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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 11:45 am 
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Hello David,

The crazy fingering is mine, to insure the best legato possible and it seems to work.

As for the Prelude, this seems to be what I do too. What I really was thinking is that the "underlying E" on the RH ought to descend to the D# on the LH. Now, how does one connect those, because there is no way to hold the E to its full value, except by using the pedal and by doing that the whole thing becomes muddled.

What you say about baby grands simply confirms what others have said before. At one point I will need something better, if not for me, for our daughter, who will not progress beyond a certain level on the upright we have. I have actually been looking into rental prices for grands, as now we are moving to a larger flat.

This discussion has been most helpful and am most grateful to you for all you have done. I hope to be able to post some success stories soon!

Richard


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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sun Jun 06, 2010 4:33 am 
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Hi Richard,

You're little daughter is adorable! And already playing the piano too! Reminds me of our own daughter at that age, but who is now 33, although she never became a musician. Enjoy your children when they're very young because they grow up far too quickly.

Regarding that measure in Bortkiewicz's 40/6: In the RH you have a short scalar figure G#, F#, E, all the notes of which are double-stemmed and marked tenuto, with that dotted E also having a dotted line to the D#, also double-stemmed and marked tenuto in the LH, indicating voice leading between the E and D# as you correctly deciphered.

Not only do scales reinforce the intervallic relationships between notes in a key signature, but also within a composition they can actually take on a momentary melodic role as you know. For that reason, scalar passages are of special significance to listeners, thus need to be appropriately etched by the pianist. Such is the case here.

On fingering, when I suggested the 3 on the F#, it was because if I held the E that concerns you with the thumb and then played the F# and the following melodic notes in the measure also with the 5th finger, I could do it only with discomfort which is to be avoided. Using the 3 on the F# assures comfort in playing but sacrifices retaining the E. So the descending scale you wish to bring out as mentioned above, has to be accomplished differently. The way to do it is to etch the G#, F# and E, not only sustaining each one for full value, but also giving them a slight accent as well for clarity. Note that the D# in the LH, serves dual purposes: 1) the continuation of a melodic line through voice leading and 2) a harmonic counterpoint for the A above it in the treble staff. Evidently, Bortkiewicz gives priority to the voice leading aspect, as melody usually trumps harmony. The best way to get it just right is to lock into your ear the exact dynamic produced by the preceding E in the RH leading to the D# in the LH. When you play the D#, replicate that exact same dynamic, thereby etching it the identical same way.

Letting go of the E is one of those compromises in pianism that we are often forced into because of competing demands within a measure--in this case, a physical impossibility (or at the least, a very uncomfortable possibility for the hand) versus a need for voice leading. Of course, Rachmaninoff which his huge hands could do this easily! :lol: Speaking of composers, they often think orchestrally rather than pianistically which can lead to some of these compromises. Anyway, in these situations, be they ties, double-stemmed tenuto notes, a long note value, or whatever, try to hang onto it to the extent practical given the limitations--in this case for one beat only which is better than nothing--and if the pedal can assist further, so much the better.

I hope this helps.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Jun 25, 2010 4:30 pm 
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Dear David,

Oh! I see only now you wrote me and I received no notification from the site! Excuse me if I seemed rude!

I am now working on many other pieces, some from op 33 and I have a question about them: In op 33/9 which fingering do you use on the left hand and how much pedal do you use?

Am I mistaken or are they finer pieces than op 40? Actually, op 40/1, which no one has recorded, is very fine indeed.

I was toying with the idea of entering a recording or two, but I see that in this case, because of copyright, I will need authorisation from the heirs of Bortkiewicz, who had none. How did you overcome that?

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:58 am 
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Hi Richard,

Regarding the Bortkiewitz Op. 33/9, this prelude is much like a nocturne--very quiet, tranquil, and played dolce throughout. It is also nearly impressionistic in style. This quiet dynamic range favors greater use of pedal, and in some places a wash of pedal where harmonies permit; however, caution is still required for neighboring (chromatic) and passing tones in the melodic line. Half-pedals and releases are indispensable there to avoid ugly blurs. So at all times the ears must remain judgmental in order to pedal for clarity.

In the matter of fingering, Bortiewicz gives us a fine seminar for the left hand fingerings in the opening of the piece. For the rapid running passages such as 26, 33, 37, 48 and 50 to be executed by the right hand, he was kind enough to write them out for us. My advice would be to use those fingerings as long as they are reasonably comfortable for your hands.

The only unconventional changes that I made were in measures 21 and 29 where on the third beat the left hand is to take a A flat actually in the treble. Redistributing the music between the hands, I assigned both of those A flats to the right hand thumb. Notice that the right hand in both cases is already holding an A flat half note with the 5th finger. It is then nothing for the right hand thumb to "poach" those A flats written in the bass clef. When redistributing music in this fashion, the cardinal rule is that the dynamic volume must be MATCHED such that there is no detectable difference to the ear of the listener as the trick is being performed.

In Op. 33, my thinking is that the finest pieces are Nos. 6-10. I believe that those preludes compete very well with those of Op. 40, all of which are all excellent pieces. I've recorded a couple of those in Op. 33 between Nos. 1 and 5 to date and plan to do the rest, but, quite honestly, I do not enjoy them nearly as much as the others in the opus. It probably all comes down to personal likes and dislikes.

You need not worry about copyrights for contemporary music when posting on Piano Society. Member recordings, of course, are not for commercial gain. The website operator has an arrangement with the copyright enforcement agencies to pay fees if requested.

I hope this helps! :)

David

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"Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities." David April


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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 4:49 pm 
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Hello, David,

I seem to relearn technique... all those things I used to do naturally and now seem to have forgotten! Indeed, in op 40/6 you recommend just what I used to do to bring out the voices in a Bach toccata (I remember the teacher - I was at the time learning - saying how good the legato was :) ): etch out the notes and try to make the passage from rh to lf seemless. In fact the countermelody adds a lot to the piece and now I can hear it. Thank you for reminding me all this!

I began reading op 40/1, which seems an interesting piece.

Concerning op 33/9, the reason I asked is: at first, on the lh, I began leaping as Bortkiewicz suggests (d-f-f using thumb-3-3). It seems he wants the player to rely on the pedal between the fs. I have being doing it another way and it seems to work, ensuring the lh is legato: the d-f-f I do thumb-3 then, holding the 3, I change for the thumb, so I have thumb,3-thumb,3. This approach works for the whole piece, which, for the moment, I am practising without the pedal. As for the rapid rh passages I do follow the suggested fingering and it is very good. I have a far worse time with the triplets, to tell the truth!

For me this prelude seems slighly "tropical". Maybe it is because it reminds me of a tango by Albéniz, where the triplets are used in a similar way.

I like op 33/3. Very short but attractive. Now here, funnily enough, no problems with the triplets: just with the hands that cross over and thumbs that bump into each other!

The pieces I am working on from "From Andersen's tales", The Angel and "The Butterfly" are coming on nicely. Maybe I can record them soon, my noisy flat permitting. Do you know them? I only have one reference, and that is Stephen Coombs recordings (available on You Tube) which seem too fast for andantino and andante. I have managed to play them at those speeds, only to slow down, as they seem to lose so much by being played as if they were marked "allegro".

Richard

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 4:49 am 
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Hi Richard,

I'm glad my suggestions are consistent with the instructions from your teacher. That way it's more reinforcing and beneficial.

When I return to Bortkiewicz, the next one I'll do will be 40/7. I haven't had a moment to look at No. 1 in any detail, but every piece in Op. 40 is well worth playing.

A couple of suggestions on the triplets:

1) Turn the metronome on and practice them to get the timing just right so that they fit seamlessly into the passages. But once you get the hang of it, turn the metronome off. It's there to be used as a tool, but in only a limited way, as playing must ultimately aim at musicality, not a rigid metronomic effect.

2) Equally important is to notice that when you're playing a triplet in the RH, it is against two 8th notes in the LH, producing a polyrhythm between the hands. The second 8th in the LH must fit between the 2nd and 3rd notes of the triplet in the RH. Here's an old aid: I'll explain each step and then insert a word in parentheses following each execution. The first notes of the RH and LH sound together simultaneously (MY). The second note of the triplet sounds alone (cup). The second 8th note in the bass sounds alone (of). And finally, the last note of the triplet sounds alone (tea). So the three against two polyrhythm is like saying: "MY-cup-of-tea." Keep that in mind, and I guarantee it'll help with the polyrhythms!

On fingering, I notice now that I had penciled into the first measure in the LH, 1-3-1-5-3-1, which did work as a possibility, but I reverted to Bortkiewicz's suggestion for good reason. The drawback is that there is a more radical position shift of the hand down into the bass, whereas the way it's written by the composer, the hand stays a bit more localized. Keeping the hands as "quiet" as possible (not in volume, but in terms of motions, extraneous motions being the worst culprits) is always more beneficial to execution. Having said that, every hand is different in size, shape, length of fingers, etc., so fingering becomes very much a personal matter. There are no rigid rules of fingering. Thus the thumb may go onto a black note, and a finger may cleverly slide off a black note onto an adjacent natural note, as examples. Often, using scale fingerings in runs, for example C# major scale fingering for a run written in C#, is usually the most sensible fingering to try first. The best fingering is the one that works both comfortably and effectively. As Anton Rubinstein once told Josef Hofmann, "Play it with your nose if you must!"

Practicing at first without pedal is wise, as you're doing now. Work on finger legato so as not to be overly dependent on the pedal. But... don't wait a long time to add the pedal. It needs to be integrated into the practicing routine, not added as an afterthought at the end like frosting on a cake.

When there is cohabitation of the hands inviting clashes of fingers, the best thing to do is to visually analyze wrist positions as potential solutions. If you raise one wrist to make room for the other lowered wrist to move under the other and now higher hand, it often makes a big difference. Try it both ways to decide which wrist should be higher and which lower to optimize the situation. This is what is meant by choreographing the hands. This is one type of sythesizing or integrating motion.

I'm not too familiar with the Andersen's Tales, at least not yet.

Andantino has a very confusing history. -ino is the Italian diminutive ending, meaning "a little" or "less". During the early Viennese Classical period, andantino first meant a little slower than andante, or in the higher range of adagio--which made perfect sense. By Beethoven's time, it came to also mean a little faster than andante, or into the lower range of moderato. When Beethoven would encounter andantino in sheet music of other composers, it confused and annoyed him. Today it generally means a little faster than andante.

That said, what I do is to think about the character of the piece. If the piece is very lyrical, I might want to take a tempo more in the upper range or adagio or lower range of andante, say MM = 60 to 69. If the piece is a bit more animated in character, then the low part of the range of moderato is probably more appropriate, say MM = 72 to 88. But most importantly, you need to experiment to see what intuitively feels right as opposed to being arbitrary about it. Regarding Coombs seemingly playing closer to allegro, I find the same with Marc-Andre Hamelin. If there is a virtuosic section in a piece that he wants to showcase (where he has a big technique), he'll sometimes up the tempo so that when he reaches that virtuosic part, it will blend into the faster tempo so that he can dazzle the listener.

I hope this has not confused you more.

David

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"Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities." David April


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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 5:44 pm 
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Dear David,

I will surely try "My cup of tea"! I remember once being taught two most foolish phrases to remember the orders of sharps and flats. Even refusing to learn them I memorised them immediately and up to this day I must say them aloud to know which key signature I am confronted with! My method for the triplets up to now has been to count to six: the triplets come in at 1, 3 and 6, while the "normal" rhythm comes in at 1 and 4.

Ah, the metronome! It is still in my plans to buy my first one!

Playing the piano is a little like cooking: after one takes it up one begins to realise that what one cooks is better that what one gets at the restaurant unless one goes to the best.

When I am in the right mood, which happens once every third blue moon, I can also also get up to incredible speeds (which surprises no one more than me) but in the end I feel the music is sacrificed and I slow down a bit.

I will look at those fingerings and see what happens to the "quiet hands"!

Richard

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sat Jul 10, 2010 3:48 pm 
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Hi Richard,

I'm glad my comments were useful. Yes, do get a metronome. I'd avoid the old-fashion, wind-up pendulum models that look like a wooden obelisk. Quaint, but too much trouble. Today most are electronic. (I don't have one of those, but instead an old electric Franz from the 1980s, but it still works fine.) Also you're better off, I think, with an audible "click" rather than a tone pitch (you'll find both on the market). It also needs to be loud enough to hear the signal over the piano. Some might be fine for violin, but the piano is a much more powerful instrument. If the device also offers a flashing light signal, so much the better. You can usually use one or the other, or both simultaneously. An audio and visual cue are mutually reinforcing. But once you obtain a metronome, don't overuse it.

The best uses I've found over the years are these:

1. Finding an appropriate and comfortable tempo within a descriptor such as adagio, allegro, etc.

2. Working out a nettlesome rhythmic figure in the score.

3. Playing a piece through just once or twice with the metronome to a) see if I can play up to tempo without stumbling anywhere (meaning I really don't know the music yet), or b) to find any glaring rhythmic error of which I had been totally unaware. However, you should avoid frequently playing with the metronome as it will detract from the musicality of performance. Use it by exception, not by rule. It's a tool, not a crutch.

Good luck with that.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Mon Aug 02, 2010 5:57 pm 
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As promised, I am back.

I have moved into more ample premises and with much more noise from the street, so, paying the piano at 3am causes less disruption than revellers in the street cause at the same time of night and, as the tuner has called, the result is much more harmonious. The down side is that student yells of joy will surely errupt in a quiet passage in prelude II or IV. Indeed, following loud protests from our daughter, aged 1, I had to call a tuner PDQ and, after that, I took some time to convince her that prelude op 33/9, even if not played up to scratch, is not that ugly and discordant. :)

I will need to put the project to record on hold for the moment: I was putting some money on the side to invest in good microphones, but the taxman got wind of that and, to avoid me falling into temptation and spending foolishly, has decided to relieve of that sum and a little more too. I do have a microphone we use with Skype, but I doubt that will do.

I was, however, thinking about recording some of my repertoire, before attermpting such new pieces; that way I can see member's reactions and correct my playing as needed.

I took a look at Prelude op 33/1. It looks impressive, with all those bells and so on. As my piano is an upright one, and not a very good one at that (East Germany, when it still existed), there is not a hope I can manage the ppp at the beginning or the fff in the middle, though prelude 3 is almost note-perfect and I seem to be able to play the triplets in prelude 9. Its funny, really, when the triplets are in the left hand I have no problem whatsoever (witness Schubert's Impromtu op 90/1), but put in in the right one... Maybe after this big work I can return to Debussy's Arabesque No 1 and actually play it well for a change.

I am trying to figure out, are we all of 10 pianists in the world who play Bortkiewicz or are we less?

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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