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Joined: May 2009
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Hi,
Could someone who is more fluent in French than me sum up in few words what is beeind told in this video beginning at around 0:32.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=U_5lVqKg-0E

What is their conclusion about guide mains? Bad, good or just neutral/interesting?

Merci beaucoup!

Last edited by Molto lombardo; 08/25/16 01:35 AM.
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I found the beginning at 0:32 too garbled for me to understand (French is an acquired language, not my native language). But the narrator was very comprehensible. I went on to watch the documentary because I found it quite interesting, but only had time for now to get through perhaps 1/3 of it and I did skip through the part (for now) about the mechanism of pianos, so this is incomplete.

It involves the philosophy and outlook on piano playing in France historically, and Saint Saens as a pianist is featured a lot. The well-known "pearled" touch is talked about, where the notes should come out like a "string of pearls"; as well, the comparison of music to speech, with well formed phrases, well enunciated words and such. To cultivate this kind of playing, they believed in the development of the fingers above all. They show some gruesome looking devices in vogue at the time, all for the quest of the "equality" of all the fingers (an idea that gets discussed to this day, mostly as being an outmoded and perhaps harmful quest.)

Seguing to this, we go to the playing of Saint Saens, who cultivated these ideals and believed strongly in them. (At all times I'm going by the documentary). He moved his body and arms to a minimum, having these very developed fingers, and the many praises of his expressive playing are cited. We see a film clip of him playing. (In passing, to my eyes there is still some movement of his arms and body - it's just very muted).

I found the next part interesting. It seems that the values in part had nothing to do with technique or music, but more with "good form in polite society" - how you looked in front of others in that society, maybe "good taste" at the time; appearance. The pictures of female aristocratic looking pianists start showing up. Details such as: the player should look at ease, looking slightly to (the left? the right? I forget) - each painting shows the player looking toward the observer rather than the piano - eyes being neither intense nor glazed; you had to look good, look regal - here looks and social impressions seem primordial, above technical considerations. If this is so, then I think anyone wanting to follow any of this nowadays should keep that in mind.

I fast-forwarded a bit and found myself watching a set of "liquid" hands that seemed to be the opposite of all these ideals, and rather modern. The narrator was going in, I think about Chopin, and how Saints Saens disliked this music. But by what the narrator was saying, it was not because of the music itself, but because of the "distasteful" movement that this required. The "regal" social ideals above seemed to be thwarted.

That's as far as I got.


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Thanks, keystring, I owe you a lot. I found the video also fascinating.

Saint-Saens was even better as an organist, if I remember correctly. His piano teacher was Stamaty whose teacher was Kalkbrenner who devised guide mains from Logier's chiroplast. Saint-Saens told it was very good exercise for the fingers. Who of us plays as marvelously as Saint-Saens in their eighties?

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Originally Posted by Molto lombardo
Thanks, keystring, I owe you a lot. I found the video also fascinating.

You're welcome. smile And thank you for bringing up that video.
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Saint-Saens was even better as an organist, if I remember correctly. His piano teacher was Stamaty whose teacher was Kalkbrenner who devised guide mains from Logier's chiroplast. Saint-Saens told it was very good exercise for the fingers. Who of us plays as marvelously as Saint-Saens in their eighties?

I'm not sure that we're on the same page here - that is, I don't know if you are on any page. For example, whether you are thinking that if SS played this way, then we should follow that same past. I never can do much with the fact that x had teacher y who had teacher z who had teacher zz - it's sort of meaningless to me. The thing that stuck out for me is the fact that some of the decisions had to do with how you look in front of your audience, according to the social aesthetics of the idea - and that made me want to dismiss these things out of hand. Imho, the choice of how you play physically involves what works for making the best sounding music possible through the most efficient motion, which is chosen for that reason.

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Originally Posted by keystring
The thing that stuck out for me is the fact that some of the decisions had to do with how you look in front of your audience, according to the social aesthetics of the idea - and that made me want to dismiss these things out of hand.


Very interesting. I had not realized that. I do have a slightly different take on the visual, because my goals are somewhat different.

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Imho, the choice of how you play physically involves what works for making the best sounding music possible through the most efficient motion, which is chosen for that reason.


That's one approach, and a good one for the serious student or anyone pushing the envelope of technique.

But there's another aspect. I value performance to an audience, and for an audience the visual elements are part of the experience.

That's slightly different than the complaint in the video about adjusting the video for social acceptability - I think we do have to consider the visual as part of the musical interpretation and communication.

As a small and probably not all that relevant example, I recently was part of a group that played for a nursing home audience. They called a Dixieland number that featured a lot of trombone lines. Those licks can be played with minimal movements; there are often fingering choices available for the same notes. In a technically demanding piece I would use the most efficient choices. But on this occasion I deliberately chose maximum motions, because the audience was right on top of me, and I felt it added to the experience to be able to merge the sound and the "dance."


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Quote

I'm not sure that we're on the same page here - that is, I don't know if you are on any page. For example, whether you are thinking that if SS played this way, then we should follow that same past. I never can do much with the fact that x had teacher y who had teacher z who had teacher zz - it's sort of meaningless to me. The thing that stuck out for me is the fact that some of the decisions had to do with how you look in front of your audience, according to the social aesthetics of the idea - and that made me want to dismiss these things out of hand. Imho, the choice of how you play physically involves what works for making the best sounding music possible through the most efficient motion, which is chosen for that reason.


But my dearest keystring, of course I didn't mean we should follow the follies of the 19th century. Apparently you didn't watch the part that began on 32 minutes. There was some kind of an experiment with piano students from Paris and Geneve conservatoires. They were playing bits from Valse Mignonne by Saint Saens with Pleyel piano and using also guide mains. That's why I wanted to know what was the purpose of all this. Moving hand only laterally, and playing only with fingers and wrist. Isn't that part and parcel of the French piano school? (Or what it was a century ago) So I'm only interested in this only in historical perspective.

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Saint-Saens was said to be against Cesar Franck,
not Chopin! He found the arm crossing lacking in elegance in the example displayed in the video.

He was after all the great conservative, of
19'th century music.

Very nice little documentary!


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Originally Posted by augustm
Saint-Saens was said to be against Cesar Franck,
not Chopin! He found the arm crossing lacking in elegance in the example displayed in the video.
I stated in my post that I had jumped ahead, and did not catch whose music was being criticized. I thought I had heard the name Chopin, but stated I wasn't sure. The "lack of elegance" I did hear. Thank you for pointing out which composer was meant.

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Originally Posted by Molto lombardo
But my dearest keystring, of course I didn't mean we should follow the follies of the 19th century.

I wasn't sure where you were trying to go, and so was checking.
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Apparently you didn't watch the part that began on 32 minutes.
Ah, I see now that by 00:32 you meant 32 minutes - I was wondering what was so special at 32 seconds. whistle I've now time-stamped the video so that it will start at 32 seconds (to time stamp, right click, and choose that option).
https://youtu.be/U_5lVqKg-0E?t=1915
No, I didn't get that far in the video. I've never seen the "guide main", though I've read about it.
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That's why I wanted to know what was the purpose of all this. ....So I'm only interested in this only in historical perspective.

He starts by saying that the piano at that time had a much lighter action. They wanted even playing without any unwanted accents, which might be caused by shifting of arm weight. They also wanted to create an awareness of the arm and lateral movement of the arm. So to prevent the weight of the arm from coming into the piano, this "guide main" was invented by Kalkbrenner as a reminder of where to keep the forearm - not to lean against since he wanted the weight to be in the fingers, but as a physical reminder by touch.

Further on in the video he goes on to say that later on the modern piano came to the fore, with much heavier action, along with music that had heavier chords etc. So first of all I guess you no longer need to be "light" on a hypersensitive light keyboard, and secondly you'll be wanting a different technique including bringing in the arm weight that Kalkbrenner was trying to eliminate.

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Thanks again keystring, I guess I got now the information I wanted.

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That section was interesting for me personally as a student. I had originally been self-taught as a child, and the playing habits that developed were less than ideal. The various motions that these young pianists had to cut out of their playing in order to explore this "guide mains" are the very motions that I have been working to bring in to my playing, and so I am keenly aware of their importance. I found the prospect almost disturbing.

How common was this back then? Were the "guide mains" widely adopted, for how long, and what were their results, and reactions?

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Originally Posted by keystring
The various motions that these young pianists had to cut out of their playing in order to explore this "guide mains" are the very motions that I have been working to bring in to my playing, and so I am keenly aware of their importance. I found the prospect almost disturbing.


I do suspect that despite saying these motions should be avoided, the fluent performers did include them anyway. It is harder to know what we are really doing than what we think we are doing.


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Originally Posted by TimR
Originally Posted by keystring
The various motions that these young pianists had to cut out of their playing in order to explore this "guide mains" are the very motions that I have been working to bring in to my playing, and so I am keenly aware of their importance. I found the prospect almost disturbing.


I do suspect that despite saying these motions should be avoided, the fluent performers did include them anyway. It is harder to know what we are really doing than what we think we are doing.

I agree. People often don't do what they think they are doing.

I was referring in particular to the "guide main", that wooden contraption that gets introduced at the 32:00 mark. For students who were forced to use it while still forming their basic technique, I wonder what kind of effect it had.


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