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Left Hand Music.


Robert Schumann had little sympathy with music written for one hand alone; he deemed it puerile and unworthy, saying that if a child saw a pianist playing with one hand only he might innocently ask why the player could not use two hands.

Though music written for one hand alone may so impress a child, as Schumann suggests, it is possible to compose very creditably for a single hand. The reason that the left hand is thus chosen is obvious. While there is generally plenty of work for the right hand in most piano compositions, there is often not so much for the left hand to do. Composers have concluded, therefore, that the left hand must have some extra practice. Or is it that they wish to create something unique, unusual or extraordinary—to see what they can do with one hand, whether the work of a single hand can be made to sound like the playing of two hands. The violinist does all of his wonderful work with only four fingers of the left hand, and the pianist, using five, can also perform some agile feats.

Left hand compositions have their value and are at times extremely useful and necessary. In the strenuous pursuit after digital perfection, players sometimes disable the right hand and wrist with injudicious and excessive practice. It is then that the left hand piece comes in for its share of attention. If one cannot present one’s self to the exacting “Professor,” owing to a lame right hand, one need not lose the lesson on that account; hence the necessity of the left hand piece.

The question may be asked, Do we need the left hand piece as a technical study? I answer, We do not, if correct and adequate technical training is being pursued. By adequate I mean the equal training of hands, wrists and arms in the same exercises, the left hand doing exactly the same things as the right. Both hands should be able to play trills, scales, chords and octaves with equal facility and power. Such training is logical and reasonable and appeals to the common sense of every student. With such a well-balanced technical equipment, the left hand piece is in no way a technical necessity.


If the player has had no such foundational training, there may be a wide difference between the facility of the two hands. He may have played much salon music, which usually requires far less activity in the left than in the right hand. In this event, the mastery of a few left-hand pieces will be of real benefit. There is quite, a list of compositions of this character, and it will prove an interesting study to examine some of the best of them.

And, first of all, there are the studies which may be used as stepping stones to the pieces. Czerny has left us some of these, made in his fluent manner, and there are the Four Short Studies, Op. 243, by Bernhard Wolff, and the Easy Studies, by Biel, Op. 153; also the Four Melodious Studies, by A. D. Turner. Isidor Philipp, the Parisian pianist and teacher, has recently published a set of left hand studies, which are a valuable addition to the modern literature on this subject. Of single studies we have one by Lynes, Op. 21, No. 2, and the Melodic Etude, by Mehul, which is but a page in length. For young players there are three little pieces by P. Schnecker, and an Impromptu, Op. 185, No. 4, by Gurlitt. Hollander’s six Intermezzi will be found very interesting. Some of them need considerable technic to play with sufficient velocity. They consist of a pretty Etude in arpeggio figures, an Abendlied, a Valse Melodie, Perpetual Motion and a Hunting Song. Most of these are but two pages in length, though the Perpetual Motion is longer and more ambitious.

Arthur Foote has made several contributions to the list of left hand music with his Little Valse, Op. 6, No. 4, and his set of three pieces, Op. 37, containing the Prelude, Polka and Romance. Among the pieces composed by Count Geza Zichy, the one- armed pianist, may be mentioned the Allegretto Grazioso, of two pages in length, and the brilliant Valse d’Adéle.

The Solfeggietto of Emanuel Bach has been arranged for the left hand alone and is a useful study in this form, although it is advisable to master it first with two hands.


Of the larger works for left hand solo the player will find the Rheinberger Suite, Op. 113, of sterling excellence. This composer can always be depended on to write sane and healthy music, and this Suite is one of the best things we have for this especial purpose. Three numbers from the Suite, a Capriccio, Menuet and Fugue. They will be found most useful to study and at the same time are interesting and melodious as music. The Capriccio is longest of the three, and is an animated and vigorous piece of writing, containing interesting themes in single notes and chords. There is no laziness nor sluggishness here; all must be delivered with active alertness, With exact phrasing and strong contrasts of light and shade. There is a bracing air of candor and honesty about it, which acts beneficially on the left hand technic. The piece affects one like a brisk walk on a fresh morning in Autumn. The boulevards are crowded, the brilliant sunshine makes sharp lines and patches of shadow here and there; all is gay activity. The Alternative section, in F major, set in the middle, is smooth and suave, and forms a good contrast to the first part of the composition, which returns after a page of this calmer mood.

The Menuetto, which follows, is more familiar; it is issued separately and is more frequently played. It starts pianissimo, with a dainty little theme; there are a few measures of strong contrasted chords scattered through the piece, but for the most part the tonal coloring is kept in the lighter and more delicate tints. The Fughetta, which closes the suite, is a short, vigorous bit of writing, well constructed. The listener would not imagine one hand only was being used.

Theodore Leschetizky has tried his hand at this style of writing by turning the sextette from Lucia, ino (sic) a digital exercise for the left hand. It contains more than the usual quantity of broken chords— which must occur in music of this class—and there is considerable arpeggio and some octave work in it.


Of the more recent left hand numbers several of value may be cited. A Salon Etude, Op. 10, No. 5, by E. Pirkhert, is an interesting little piece two pages in length. A nocturne-like theme, capable of warmth and variety of shading and expression, is the basis of its structure. A big climax is worked up on the second page, which subsides into a quiet and peaceful close. The piece is well edited, with very exact directions for its performance.

Scriabine, the Russian composer, has made several additions to the left hand literature. One is a Prelude, Op. 9, No. 1, an unpretentious but useful little piece. The second number in this opus is more ambitious. It is a Nocturne and has a distinctive Russian atmosphere. Starting with a theme in single notes, it soon works into chords and octaves, with several effective cadenzas. It often appears on recital programmes, and opens the eyes of the groundlings as to what can be done with the left hand.

If one is seeking some healthy velocity exercise for the left hand, Weber’s Perpetual Motion rondo, arranged for left hand solo by Brahms, will furnish it in plenty.

Max Reger, too, has written a group of four “special pieces” for left hand. No. 1, a Scherzo, is but a page in length; No. 2, Humoresque, contains two pages written in thirds; the third number is a Romance somewhat longer, and the last number, a Prelude and Fugue, is written on one staff, is four pages in length and much more difficult than the others.

Other pieces for the left hand which may prove useful will be found in the following short list:

Spindler—Three pieces, Op. 350—Landler, Trauer Marsch Serenade.
Spindler—Three Romances, Op. 156.
H.Lichner—Three Romances, Op. 267.
Ferd. Hummel—Five pieces, Op. 43, Etude, Valse, Spring Greeting, March.
C. Hain, Op. 41, In der Dämmerung.
Wilhelm Fink, Op. 200, No. 1, Romanza.
Th. Dohler, Op. 30, No. 7, Etude in D flat.
W. Taubert, Op. 40, No. 2, Canzonetta.



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