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Appassionatta 3rd mvt, left hand passage

Discussion in 'Technique' started by hreichgott, Jul 25, 2011.

  1. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    Hello everyone!

    I'm writing with a question about how to improve my playing of a passage in the third movement of Beethoven's Sonata no. 23 "Appassionatta". I learned this sonata maybe 7 years ago, had a wonderful experience with it except for one awkward passage in the left hand, put it down for a few years, learned a lot more and improved my technique in general. Recently I picked it up again and am really enjoying things in the music that I missed the first time. But I'm still having a lot of trouble with that same left hand passage.

    Here it is. Third movement, 60 measures in or so:


    The problem is alternating between the outer octave and the inner chord so rapidly. I am having the devil of a time playing that pattern, and NOT the more familiar bottom note / upper chord, or bottom chord / upper note patterns.

    I would also appreciate suggestions for how to direct weight. Usually I'd approach a pattern like this by rocking the weight back and forth, but that's not helping here. The pattern on white notes only (D and B on the outside, F and G on the inside) works OK some of the time with an up/down movement, down on the outer notes and up on the inner notes.

    Thank you for any help you can provide!
     
  2. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    Hello hreichgott,
    I too am revisiting this sonata (last performed in 1982!). Yes this passage is very challenging -- it even slows Horowitz down a bit (see on YouTube)! Given the geometry of the required anatomical movements, this is not ammenable to weight-transfer or osscilations of the hand. This is straight finger work -- so to speak. However, it can be carefully dissected to reveal certain difficulties and simplicities. The way to play this is ... ready for it ... to have your hand ready-prepared! Keeping in mind that velocity/acceleration is inverse to mass, you MUST use the smallest finger gesture possible in performance. However you may use greater gestures in training (thereby making it more difficult). Also, note the different combinations of movement which can be isolated and worked individually: LH:
    5212121212121212 (easy)
    5252525252525252 (not so easy)
    5313131353131313 (not so easy)
    5,23,5,23,5,23,5,23,5,23,5,23,5,23,5,23 (difficult)
    5,23,1,23,1,23,1,23,1,23,1,23,1,23,1,23 (not so difficult)

    Now, add all kinds of repeating rhythms, and do all of the above with slowly increasing metronome work, trying to get above performance tempo.
    Above all (IMO), you have to modulate the strength and force of the 4-bar group; it should not be equal throughout but crescendo and decrescendo, ending with as much relaxation as possible. In the second 4-bar group you have to (IMO) bring out the moving G-Ab-G part. Also, don't forget that this is supportive material and you need to draw our attention to the RH.

    Good luck! Maybe others will offer some help too.
     
  3. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    musical-md is spot on here: it's all about finger independence, and if you want to play the passage as written then there's really no short cuts. It takes hours of slow and careful practice to achieve this. You can make the process bearable, even enjoyable sometimes, by varying your practice as described above. Another thing is to spend a bit of time going through some of the Brahms exercises.

    Make sure you mix up your practice sessions: spend a short time on this passage, then do something different, then come back to this. If you try to spend a solid hour practising this passage alone, you'll drive yourself crazy.

    It might help to have your arm weight rocking back and forth just a tiny bit, just to keep your wrist from tensing up. But the movement should be extremely small, almost invisible; too much movement of that sort will feel clumsy.

    The real issue is that the pianos of Beethoven's time had a lighter action than modern pianos: the writing is a little unpianistic, but passages like this would have been much less difficult back then than they are now. There's a similarly unplayable passage in the last movement of the A major 'cello sonata. Beethoven sometimes didn't seem to care whether his piano music falls nicely under the hands.

    It's hard to give more specific suggestions without seeing or hearing you play it. Do you feel like making some recordings of this excerpt and uploading them? Perhaps you could try four versions: left hand alone then hands together, at a slow tempo then at whatever performance tempo you're aiming for.

    One other thing: depending on how much time you can commit to this, and how much time you'd rather spend on other (perhaps more useful) things, I'd be tempted to treat this passage pragmatically: leave out some or all of the lower notes of the octaves and sixths. Most people won't notice, and it may even sound better that way. If you have a version you can play without feeling anxious, then you'll do a better job of shaping the right hand, and that's really the more important thing here.
     
  4. 88man

    88man Member Piano Society Artist

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    Great explanations Eddy and Alex on the biomechanics. hreichgott, this is a perfect passage for repetitive strain injury on the hand. Fortunately it's only a several measures. Building tension is your enemy. If your piano has a heavy action or is not well regulated, life will be more miserable. This was one of the last pieces I learned with my piano teacher. Before, practicing this piece, I would begin with finger stretch warm ups, and finger lift exercises. I would practice practice this passage ff, slowly, intently, and lift the fingers as high as you can. 5, 23, 51, 23,... is the logical way to play all the notes. As you increase the speed, think about the octave more than the third in your mind - it helps me to focus better on fluidity and stability. The moment you tense up - it's over -- just like the Chopin Etude 25/6. Focus on not tensing up in your mind, can't afford any resistance here. Good Luck

    George
     
  5. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    I think that is a perfectly legitimate thing to do unless you are an unredeemed note purist. I believe many professional pianists do little simplifications like this. It's not as if all these notes are in any way essential, the overall effect is what counts. Better to sail through it gloriously with one note less than to struggle to try to play all of them. It's pretty unpianistically written to start with, only Beethoven or maybe Alkan would write like this in their quest for an orchestral sound.
     
  6. andrew

    andrew Member Piano Society Artist

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    The ironic thing about the query is that if you DO play the bottom chord / upper note pattern, you'll get all of the notes of the harmony, it will be much easier, yes it's cheating, but I wager your audience won't hear the difference. If you feel you must play it as written, good luck. :) Incidentally, this is the sort of passage which exemplifies how much better most people's right hand usually is than the left. I don't find it hard at all in the right, but it is nasty in the left.

    Absolutely. Except that Alkan, whilst he wrote some damn hard things, doesn't tend to write against the hand like that even at his nastiest.
     
  7. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    I am a professional, and I do feel the need to play it as written ;)

    Seriously, I've got a pretty good practicing ethic, and do not in the least mind doing things like spending 5 years learning Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini" one measure at a time, since it pays off so rewardingly in the end. I thought this Beethoven passage might be a good candidate for a forum posting since I'm kind of stuck on it, and devoting practice time didn't seem to be improving it, even teeny tiny increments of improvement. I'm a new visitor to the forum and it seems like there are some experienced teachers on here.

    Thanks for the kind and helpful comments. I really appreciate the suggestions on isolating 2- and 3-note groups rather than working all 4 notes at once, and the suggestion to focus on the octaves. These are not things I've tried and I wonder if they may help. I'm up for anything at this point. Hanysz, I will make a recording of hands together and LH alone and post it here, at a time when my daughter is not trying to sleep....!

    hreichgott
     
  8. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Heh, I am a professional too, and I've learned not to torture myself. There are passages where even the majority of professionals cheat (e.g. the double thirds in the last movement of the Brahms second concerto).

    On the other hand, if you've played the Paganini Rhapsody then this one ought to be in reach, it's just a matter of finding the right approach. I'll look forward to hearing more about your progress.
     
  9. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    Attached is a recording: hands together performance tempo, hands together slower, left hand slower, left hand performance tempo.
    There is pedal on the hands together sections, no pedal on left hand alone--muddy sound in LH alone is part of my problem.
     
  10. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Thanks, this makes interesting listening. I noticed three things:

    First, at the beginning of the recording, where you started a few bars earlier than the passage in question, your left hand is rhythmically uneven: the second note of each four is often slightly shorter than the others. This suggests that there's still room to work on your technical foundations, and improve your finger independence.

    Second, the middle notes are rather heavy. What we want to hear most of all in this passage is the thumb; everything else can be lighter. (Of course I'm just talking about the left hand here.)

    Third, there's very little dynamic variation. Those hairpins, especially the diminuendo at the end of every second bar, will help you stay relaxed. Even when you're doing "technical work", you should still strive to play musically--the phrasing will often help out with the technical demands.

    I'd suggest spending just a few minutes playing the left hand alone very slowly, even slower than your "slow" recording, with an exaggerated up and down motion, making the thumb heavy and the inner notes light. Then speed up the tempo and see if you can keep the same feel without any visible up and down movements. And always shape the phrases the way you want them to sound in performance; even your slow practice should be expressive.

    Also try it with single notes in the middle: play three times, once leaving out the upper of the two inner notes, once leaving out the lower, and once playing everything but trying to keep the same light feel as the single note version.

    Another suggestion--this might sound a little crazy, but you'd be surprised how often this sort of thing works--try playing it a few times with the bass notes (first note of every second bar) an octave lower. Don't worry if you hit a few wrong notes; the point is that the exaggerated jumping around might help to loosen you up a little, and then when you go back to playing it as written it should feel easier.
     
  11. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    Thank you for the suggestions! I've tried them out and it feels different at least, which is a good thing, and will probably prove quite helpful.
     

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