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Answers to Questions

Edited by LOUIS C. ELSON
 
In securing the services of Mr. Louis C. Elson as editor of this department, our readers are to be congratulated upon having placed at their service the rich experience of one of the best known specialists upon subjects of this kind. Mr. Elson has been at the head of the theory department of one of the foremost American musical schools for years. We request our readers in sending in their questions to observe the following simple regulations:
 
Always send your full name and address. No questions will be answered when this has been neglected.
 
Only your initials or a chosen nom de plume will be printed.
 
Make your questions short and to the point.
 
Questions regarding particular pieces, metronomic markings, etc., not likely to be of interest to the greater number of Etude readers will not be considered.
 
 
Q. Should one use alcohol or wood alcohol in whiten piano keys? I have heard that wood alcohol was likely to cause blindness. (M. L. S.)
A. Either may be used. Wood alcohol acts much more strongly on the system than ordinary alcohol, and is regarded as a poison. It is not a definite cause of blindness but its fumes, when strong, are apt to cause discomfort and even ulceration of the throat, if breathed constantly. On this account alcohol is preferable, and denatured alcohol will be found perfectly suitable, as well as cheaper in price.
 
Q. Should a pianist with weak hands play tennis or other games in which one is likely to strain the hands? (J. D.)
A. Of course no pianist should actually strain his hands, whether they are weak or strong. But tennis ought not to strain the hands, unless played too violently. In general, pianists are apt to neglect proper exercise, and strive merely for strong arms on a weak body. Of course much time must be in actual practice, but anything that tends to all-round development is to be recommended. Tennis, golf and other such games will produce this result during recreation hours, while for actual exercise a set of pulley chest weights will be found excellent. Pianists who make digital their only muscular exercise run the danger of developing "pianist's cramp," or partial paralysis. Daily attention to other muscular exercises will entirely dissipate such a menace.
 
Q. What is a bagatelle? (S. of Mercy.)
A. A bagatelle, in French, means a trifle, and is applied to pieces of light, trifling character, generally like an impromptu in style. Beethoven was probably the first to use this term in his "Seven Bagatelles," Op. 33. He wrote three other sets, one of which has the title "Kleinigkeiten" on the manuscript, Instead of the French word. Dvorák's four pieces. Op. 47, for harmonium (or piano), two violins, and violoncello, are called Bagatellen. The form is at the composer's choice, but the piece must be short and not too serious in character. The song- form is very frequently used in such works.
 
Q. What is the difference between a Schneller and a mordent? (Student.)
A. The word mordent is derived from the French word mordre, to bite, and it signifies a fragment bitten out of a trill. As every student knows, a mordent sign over a note means that it is to be preceded by two rapid notes, one on the same pitch and the next a second higher in the scale, unless altered by an accidental placed with the mordent sign. The time for these two notes is subtracted from that of the principal note. The accent is sometimes on the first note of the group, and sometimes on the third; and the Germans distinguish these two kinds of mordent by calling the former a Praller and the latter a Schneller. The Germans use the term "mordent" for what we call an inverted mordent, with the middle note below the first and third Instead of above them.
 
Q. Has the bagpipe ever been used in the orchestration of important musical works? (J. P. G.)
A. The bagpipe has not been used in any Important (or unimportant) orchestral work, nor could It be so used, as its intervals are not entirely in accord with our diatonic scale. Instruments of this type are the askaulos of the ancient Greeks, the Roman Ultricularium, the Italian Zumpogna (Symphonia) the French Cornemuse, the German Sackpfeife, and others. Ireland and Scotland have many varieties, the latter country being especially devoted to the instrument. In these countries it consists of two pipes which are united to form the drone, sounding the keynote and its fifth, while the third pipe, or chanter, has six or eight finger-holes which enable the performer to play the melodies desired. In the Scotch music, most of these are pentatonic in character, as if composed for the black keys of our piano.
 
Many composers have imitated bagpipe effects in the orchestra. Bruch, for instance, suggests them in his "Fair Ellen." Volkmann, in his overture to "Richard III," makes his orchestra play "The Campbells Are Comin'," but it was rather unfortunate for him to suggest an English battle (Bosworth Field) by a Scotch tune that was not composed until many years later. The instruments generally used for bagpipe effects are the oboe and the English horn, although sometimes the "chanter" is more like a clarinet in quality.
 
Very often the Trio of a Minuet-form has a bagpipe effect, a drone bass. Such a Trio is often found in Gavottes, and Bach himself used it more than once. Such a Trio is called a "Musette," a musette being a small bagpipe.
 
Q. Are arpeggios ever reversed—that is, played downward instead of upward? Is there any such thing as a reversed arpeggio? (F. W. de K.)
A. Undoubtedly it is possible to write arpeggios that are meant to be played downward, and the term reversed arpeggio would describe them excellently, but they are not in use at present, and there is no sign for them among the regular embellishments of music. Our ears, whether by instinct or training, follow a chord upward from its lowest note. If the downward effect is desired, it must be obtained by writing a broken chord with the upper notes coming in first. In some of the Handelian Suites and Lessons it has been customary to play an arpeggio upward and downward, but this effect has become obsolete.
 
Q. What does the term dynamics mean? (Inquirer.)
A. Dynamics comes from a Greek word meaning power, and dynamic marks are those which show the softness or loudness with which a note should be played. The natural accents of the measure need no marks, but they must be used for artificial accents, which either intensify a natural accent or place stress where none was to be expected. Taken in its broadest meaning, dynamics would include shading as well as accentuation.
 
Q. Kindly describe all of the signs used in phrasing. (Western Reader.)
A. If phrasing is taken in its broadest sense, meaning the correct interpretation of a composition, then nearly every musical sign has something to do with it. The student may learn from text-books the ordinary marks for loudness, softness and accents, remembering that Rf or Rfz may sometimes be applied to an entire phrase. Due regard must be paid to crescendo and diminuendo, and in tempo to ritardando and accelerando passages. But if phrasing is taken to mean the division of the music into parts, as a paragraph in literature is divided into sentences, then something depends on the kind of music. In songs, for instance, phrases may be marked off by commas, by signs like the letter V, or by actual letters of the alphabet. The notes to be sung to a single syllable should always be grouped together and marked with a slur, though in the long Handelian roulades the ordinary instrumental grouping is followed. In violin music, the slur is used to join those notes that are to be played by a single bow-stroke. Few editions mark the phrasing carefully in piano music, so that a knowledge of musical form becomes absolutely indispensable as a guide to the proper expression in piano playing. The editor would like more detailed questions on this subject. Some of these points will be taken up in his forthcoming work on "Errors and Disputed Points in Music Teaching."
 
Q. What does the word resolution mean in connection with a chord? (M. B. K.) 
A. The word resolution signifies the passing from a chord that seems incomplete to one that seems complete and final. The most usual resolution in music is the ordinary cadence, from the dominant to the tonic. But every progression from a dissonance into a consonance is a "resolution."
 
If the dominant chord (composed, for instance, of the notes "g," "b," "d" and "f" in the key of "C") is played alone, especially with the leading tone (for example the note "b" in the key of "C") in the upper voice, the effect is utterly unfinished, and the tonic seems absolutely necessary. There is an anecdote, for instance, that some students played a practical joke on Cramer by doing this. When he was almost asleep one of them played a loud and brilliant passage on a piano in the room next to his, but left off the final chord. This irritated him so greatly that he could not sleep until he had gotten up and played the last chord, the tonic, on his own piano. Resolution also applies to the completing of a chord after a suspension, or foreign note held over from the preceding chord. In modern music there are many cases of dissonances which have no resolution. These would not be considered correct by strict harmonists, but the laws of harmony are at present in a state of seeming transition.

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