Cause or Effect?

B53IIIAJ

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...]

Fixed

WarholAJ

  "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

VerneAJ

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

NolandHeatAJ

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...]

Sudden Death

EdgertonApplesauce

Some folks probably were comforted by an article that appeared online last year -- an article titled, "Why You Probably Won't Experience Your Own Traumatic Death." "Ever wonder what it would be like to get shot in the head, or have your face smash into a car's windshield? Well, you can stop wondering, because you'll never know -- even if it does happen to you... "It takes as long as 150 to 300 milliseconds (ms) to be aware of a collision … [Read more...]

“New Music Expert”

PlightBeuys

"I repeat all the great experiments of the 19th Century. My results are much better, more consistent, and more subtly nuanced." What will I think of the scientist who makes such a pronouncement? I might think that person's not a scientist. A craftsman perhaps. An artisan or hobbyist? But this guy's goal in the laboratory would seem to be something other than discovery, something other than science. And doesn't this apply to art as … [Read more...]

Conservatory Theory

KoestenbaumAJ

Wayne Koestenbaum writes in his Hotel Theory how a hotel represents an ever-changing collection of people. A not-random assortment, complicated in its variability and contextual specificity. How about the various people on an airplane headed from New York to Amsterdam? Or Boston to Cancun? Or the musicians gathered in and by a conservatory? At Juilliard, we had at one time (students and teachers): Dorothy Delay, Felix Galimir, Milton … [Read more...]

Photographs of Paderewski

PaderewskiAJ3

Every week there are newly-offered Paderewski items for sale on eBay. His long career yielded thousands and thousands of pieces of ephemera, programs, Paderewski postcards, Paderewski soap, tobacco cards, coins, candles, postage stamps, newspaper photos, piano rolls, sound recordings. For a long time, I wanted to acquire an old photograph of Ignaz Jan Paderewski. (Is it because I know Horowitz kept a Paderewski photo near his piano?) … [Read more...]

8.0

treeARthumb

As much as I'm opposed to the notion that musical learning is directly transmitted from teacher to student, it did cross my mind that musicians may fall into generational groups in terms of their shared practice or thinking. If so, as a pianist I suppose I belong to Generation 8 (Gen 8.0). I'm imagining that "classical" music as a culture of cultivating the durable repertoire of classics begins around 1800, and may be centered on the person … [Read more...]

Word

MalibranAJ

The story told by Robert Levin involved snickering Italian waiters. Bob asked quite a few Italian speakers, "What does sfogato mean?" (An Italian-English dictionary will say something like “letting loose.”) The motivation for Levin's particular curiosity was the use of the term in the score of Chopin's Barcarolle (m. 78). It's a word that doesn't appear in (earlier) piano music. Frédéric Chopin: Barcarolle In this written music, "sfogato" … [Read more...]

Homeplace

GWood

My grandmother, my father’s mother, had a nonchalant and serious way of saying “homeplace.” She was talking about the family farm where she lived for more than five decades, where members of the Brubaker family had lived for a century. It wasn’t grand. But conveyed in her pronunciation of that word was both great comfort and resignation. I don’t suppose I understand it. There were entire winter months when she stayed there, never venturing off … [Read more...]

Priceless

AbbottNY

Composers may receive commission fees for making new music. Some kind of pricing structure for learning new difficult piano pieces seems to be needed. Presenters will better be able to plan the use of their resources. In addition to a reasonable base fee, pianists can be paid for add-ons in a new piece. Herewith a pricelist for additional or extraordinary services -- like the extra ingredients in an omelette, or atop a pizza. For all notes … [Read more...]

Hand-played

Player1909AJthumb

In the parlance of mechanical player-pianos, "hand-played" described a piano roll that was directly derived from a realtime human performance. After the initial punching of a roll, it could be retouched. Alternatively, a roll could be prepared entirely by a technician punching holes in a paper roll, measuring physical distances on paper to make the rhythm -- no piano playing required. Conlon Nancarrow carried that practice to considerable … [Read more...]

Miraggio

TanglewoodTCH1

I learned Brahms's Opus 114 quickly -- about ten days from my first encounter with the music to the performance. As a fellow at Tanglewood, I was working on several chamber and ensemble pieces. There were coachings. (Joel Krosnick worked with me and my Brahms colleagues.) The performance went well. There was one place in the last movement when I didn't come in properly -- I played a conspicuously wrong harmony. For years, I avoided listening to … [Read more...]

How to cook a fish

SkateWithout

The first time I ate skate, I'm sure it was a fillet that was sautéed and crispy. A piscatorial classic of the bistro, it was made with lots of butter, and probably capers. It's a classic that requires an act of virtuosity, the cutting of the fillet. Fancy fish sellers and well-trained chefs turned a rather ordinary ingredient into something most cooks couldn't really do. About ten years ago or more, skate started showing up unfilleted on … [Read more...]