement and effort on every demisemiquaver, trying to over-prepare each one as I move between them in a short space of time; when I play them 'with the forearm', it feels less flappy, but it's tight, tiring and unsustainable. Sorry, I'm not sure how to describe this better! I'm thinking particularly of moments like this in the R.H. where there are successive 8ves (the score is on there as well) --
https://youtu.be/WXnojYMsYmA?t=2500

What am I doing wrong? ??? How can I practise this, or octaves in general, to make it better? Is there something fundamentally wrong in my 8ve technique?! Neither of my methods seems right.
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Offline j_tour

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Re: Octave technique in some Brahms...
Reply #1 on: September 03, 2019, 01:46:09 AM
I only came in to see which Brahms you were talking about. It happens I know the Op. 118 no. 6 pretty well.  It's been a few years since I even read through it, but I'm guessing you're talking about the cascading diminished chords in both hands in the middle section.

That's really hard to explain in words, but I'll give a few basic ideas.

If you're already doing this, then I hope someone else can amplify or someone with a better idea of how to make videos will step up.

You are thinking of each of these octave runs as part of an entire chord, right?  So, not just "plunk" one, "slam" two, etc.?

I think that's both for your own arm movement and fluidity, but also to appropriately give the almost impressionistic gloss over the passages.

The other thing I thought of is to try to minimize the difference in physical approaches between the two hands.  For example, on, say, about the last page when the main Dies irae theme returns, the LH is sustaining and the RH has quite a few distinct lines to pick up.  To me, it was disastrous to think about it as "hands separate" — the piece doesn't so much exist, for me, except as both hands equibalanced in approach, if not in voicing.

Anyway, I was just glad to be reminded of this piece and so, naturally, I gave some ideas that are probably pretty obvious.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline rosejaune177

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Re: Octave technique in some Brahms...
Reply #2 on: September 04, 2019, 09:33:55 PM
Thanks very much for your reply, and I'm glad you know the piece so well! I totally get what you're saying about not thinking in terms of 'hands separately' in the main theme sections. I think it's especially true in the hand crossings.
You are thinking of each of these octave runs as part of an entire chord, right?  So, not just "plunk" one, "slam" two, etc.?
I think the latter is more accurate :o  I find it hard to transate thinking of the octaves in terms of chords into playing them still in a relaxed way, if that makes sense. Anyway, I'll try to approach it mentally like that next time I practise!

Offline j_tour

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Re: Octave technique in some Brahms...
Reply #3 on: September 05, 2019, 01:58:49 AM
Thanks very much for your reply, and I'm glad you know the piece so well! I totally get what you're saying about not thinking in terms of 'hands separately' in the main theme sections. I think it's especially true in the hand crossings. I think the latter is more accurate :o  I find it hard to transate thinking of the octaves in terms of chords into playing them still in a relaxed way, if that makes sense. Anyway, I'll try to approach it mentally like that next time I practise!

Oh, I wouldn't say I know the piece "so well."  I did it as part of one of those graded exams where you get on stage and some blue-haired old biddies sit somewhere in the audience and give you a grade.  I did it OK, but since then has been a few decades and me doing more from the 118 just for fun. 

Yes, I remember the various hand-crossings to be challenging, particularly in the way I said:  it's not two hands, like accompaniment+melody, it really has to sound like one unified conception, or one big hand, if you prefer.

TBH, I never had the problem with the octave passages:  I just thought it was Brahms's way of being "big and impressive" when needed.  So, either chords or scales, however you want to think of it, but clearly this is the place if ever there was one to really lead from the shoulders, and just trust that your fingers will land on the right places.

Big motions, big sound.

Out of curiosity, how do you prefer to play the LH at the beginning of the middle Db major section?  I still like light pedal, and think sharp staccato like Gould is kind of affected and a bit precious.  For me, I think the meaning of Brahms's staccato markings (I'm not sure of the provenance of the manuscripts — I still only use the Dover reprint) is to suggest a lightness in mood and not the heavy pedalling.  But Brahms's own pianos, as is well known, had the quality that you could practically stand on the sustain pedal and still have some articulation.

Oh, I'll put in my plug for practicing and learning the octotonic "W-H" diminished scale:  it's something I only learned from jazz, doing those scales in b-thirds, dim-fifths, and dim-sevenths.  (ETA even though that scale itself shows up all over the place, in Bach and in Mozart, for example).

I just think those are fun, and I'm sometimes surprised that many musicians don't do more with them along with the rest of their exercises.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.
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