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Sergei Bortkiewicz

Discussion in 'Repertoire' started by richard66, Mar 26, 2010.

  1. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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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
     
  2. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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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
     
  3. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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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
     
  4. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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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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