Concrete suggestions for memorising
anything. This article focusses on building in memory, as well
as strengthening and maintaining
memory. READ FULL ARTICLE...
Strategies and techniques for one of the most
valuable types of practising at any level of pianistic development
- slow practising. "Slow
Practising: Techniques, Processes and Strategies" Proceedings
of the 5th Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference, Brisbane,
July 2001; Musikus 30(1): UNISA, July; South African Music Teacher,
July 2002; The Studio: quarterly magazine of The Music Teachers'
Association of New South Wales Limited, August 2002. READ
Music of Jean-Philippe Rameau: is this Viable on the Piano?
article explores stylistic matters in approaching the music of
Rameau on the piano. Useful information about performance
practice for any music from the French baroque. "The
Keyboard Music of Jean-Philippe Rameau: is this Viable on the
Keynote Address, 7th Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference,
Adelaide, Australia, July 2005. Stellenbosch International Piano
Symposium, Stellenbosch, April, 2006. READ FULL
Aspects of Style in the
Four Main Periods
Originally presented as a series of four keynote
addresses, this is a summary of performance practices in the
romantic and "modern" periods. It contains much practical
advice, and an extensive bibliography. "Aspects of Style
in the Four Main Periods", Four Keynote Addresses, Victorian
Music Teachers' Annual Conference, Melbourne, Australia, January
2007. READ FULL ARTICLE...
South African Piano
Music: An Overview
A brief sketch of the South African repertoire
from its beginnings to the present day. "South African
Piano Music: An Overview",
Keynote Address, 6th Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference,
Melbourne, Australia, July 2003. READ FULL ARTICLE...
Publications and conference papers
"The Keyboard Music of Jean-Philippe Rameau: is this Viable
on the Piano?" Keynote Address, 7th Australasian Piano
Pedagogy Conference, Adelaide, Australia, July 2005. Stellenbosch
Piano Symposium, Stellenbosch, April, 2006.
" South African Piano Music: an Overview" Keynote
address, and in the Proceedings of the 6th Australasian Piano
Convention, Melbourne, July 2003 (publ, 2004)
" Slow Practising: Techniques, Processes and Strategies" Proceedings
of the 5th Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference, Brisbane,
July 2001; Musikus 30(1): UNISA, July; South African Music
July 2002; The Studio: quarterly magazine of The Music Teachers'
Association of New South Wales Limited, August 2002.
"Practical Pedalling" Keynote
address, and in the Proceedings of the Inaugural Western
Australian Piano Pedagogy
Convention, Perth, July 2002
" The Three Rs of Practising" Keynote
address, and in the Proceedings of the Inaugural Western Australian Piano
Pedagogy Convention, Perth, July 2002
" Scales: a Practical
Philosophy for Piano Teachers" Musikus,
" Bach on the Piano" Keynote address, and in the Proceedings
of the 4th Australian Piano Pedagogy Conference, Perth, Australia,
" Scales and Arpeggios: a Whole-Arm Approach" ISME
Conference, Pretoria, July 1998
HANDS-ON MEMORISATION FOR PIANISTS
(formerly Prof. Graham Fitch
Head of Keyboard Studies, University of Cape Town)
What NOT to do:
Learn the piece with the score until eventually you find you
can play it without!
While this method may suffice for amateurs who play for their
own enjoyment, it is extremely unreliable for serious students.
Why? Firstly, muscular memory tends to be “easy come, easy
go”. Under the stress of performance, muscles tighten and
the mind plays tricks that can cause memory cues to break down,
sometimes irretrievably and always to the detriment of self confidence.
Secondly, we must take active steps to memorise, and not merely
hope we remember. Given that the way we encode the information
(practising) is vastly different from the way in which we decode
it (performing), there is a considerable margin for error, and
terror! I liken this to the tightrope artist who risks nothing
when the rope is close to the ground, but everything when it
is several meters up in the air. We have all found that as soon
as we remove ourselves from our comfortable and familiar surroundings
things can feel so totally different, as though we did not know
the piece at all. To the student who complains that they can
play it perfectly well at home, I suggest that they go home and
MUSCULAR memory needs to be backed up by other forms of memory,
notably AURAL and ANALYTIC. It is optimal if these forms of memory
are built in to the initial learning processes for ultimate security
on stage, and not left until after the notes are learned by drilling
the fingers by reading from the score for several weeks. The
very thought of analysis should not scare us off: all pianists
need to be intelligent and any form of analysis will suffice,
from the most basic understanding of the patterns and directions
in the music to academic models of analysis (formal and harmonic).
In a letter, Glenn Gould wrote:
In my opinion, the only really successful way of learning
a work, regardless of its period, is to do so quite away from
instrument – in other words, to study it in purely analytical
terms first. Obviously these analytical terms will vary to some
extent depending on the repertoire, and certainly one could not
analyse a work by Schoenberg in quite the same way one would
analyse a Beethoven sonata. But by and large, and certainly in
all of the music from the sixteenth century to the present, it
ought to be possible to find common grounds of contact in the
structural relations in the work… I think you will
find, however difficult it may seem to be at first, a work
in analytical terms and only secondly at the instrument will
leave you permanently a stronger sense of its structure and
its internal workings.
Gina Bachauer, in an interview with Adele Marcus, reiterates
Marcus: I am interested to know how you view a piece of music
when you first learn it. What do you actually do?
Bachauer: I have never actually started to work on a new piece
of music at the piano. Perhaps this is very peculiar, but I never
begin that way. I try to read it for fifteen or twenty days in
bed in the evening before I ever touch a note.
Marcus: That’s very interesting. I am sure that you are
one of those people who can hear through their eyes alone and
totally relate to the score.
Bachauer: I like to study everything about the piece and then
approach the technical problems. When I study a piece of music
quietly, in bed, only my head works. I try to analyze the whole
piece to see where the different themes are, and to find out
what the composer’s message is. After having studied this
way for almost twenty days, I then go to the piano and feel that
I am prepared to practise at the instrument. I understand every
phrase, every tempo, where every phrase ends and the next one
begins. Then, technical details, fingerings, et cetera, come
Marcus: You undoubtedly establish the character, mood, and structure
of all the thematic material in advance.
Bachauer: Yes. It’s very strange, but this approach helps
me enormously to learn a work by heart. Therefore, when I go
to the piano, it is almost memorized.
I am not suggesting this as a realistic workaday approach for
our students, given their busy schedules. Concert pianists of
the stature of Gould and Bachauer would have been able to devote
all their time to their playing; most of us do not live in such
an ideal world. What I do suggest is that we incorporate some
of these analytical procedures into our practising from the start,
and encourage young learners to use their brains too.
To facilitate this with young players, teacher and pupil can
play a game of detectives, where the pupil gives three or four
facts about a melody, or a chord, or a piece as a whole as they
see it. There are no absolute answers, and every room for personal
observations. Whatever they notice is fine.
For example, the scale C-D-E-F sharp-G sharp-A sharp may be
seen as an ascending whole-tone scale, or simply a scale of three
white notes followed by three black ones that goes up.
For the intermediate level, I recommend using the index of Bach’s
Two-Part Inventions where only the subject of each Invention
is given. In my memorisation workshops, we go round the room
and each person says what he/she sees. Thus, the subject of the
F major Invention may be described thus:
The range of the subject (tessitura) is from low F to high F
and back again. There are three low Fs in the first bar, one
high F in the second bar and one low F in the third bar. The
journey from the low Fs to the high F proceeds by ever increasing
skips (a third, a fifth and then an octave), and returns to the
low tonic by steps (there are three descending scalar groups,
separated by a rising interval of a second). Both bars outline
the common chord of F major but in different ways. Younger pupils
might respond better if the imagination is involved in the analysis,
to make it less dry and more meaningful. Thus Bach is trying
to jump an octave but needs three attempts before he manages
it. Once at the top, the music falls back to the ground like
an autumn leaf.
I have found more often than not, the pupil will be able to
play the subject from memory immediately, just from the mental
work. I suggest he/she plays it firstly with one finger, and
then works out a suitable fingering. In this way, muscular memory
comes last, with the mental and aural pictures always securely
in the background.
When memorising new pieces having done a certain amount of this
type of work, remove the score from the piano desk as soon as
possible and place it on a chair behind. The reflexes for performance
need to be established early on in the learning, and having the
score on the desk gives false comfort. Also, one can peek without
even realising it! This way, the student has to stop playing
to refer to the score.
TOOLS FOR MEMORISATION
These tools may be used as part of the
note-learning process (ideal), or after the notes have been
learned, even partially,
to check and reinforce the memory.
It may seem perverse to play a line from memory with one finger,
but it is a marvellous tool for checking if the music is in
the aural/analytic memories or merely in the muscular. If it
is only in the muscular memory, it might not be strong enough
to withstand the stresses of performance. This technique works
especially well for passage work and contrapuntal music (where
two voices can be played simultaneously with one finger in
MAKING A SKELETON
This involves playing only selected components of the music (from
memory, of course!):
Play the melody and bass lines minus accompanimental or background
Play the accompaniment alone, or the accompaniment with the bass
Play hands separately from memory, especially the left hand (the
ear tends to focus on the right hand)
This is a glorified version of practising hands separately, by
using both hands to play the music that normally one hand will
play. In other words, we make a two-handed arrangement of the
notes in the bass (or treble) stave. This is supplementary
to playing the left hand alone from memory, where one is still
able to rely on muscular memory. Again, there is no one right
way to do this, and many possible ways. The arrangement can
be varied each time.
It is both educational and fun (if not a little frustrating)
to play the left hand music with the right hand, and vice versa
simultaneously (crossed hands). The main problem with this is
that in certain circumstances it might cause postural problems,
so it should be done sparingly and very slowly, perhaps only
for problem places.
In his students’ edition of Chopin Study op. 10 no. 1,
Alfred Cortot suggests that, after the work has been perfected,
playing in every key while keeping the fingerings of the key
of C will prove excellent practice. Testing the memory by means
of transposition is certainly excellent practice, but it is not
necessary to use all twelve keys. Two or three different keys
will suffice, and only for sections of the work that prove especially
troublesome. Testing the memory in this way will enhance one’s
understanding of the harmonic functions and the patterns of the
music in general that one may miss or take for granted in the
This work deliberately interrupts the muscular memory. One plays
a predetermined section (a bar, a phrase, or a bigger section)
and imagines the next section with the hands removed from the
keyboard before rejoining the keyboard and playing the next
section. It is important that the hands not drum on the lap
during the silent passage, as this is making sly use of the
muscular memory. Hear the music in your head; imagine the hands
on the keyboard. Variants of this process are:
Play the left hand alone for one bar, the right hand alone for
the next, and so on without pausing. Then repeat the process,
playing the bars you have previously imagined, and imagining
the bars you have previously played
On command, remove one hand and continue playing with the other.
On the next command, rejoin the keyboard with the other hand,
and so on. This is difficult, as the commands will come suddenly
and in unexpected places (this needs the presence of a teacher)
Divide the music into sections like tracks on a CD recording,
and mark these in the score. The greater the number of tracks,
the safer the memory will be. Be able to start at the beginning
of any track. Try beginning from a track, deliberately stopping
after a few bars and skipping to the beginning of the next
track. You can also back up, from track 3 back to track 2,
for example. Playing tracks in a random order also helps. This
builds in much more security than you need, so you will stress
This technique has been hailed in many fields, especially sports
science, medicine, and holistic therapies. For musicians preparing
for a performance, the idea is to imagine yourself playing
in as vivid detail as possible, while at the same time feeling
the emotions evoked by the music, as well as a calm state of
mind in the presence of examiners or an audience. Imagine yourself
feeling calm, confident and relaxed just before the examination
or before you go onstage. Hear yourself playing the music,
and see your hands and fingers execute their tasks as though
through the lens of a video camera. Use all of your senses
as vividly as possible. Scientists believe that this technique
creates neural pathways in the brain which are followed in
actual performance. Many memory slips happen because of negative
self-talk. Thoughts such as “Don’t forget!” or “I
shall be glad when this is over” are negative ones.
FOR OTHER INSTRUMENTALISTS
Some of these ideas can be used by single-line players, especially
the analytic and visualisation techniques. To test the memory,
try playing your line on the piano or another instrument! This
involves totally new muscular activities and the kinaesthetic
sense will be different. Therefore, you will be relying on
your ear and your understanding of the music’s structure.
Some students memorise quickly and easily, others take longer
and are less secure under stress. These techniques are like
buying security features for the home: the more you have, the
safer you feel. I have had students who realise they need them
only after they have been in trouble. Use those that help you,
and leave the rest (how we memorise is highly individual).
Young children will memorise much more naturally than adults,
and it would be better not to interfere with this natural process
Even if one chooses not the play from memory in the end, using
these techniques means that the music is known on deeper levels
than could ever happen from repeated readings.
J. Roberts, G Guertin, eds., Glenn Gould Selected Letters (Toronto:
OUP, 1992), 52.
A. Marcus, Great Pianists Speak with Adele Marcus (Neptune:
Paganiniana, 1979), 11-12.
A. Cortot, ed., Chopin: Twelve Studies, op. 10. (Paris: Salabert,
Slow practising: techniques, processes and strategies
by Graham Fitch
Most writers on piano playing confine themselves to an often
exhaustive analysis of technique, their particular physical
approach to the instrument, and how to train this. Surprisingly
few have spoken about the nuts and bolts of practising, those
processes and strategies that might be called ‘techniques
of learning’. This article attempts to take one aspect
of practising universally acknowledged as a cornerstone of
our day-to-day routine - slow practising – and to look
into when and how it might be applied.
As teachers, we always hear the results of rushed or ineffective
practising. It is human nature, especially for the younger student,
to want to play through pieces rather than summon the effort
to practise; to spend rather than to invest. So often when I
ask a student to demonstrate his/her slow practice tempo, it
is rarely slow enough, usually just a grudging nod in that direction.
As to an appropriate tempo for slow practising, I can do no better
than to quote a paragraph from Abram Chasins’ inspiring
book ‘Speaking of Pianists’,1 the part where he recalls
a time with Rachmaninov:
Rachmaninov was a dedicated and driven perfectionist. He
worked incessantly, with infinite patience. Once I had an appointment
to spend an afternoon with him in Hollywood. Arriving at the
designated hour of twelve, I heard an occasional piano sound
as I approached the cottage. I stood outside the door, unable
to believe my ears. Rachmaninov was practising Chopin’s
etude in thirds, but at such a snail’s pace that it took
me a while to recognise it be- cause so much time elapsed between
one finger stroke and the next. Fascinated, I clocked this re-
markable exhibition: twenty seconds per bar was his pace for
almost an hour while I waited riveted to the spot, quite unable
to ring the bell. Perhaps this way of developing and maintaining
an unerring mechanism accounted for his bitter sarcasm toward
colleagues who practised their programmes ‘once over lightly’ between
I think it is safe to assume that Rachmaninov – after
all a great pianist – knew this particular study well and
had already performed it publicly many times before. Slow practising
is thus not only, in Stewart Gordon’s words, a ‘first-stage
technique’.2 Slow practising is as much a tool for refining
and for maintaining, as for the initial note learning (when accurate,
up-to-speed playing is often simply not possible). It is very
much an on-going procedure, one that we use right up to the day
of the performance.
Let us start with the initial stages of learning a new piece.
The intelligent student will see the need for breaking the music
up into sections and for studying each hand alone, but will need
to call upon his/her sense of inner discipline to do the slow
work slowly enough and for long enough. How many of our students
abandon slow work when they sense the beginnings of fluency!
The temptation to ‘try out’ at speed what they have
spent a few minutes working on slowly is too great unless we
as teachers have instilled a sense of craftsmanship, an appreciation
that such premature run-throughs can wipe out the effects of
careful practising. The satisfaction at this stage has to come
from ‘doing the work’: leaving a new piece alone
after the slow practice, then resuming it the following day,
and the day after that, requires trust in the process. We have
to foster this attitude in our students: it is not just their
fingers that need training.
So how do we communicate the need for time spent practising
this way, and how do we make it enjoyable and meaningful to our
students? I often use the analogy of the photographic enlargement:
the more we blow up a photograph, the greater the detail we can
perceive. The slower we play, the more we see and hear. We have
the opportunity to think ahead as well as to evaluate what we
have actually done, because the brain is moving faster than the
fingers. Rather like a painter, who will need to alternate close-up
work on a small corner of his canvas with stepping back to see
how this fits in with the overall picture, and then make the
necessary adjustments, we rely on many different tempi for practising.
If slow work enables us to concentrate on every single detail,
then its drawback is that we might not ‘see the wood for
the trees’ and thus lose the overall sweep of the music.
Too much playing of fast passages at speed will adversely affect
our motor control and we lose finesse. Both slow and fast are
necessary: it is a question of keeping the two in balance.
It is of course the ultra-slow tempo that is so hard to commit
to, because the musical meaning is changed. For this to be effective,
we already have to have a good idea of the musical content, and
to draw on our reserves of concentration (which need to be considerable
here). Practising a slow movement twice as fast may seem perverse
or even sacrilegious, but the greater perspective gained by the
time shrinkage between one phrase and the next will be tangible
after doing this just once. Josef Lhevinne used to have four
different tempi: very slow, then a little faster, then still
faster, then finally the most uncomfortable tempo which he would
stick to until it became comfortable!3 A performance tempo is
not an absolute and we gain much flexibility by knowing a piece
at many different tempi.
If we agree that slow practising is a process where the conscious
mind trains the fingers and the ear, then we have to know as
clearly as possible what it is we expect of them. Often, just
getting the correct notes, in the correct rhythm and with the
correct fingering is enough with which to start. Phrase shaping
and other attributes of artistic playing may come later. A process
where the tempo is slow enough to allow us to think about each
note before we play it, then to evaluate what we have done immediately
after, might be represented by the following flow chart:
Thus, potential errors can be avoided before they occur, or eliminated
before they have a chance to become habitual. To make the practising
highly effective, if the response in the final (‘post’)
stage is ‘wrong’, feed the correction back into
the first (‘pre’) stage so that on the next repetition,
the mind may command the fingers to produce exactly the intended
result. I am sure this is what Theodor Leschetizky meant when
he said ‘think ten times and play once’.4 We can
thereby avoid mindless ‘hit and miss’ repetitions,
where the student will get it wrong several times, then right
on the last attempt, and is content with that. Little wonder
the passage folds under the pressure of a performance: what
they have actually practised is getting it wrong nine times
and right on the tenth attempt. A moment or two of reflection
before the repetition, becoming as conscious as possible as
to why we are playing that part again can save us not only
time, but more importantly from the futile exercise of attempting
to ‘perfect imperfection’ (Cecile Genhart’s
phrase5). Later, the finer points of phrasing can be built
in using the same approach. Instead of evaluating the result
as merely right or wrong, one can be discerning as to gradations
in crescendo, qualities of touch and so on. To return to Chasins’ description,
Rachmaninov would presumably have been attending to such matters
as precision in attack and tonal balance of every single pair
of double thirds in the right hand, and might have been asking
himself questions such as: ‘did the notes sound exactly
together?’; ‘did both fingers play from the surface
of the keys?’; ‘was the upper note slightly stronger
than the lower?’; and so on, quite apart from the demands
he would have been making of the left hand and the pedal. This
is surely maintenance practice at its most demanding.
I have attempted to categorise slow practice into four main
areas, which will inevitably overlap.
Slow and mechanical
When the average student thinks of slow practising what usually
comes to mind is ‘note bashing’ (a drilling of the
fingers at a slow speed) with no real attention to sound, phrasing,
or indeed any other musical qualities. While there is a place
for a type of practising that deals with pure mechanics, this
is not the only way and will need more sparing application than
one might think. If overused, it can do more harm than good as
it tends to cause physical tightness, a stifling of the imagination,
and (worse) a gradual deadening of the ear to the subtleties
of timing and colouring in the music. This sort of work is best
used in alternation with ‘slow and musical’, about
which more later.
Mechanical practice is basically technical practice, a way of
forming and strengthening the conditioned reflexes. To build
speed and brilliance, for example, into passagework, we can prepare
each finger before each note, and release effort the moment the
finger senses that the key has reached the keybed. So often with
the intermediate student, we need to train this principle of ‘effort
and release’. This is often more obviously called for in
loud and fast playing, which, as Heinrich Neuhaus points out,6
is the most difficult activity to sustain on the piano. At a
very slow tempo, it is possible to concentrate on this point
of release after each and every note, thus building it into the
reflex arc. This technical skill can only be acquired at a very
slow tempo, with full concentration. As such, we form good habits.
We may practise with high fingers (to develop key speed); with
fingers close to the keys (for economy of movement); with a legatissimo
touch (to develop strong legato connections); pianissimo, using ‘fingers
only’ and listening for complete evenness (for superfine
control), and so on. Even a half-hour dose of ‘slow and
firm’ can do wonders to secure a troublesome passage and
make it feel easy.
Slow and musical
In this particular form of slow work, it is the ear and the
mind (rather than the fingers) that are in charge. It is more
a musical process than a technical one, where we attend to quality
of sound, every single detail of phrasing, articulations, tonal
gradations, chord balances, pedalling, lengths of notes, dynamic
shadings, and so on. This kind of practising makes us acutely
aware of every detail of the piece, and the results are far more
extensive than if we concern ourselves with mere finger dexterity.
The concentration needed to sustain this type of listening is
intense and presupposes certain decisions on the student’s
part as to interpretation: this process will tend to reveal much.
There is no place for the metronome here, as all the subtleties
of timing (in exaggerated form) will need to be present. It is
the ear and the ‘inner judge’ that are doing the
work, and not the fingers. In the words of pianist Claude Frank:
There is absolutely no substitute for slow practice. Let me
embellish this by saying that, ninety-nine times out of a hundred,
this slow practice should be very musical. There are very few
instances in which slow mechanical practice is beneficial. Musical
slow practice is the key7.
Slow yet fast
While this may appear a contradiction in terms, in this particular
type of practising it is the tempo that is slow (the slower the
better) and the motions that are fast (the faster the better,
provided these are done without jerkiness). This process is especially
useful in passages where the hands move quickly from one position
to another, where we need to build in speed and precision in
measuring these distances. It is only possible to control such
matters when the tempo is slow; at a faster tempo, the ‘automatic
pilot’ kicks in, allowing the fruits of our labour just
to happen. Thus, for example, in the opening of the rondo from
Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14, a
metronome speed of quaver = 60 allows us to cover each new hand
position extremely quickly.8 As soon as each key is released,
the hand/arm travels directly to the next position (dead centre
of the key) and remains there (loosely!) until needed. This process
builds in both extreme precision and speed in the ever-moving
There comes a time, in the secondary stages of learning, when
we will need to listen in phrases and paragraphs (rather than
syllabically), when slow practice is actually an impediment to
gaining speed. It is especially important in this transition
stage to remember that for a couple of days, the ‘little
bits fast’ process (see below) will challenge us and we
may find ourselves resorting to our security blanket of ‘slow’.
This will only interfere with our progress: after the reflexes
for up-to-speed playing have been developed, both fast and slow
speeds may be used alternately but at this point omit the slow
After a bout of slow practice, the passage often just seems
to ‘come right’ and we find we can play it at speed
effortlessly. Sometimes we need a bridge between slow work and
up-to-speed playing. A tried and tested method, which hardly
needs any explanation, is to increase the speed gradually, by
increments with each repetition, until the ideal speed is reached.
Another more neglected way is to take little snippets of the
music at performance tempo.
Little bits fast
The benefit here is that one is practising a performance – tiny
samples of one – rather than going through the motions
mechanically. In this process we include every aspect of performance
(the proper dynamic/expressive range, feeling, energy, as well
as tempo) but play just a short burst of the performance. The
segment can be just a few notes to start with, then we add more
notes until we have whole bars and then phrases. If we change
the starting and stopping places each time (moving the goal posts),
the stops will not have the chance to become ingrained. As one
proceeds with this approach, the segments can be longer until
we can play whole sections, at full speed and with all nuances.
In the case of a very fast or agile passage, if the practice
tempo range exceeds the intended performance tempo, the reflexes
will be even stronger and results even more secure. I liken this
to the athlete ‘running the extra mile’, so that
the eventual distance seems easier. The more we exceed the intended
tempo, the softer and lighter we will need to play (‘fast
In a performance, we are not thinking about the ‘how’ of
the playing: like the surfer on the wave, we perform best if
we can simply allow ourselves to be carried along by the rhythm
and flow of the music, feeling rather than thinking. Slow practice
is a potent discipline in the training regime for developing
memory, musical awareness as well as muscular control. As appropriate
for the seasoned concert artist as for the beginner (and all
levels in between), we never outgrow it. Slow practice is basically
1 Chasins, Abram. 1967. Speaking of Pianists. New York: Knopf,
2 Gordon, Stewart. 1995. Etudes for Piano Teachers: Reflections
on the Teacher’s Art. Oxford: University Press, 73.
3 Marcus, Adele. Great Pianists Speak with Adele Marcus. Neptune,
New Jersey: Paganiniana Publications, 48.
4 Brée, Malwine. 1997. The Lescherizky Method: A Guide
to Fine and Correct Piano Playing. New York: Dover, 57.
5 Gordon, 83.
6 Neuhaus, Heinrich. 1973. The Art of Piano Playing. London:
Barrie and Jenkins: 84.
7 Marcus, 51.
8 I am not necessarily suggesting that one practises with the
metronome, Ideally, it should be used as a guide: switched on
before playing the passage, switched off for the actual playing,
and referred to again afterwards, to make sure the initial tempo
has been maintained.
Chasins, Abram. 1967. Speaking of Pianists. New
Gordon, Stewart. 1995. Etudes for Piano Teachers: Reflections
on the Teacher’s Art. Oxford: University Press.
Marcus, Adele. Great Pianists Speak with Adele Marcus. Neptune,
New Jersey: Paganiniana Publications.
Brée, Malwine. 1997. The Lescherizky Method: A Guide to
Fine and Correct Piano Playing. New York: Dover.
Neuhaus, Heinrich. 1973. The Art of Piano Playing. London: Barrie
The Keyboard Music of Jean-Philippe Rameau: is this
viable on the piano?
Associate Professor Graham Fitch
Head of Keyboard Studies, University of Cape Town
One of my great passions as a student was the harpsichord and
its repertoire. When I turned my full attention towards the
piano, it was playing the music of the French baroque in particular
that I missed the most. For years, it seemed to me that this
music was the exclusive domain of the harpsichordist, because
it is written so idiomatically for that instrument. It was
not until I heard Angela Hewitt’s recent piano recordings
of François Couperin that I began to challenge this
long-held belief, and it is thanks to her pioneering spirit
that I started to programme Rameau in recital this year. Audiences
have warmed to it more than I could have anticipated, and it
ended up being an extremely satisfying experience to play this
music on the piano. There were, however, a number of issues
and stylistic problems to contend with before I found the right
approach, and it is these that I aim to deal with in this paper.
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) was known as a theoretician
before he was
recognised as a composer. He is probably best known today for
his many operas
(there are over 90 acts of dramatic music), but he also wrote
chamber music, sacred
music (in the form of motets and cantatas), and, occupying a
small part of his total
output, some 50 works for harpsichord. Rameau published three
volumes of keyboard
music, the contents falling under the broad headings of dance
music and genre pieces
(with descriptive titles, and often having extra-musical appeal).
The first volume, entitled Première livre de pièces
de clavecin (1706), contains 10
pieces loosely following a typical French dance suite. Written
when Rameau was 23,
this single suite is arranged in traditional sequence, except
for the placement of the
gigue before, rather than after, a pair of sarabandes. The only
in this suite from the performance viewpoint is the archaic prelude,
whose first section
is unmeasured (composed without bar lines and with imprecise
rhythmical values) (1).
The second set, the Pièces de clavecin (1724), begins
with a pedagogical method
dealing with fingering and technique, together with a small Menuet
en rondeau in C
and a table of ornaments. The collection contains pieces in the
key of E (major and
minor) that together form a sort of suite. Of interest is Le
rappel des oiseaux, a
colourful work depicting birdsong – so characteristically
French. The remaining
pieces in the set are genre pieces in D (major and minor); apart
from Les Niais de
Sologne and its two doubles, they are not designed to be played
The next collection of pieces is the Nouvelles suites de
de clavecin (1728),
containing the vast Suite in A minor which ends with what is
best-known keyboard work, the Gavotte and Variations. The collection
9 genre pieces in G (major and minor), among these is Rameau’s
other birdsong piece, La Poule (The Hen). As with the 1724 set,
Rameau begins with a preface in
which he remarks on the pieces and on different styles of music.
There are also the Cinq pièces (1741), the composer’s
arrangements from his own “Pièces de clavecin en concerts”.
I have long accepted that any piano performance of music not
written with the modern instrument specifically in mind can
be justified when considered a transcription. It is part of
this process that adjustments and adaptations from the one
medium to the other occur. It is important that stylistic decisions
be based on knowledge of performance practices of the period,
but these should be tempered with a more personal authenticity
(a belief that what one is doing feels right) and above all,
permission to be pianistic! Before the Puritanism of the Early
Music Movement in the 1970s and 80s had effectively put a ban
on performances of baroque music on the modern instrument,
pianists had felt free to programme everything and anything
that appealed to them, and they played with a sense of style
from their imaginations rather than scholarly texts. Nowadays,
attitudes seem to have relaxed again, and we hear the keyboard
works of Bach, Scarlatti, Haendel and others frequently. The
music of the French baroque, however, is still much neglected.
Much of the French repertoire is so idiomatic for the harpsichord
that it can easily
sound clumsy or ineffectual when transferred to any other medium.
Couperin’s 27 Ordres, for example, there are quite a number
of individual pieces that
can work well on the piano, but very few whole ordres. Apart
from the Gavotte and
Variations and some of the smaller individual character pieces
that crop up in the
examination syllabus, Rameau’s music seems largely unexplored.
A basic characteristic of the classical harpsichord sound is
a sharp attack followed by
a sudden decay, but a relatively long sustain, these factors
causing a transparency of
sound. Piano tone, in contrast, is much more resonant and the
decay in sound more
gradual, which can tend to make textures thicker and muddier.
The obvious benefit of
the piano is the ability to control volume of sound by touch,
and thus clarify lines of
Stylistic issues involved in transcription from the harpsichord
to the piano not
discussed elsewhere in this article include:
• Texture: using touch and articulation to clarify textures
that would otherwise
sound muddy on the piano. Also, taking into consideration Rameau’s
bass-heavy writing by playing ornaments more slowly in the lower
and by sketching in inner voices.
Dynamics: not feeling bound only by terraced dynamics. Localised
and shapings can also be used freely, since these are suggested
harpsichord by other means. To make full use of the resources
of the piano, a
wide dynamic range can be explored.
Pedal: shallow pedals; “finger” pedalling; use of
una corda as a stop or
register on a repeat, perhaps.
Tempo: being aware of how a particular dance moves. Sometimes
tempo is necessary on the piano because of the greater resonance,
number of ornaments.
The Urtext score: applying slurs, staccatos, tenutos and other
touch and articulation in a score with very few indications from
The first stumbling block facing the pianist is the sheer proliferation
of ornaments. As is typical of French baroque music, the score
is laden with ornaments, serving a variety of purposes. Apart
from the purely decorative, the ornaments also function as
accents (both rhythmic and harmonic), and may serve to sustain
long notes. Rameau included a table of ornaments with the first
and second sets of pieces. His ornaments signs differ in some
respects from those of Bach, specifically in his use of the
curved line before the note head to indicate an appoggiatura,
and after the note head to indicate a mordent.
It is outside the scope of this article to enter into a full
discussion of ornamentation. Rameau’s ornament tables,
like those of other composers, give a guide as to the shape of
the ornament but since ornaments are chameleon-like in nature
it is helpful to think of them as being free and flexible within
certain rules. Having ascertained the function of each ornament,
we can reach possible realisations that might differ from performance
to performance. Is it expressive or rhythmic, fast or slow, long
or short? There is much leeway as to the speed of the ornament,
how many repercussions trills and mordents may have, how long
the appoggiatura (port de voix) might be in relation to the principle
note, and so on. Generally speaking, ornaments will begin on
the beat and most trills on the upper auxiliary. Compound ornaments,
where both hands have to play an ornament simultaneously, occur
more frequently in French music than in Bach or Haendel, and
present a special problem. Usually, the appoggiatura in one hand
can be held until the other hand has executed the trill or mordant,
or the one hand can play its ornament rather slower than the
other. In purely pianistic terms, the best way to manage the
ornaments is to keep them relatively light so they do not muddy
the texture. One gains much more control by keeping the fingers
in the keys in a trill or mordent, and to use pressure from the
finger tips combined with some forearm rotation to manage the
repercussions. Not only is this more efficient mechanically,
it also gives a better sound with less clatter.
The French Convention of Notes Inégales
The practice of inequality (so-called notes inégales)
applies to French music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
and involves the rhythmic alteration of (sometimes slurred) pairs
of notes that are notated equally. There are basically two sorts
of inequality; long-short, or short-long (the latter sometimes
referred to as lombardic), applicable under certain circumstances
that would have been passed on by tradition during the period
and thus understood by all trained musicians. Frederick Neumann
clearly sums up his conclusions about inequality as follows:
Characteristic of the convention is that only specific, evenly
written note values in specific meters were subject to being
rendered unequal, such as sixteenth notes (but not eighth notes)
in C meter, or eighth notes (but not quarter notes) in such meters
as 2 or 3, quarter notes (but not half notes) in meters such
as 3/2. Inequality was long-short in a ratio that for all practical
purposes ranged from a barely perceptible 7:5 to about 2:1, rarely
going beyond this limit. The notes involved had to be binary,
never ternary, had to be subdivisions of the beat, never the
beat itself, and had to move basically in stepwise motion. Whenever
the conditions were right, inégalité was mandatory
unless the composer canceled it either by placing dots or dashes
above the notes or by such words as “marqué,” “détaché” or “notes” or “ croches égales”(2).
A good rule of thumb is that the inequality should be subtler
in slower expressive pieces, such as allemandes, but can be sharper
in more rhythmical pieces, such as gavottes. For example, in
the following extract from the allemande from the Suite in A
minor (Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin), the lower
staves give one possible realisation of inequality, and this
is notatable only very approximately:
Ex. 1, Allemande, bars 1 – 3
In the first bar, I play the ascending scale with a fairly gentle
inequality (a ratio of 3:2,
approximately) but prefer a triplet division when the note pattern
changes (the broken
thirds in the second bar, for example). Disjunct note patterns,
such as the broken triad
on the second beat of bar 2, are usually played equally, although
the inequality could
certainly continue here for these three notes. The final four
semiquavers of the bar
might be played more sharply, to energise the cadence. Another
feature of style is the
permissible and often preferable desynchronisation of the hands
when both hands are
playing the same note values simultaneously. In the case of the
second half of the first
beat in bar 2, an approximate division of three in the right
hand against a division of
five in the left actually gives a smoother, less clumsy result.
The pianist might have a
built-in aversion to splitting the hands in this way (a reaction
against the excesses of
our nineteenth century forebears?), and indeed it might not be
as necessary on the
piano as on the harpsichord, given that the left hand can be
played much softer to
create a similar effect.
In the second example (the Gavotte from the Première
Livre de Pièces de Clavecin),
we find instances of the lombardic from of notes inégales indicated by paired slurs.
The character of the gavotte implies a sharper inequality, and
the triplet division I
suggest could be sharpened up slightly, or even dotted.
A final word about inequality: when more than two notes are
placed under a slur,
these notes should be played equally. Indeed, it was standard
practice for the
harpsichordist to hold down throughout the length of the slur.
This overholding (or
finger pedalling) can be utilised very effectively on the piano,
where actual pedalling
would add too much resonance to the texture.
Neumann stresses that this “fully developed and integrated
French system” was only
known and understood within France, and that every musician would
brought up with it. The fact that the German theorists Muffat
and Quantz had tried to
introduce the French system to German music in their writings
may have lead later
scholars, spearheaded by Arnold Dolmetsch and later taken up
by Robert Donington
and others, to assume that the tradition was disseminated to,
and adopted by German
musicians of the time. Neumann disputes that the convention of
inequality did ever
spread to Germany, and concludes that it is not applicable to
the music of Bach or
other German composers, even in their works in the French style(3).
JEAN-PHILIPPE RAMEAU’S WORKS FOR SOLO KEYBOARD
PREMIÈRE LIVRE DE PIÈCES DE CLAVECIN (1706)
Allemandes 1 and 2
Sarabandes 1 and 2
PIÈCES DE CLAVECIN (1724)
Menuet en rondeau Les tendres plaintes
Les niais de Sologne (with 2 doubles)
Allemande Les soupirs
Courante La joyeuse
Gigues en rondeaux 1 and 2 La follette
Le rappel des oiseaux L’entretien des Muses
Rigaudons 1 and 2 (with a double of 2) Les tourbillons
Musette en rondeau Les cyclopes
Tambourin Le lardon
La villageoise La boiteuse
NOUVELLES SUITES DE PIÈCES DE CLAVECIN (1728)
Allemande Les tricolets
Sarabande La poule
Les trois mains Menuets 1 and 2
Fanfarinette Les triolets
La triomphante Les sauvages
Gavotte and 6 doubles L’enharmonique
CINQ PIÈCES (1741) – from “Pièces
de Clavecin en Concerts”
La Dauphine (1747).
1 The prélude non mesuré is from the Chambonnières-Louis
Couperin-d’Anglebert lineage. Rameau’s Prélude is less strictly notated than those of his predecessors, as it
contains passages where the rhythm is indicated, even though
the bar lines are omitted. Traditionally, each note would have
been written in semibreves: slurs indicated the harmonic structure,
but precise lengths of notes were left to the taste of the player.
The form had become obsolete by the mid 1730s. For a detailed
investigation into the
realisation of unmeasured preludes, see Davitt Moroney, “The
Performance of Unmeasured Harpsichord Preludes”, Early
Music, Vol. 4, no. 2, (Apr., 1976), pp. 143-151.
2 Frederick Neumann, New Essays on Performance Practice (University
of Rochester Press, 1992), p. 66.
3 Neumann, p. 68.
ASPECTS OF STYLE IN THE FOUR MAIN PERIODS
(BAROQUE, CLASSICAL, ROMANTIC, AND MODERN)
(Originally presented as a series of four keynote addresses
at the Victorian Music Teachers' Association, Melbourne, Australia,
in January 2007)
(FORMERLY) ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR GRAHAM FITCH,
HEAD OF KEYBOARD STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN
…what bestows upon the performer the status of artist
and on the performance the status of art, is the real, full-bloodied
possibility of the performer finding a better or at least different
way of performing the music from the way the composer has specifically
envisioned and explicitly instructed. This is what bestows upon
the performance personal style and originality – what makes
it the performer’s “version” of the work and
not just the composer’s “version”.
Peter Kivy, Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections
on Musical Performance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), 197.
This article attempts to clarify some of the issues of musical
style as they relate to performance. Nowadays, it is important
that we are informed about historical performance practices
so that we might apply the conventions and practices of the
main historical style periods to modern-day music making, or
decide to do this in our own way.
The tradition established by Beethoven (and perpetuated by most
successive composers) of notating precise performance directions
in the score brings with it a responsibility to follow these.
Performance directions might also be a comfort: if we adhere
to all these directions to the letter, we will have been faithful
to the score.
The subject of performance practice in music prior to Beethoven
arises simply because of the imprecise nature of printed notation
(the absence of markings and indications in the score), the different
meanings of the same notations in different periods of music
history, and the fact that there were more variables under the
judgement of the performer in the baroque (and to a lesser extent
classical) than in later periods (ornaments and embellishments,
for example, fall in this gap between the text and the performance).
In the nineteenth century, style had more to do with personal
style – how the individual performer felt the music should
go. This meant that all music, including baroque and other early
music was in the domain of all musicians and could be approached
fearlessly. Available editions were often highly edited (and
altered) with the editor’s personal views on dynamics,
tempo, etc., and there was little attempt to distinguish those
markings that might have been from the composer from those that
were editorial. As long as it made musical sense, it was accepted.
Editors guilty of this sort of tampering were Tausig and von
Bülow (in Scarlatti) and Busoni (in Bach), amongst many
Scholarly interest in performance traditions began in the early
1830s, with Fétis and Moscheles. They used early instruments
in their concerts, and their joint piano method (Méthode
des Méthodes de Piano, Paris, 1840) refers to earlier
treatises and contains instructions on the correct performance
The music of earlier composers began to be published from 1851,
beginning with Breitkopf and Härtel’s edition of Bach.
At around this time, more concerts using historical instruments
were being put on in London and Paris and some important collections
of historical keyboard instruments were established (including
what were to become the collections at the Victoria and Albert
Museum, London, and the Washington Smithsonian Institution).
The next important wave in the Early Music Movement came with
the work of Arnold Dolmetsch, and then Thurston Dart and Robert
Donington, who became the Establishment figures in the field.
The Three “D”s
Arnold Dolmetsch, The Interpretation of the Music of the
17th and 18th Centuries (London: Novello,1915). Dolmetsch formulated
a set of rules for performance, based on research of old texts
and ornament tables.
Thurston Dart, The Interpretation of Music (London: Hutchinson,
1954). This was widely read and accepted as the authority on
the subjects of style and historical correctness.
Robert Donington, The Interpretation of Early Music (London:
Faber and Faber, 1963, revised, updated and reissued 1974). Among
Donington’s other publications is A Performer’s Guide
to Baroque Music (New York: Scribner, 1973), which gives very
clear directives on all aspects of performance practice.
During the early 1970s, performers were striving for historical
correctness and yet many were content to play on modern instruments:
gradually, the attitude became much stricter about authentic
sound, and performances on historical instruments became de
Among the many musicians who abided by this principle were Trevor
Pinnock, John Eliot Gardiner and Christopher Hogwood, who attracted
a loyal following that rose to quasi cult status.
While it is undeniable that the influence of the Early Music
Movement was considerable and beneficial, a schism arose that
made performances of seventeenth and eighteenth century music
on modern instruments almost taboo. Of course, the great performers
who were associated with the music of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven
continued undaunted and largely unaffected, but this divide was
palpable in conservatories at the time, and many pianists did
not dare to play Bach on their instrument for fear of getting
An important scholar who questioned the assumptions of the Early
Music Movement is Frederick Neumann whose monumental tome Ornamentation
in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music, with Special Emphasis on J.S.
Bach (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983)
is an important resource.
The authenticists describe their performances as “authentic” but
these might not necessarily be good performances. They cannot
seem to imagine a performance as being inauthentic and good,
or authentic and bad.
One can be authentic in four ways:
1. By reproducing the music exactly as the composer would have
heard it. This calls for the use of historical instruments, and
a thorough investigation into the performance practices of the
2. By reproducing a performance as the composer might have wanted
to hear it, but for various reasons could not (because the composer
might not have had the resources at his disposal, or because
the instruments of the day were inadequate).
3. By capturing the spirit of the music based on research into
performance practices of the period, and yet by realising the
music on modern instruments.
4. By capturing the spirit of the music as one feels it, with
no regard for historical authenticity.
Fortunately, the proselytising stance of earlier scholarship
has relaxed somewhat, and while many hardliners are still adamant
that it is wrong to play earlier music on modern instruments
(thereby denying the pianist trained on the modern instrument
the great legacy of Bach and Mozart), nowadays there is greater
tolerance, and room for both. Conservatory courses in performance
practice are more widespread, and students tend to show at least
some interest in (and knowledge of) early instruments and their
techniques so that their playing can be better informed.
Most editions of the standard German editions of the classics
came out in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was
usual for publishers to invite a virtuoso player or a recognised
teacher to edit them, who often put in lavish amounts of their
own fingering, phrasing, dynamics and tempo markings, and did
not distinguish these from the composer’s.
Breitkopf and Härtel began to issue a series of Urtext
editions, with only the composer’s markings. Other German
companies soon followed, and by the 1930s many Urtext editions
The lack of performance directions in baroque scores means that
one has lots of choices! Versatility is assumed and intended
by the composer. The most important thing is never to interpret
a score devoid of markings in a blank or grey fashion, remembering
that all music is expressive.
THE ULTIMATE INTENTION OF ALL NOTATIONAL
DETAILS IS TO REDUCE THE PERFORMER’S CHOICE.
PIANO v. HARPSICHORD
Bach came from a tradition where choice of keyboard instrument
was not specified, because it did not matter so much which
medium was used. Line was the important thing, not colour (Bach
did not put registration into his organ music). As long as
one applies the expressive and playing idioms characteristic
of each instrument, one is operating within the baroque spirit.
Bach did not have a pedal (because he did not have a piano, and
the sustaining pedal was invented 22 years after his death).
Since the pedal is integral to the piano, we can use it in
Bach provided we do not interfere with contrapuntal lines.
Use it for colour and resonance rather than legato either making
frequent changes, or by partially depressing pedal.
Guidelines for expression
Very generally and broadly:
When a musical line goes up, it tends to gain in intensity; when
it comes down, it tends to lose in intensity. This is inherent
in vocal music, and natural to most instruments.
Therefore, descending lines and sequences can be played with
a diminuendo; ascending lines and sequences with a crescendo.
Discords equal tension, therefore imply accent.
Concords equal relaxation, therefore imply no accent.
When the texture of the music thins out, the playing becomes
automatically softer on the harpsichord. A big chord is thus
an accent. The pianist must notice this and reproduce the effects
pianistically, by dynamics.
MAIN HISTORICAL TREATISES
J.J. Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 1752
C.P.E. Bach, Essay on the True Art of playing Keyboard Instruments, 1753
J.F. Agricola, Introduction to the Art of Singing, 1757
HELPFUL MODERN BOOKS
Howard Ferguson, Keyboard Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University
Carole Bigler and Valery Lloyd-Watts, Ornamentation: A Question & Answer
Manual (Van Nuys, California: Alfred, 1995)
Ed. Howard Mayer Brown and Stanley Sadie, Performance Practice:
Music after 1600 (New York, NY: Norton, 1990)
The French practice of inequality (notes inégales) applies
to music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and involves
the rhythmic alteration of (often slurred) pairs of notes that
are notated equally.
There are basically two sorts of inequality; long-short, or
short-long (the latter sometimes referred to as lombardic).
• The rhythmic value eligible for alteration is the prevailing
note value, which is usually half the value of the metric beat
(quavers in 3/4 time; often semiquavers in common time).
The passages open to inequality show fairly uniform movement
in the appropriate rhythmic value(s).
The notes generally move by step rather than by leap.
The mood is usually more “gracious” than energetic.
[see Richard Troeger, Playing Bach on the Keyboard: A Practical
Guide (Cambridge: Amadeus Press, 2003), 165.]
When more than two notes are placed under a slur these must
be played evenly, although this does not necessarily preclude
a slight leaning on the first note of the group.
The extent of the inequality depended on the musical context,
and to the good taste of the performer (this was stressed by
François Couperin in particular). Inequality was almost
never realised as sharply as a dotted rhythm, but more subtly
as triplets or other ratios. If one were to divide the main beat
into five, the first note of the pair might be held for three
of these divisions and the second note for two. The more usual
realisation was long-short, the lombardic form (short-long) reserved
for descending stepwise pairs: François Couperin indicated
the latter form by a slur with a dot over the second note of
each pair. This is a good example of where the dot was used to
indicate rhythm and had nothing to do with staccato. Couperin
used dashes to show detachment (this wedge-shaped sign meaning
to separate rather than the modern sense of staccatissimo).
This system was only known and understood within France, and
every musician would have been brought up with it. The fact that
the German theorists Georg Muffat and Johann Joachim Quantz had
tried to introduce the French system to German music in their
writings lead later scholars to assume that the tradition was
used by German musicians of the time. Modern scholars generally
feel that it was not.
In baroque notation, the dot is variable and flexible. It may
augment the value of the dotted note by less than half (under-dotting)
in expressive music, by half (standard dotting), or by more
than half (over-dotting) in fast or energised music, including
in some cases by half as much again as standard dotting (double-dotting).
The use of the double dot to elongate the note further, where
the second dot is worth 1/4 of the note, did not come into
general use until the mid-eighteenth century. The notation
may, however, be found in Jean-Jacques Champion de Chambonnières,
Louis Couperin and Jean-Henri d’Anglebert (amongst others),
but Quantz was the first to actually discuss double dotting.
While double-dotting can occasionally be found notated by double
dots from about the middle of the baroque period, and by tied
notes from earlier, no significant difference seems to have been
generally intended. As usual, the basic fact is that baroque
notation was habitually casual and inconsistent to the eye, though
by no means to be taken casually or inconsistently in performance.
The variable dot of baroque notation is simply one more instance
of this general attitude.
One should synchronise the hands when dotted rhythms occur in
one part simultaneously with triplets, or dotted rhythms at
twice the speed in another. This is mandatory in some cases,
such as when a dotted rhythm is written together with triplets.
In other cases, it is up to the performer to decide. This convention
lasted well into the romantic period.
For baroque musicians, ornamentation, embellishment and improvisation
were integral to their training. The line between composer
and performer was not nearly as demarcated as is it is now
(the performer was often the composer), and such elaboration
would not be regarded as tampering in the same way that the
modern musician might see it. Ornamentation varied from one
country to another, and from early baroque to high baroque.
Three ornament signs were used, with strokes going through the
note stem, either 1 stroke (this probably indicated a mordent,
although there is no certainty), 2 strokes (probably an upper
note trill) and 3 strokes (probably a full trill and termination).
Symbols were very vague and uncertain – they may have
meant to arpeggiate if placed with a chord, or even just to
General principles in baroque ornamention
The French school was very strict and specific. See François
Couperin “L’art de toucher le clavecin” (1716).
http://nicolas.sceaux.free.fr/clavecin/ArtDetoucherLeClavecin.pdf (in French); also, see Couperin’s and Rameau’s ornament
tables in the preface to their keyboard works.
German music was lavishly ornamented but one may certainly add
ornamentation and embellishment (on repeats, and at cadences
where a trill might be assumed).
In Spanish music one finds two main ornament signs (redouble
and quiebro) whose shapes were determined by context.
Italian composers had fewer signs. These were not used with the
same precision as in French music. There are pre-beat possibilities,
and trills may start on the main note. The small notes (graces)
mean long or short appoggiaturas ON the beat (groups of small
notes may come before the beat when a sound effect such as a
guitar is intended).
Trills and appoggiaturas create dissonance with the harmony
and thus ornaments begin ON THE BEAT! There are some exceptions
to this in French music (see F. Couperin’s ornament tables
for passing appoggiaturas), but these are very rare in Bach.
Trills and mordents may have as many repercussions as time and
taste allow. Ornaments are chameleon-like and match their surroundings.
Thus, in slow music, ornaments may be slower and more expressive,
in fast music more rhythmical. Do not omit ornaments – extra
ones may be added according to national styles and the performer’s
A mordent is a wavy trill sign with a vertical line through it.
It is realised as the main note, then the note below, then
main note again. Multiple repercussions are possible, depending
on the context and taste. Confusion over the mordent may stem
from an ornament called the mordant in Johannes Buchner’s
Fundamentum (1520), who wrote a loop below a note. In ascending
passages it meant one thing (alternation of the written note
and the note below), and in descending passage another thing
(alternation of the written note and the note above).
Trills (marked tr or with a wavy line) begin from the UPPER NOTE!
The upper-note start to baroque trills is described or illustrated
with monotonous regularity from the middle of the seventeenth
century onwards. (Donington, A Performer’s Guide to Baroque
It was not until 1828 that Hummel started to advocate lower-note
trills in his Anweisung zum Piano-Forte-Spiel, after which there
is evidence for both types.
Marpurg, Quantz and C.P.E. Bach all stress the need for the
trill to begin with its upper auxiliary, even when this upper
note precedes the trill and it must be repeated, rather than
using the three-note ornament, known as the Schneller.
CPE Bach’s Schneller (the so-called mordant!) was a later
invention. In J.S. Bach, this three-note ornament may be used
in very fast passages (where a 4-note trill would be impossible),
or in a legato context where the note before the trill is the
same note as the upper note of the trill. This is actually a
tied trill (Couperin’s tremblement lié) and while
it sounds like a three-note ornament, the first note is actually
tied over. In fast passages, a modern acciaccatura is preferable
to the three-note ornament.
This is written as a small note and is not to be confused with
the acciaccatura, a later ornament with an oblique line through
the stem. The appoggiatura goes ON THE BEAT!
An appoggiatura is an accented dissonance from above or below,
mostly by step but sometimes by larger intervals, creating a
clash with the harmony by coming on the beat. The appoggiatura
should be stressed, and the resolution played lightly by means
of a slur.
The length of the appoggiatura is variable, depending on context
and despite the number of tails (or lack thereof) on the miniaturised
note stem. In this regard, flexibility on the part of the performer
is called for despite the elaborate and specific rules laid out
by some authors (C.P.E. Bach in particular). In deciding the
length of the appoggiatura, think in terms of a variety of possibilities
rather than one correct way.
Often the decision depends on the movement of the other (usually
lower) parts. Rather than coincide the resolution of the appoggiatura
with a note in another part, it is often more elegant to resolve
it just before (especially on the harpsichord where the simultaneous
striking of a bass note with the resolution of the appoggiatura
would tend to create an accent). The length of the appoggiatura
may be altered on repeats, for the sake of interest and variety.
ARTICULATION AND TOUCH
C.P.E. Bach said that notes with neither slurs nor staccatos
should receive half their value. The “legato-unless-otherwise-stated” assumption
did not come until the end of the century with Clementi.
Actually, unarticulated notes in baroque may be freely articulated
depending on their rhythmical function or pattern. Touch will
vary between extreme legato (overholding, or “finger pedal”),
to staccato but with all degrees of separation and connectedness
in between. On modern instruments, a non-legato style tends to
sound ugly and contrived, whereas it suited the early instruments.
It was customary in the baroque period to play repeats differently,
with added ornaments and embellishments. The repeat may be
more detailed and ornate. The analogy is of looking at a painting:
one needs the general overview of the whole before looking
at aspects in close-up.
There is no absolute tempo for any music, despite instructions
from the composer. Tempo choice depends on many factors (acoustical
space of the performance, the performers taste and state of mind,
There is much more of a range of tempo possibilities in baroque
music than in classical.
The tempo of dance movements is based on traditions. There are
no hard and fast rules, but Quantz’s table is a useful
guide. See Sandra Rosenblum, Performance Practices in Classic
Piano Music (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University
Press, 1988), 354.
C.P.E. Bach, Essay on the True Art of playing Keyboard Instruments (1753).
Leopold Mozart, Violinschule (1756).
Giovanni Battista Mancini, Pensieri, e riflessioni pratiche
sopra il canto figurato (1774, rev. 1777).
Johann Adam Hiller, Anweisung zum musikalisch-zierlichen
Daniel Gottlob Türk, Klavierschule (1789).
Muzio Clementi, Introduction to the Art of Playing on the
Baillot/Rode/Kreutzer, Méthode de violon (1803).
HELPFUL MODERN BOOKS
Sandra Rosenblum, Performance Practices in Classic Piano
Music (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988).
Paul and Eva Badura-Skoda, Interpreting Mozart on the Keyboard (New York: Da Capo Press,1986).
Howard Ferguson, Keyboard Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University
ORNAMENTATION AND EMBELLISHMENT
(see Paul and Eva Badura-Skoda, Interpreting Mozart on the Keyboard)
• Trills still start on the beat with the upper auxiliary.
Schubert’s trill starts mostly on the main note.
1828 - Hummel advocated lower-note trills in his Anweisung
zum Piano-Forte-Spiel, after which there is evidence for both types
Haydn’s mordent (as described by Leopold Mozart) is played
as a turn from the upper note.
In concertos, the soloist maintained prerogatives of the baroque
period to embellish. In Mozart, one must almost always add cadenzas
at fermatas, also additional cadenzas in slow movements.
In Mozart concertos, one might fill in long note values that
are separated by wide intervals if greater rhythmic activity
exists in surrounding bars (Mozart gives us a sketch).
Repeats invite embellishments. The treatises have elaborate explanations,
but C. P. E. Bach warns against too much!
By the 1770s the piano was established, and two different types
of instrument emerged, the Viennese (Stein) and the English (Broadwood).
The Viennese pianos had good damping (originally knee levers),
a light sensitive action and a clear, clean, thinnish tone.
The English pianos had less clear damping (foot pedals were used
from the start), and a heavier action. They were more powerful,
fuller in tone and louder than their Viennese counterparts.
The range of the piano was from 5 octaves (until 1803), then
6 (Beethoven received the 6-octave Broadwood in 1818).
Viennese pianos from 1810-30 had 4 pedals: the shift (full or
partial), the damper, the bassoon (which brought a layer of parchment
onto the tenor strings), the “Turkish” (which struck
a small bell, and a mallet on the soundboard).
With stringed instruments, there were changes to instruments
and to the bow which gave greater volume, focus and brilliance.
In the eighteenth century, mostly f and p were used, but lots
of variety was possible within these limits, and crescendo-diminuendo
was possible to bridge the gap. We see also fp, mfp, sfp, sf
Beethoven’s markings were very precise (modern), Schubert’s
CPE Bach describes the basic touch (notes with neither slurs
nor staccatos) as non-legato. Notes should receive half their
value. In the 1780s Türk criticised this and the new “rule” was
that unarticulated notes should receive three quarters of their
value. At the end of the century, Clementi speaks of the “higher
beauties of the legato” and the need for legato as the
basic touch unless otherwise indicated.
In the early classical period, slurs are the most important articulation
marks; later in the period, staccato dots and strokes.
In Viennese lineage music (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven), the plethora
of small articulation marks may be thought of as articulation
as in speech. Clarity and inflection of the slurs/staccato/sf
markings are possible because of the effective damping, sensitivity
of touch and the quick attack/fast decay in the sound of the
In English lineage music (The London Pianoforte School: Field,
Dussek, Cramer, Clementi), legato was described.
With stringed instruments, in the eighteenth century the staccato
stroke involved a breath or articulation. The bow was lifted
from the string after each stroke (especially in slower tempos).
String vibrato was sparing and executed by fingers and wrist
(not arm). This produced a vibrato that was narrower, tighter
and less intense than modern vibrato. Portamento was also used.
With woodwind instruments, flute tutors instructed players to
apply varied and tasteful articulation patterns, and prescribed
a vast system of tonguing syllables.
What these people cannot grasp is that in tempo rubato in an
Adagio, the left hand should go on playing in strict time. With
them the left hand always follows suit. (Letter to his father,
It was conventional for both halves of a sonata first movement
to be repeated. The development-recapitulation section became
too long and the repeat was left out by composers. In Haydn and
Mozart it is fine to omit the second repeat, but unsatisfactory
to omit the exposition repeat, since it not only gives a second
chance to hear the thematic material but also balances the movement.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel, A Complete Theoretical and Practical
Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte (1828).
Czerny – various schools and methods.
Tutor books (technical methods developing virtuosity) written
for all instruments at the start of the Conservatory age.
The six-and-a-half octave piano for which Beethoven wrote the
late sonatas is the same piano as Schumann wrote for. It changed
little until the 1840s.
By the 1860s pianos were fuller and louder (Pleyel and Erard).
Steinway followed on from Broadwood and then Erard. Kullak in
1876 speaks of seven different types of touch.
Chopin preferred the lighter Pleyel pianos – his ff was
full and pure, never harsh and his nuances decreased to the faintest
yet always distinct pp.
Pianos were conceived in terms of constant damper raising. The
sound was characterised by a relatively slow attack and a long
A long note is stronger, as is also a high note. A dissonant
is likewise stronger, and equally so a syncopated note. The ending
of a phrase, before a comma, or a stop, is always weak. If the
melody ascends, one plays crescendo, if it descends, decrescendo.
[Kleczynski, as quoted in Jean-Jacques Eideldinger, Chopin:
pianist and teacher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 42].
The metronome was patented by Johann Maelzel in 1815. It is useful
to establish a basic tempo, and for practising with occasionally,
as a discipline.
Beethoven had commented that the metronome was good for only
the first few bars, “since feeling has its own tempo”.
Some opinions of great musicians of the time:
I am of the opinion that metronome marks go for nothing. As
far as I know, all composers have as yet retracted their metronome
marks in later years. Those figures which can be found before
some of my compositions – good friends have talked them
into me; for myself I have never believed that my blood and a
mechanical instrument go very well together. (Brahms, in a letter
to Sir George Henschel)
A metronomical performance is certainly tiresome and nonsensical;
time and rhythm must be adapted to and identified with the melody,
the harmony, the accent and the poetry… But how indicate
all this? I shudder at the thought of it. (Liszt, 1870)
The beat should not be a tyrannical restriction or the driving
of a mill hammer. On the contrary, it should be to the music
what the pulse-beat is to the life of man. There is no slow tempo
in which passages which demand a faster movement do not occur,
and thereby prevent the feeling of dragging. Conversely, there
is no presto, which does not call for the slower execution of
certain passages, so that the expression will not be marred by
overzealousness. (Weber, 1824)
Three different types:
1. Free melody, strict accompaniment (Mozart, Chopin)
Carl Mikuli, on Chopin’s rubato:
While the singing hand, either irresolutely lingering, or as
in passionate speech eagerly anticipating with a certain impatient
vehemence, freed the truth of the musical expression from all
rhythmical fetters, the other, the accompanying hand, continued
to play strictly in time. (Foreword to Mikuli’s edition
of Chopin’s piano works, 1880).
The turn-of-the-century violinist Ysaÿe is remembered for
his especially effective rubato. Emile Jacques-Dalcroze was his
accompanist and wrote about a rehearsal of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata:
In rubato melodic passages, he instructed me not to follow him
meticulously in the accelerandos and ritenutos, if my part consisted
of no more than a simple accompaniment. ‘It is I alone’,
he would say, ‘who can let myself follow the emotion suggested
by the melody; you accompany me in strict time, because an accompaniment
should always be in time. You represent order and your duty is
to counter-balance my fantasy. (‘Eugene Ysaÿe: Quelques
notes et souvenirs’ La Revue Musicale 188 , 30-1.)
I find an explanation of tempo rubato which says that the hand
which plays the melody may move with all possible freedom,
while the accompanying hand must keep strict time. How can
this be done?
The explanation you found, while not absolutely wrong, is very
misleading, for it can find application only in a very few isolated
cases…I assume that you are able to play each hand alone,
with perfect freedom, and I doubt that you can, with some practice,
retain this freedom of each hand when you unite them, but I can
see only very few cases to which you cold apply such skill, and
still less do I see the advantage thereof. (Josef Hofmann Piano
Questions Answered London: 1909, 100.)
2. Accelerando/rallentando, either strictly paid back (Tobias
Matthay), or not (Ignacy Jan Paderewski)
However, those musicians who subscribed to these systems of rubato
did not actually do it. In the 1920s, the principal of the Royal
Academy of Music, John McEwen, made a study of rubato among pianists
from their piano roll recordings and discovered that, in the
first system, the accompaniment was not at all strictly in time,
and in the second system, what was ‘robbed’ was in
no way strictly paid back. This issue is confused because the
theories were expounded by distinguished musicians who were often
performers. See J.B. McEwen, Tempo Rubato or Time-Variation
in Musical Performance (London: 1928).
3. Use of tenutos and agogic accents
A tenuto might immediately be followed by a shortened note, rather
than a gradual return to tempo. This can lead to dotted or triplet
rhythms coming out of evenly written note values.
Agogic accents were used frequently.
Ornament signs began to disappear and ornamentation and embellishments
were written into the score. Trills now started mostly on the
Chopin’s many ornaments came on the beat.
The wavy line ornament (baroque trill sign) now usually means
the three-note so-called “inverted mordent” and can
come before the beat.
In stringed instruments, bowings and articulation marks were
thoroughly annotated. Longer slurs meant that bow apportionment
became critical (bow speed, pressure and contact point).
The long legato line was paramount. Piano textures were characterised
by a top melody, a secondary bass supporting widely broken harmonies
that often floated in a pianissimo (giving a stereophonic or
three dimensional sound). The art of the pedal was now essential.
4. TWENTIETH CENTURY
In general, music of the twentieth century belongs to us. The
styles are familiar, and there is less controversy since all
scores contain explicit markings and instructions.
There was a shift in performance practice from the early part
of the twentieth century to the end. See Robert Philip, Early
Recordings and Musical Style (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Early twentieth century:
Vibrato was used sparingly by string players, and avoided by
wind players except the French.
There was frequent use of portamento by string players and singers.
There were frequent changes of tempo within one movement (where
none might be indicated), and faster tempos in general. Flexibility
of tempo was assumed and taken for granted.
A style of rubato emerged based on lengthening and shortening
individual notes, dislocating melody from accompaniment, as well
There was a tendency to overdot dotted rhythms and to shorten
the short notes in patterns of long and short notes.
Late twentieth century:
Continuous vibrato by string players was the norm.
There was an increase in the use of vibrato among singers, and
the adoption of vibrato by flautists and oboists.
There was a decrease in portamento by string players and singers.
Control of tempo became stricter; slower tempo choices were favoured
in fast movements, and a more literal interpretation of note
There was a clarity of detail and textual fidelity, and an overly
zealous interest in performance practices of earlier periods.
In general, performers tended to smooth out tempo and rubato
(with less distortion). Points of musical interest or emphasis
were incorporated, and the relief flattened out.
Small notes (graces) now come before the beat.
Composers were imperiously exacting in their markings in the
text. All touch/articulation instructions were in notated form
in the score.
Marguerite Long quotes Ravel: “I do not ask for my music
to be interpreted, but only for it to be played” (Au
piano avec Maurice Ravel, 1971).
Tempo and timings were very different in French music from German
music. Composers notated all tempo modifications, and the performer
must try to keep strictly in time (avoiding slowing down at phrase
Rallentando seldom means a sense of flagging: it comes from nuance
and sonority rather than a real change of speed.
The indications “cedez” and “serrez” signify
a moderate rubato of the romantic German style.
Neither Debussy nor Ravel had a sostenuto pedal. The holding
of long bass notes is possible by skilful foot work combined
with intent listening (and the use of partial pedalling). Control
of texture and tonal balances above long bass notes are the hardest
thing to achieve.
There would be no need to investigate these matters if we had
complete trust in the score alone as the composer’s medium
of intention. The score is but a starting point. There are
bound to be far more questions about how to play a baroque
piece from an Urtext edition on a modern instrument than a
work by Rachmaninov, say, where all the performance instructions
We can safely assume that notes and pitches are explicit instructions
that permit no tampering (yet which in the earlier periods might
need to be ornamented or embellished). In general, the notation
of rhythm is less cut and dried: we must understand the variable
and flexible nature of the dot in dotted rhythms, and the convention
of notes inégales in music of the French baroque. Rubato,
and the natural and unnotatable flexibility of timings exist
in virtually all music. There is even greater freedom regarding
accent, phrasing and tempo. Tone colour, nuance, timbre are the
most open to personal choice.
SOUTH AFRICAN PIANO MUSIC: AN OVERVIEW
Associate Professor Graham Fitch,
Head of Keyboard Studies, University of Cape Town
This presentation aimed to expose the wealth of piano music
from South Africa, dating
back from the early twentieth century to the present day. Since
most of this music is
relatively unknown outside of South Africa, my goal was to whet
the appetite by playing as
many excerpts as time would allow, to give the broadest overview
in the confines of such
an address. Each work was prefaced by a brief introduction about
the composer, about the
work in question and anything else (analytical, historical, anecdotal
or personal) that
seemed relevant, to make each illustration as vivid as possible.
The trend was for the early settlers to South Africa to bring
their own culture and
background with them, which resulted in music that may as well
have been written in
Europe, but which did at least influence the next generation
of musicians. Today’s
composers, while fully acknowledging their debt to their European
through the lineage of their teachers at home or because they
actually studied overseas) are
at pains to point out their essential African-ness. There is
a justifiable pride in modern-day
South Africa; a nation asserting its own identity in which rich
cross-culturalism is taking
place. As composer Stefans Grové states: “Every
composer creates from the source of his
tone world. My world is Africa”.
A particular work that I admire enormously – the more
so now that I have played and
taught it – is Arnold van Wyk’s (1916-1983) Night
Music (Nagmusiek). Often thought of
as the father of South African music, van Wyk received a place
at the Curtis Institute in
Philadelphia in 1935, but he could not afford to go. Had he gone,
he would have studied
with the likes of Barber and Menotti. As it was, a Performing
Rights Society scholarship
enabled him to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London
with Theodore Holland
and Harold Craxton, and he returned to South Africa in 1949.
The Night Music was written
between 1955 and 1958, inspired by a tragic event, the suicide
of his friend Australian
pianist and champion of new music Noel Mewton-Wood. This powerful
constructed work is in seven sections in which the four main
themes are announced in
embryonic form in the darkly brooding opening molto lento. Much
like in Liszt’s B minor
Sonata, these themes become transformed as the work progresses
and are recalled in the
largo irrealmente epilogue. Amongst Arnold van Wyk’s other
compositions for piano are
Vier Klavierstukke, Ricordanza, Pastorale
e Capriccio and Tristia.
The style is rooted in
tonality, and is romantic and largely intimate and unshowy in
its communication. It is music
It was the same suicide that caused Hubert du Plessis (b. 1922)
to write his Seven
Preludes, op. 18. Like van Wyk’s Nagmusiek this work is
a contemplation of death, and
actually one work also separated into seven sections (preludes
in this case). Number
symbolism and conflicting tonalities represent the struggle between
life and death, and the
general tone of this excellent work is expressionistic. Du Plessis’ first
teachers were W.H.
Bell at the South African College of Music, University of Cape
Town, and then Alan Bush
and Howard Ferguson in London. On his return to South Africa,
du Plessis made a highly
significant contribution to music as a pianist as well as a composer
before taking early
retirement. Other works for piano include two sonatas, Vier
Klavierstukke op. 1, Four
Piano Pieces, op. 28, a suite entitled When I was a
well as works for piano duet
and two pianos. A particularly interesting work is a set of imaginative
pieces for young people, entitled Tien Klavierstukke vir
Kinders en Jongmense (Ten Pieces
for Children and Young People), op. 41.
Before Arnold van Wyk and Hubert du Plessis began their careers,
(1881-1973) was writing educational music for piano, in an idiom
that seems dated to the
modern ear, and with its roots far from Africa. Titles such as
The Crescent Moon, Barren
Woods and The Beggar’s Song remind us of the sort of music
that John Ireland, Walter
Carroll, early Frank Bridge and other English composers of that
generation and ilk were
writing. Taylor published over 60 piano works, skillfully composed
and carefully graded
for the young pianist’s growth and development.
Priaulx Rainier was born in 1903 and spent her childhood in
a remote region of Natal.
Her first indelible musical impressions were the indigenous sounds
of African life:
children, birds, animals and primal sounds. These African influences
are present in much of
her later music, even though she stayed in England after going
to study at the Royal
Academy of Music. She wrote very little piano music, but what
exists is certainly of
interest: the Barbaric Dance Suite (1949) uses the piano percussively,
its basis being the
sound of African marimbas (discs played with hammers with dried
acting as resonators). The Five Keyboard Pieces (1951) are more
Like W. H. Bell, Erik Chisholm (1904-1965) was another immigrant
Director of the South African College of Music and who exerted
an important influence
over many students. Born in Glasgow, he gained his Doctor of
Music degree from
Edinburgh University in 1934, and twelve years later took up
the appointment of Professor
of Music at the University of Cape Town. Chisholm wrote a vast
amount of music for
piano – 54 works, all varied and distinctive. These include
two large concertos, subtitled “
Pibroch” and “Hindustani” respectively, as
well as four CDs’ worth of solo music. The
early pieces, written before 1930, are either works inspired
by Scottish folk music, or are
neo-classical/romantic works influenced by the East or the occult.
Stylistically the music
owes much to Debussy, Scriabin and Bax. Later, he became friends
with Sorabji and
Bartok, and their influence (combined with an intensive study
of Scottish traditional music
as well as that from India and the Far East) formed the cornerstone
of his mature style. The
Night Song of the Bards (Six Nocturnes for Piano) is an extended
work composed between
1944 and 1951. Taking its inspiration from an anonymous Gaelic
poem, the musical
vocabulary is akin to Sorabji and to Szymanowski (he virtually
quotes from the latter’s
Song of the Night).
Although John Joubert (b. 1927) was born in South Africa and
received his early musical
education in Cape Town, he left the country in 1946 to take up
a Performing Right Society
Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London, and has never
returned. A very
distinguished academic teaching career has not, however, precluded
his gradual emergence
as one of Britain’s most significant “establishment” composers
with many important
commissions. The main piano works include two piano sonatas,
a piano concerto, Dance
Suite, and a Divertimento for Piano Duet. The First
Piano Sonata was composed in 1957,
and here Joubert has openly avowed the influence of Beethoven’s
sonata structures and
methods of working. This sonata is a sustained arch-like single-movement
into three parts, with the central vivace acting as a sort of
development section. The first
subject consists of two ideas (a rising circle of fourths and
a mildly dissonant but tonally-
oriented chord), and the second subject is hymn-like. Interestingly,
this is stated in the key
of E flat in the opening section, and in the sonata’s main
tonality – C major – in the “
Another composer of that generation, Stefans Grové (b.
1922), was also influenced by
W.H. Bell, as well as Erik Chisholm and his piano lecturer, Cameron
Taylor. Later, in the
1950s in America, he had lessons with Aaron Copland and Walter
Piston then taught
theory and composition at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore
until his return to South
Africa in 1973, where he taught at the University of Pretoria.
The young Grové’s style
tended towards Debussy’s colouristic approach, Bartok’s
rhythmical drive and
Hindemith’s neo-baroque counterpoint. He avoided serialism
completely. From the mid
1980s, Grové’s musical idiom reflected indigenous
black South Africa, imitating the timbre
of African instruments without actually using them. Other stylistic
characteristics are the
rhythmical and melodic elements of the indigenous black peoples,
ostinato patterns and the
interval of the fourth, but all integrated using compositional
techniques considered “
Nonyana – the Ceremonial Dancer was commissioned by the
South African Music Rights
Organisation (SAMRO) in 1994. This work describes a tribal African
scene, a highlight of
which is a ritual Boa Dance, a meandering movement performed
by young girls and
accompanied by the domba drums. The energetic dance idea, and
the urgent drumbeats are
suggested by a variety of piano colour techniques, such as note
immediately after being struck, but leaving behind one or two
notes. At the beginning,
Grové asks the pianist to depress chords silently so that
they can vibrate sympathetically
after accented staccato notes have been struck elsewhere on the
keyboard. The work is built
around five ideas, all announced within the first eleven bars.
In addition to the above-
mentioned colouring, there is a passage of rapidly repeated notes
and a dissonant drum roll
motive in the lower register. At just under ten minutes in length,
this work is a highly
effective and popular concert piece.
Thomas Rajna was born in Budapest in 1928, and studied at the
Liszt Academy where he
won the Liszt Prize in 1947. That year he left Hungary to settle
in London, where he was a
frequent soloist at the Promenade concerts (under such conductors
as Giulini, Colin Davis
and John Pritchard), a broadcaster for the BBC, and Professor
of Piano at the Guildhall
School of Music. He settled in Cape Town in 1970 to take up an
appointment at the South
African College of Music, becoming Associate Professor in Piano
in 1989. A prolific
composer of piano as well as orchestral music and opera, Rajna
has also recorded the entire
piano music of Granados and the complete Transcendental Etudes
of Liszt, amongst much
else. Of the “African” works, the second piano concerto
stands out for me. Written in 1982
as a commission by Oude Libertas of Stellenbosch, the mandate
was to write music in a
style that was “approachable and attractive to a discerning
public”. Like all of Rajna’s
music, this piece is beautifully written from a compositional
point of view at the same time
as being accessible and highly communicative. Other piano works
include the First Piano
Concerto and a very fine set of early Preludes.
Born in 1931, Neil Solomon studied first at the South African
College of Music before
entering the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he won awards
for piano and
composition. Active as a pianist, teacher and composer, Neil
Solomon was on the piano
faculty at UCT until his recent retirement. Among the piano works
are Sonatina and
Nocturne: the Sonatina is so-called not because it is easy, but
because of its relatively
concise proportions. It was a creative response to the great
pleasure the composer had in
listening to some indigenous African music (the last movement
is entitled Drum Dance).
Peter Klatzow (b.1945) won the award of the SAMRO scholarship
for composers in 1964
which took him to the Royal College of Music in London. He studied
Bernard Stevens, piano with Kathleen Long, and orchestration
with Gordon Jacob, and
then spent the following two years in Italy and Paris where he
worked with Nadia
Boulanger. He returned to South Africa in 1966 and is presently
Professor in Composition
at the University of Cape Town. One of the few South African
composers to achieve
international recognition, Peter Klatzow has won prizes in Spain
and Toronto, and his
works have been performed in various European centres and the
USA. Klatzow's early
works are written in a tonal idiom reminiscent of Fauré and
Debussy, but the Sonata for
Piano (1969) is in the style of the European avant-garde of the
time. There is one twelve-
tone work, Piano Piece 1. Recent stylistic changes have seen
a reversion to a more tonal
idiom, and a particularly popular work is the favourite award-winning
From The Poets. Other important piano works include a brand new
sonata, the set of three
pieces entitled Moments of Night, Makoemezan as well as the newly-composed
on a Mazurka of Chopin, again written for myself.
piece of the composer, A Branch of Dreams (1998) draws its imagery
surrealist Spanish poet Lorca. It is an extended lullaby based
on the lines “Close the
Window with a branch of dreams, and a dream of branches”.
The piece follows the
structure that evolved out of the composer’s use of sonata
form; a series of fragments that
tend toward thematic cohesion later in the piece. There are two
primary scales – lydian and
octatonic, which represent variants of the common major and minor
Roelof Temmingh (b. 1946) was born in the Netherlands but emigrated
to South Africa in
1958. Educated at the Universities of Cape Town and Utrecht (where
he studied computer
music), Temmingh has established himself as one of South Africa’s
His output for piano includes Ses Oorbleifsels (Six Remnants) from 1981, Fantasia
on a Theme of Mozart (for two pianos) and Music for
Two Pianos. The
Ses Oorbleifsels are
based on discarded remnants of earlier pieces and form an effective
set of miniatures in a
style reminiscent of Bartok.
Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph (b. 1948) has said “My roots are
in Africa but the branches of
my soul reach out to the Spiritual World of religious mysticism,
which is a powerful
driving force in my work.” Having graduated from the University
of Pretoria, she went to
the Royal College of Music to work with John Lambert, Tristam
Carey and John Lill. Later
she was accepted as one of three composition students of Ligeti
at the Hochschule in
Hamburg in 1974. She currently teaches at the University of the
Johannesburg, and specialises in talks on indigenous African
music and its influence on
transcultural music by South African composers. Her compositions
number over 50 works
and include orchestral, chamber, choral, ballet as well as piano
works. A favourite amongst
students is the effective Virtuoso 1, commissioned by UNISA for
the 4th International
Piano Competition in 1988 as a prescribed piece. It is neo-impressionistic,
rhythms and ever-changing meter that add vitality.
Allan Stephenson, conductor, composer and cellist, was born
near Liverpool, England, in
1949 and trained at Royal Manchester College of Music. After
freelancing, he came to
South Africa in 1973 to take up a position with the Cape Town
Symphony Orchestra and
has since settled there. One of his most popular works, the piano
concerto, is typical of
Stephenson’s style – in the romantic idiom but peppered
with modern harmony and in
some ways akin to film music. The music communicates easily,
and yet it rises above its
apparent genre because it is well structured and beautifully
crafted, making it stand up very
well to repeated hearings. He also wrote a Youth Concerto for
piano and orchestra.
Kevin Volans, now living in Ireland, was born in 1949 and after
studying at the University
of the Witwatersrand he went on to study in Cologne principally
Stockhausen, later becoming his teaching assistant. In the mid-70s
his work became
associated with the “Neue Einfachheit” (New Simplicity) – the
beginnings of post-
modernism in music. In 1979 following several field recording
trips to Africa, he embarked
on a series of pieces based on African compositional techniques
which quickly established
Volans as a distinctive voice on the European new music circuit.
The piano music includes
a concerto for piano and wind instruments (1995), Kneeling
Dance, Nine Beginnings for
two pianos, Leaping Dance and Cicada for two pianos, and Wrist
Rock, published in the
Spectrum series. His most recent work, performed in Cape Town
last month by Jill
Richards, is a set of three studies.
Michael Blake (b.1951) studied at the South African College
of Music in Cape Town, the
University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and Goldsmiths
During his time in the UK, he formed London New Music in 1986
and was the group’s
pianist and conductor for ten years, giving many concerts and
broadcasts in the UK and
Europe. Now, Blake is Artistic Director of New Music Indaba,
South Africa’s only new
music festival. His piano music, mostly in minimalist style,
includes French Suite (1994),
Ways to Put in the Salt, BWV Fragments, Nightsongs and 38A Hill
Hans Roosenschoon was born in the Netherlands in 1952 and emigrated
to South Africa
in 1953. In 1976 he won an Overseas Scholarship which enabled
him to study at the Royal
Academy of Music in London under Paul Patterson. Since Roosenschoon’s
return to South
Africa in 1978, he has received numerous commissions from all
of the most significant
commissioning bodies in the country. Among his recent compositions
are hybrids that
integrate avant-garde and post-modernistic techniques with indigenous
music. Fingerprints was commissioned by the University of South Africa (UNISA) for
the Fifth International
Piano Competition in 1990. Based on the overtone scale, the work
is a toccata in rondo
David Kosviner (b. Johannesburg 1957) writes music that is distinctly
cerebral. He says
composing “is like a game, an intellectual exercise. I
set myself certain limitations and I
solve the problem set by these limitations by writing the piece
- the most effective and
interesting way possible”. Worksong for solo piano was
written in 1990, commissioned by
the SABC, and the composer’s Boulezian constructionist
approach is clear here. It is based
on an Nguni Worksong which contains three elements: a solo singer,
a chorus and the
sound of pick-axes striking the ground. The rhythms, durations
and pitches have been
augmented, transformed, varied and abstracted in the piece, but
the overall shape of the
original worksong is preserved. In this way indigenous African
music forms the basis for
what is essentially a piece of Western art music. Kosviner’s
other piano works include
Four Little Pieces for Piano (published by Musications in 1983).
Like David Kosviner, Johann Cloete (b. 1957) was also a composition
of student of Peter
Klatzow at UCT. His aim was to let his music “go its own
way”, and it is certainly hard to
describe his musical idiom or stylistic tendencies. Having been
inspired by a performance
of Berio’s vocal Sequenza, Cloete produced his Terminale
1 (piano and tape) and
Terminale 11 (piano solo). Other piano works include He who shall
raise up his Soul shall
see its colours, a vast Second Piano Sonata that contains 49
sections, and (more recently)
Tuat and Vega does not break unnoticed from the
the cerebral nature of the
two Terminale pieces, Cloete returned to a simpler style in the
later works. Apparently, the
rather bizarre titles are not supposed to mean very much but
are merely points of departure!
Born in Cape Town also in the same year, Hendrik Hofmeyr has
recognition for his compositions in a relatively short period
of time. He has won several
national and international competitions, including the Queen
Elizabeth Competition of
Belgium and the first edition of the Dimitris Mitropoulos Competition
in Athens, both in
1997. He graduated from the University of Cape Town before leaving
for Italy on an
Overseas Scholarship in 1981, and during ten years of self-imposed
exile in Italy, he
obtained Italian State Diplomas in piano, composition and conducting.
Hofmeyr returned to
South Africa in 1992 and is currently Associate Professor at
the University of Cape Town.
In addition to a very fine piano concerto and the Variazioni
sopra Una Mazurka di Chopin,
written for myself and premiered at this conference, Hofmeyr’s
shorter solo piano works
include Chaconne and Kalunga. Commissioned by SAMRO for the Unisa-Transnet
International Piano Competition, Kalunga is a toccata-style perpetuum mobile that depicts
the incessant macabre dance of Kalunga, the God of Death and
Lord of the Netherworld of
the Nguni. It is characterized, like many African dances, by
the use of rapid compound
metre, punctuated by irregular cross-rhythms. Much of the pitch
material is also generated
by juxtaposing two complementary forms of a typically African
scale, the pentatonic. The
Chaconne, commissioned for the Hennie Joubert Piano Competition,
consists of eleven
variations over a descending chromatic bass-pattern and, like
much of Hofmeyr’s music, is
unashamedly romantic and beautifully crafted. I might add that
all of these works are much
loved and admired by South Africa’s piano students and
appear with welcome regularity in
competitions, eisteddfodau and examinations.
Of the young generation, James Wilding was born in Johannesburg
in 1973, and studied
at the South Africa College of Music with Neil Solomon and Peter
Klatzow. Besides an
already substantial body of solo piano music, Wilding’s
works include orchestral, choral
and chamber music. He is presently pursuing a PhD at Youngstown
USA, under Thomas Janson. The Etude was the prescribed piece
for the UNISA-Transnet
International Piano Competition, and clearly shows an allegiance
to Bartok and Prokoviev.
A graduate of the University of Cape Town, where he studied with
Peter Klatzow and
Peter Louis van Dijk, Robert Fokkens (b.1980) did postgraduate
studies at the Royal
Academy of Music in London. He has written numerous works for
solo instruments and
ensembles, and his work Running Out was a set piece for the 9th
Piano Competition. The concept is to start with maximum energy,
then gradually and
seamlessly run out. The material consists of bits of blues, and
kwela (a kind of Zulu jive),
with “a little medieval technical input”, according
to the composer.
I do hope that this necessarily brief and sketchy profile will
at least make people aware of
South Africa’s rich contribution, past and present, to
the piano repertoire. There are plans
afoot to compile a detailed and analytical catalogue of all the
solo piano music, and to
publish a representative selection.