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Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link

Posted By: Louis Podesta

Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link - 02/07/13 01:30 PM

I have never been taught to play rolled chords, and had never heard of anyone else doing it either. One was told to pay meticulous attention to the score, and that was it.

Then, over the last twelve years, I have found/stumbled upon numerous analog recordings of composers whose music had this very method of playing. Therefore, the news story is as follows:

The issue briefly stated is twofold: When a person is taught to play a chord, an octave, or double notes at the piano, they are taught to strike all of the keys at the same time. It is assumed that, because the notes on the printed score are all lined up vertically on the note stem, those keys are to be struck simultaneously.

My research, consisting of multiple written and recorded sources, has shown me that all of the composers of the Classical, Romantic, and Impressionist Periods regularly rolled their chords, octaves, and double notes. This was done commonly in the left hand, and also very often in the right hand.

Further, they also employed a performance technique known as asynchronization. This is where the bass note is played slightly ahead of the soprano note in order to enhance the melodic line.

It is most important to note that this is in no way a question of musical style. It is instead a reality of substance. It has nothing to do with tempo, dynamics or phrasing. One either plays all of the notes at the same time, or they do not.

Carl Friedberg, who was a student of both Brahms and Clara Schumann, proves this unequivocally in his live Julliard recital recordings, where he taught until 1946 (Marston Records). In Europe, Adelina de Lara was also doing the same, as is evidenced in the "Pupils of Clara Schumann" recordings (Pearl Records). She was also a student of Brahms.

Then, there are the digtal stereo recordings, "Debussy, The Composer As Pianist, and "Ravel, The Composer As Pianist" which are the piano roll recordings of the composers playing their own music. In both instances, there is arpeggiation/rolled chords and asynchronization throughout.

One of my written sources is Kenneth Hamilton, who is the author of "After the Golden Age," (OUP) and who has also recently confirmed my premise in the following e-mail excerpt:

"As for the issue of Debussy and Ravel recordings: I think your basic point about the performance-style of these composers and their musical associates is correct, but I'm afraid it isn't really "news". There is, for example, discussion of these topics and others in Roy Howat's book "The Art of French Piano Music" (Yale University Press, 2009)-- in particular pp.309-324 ("The Composer as Pianist") and pp.335-40 ("Composers' Surviving Instruments and Recordings"). "

Unfortunately, what professor Hamilton fails to recognize is that 99% of the world's piano students have never heard of Roy Howat. They sit down for a lesson, and then do what they are told. And, none of them are taught that the original composer rolled their chords.

Another more recent source is the new book by Dr. Neal Peres Da Costa of the Sydney Conservatorium, which is entitled “Off the Record: Performing Practices in Romantic Piano Playing” (OUP). He has a whole chapter on Unnotated Arpeggiation. His research, completely independent of mine, confirms my thesis in the following email:

"Thanks so much for sending this through. We are obviously on the same wave length here and its great that you are spreading the news. In will certainly pass your You Tube presentation on to everyone I know. Arpeggiation is one of the great expressive devices, though there is also the question of rhythmic alteration in all its forms and tempo modification, devices that I consider to be just as important in emulating the performers on early recordings and for historically accurate interpretations of pre-twentieth-century repertoire. I have dealt with these areas in my book and readers can hear some of the rich recorded examples on the Companion website."

Then, there is the email from Dr. Clive Brown of the University of Leeds who is considered the worlds leading authority on historical performance practice. He was Dr. Peres Ca Costa's professor for his PhD dissertation, which eventually became his book.

"I am sure your conclusions about 19th-century piano playing are correct and hope that your video will help persuade musicologists and performers of its value in performing this repertoire effectively. It has been a great frustration to me over the years that even pianists working in academia have been so resistant to the overwhelming evidence, despite my drawing attention to it in my 1999 book Classical and Romantic Performing Practice 1750-1900. I hope your video will nevertheless contribute towards making people think again about the idiomatic performance of pre-20th-century keyboard music. I will certainly mention it to people who may find it helpful.

Finally, I enclose for your perusal a link to my You Tube video of this story. It is a somewhat radical approach, but my goal is to see to it that every person on this planet who has ever played the piano is given the opportunity to hear the classical piano repertoire as it was originally composed, played, and taught.

Please feel free to share this news story with anyone you think might find it interesting so that together we can eventually bring the true joy, color, warmth, and beauty of this great music to the public, as it once commonly existed throughout the world.

Louis Podesta

Posted By: Wuffski

Re: Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link - 02/08/13 02:18 PM

Thank you very much for attributing to the forum the results of your thorough work!

I am amateur only, not stuying music at a university, but informing myself from the sources which are avaible in the local public music school libraries, and nowadays also the internet of course. It is often pointed out in the bibliographic chapters on old composers, that many of them have been excellent musicians which mainly have been admired because of their virtuos presentation of their original works. Their interpretation and improvisation skills as musicians are said to have been of central importance for their fame, beyond the bare beauty of the pieces.

It to me therefore always seemed to be clear that their written sheets initially more served as a detailed notepad for sharing their musical ideas, than sharing unalterable instructions. That sheets commonly became interpreted as if all composer would have had the wish to much restrict the freedom of interpretation of their piece, will only have become so popular because of the plenty of upcoming less virtous copycats becoming a common mass phenomenon due to the terrific spread of the piano and violin in (amateur) society.
While original presentations and covers of music (classical piano & violin, jazz, rock, Top40, ...) continue to be most celebrated if interpreted in a virtous, varying way, only the less secure musicians (have to) stick so close to notation, that the 'idea transporting' character of notation can become forgotten due to longed for (the amateur supporting) formalism. This will be different for compositions made for orchestra, though. Of course, the coordination of sooo many orchestra musicians needs tightly strict instructions.

Unfortunately I can not document my view in a scientific way, because I would not have thorough proofs for my personal conclusion like you can present them. But I am not surprised that Hamilton objects to call your finding "news". I rather expected that each interpretation "allows" things, like playing a chord as a rolled chord, if respecting to still transport the 'idea' of the piece as intended by the composer to bring it up.

This for sure will become a very interesting thread. Louis, you have done a great job!
Posted By: Louis Podesta

Re: Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link - 02/08/13 03:37 PM

Marco M:

And, they say that only classically trained musicians have brains? Your insights are, as they say in the UK, "spot on."

To further your knowledge, I recommend Hamilton's book "After the Golden Age." It will destroy any remaining stereotypes you have about classical music performance.

As he points out, the score was never meant to be more than just a basic guide. That is if someone wanted to know how to play a particular composer's work, then they got on the boat or the train and traveled to Europe to study under a teacher who was a student of the composer.

There tweren't no radio or CD's. So, that is the only way it was done. That is why the recordings I list in my video are so important. These people have that pedigree.

Secondly, even though you will think it is over your head, I highly recommend Neal Peres Da Costa's book "Off the Record." It has a companion website where you can hear multiple examples of this type of playing.

Most importantly, it has two chapters one of which is entitled "Metrical Rubato and Other Forms of Rhythmic Alteration," and another which is "Tempo Modification."

If that does not sound like modern 20th century pop, jazz, blues, etc, then I need my eyes checked. The classical dudes did it first!

Finally, here is a list of extra examples that you can go to You Tube and listen to.

Good luck.


Additional Examples (Artist, Teacher, Work, Youtube video)

1) Emil von Sauer (Liszt, Rubinstein) - Beethoven Sonata Op. 13, Slow Mvt.


2) Theodore Leschetizky (Czerny) - Mozart Fantasia


3) Josef Hoffman (A. Rubinstein) - Mendelssohn Rondo Capriccioso

4) Olga Somaroff (Rubinstein) - Brahms Intermezzo op. 117, #2

5) Teresa Carreno (Mathias) - Chopin G Minor Ballade

6) Alfred Cortot (Descombes) - Chopin Waltz in A Flat

7) Adelina de lara (Schumann) - Schumann Kinderszenen

8) Eugen d'Albert (Liszt) - Liszt Libestraume

9) Marguerite Long (Marmontel) - Debussy Arabesque #1

10) Moriz Rosenthal (Mikuli, Liszt) - Chopin Sonata in B Minor, 3rd Mvt.

11) Claude Debussy - La plus que lente

12) Maurice Ravel - Miroirs, Oiseaux triste

13) Ignaz Paderewski ( Leschetizky) - Debussy, Reflet dans l'eau

Posted By: Wuffski

Re: Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link - 02/08/13 05:57 PM

The rolled chord prepares the emphasis of some leading element in the phrase. If the presence of the preparation itself becomes an important part of the phrase, then this 'idea' can be pointed out as an annotated appregio in the score. If not, then it is up to the interpreter to apply such effect, or to emphasize some leading element in a different way as well. That´s how I understand it. For harpsichord and organ playing it to me is THE way for putting expression to a piece.
But we are here speaking about explicit piano music. Your findings would thus point out, that it was quite popular in the past to emphasize elements by rolling chords, also on the piano which would with its dynamic expression not depend on this, but that we lost this in our nowadays mainstream performance.
Did we really lose it, or did it just become more popular to substitute it by some other means of expression, like for instance dynamic phrasing?
Posted By: Louis Podesta

Re: Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link - 02/08/13 08:47 PM

Marco M:

My theory on this is as follows: The piano is a stringed instrument. I can think of no society, primitive or civilized, that ever had a stringed instrument as part of their culture, where the intstrument was not "strummed." You should know this better than anyone else, because as you know, the guitar is the most popular instrument in the world.

It is my contention, that, anthropologically, arpeggiation is the more natural way to play the piano because in essence one is "strumming" this melodic stringed instrument.

As to why block chord, artificially, came into being (because I can find no evidence that anyone played like that in the 19th century)my theory is that "Modernism" was all the rage in Europe in the 1920' and 1930's. And, no one wanted to be left out.

Therefore, when Igor Stravinsky announced to the world that the piano was not a melodic instrument, it was percussive instrument, then Rubinstein, Gieseking, Backhaus, and all the rest, beat a path to Modernism.

Evidence of this is shown in the First International Chopin Competition held in 1927. Then, a 40 year old Artur Rubinstein worked feverishly behind the scenes of that competition to see to that after the prizes were awarded that never again would anyone play Chopin with broken chords. And, that is exactly what happened.

Also, when one composes music, they do not hear block chords or standard notation in their head. They hear a sound. The above mentioned pianists were the very first to conertize who did not play their own compositions. When you play your own stuff, you always improvise changes.

And, most of these guys never had a piano lesson as an adult, but they could all sight read the spots of the wall. So, a record company could put them in the studio, and they could crank out a finished product in less than a day.

Rubinstein did this 200 times, and Wilhelm Backhaus and Gieseking were not far behind. They became famous, and therefore that is the way the world was taught to play the piano. "From the score!"

Posted By: Wuffski

Re: Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link - 02/15/13 02:58 PM

While I do agree with you that rolling a chord is a nice possibility of expression, and interpreters today restrict themselfs much by being too often too sticky to the score, instead of just transporting a musical statement in a fashionable way, I find your explanations construe too extensively.

Nevertheless, I guess you will like to add the following interpretation, in which annotated blocked chords are rolled as well, to your collection of proofs on the widespread practice of doing so in the past.
Rudolph Ganz plays the Song Of The Volga Boatmen

Posted By: Michael_99

Re: Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link - 02/15/13 03:15 PM

A very interesting thread. Thank you.
Posted By: Louis Podesta

Re: Classical Piano News Story With You Tube Video Link - 03/07/13 08:08 PM

I just sent these playing examples to the classical music critic for the Chicago Tribune, so I thought you guys should have it too.

They are You Tube live performances of Mieczyslaw Horszowski who was the oldest living concert pianist in history, having died at the age of 100 in 1993. The second link was recorded two years before his death.

The man made his debut at the age of eight in 1905 and played in this 19th century style for the next 90 years. And, he taught at the Curtis Institute of Music for many years.

It is stunningly beautiful music. Enjoy.


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