Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Realization from Four-Part Harmony

The last little while I've been trying to memorize pieces by putting more emphasis on recognizing harmonies.  It's going at a reasonable pace, but given that I've forgotten most of what little I know about harmony, undoubtedly I am struggling in this, I'm sure, ultimately very fruitful endeavor.

I flipped through Schachter's Harmony text the other day, and of course, so many examples of "proper" chord progressions use example from Bach's chorales, which are mostly (if not all) based on 4 voices.  He emphasized a lot about how even the bass line needs to make sense, i.e. no big leaps unless necessary.

And now I think I realize why my grandma and Eugene told me on separate occasions that I need to pay more attention to my left hand.  I haven't been paying enough attention to the base line because I have thought of it as little more than mere chords that support the melody in the right hand.  But apparently, in a masterpiece--which is pretty much any classical music that is worth playing in modern day--bass lines are important.

Schubert's impromptu (op 142/2) was used to illustrate various V7 chord inversions.  These inversions allow for varied bass line.  I don't think I really thought of them that way before.

Anyway, so in addition to phrasing the top line, I need to pay attention to the phrasing in the bass line as well.  And of course, this extends to the middle voices as well.

All this requires developing a better ear, which I'm trying to do alongside also.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My To-Play List

Here's a list of pieces I'd like to play at some stage.  So this post is more of a reminder to myself.  Probably come back to this post over and over again to make changes.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chopin Polonaise, Op. 53, Part II

Starting to think about this piece a little more.  But musically, still haven't figured out many things yet.

But first, a few more technical points:

1) Measure 27.  

Op. 53 Bars 26-27.
So, in a previous post, I was undecided what fingering to use to especially the first turn.  I asked people on pianoworld, most like to use 4-5-4, the most natural fingering.  One person pointed out that Jan Ekier, editor of the Chopin National Edition, suggested using the left thumb to play the low F note for the F octave, which I thought, is a rather brilliant idea, since not having to worry about the following F octave makes the turn so much easier.

After some exploring, my current choice is the counterintuitive 4-3-4.  It works surprisingly well for me.  It requires a bit of wrist and arm twisting, but seeing this pattern only comes up 4 times in this one piece, it's not too bad.  5-3-5 and 5-4-5 are also possibilities.

2) Chord progressions in the right hand.  As an example:
Op. 53 Bars 178-179 1st beat.
The fingering for chords require some thinking.  I have been guilty of being a bit lazy and using whatever fingering comes naturally-est to me, but to improve my play, I need to figure out better fingerings.  Shown here, in the last beat of measure 178, is a sequence of fast moving chords.  I'm not sure if 5-5-5-4-5 is the best fingering at this point yet.  I'll play around some more and hopefully come to a conclusiong later on.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Horowitz's Teachings

I found for the first time something on Horowitz's technique and approach to piano playing.  Apparently he gave a couple of presentations in 1928 and 1932, and someone was kind enough to take notes on them.

The 1932 article is especially instructive.  Perhaps, I should read it every few days to remind myself what I need to learn--from Horowitz, no less.

More important, notice that these are all lessons he learned himself.  You don't become the greatest pianist of all time (or, at least, the 20th century) by just taking in what your teacher has to say.  You need to figure things out on your own.

Such is true in all human endearvors.  The greats figure things out, work on them tirelessly, and overcome difficulties.  The lesser mortals usually give up at various stages before reaching that level.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chopin Polonaise, Op. 53, Part I

So I took a little break in my daily piano practicing, but kind of came back to it this week, after for some strange reason I'm compelled to play Rachmaninoff's Little Red Riding Hood Etude.  Plus a slew of show pieces that I can just perform in front of an audience when I need to.  These include Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse, Ravel's Albarado del Gracioso, Schumann's Toccata, and the Chopin Heroic Polonaise Op. 53.

The Polonaise is surprisingly easy to get through.  As a kid, I tried to learn it after hearing Horowitz play, but it was out of my reach, but I did learn the famous left-hand octaves in middle section.  Later on, I learned the chromatic fourths in opening page.  As it turns out, those were the hardest spots.  A few days of practicing ~30 minutes a day was sufficient for me to play in a class and get some instructions.

There are a few difficult spots I need to fix, some subtle, some not quite so.  I might as well document them:

1. Chromatic in fourth runs, third time through, switching from 2/5 to 1/4:

Chopin Polonaise Op 53, Measure 9
  The rest of the chromatics runs are all result in natural finger positions.  This is the only exception.  I find the fingering for the notes highlighted in cyan slightly annoying.  I can still do it pretty fast, but it becomes more detached than I'd like.  A little pedal solves the problem entirely, but obviously, I'd like to avoid that.  I might be paranoid--it could be the kind of thing only the pianist would notice in his own recording.

2. Pinky Mordents.
Chopin Polonaise Op. 53, Measure 26-27
The mordents in Bar 27 are tricky.  The second one is easy, using 4-5-4 and it comes out just fine.  It's the first one that's tricky, going up from a white key to a black one.  Still figuring out the best fingering here.  3-5-3 for the mordent, then jump to play the suceeding octaves?  Or should I practicing 4-5-4 for this.  My 4th finger is unusually long compared to my pinky, and it's quite awkward for me to pull off 4-5-4 here.  Maybe 3-4-3 even?  To be decided.

3. The scale.  Four of them to be exact.  The B flat melodic minor run.  If you know the piece, you know which ones I'm talking about so I'm gonna save myself some trouble and not make a figure out of it.

  Well, Julia Jordan said they shouldn't be pedaled.  All the masters on youtube agree, so I just really need to make them absolutely even, without an unevenness whatsoever.  I think mine's ok as is, but it needs to be much better to sound impressive.  Like Rafal Blechacz's rendition of this piece.  Of course, he won the 2005 Chopin Competition so maybe I'm aiming a little too high here.  But better aim for the moon so if you miss, you might hit the stars.