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Technic In Pianoforte Playing

The Views of Some of the Most Prominent Teachers of the Day on a Subject of Great Interest to Piano Students
"There is a stage of piano study in which the pupil becomes highly trying to a teacher," says Falkenberg. "That is when a certain pride in technic is reached. The fingers have gained suppleness and certainty, the brain clearness, the mind confidence. Endurance, speed, strength and familiarity with keys and chords give a sense of power, and one becomes possessed by a desire to 'let oneself go,' regardless of the artistic demands of the piece. It is a sort of intoxication of technic which leaves artistic interpretation out of the question altogether. Of what value is playing of this description? It is hard to have to curb these very qualities of life and vitality so necessary to success later on. Yet there is nothing artistic in technic for its own sake, and the distinction between mere dexterity and interpretative art should be kept clearly in mind."
Widor smilingly endorses this view, not only in piano study, but in organ study as well. He calls it "the adolescent runaway" stage in music study.
W. H. Sherwood has evolved a valuable series of finger movements by which the hands might be kept in practice when away from an instrument He has found them invaluable when traveling, and in hotel or flat life, etc. "A pianist," he says, "should have two sets of hands: one set for the piano alone, and the other for lifting, hauling, carrying weights, and even for typewriting and writing with the hand. These things interfere with the fine sensitivity of a perfectly trained piano hand. The right hand is the one in greatest danger of injury from outside work. If the left hand is weak, it is at least 'true,' because it is least employed in unpianistic activity. Of course we cannot go through life practically helpless just because we are pianists, but we should have two pairs of hands!"
Stojowski emphasizes the importance of absolutely correct scale-practice in piano technic. In all the mechanism of piano-playing he finds this one of the greatest difficulties, and the one least carefully studied in the early stages. In fact he declares that few artists realize the beauty of a perfectly played scale, and too few teachers insist upon it.
Fraülein von Unschuld deplores the teaching of speed as a specialty. "Let speed come of itself," she says, "as fluency comes to the speech of a child—by growth. If after three years of study a piece should be played up to tempo is this not enough? Speed is not an end in itself, it is an accessory." Her experience is that pupils who concentrate their attention upon this difficult and fascinating feature of piano technic invariably become "routine-speeders." This to her mind is one cause for the frequent "mindless music" one hears. "Dwell upon the thought of the music always, and all the time," she says, earnestly. "Speed comes of itself; is bound to come. Why teach speed, especially when it is proven to be a hindrance to the attainment of the desired artistic development?"
Moszkowski stringently insists on correct and logical finger-marking and its observance as a means of attaining technic. He pays minute attention to this in his own compositions, and urges it by suggestion and illustration, especially upon teachers who are his pupils. He refers to one, of his suites entitled Les Nations as being distinctly helpful to students of technic. The music in this suite represents the musical style of six different races, so that various technical features are included which may be practiced thoroughly with profit.
M. Louis Diemer, who is considered a representative exponent of the delicate perfection of technic obtained by French pianists, holds the opinion that the study of the compositions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is invaluable for piano students, as it trains them in the detailed accuracy and fine delicacy so characteristic of the French in all forms of art. He has himself arranged, modernized, fingered and adapted a number of such compositions by the best writers of that time, so as to make them suitable for modern students. He also performs them much publicly, using, as far as possible, the instruments for which these compositions were originally intended—the vielle, viola d'amour, viola di gamba, clavecin, etc., much to the delight of the Parisians.
Criminal neglect of the trill is a pet theme with Mlle. Eissler. She does not think that the importance of various forms of trill is properly appreciated—in fact it is hardly realized. The trill has a regular rhythmic value in composition, and should be as much treated as an essential as anything else, not as a "stray curl." It should always be in sympathy with the character of the piece in which it occurs. The worst feature of technic in the early student stage is the false idea that it belongs to the fingers alone, and that it will come by exercising the fingers alone constantly while the mind is off taking a vacation. Every moment that the mind is off duty the pupil should be off the piano stool. This attitude towards technic, together with the predominance given to technical ability in the mind of the average player, gives rise to much piano-playing of the kind which bores.
Opinions seem to differ widely with regard to this question. The general opinion, however, seems to lean toward having no separation between the two branches of study. Nevertheless many schools base their work solidly on the theory of complete separation. "First learn to handle your tools, then use them;" "Freedom of finger-action first, then interpretation afterward," and similar remarks are uttered by the defenders of this system of study. On the other hand, those who uphold an opposite theory argue that when acquiring mechanical mastery of the keyboard is regarded as an end in itself, "something happens" to the mind which may not be shaken off later, and this interferes forever with true expressive power, just as the making of "pot-boilers" menaces creative power in a composer.
Rosenthal asserts that the mind should never be allowed to regard piano technic as an end in itself. For while the study of expression will not produce the true creative or interpretative talent, a lack of expression will certainly retard its development. The first tone struck should represent a musical thought, and the following tones should carry out the idea in a logical manner until the idea changes—but an idea should always be present. "No technical point should ever be offered to a pupil as a soulless thing," he says. "The mind is already too apt to have and produce soulless impressions of sound. Students must be taught early that emotion may be the cause of music, not the result alone. This should be brought home to the student before the passion for technical mastery of mechanical means has had time to develop, otherwise the latter idea will predominate. There is already too much perfection of technic, too much piano playing of the wrong sort, and too little music."
"No, no, no!" cried Jean Jacques Mathias, in his impetuous fashion, in answer to the question as to whether technic should predominate in piano study. "No, do not put off emotion culture until perfect technic has been obtained. If that worked the way it is intended it would be all right. Unfortunately we are all prone to mechanical playing. We poor humans lean towards the wrong at all points, and must not yield to the tendency. Commence the appreciation of sentiment at once, and keep it up. Yes, technic must also be acquired, and I am a stickler for analytical and detailed instruction. But I fight mechanical playing all the time."
"Perhaps one-third hand and two-thirds head," laconically remarks Breitner, a music-poet with a most finished technic, whose nerves have alone prevented him from a great career. "Divide matters as you will, but keep musical thought and poetry always to the fore."
De Bèriot, the violinist, Santiago Riera, a Spanish pianist of the French school, Mlle. Girod, a first prize piano pupil already well known on the continent, Marmontel and Falkenberg join with a host of others in this view. Yet the question remains, "How can people play till they know how?"
There are those who urge that a pupil who is constantly brought into conflict with the distracting difficulties of imagination and its expression cannot acquire technical facility, and becomes discouraged and disinclined for practice. On the other hand, the mastery of one thing at a time, and the consequent pride and stimulation gained thereby, keep interest at high pressure, and result in the achievement of technic, which, after all, is essential. Harold Bauer remarks sententiously that "dulled wits are less a disaster than dulled sensibilities. One can be cured, the other is hopeless. It is for the wise teacher to see that neither is present"
Those who use the Virgil Clavier system naturally lean towards "getting technic out of the way." They claim that in so doing expression is not necessarily crushed out of existence. In the French conservatories imaginativeness and technic are skilfully combined. Gigout says: "Why not clothe the drudgery in some decent mental drapery on presentation. What is to prevent combining the two as we go along?" He carries out this idea in both organ and piano teaching.
One thing seems certain in this regard. Whether done first or last there is a most remarkable tendency upwards in the technical mastery of the pianoforte in this country. The most astonishing feats of finger dexterity and of memory are to be noted in pupils' recitals both in the East and in the West of America. In many Western cities the youth of performers and their technical efficiency in big compositions is little less than marvelous. The same, however, cannot always be said as regards expressiveness.

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You are reading Technic In Pianoforte Playing from the August, 1910 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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