In the cadenzas Beethoven wrote for his C-Major Piano Concerto, opus 15, higher high-notes are utilized than those in the concerto itself. The cadenzas were written down around 1809, more than a decade after the concerto. When you add on a new room to your house you may use the same materials as the original construction, but whether using the same materials or not, you're likely to utilize current technology in doing the construction. … [Read more...]

4 Trombones


Paris, 2014 Arnold Schoenberg gave Rudolf Serkin an assignment. (This story is hearsay; worthy of attention, in my opinion.) Consider the opening of Mozart's A-Minor piano sonata, Schoenberg asked Serkin. What is the right instrumentation for this music, if it were to be scored for orchestral instruments? Mozart: Sonata in A Minor, KV 310 (300d) Serkin's answer included an oboe playing the upper melody line, and strings taking the … [Read more...]

Moving Target


I don't know how to play the violin. In a master class in France, a violin prodigy played rather brilliantly for me -- while standing on one foot. "Try the beginning again, and be sure to keep both of your feet on the floor," I suggested. With string instruments, I notice that when the position of the fingerboard is not fairly stable spatially, playing is more difficult. It makes sense. The left hand finding pitches, and the bow contacting the … [Read more...]

Ugly Beauty


"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason." -- attributed to John Cage The sound coming from pianos (the physical, real sound) may displease the pianist. In trying out a concert piano, there are often several notes on the instrument that just can't be made to produce what is wanted. Those notes may need "voicing" -- a … [Read more...]

All beats are not created equal


All beats are not created equal. They are endowed by their makers with differing length... Well, not quite. But if we're describing rhythm as rendered live by human musicians then yes, beats vary, even in regularly-beated music played "in tempo." Computer produced beats do not have to vary, as some post-1980 pop music displays. In human-played rhythm, how much do beats vary? Or how much can beats vary and still be perceived as "equal"? … [Read more...]

Construction Zone


“Down below, in the dark of the street lamps, Eusebius said, as if to himself: Beethoven—what lies within this word! Beautifully, within the deep ringing of the syllables, sounds an Eternity.” (“Unten im Laternendunkel sagte Eusebius wie vor sich hin: Beethoven — was liegt in diesem Wort! schon der tiefe Klang der Sylben wie in eine Ewigkeit hineintönend.”) -- Robert Schumann, 1835 Also, this begins with a statue. Every day I'm in the … [Read more...]

Labor Management


Sound recordings from the first decades of the 20th century form a performance-practice treatise, documenting practices that may offer insight into music-making of earlier times. In the case of piano music, very many of these recordings are recordings of Chopin’s music. There are a lot of recordings of short pieces. (The length of one cylinder and later one “side” of a disc was around 3 minutes.) Chopin: Waltz in A Minor, op. 34, no. 2, … [Read more...]



If they throw stones upon the roof While you practice arpeggios, It is because they carry down the stairs A body in rags. Be seated at the piano. ... Wallace Stevens: "Mozart, 1935"   I ask many young pianists to play un-measured preludes by French composers Louis Couperin, Gaspard Le Roux, or Rameau. These are written pieces in which pitches are specified but rhythm is not. I offer no instruction, no advice. Louis Couperin: … [Read more...]



At the beginning of Beethoven's Opus 7 Piano Sonata, why this particular chord? Why this register, this particular arrangement of voices? Beethoven: Opus 7 (I) In other piano music by Beethoven, there are long melodic notes which are excited or made to vibrate longer (or differently) by reiterated lower notes. Beethoven: Opus 28 (I) In this passage from the first movement of Opus 28, the long, high right-hand melody notes (not … [Read more...]

Open String


Piano music may reference or be contextualized by music made on other instruments, or sung. Some piano music mimics other instruments. The mimicry might be subtle, or subliminal. In Brahms's Intermezzo, Opus 118, No. 1 -- revered by Milton Babbitt -- there's an extraordinary cadence: Brahms: Intermezzo, Opus 118, Number 1 In my ear/mind, the low open strings (C and G) of the cello are sounding. Musical norms or expectations encoded … [Read more...]



When listening to recordings from the 1930s I am fairly certain I don't hear the same thing as someone who listened in the '30s. Even if the sound waves were identical -- I could use a Victrola -- the context is so changed, my reception of the sound so differently influenced that it's different music now. Music is a transaction. When we categorize sound recordings as "music" we may make a misrepresentation. Isn't this sound, these patterns of … [Read more...]

Cause or Effect?


Is written music a set of instructions? A student asked my opinion of a performance he described. In the performance, a pianist used the pedal to sustain long notes while taking his fingers off the keyboard. After thinking, I wrote: "I think the use of the pedal for sustaining notes or helping with legato depends very much on what music is being played. For me, in music by Brahms or Mozart, the central Germanic repertory, long notes must be … [Read more...]



  "Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be." -- Walter Benjamin (1936) Our current practice (2013) regarding sound recordings, movies, novels, poems, or images is rooted in old norms of analog reproduction. New art technologies will allow varying surface iteration of an underlying art product. For example, the … [Read more...]

If Aliens Landed


It is now the sixth day of piano auditions at New England Conservatory. We are a few pianists (members of the faculty) sitting at long tables, hearing younger pianists one-by-one. I said "piano auditions" and it's true we hear people play piano. You might think we're evaluating the piano-playing these kids do -- and we are. Or you might think the piano is an instrument used for making music; so we're evaluating the music making these … [Read more...]

Continuity Conscious


In coaching a student in a master class, Alfred Brendel mentioned that very tapered phrase-endings may not allow for long-range musical continuity. If some notes in a cantabile phrase are much softer than the rest, those soft notes may seem to belong to another voice -- they drop out of the line, or suggest a subsidiary one. (In very soft tapering at the end of a melodic line, frequently I have the sense that pianists lose contact with the … [Read more...]