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Hands-on Memorisation

Concrete suggestions for memorising anything. This article focusses on building in memory, as well as strengthening and maintaining

Slow Practising

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 FULL ARTICLE...

The Keyboard Music of Jean-Philippe Rameau: is this Viable on the Piano?

This 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 Piano?", Keynote Address, 7th Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference, Adelaide, Australia, July 2005. Stellenbosch International Piano Symposium, Stellenbosch, April, 2006. READ FULL ARTICLE...

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 baroque, classical, 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 International Piano Symposium, Stellenbosch, April, 2006.
" South African Piano Music: an Overview" Keynote address, and in the Proceedings of the 6th Australasian Piano Pedagogy 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 Teacher, 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, 1999
" Bach on the Piano" Keynote address, and in the Proceedings of the 4th Australian Piano Pedagogy Conference, Perth, Australia, July 1999
" Scales and Arpeggios: a Whole-Arm Approach" ISME Conference, Pretoria, July 1998



(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 play it.

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 the 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 learned 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 this belief:

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 later.

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.

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 each hand).

This involves playing only selected components of the music (from memory, of course!):

• Play the melody and bass lines minus accompanimental or background material
• Play the accompaniment alone, or the accompaniment with the bass line, etc.
• 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 original key.

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 less.

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.

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 until necessary.

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, 1957), 8.

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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 concerts.

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 hand positions.

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 work altogether.

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 and light’).

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 conscious practice.


1 Chasins, Abram. 1967. Speaking of Pianists. New York: Knopf, 44.
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 York: Knopf.
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 and Jenkins.

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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.

The Music
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 problematic movement 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 together.

The next collection of pieces is the Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin (1728), containing the vast Suite in A minor which ends with what is probably Rameau’s best-known keyboard work, the Gavotte and Variations. The collection also includes 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. Of François 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 counterpoint dynamically.

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 often bass-heavy writing by playing ornaments more slowly in the lower registers and by sketching in inner voices.
• Dynamics: not feeling bound only by terraced dynamics. Localised inflections and shapings can also be used freely, since these are suggested on the 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 a slower tempo is necessary on the piano because of the greater resonance, and the number of ornaments.
• The Urtext score: applying slurs, staccatos, tenutos and other subtleties of touch and articulation in a score with very few indications from the composer.

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 have been 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).


Allemandes 1 and 2
Sarabandes 1 and 2

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

Allemande Les tricolets
Courante L’indifférente
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 livri
La timide
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.


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(Originally presented as a series of four keynote addresses at the Victorian Music Teachers' Association, Melbourne, Australia, in January 2007)


…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 others.

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 of ornaments.

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 rigueur. 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 it wrong.

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 period.
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 were available.

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.


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.

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

Howard Ferguson, Keyboard Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975)
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)


Notes inégales
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.

Dotted rhythms
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.

Rhythmic assimilation
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.

Elizabethan Virginalists
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 articulate.

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 own taste.

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 Music, 196.)

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.

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, instrument, etc.).
• 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 Gesange (1780).
• Daniel Gottlob Türk, Klavierschule (1789).
• Muzio Clementi, Introduction to the Art of Playing on the Pianoforte (1801).
• Baillot/Rode/Kreutzer, Méthode de violon (1803).

• 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 Press, 1975).

(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 of trill.
• 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 and fz.
• Beethoven’s markings were very precise (modern), Schubert’s less so.

• 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 pianos.
• 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.

Mozart writes:
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, 1777)

• 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 sustain.

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 [1939], 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 main note.
• 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.


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 Press, 1992).

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 as accelerando/ritardando.
• 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 values.
• 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 ends).
• 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 are specified.

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.

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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 background (either 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 and beautifully 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 for connoisseurs.

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 Child, as well as works for piano duet and two pianos. A particularly interesting work is a set of imaginative and descriptive 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, Colin Taylor (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 gourds underneath acting as resonators). The Five Keyboard Pieces (1951) are more abstract.

Like W. H. Bell, Erik Chisholm (1904-1965) was another immigrant who became 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 structure divided 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 “ recapitulation”.

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 “ Western”.

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 clusters released 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 composition with 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 collection entitled 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 Variations on a Mazurka of Chopin, again written for myself.

A favourite piece of the composer, A Branch of Dreams (1998) draws its imagery from the 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 scales.

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 leading composers. 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 Witwatersrand in 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, with driving 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 with Karlheinz 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 College, London. 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 Street Blues.

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 form.

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 horizon. From 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 achieved international 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 State University, 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 UNISA International 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.

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