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...]

Sudden Death


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”


"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


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


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...]



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...]



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...]



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...]



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...]