Archive for the ‘From the Past’ Category

284 • No country for single discipline champions.

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

"The pianist needs three qualities: a heart, a mind, and technique.

Without heart he is a machine
Without mind he is a moron
Without technique he is a disaster"

Vladimir Samoylovich Horowitz (1903 – 1989)

174 • Opus 109, 110, 111

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

In his last piano sonatas, Beethoven wrestled with the emerging romantic ideals and with his personal tragedy. As compositions the last sonatas are neither specifically pianistic nor particularly orchestral as they are expressions of pure and intrinsically metaphysical musical thought. I believe that Beethoven was a humanist who saw that human tragedy is greater than the sum of their transgressions and yet believed in the best of all possible - not of all conceivable - worlds.

153 • Der Untergang des Abendlandes

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be — though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes may remain — because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone.

Oswald Spengler (1880 - 1936)

139 • The Emperor’s New Clothes

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

A reason the western harmonic system collapsed could be the fact that though the circle of fifths seems like a perfectly closed system - a circle - it actually is not; it does not add up. Perfect fifths would, when declined trough the 12 steps of the full circle, gain a quarter half tone and not arrive at C, which is what the circle suggests, but a microtone higher. Though the attempted perfection of the circle of fifths might have left a shadow of doubt on the validity of the harmonic system, it worked just fine for Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and all the other titans of the musical pantheon.

Until someone felt compelled to dissolve the harmonic system. Not that the idea hadn't been approached before: Liszt's "ohne Tonalität", Wagner's Tristan, Scriabin's Ecstasy, ... to name a few examples. But in early 20th century Mr. Schönberg had the will and the skill to pronounce the old system, the one that sounded so beautiful in the hands of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Medtner, at an end and to replace it with various forms of atonality. The reasons for such a drastic step might be difficult to ascertain, but a prophetic notion of the impending departure of humanity in Europe might be of relevance. Some of those various forms were:

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128 • o tempora, o mores

Monday, August 8th, 2011

In a small salon venue of the 19th century one expected personal and idiosyncratic ideas and emotions and was surprised by note perfection.

In the large stadium hall of the 21st century one expects note perfection and is surprised, almost discomforted, by idiosyncratic and personal emotions and ideas.

115 • The multicolored dream of earth

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Durch alle Töne tönet
Im bunten Erdentraum
Ein leiser Ton gezogen
Für den, der heimlich lauschet.
Through all the resonance of sound
In midst the multicolored dream of earth
A tender tone rings gently
For him, who listens on the quiet.
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110 • Bach’s Bible

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

In the last 30 years of his life, Johann Sebastian Bach was reading and studying the so called Calov Bible, a slab of Martin Luther's German translation of the gospel with popular explanations and interpretations by the great Lutheran theologian and scholar Abraham Calovius.

Bach wrote little commentaries with his own pen in the page margins when a passage particularly captivated or intrigued him. The following note seems to me especially revealing of Bach's relation to music and to the biblical god:

Bey einer andächtig Musiq ist allezeit Gott mit seiner Gnaden gegenwart.

My translation: Upon reverent music, God with his Grace is ever-present.

The two images below show
1) my hand in white glove on the particular page with
2) the notable quote:

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106 • Heinrich Neuhaus in “The art of piano playing”

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

"Methodology is knowledge gained by deduction and by experiment; its source is a defining will, a relentless striving towards a goal which is determined by the artist's character and his outlook on life."

101 • I disagree with Otto Ortmann

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

"There's more to music than meets the ear."
Otto Ortmann

As a scientist, Ortmann was not consequential with this statement:
Music is exactly and only what meets the ear. What happens after the airwaves set the eardrums in motion, however, is where the mystery begins to unfold.

Ortmann was almost absolutely astute in his scientific observation that the only factor responsible for the diversity of piano sound is the speed of hammer to string, particularly after the hammer is let off from the guidance of the repetition lever. His research of the phenomenon of piano sound production was a daring undertaking since pianists - including myself – want to believe in magic when it comes to sound production on the piano; a kind of sorcery conjured by a special ability of the artist. But facts are facts.

Ortmann observed essentially two different ways a piano key can be pushed: a) percussively (speed changes during depression, particularly fast-slow-fast) and b) follow-through (speed either accelerates or remains constant all the way).

a) When the key is hit percussively, it briefly escapes the finger; the sound is perceived as unpleasant and hard when depressed fast, and hollow and wispy when slow. The pianist can't feel that key escape because of the speed of the event and the softness of the pillow on the fingertip; the finger never completely looses its tactile contact to the key top.

b) When the key is accelerated with a follow-through contact, the sound is perceived as full and sonorous when depressed fast and slender and subtle when slow, and always pleasant. The finger stays fully connected through the entire acceleration all the way to he bottom of the key-bed.

There must be a grey zone, something in-between of percussive and follow-through, but it's penumbrian and thus irrelevant (too shady to measure) to Ortmann's research.

What remained puzzling is that, since that moment of unguided trajectory (without static connection other than the hinge) occurs in both cases of key contact (better than "attack"), after the hammer shank is released from the jack tip, it shouldn't matter by which means the hammer is accelerated to that point. When the end speed of the hammer is exactly the same, the quality of sound should be exactly the same as well. Due to the flexibility of the felt covering the hammer head, the contact to the string is always about 6 to 7 milliseconds; that makes the difference of the speed of key contact (still better than attack), and thus resulting volume, irrelevant. Therefore only the kind of key contact (percussive versus follow-though) should make a difference, but there was no scientific explanation for that phenomenon other than empiric observation.

And yet there is beautiful and ugly sound ... not to mention majestic, celestial, singing, and sublime. As piano sound is a personal expression, the baring of a soul, it seems incomprehensible and counter-intuitively that speed of hammer to string alone determines the mystery of sound. And while Ortmann observed and analyzed a phenomenon, he offered no substantive scientific explanation for the divergence between artistic expression and experience and the measurements of his ingenious apparatus. There seems to be a conundrum, if not a full-fledged paradox, forced by deduction from his observations: How can there be different sound qualities, even with different kinds of key contact, when the end speeds of the hammer are identical?

Here is one possible explanation: Read more

99 • A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

He must of necessity feel all of the affects that he hopes to arouse in his audience.
C.P.E. Bach (1714 – 1788)

  • A weblog of thoughts, ideas, concepts, observations, suggestions, research, methodology, discoveries, rules, exceptions, aphorisms, and secrets from pianist to pianist.
Total number of posts: 436
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