Friday, April 24, 2009

Yesterday a student playing Schumann's Sheherezade (No. 32 in Album for the Young) clarified for me two things that I had never previously understood: First, that the eighth notes spin out each chord change, accounting for that mysterious tempo marking: "Ziemlich langsam, leise."

Second, that at the final double bar the piece can't possibly end.

Can there be a more vivid evocation of "A Thousand and One Nights," in which the life of Sheherezade, the storyteller, depends on her ability to hold her listener in such suspense that he cannot put her to death. And so she keeps the story going.

As my student said: "I turned the page, thinking that there must be something else.
My first thought on waking up this morning: Killer Scales. The trouble is that scales have seven, not eight tones and that we have five, not four fingers on each hand.

Why not get interested in the scale as a potential source of endless fascination?

Play or sing any major scale, dividing it into two parts of four tones each -- i.e., two tetrachords. If playing use the fingering 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4. Don't be afraid of the shift in the middle. Notice that the tetrachords are balanced: each tone in the upper tetrachord is exactly a perfect fifth higher than each tone in the lower.

Now change one tone in one of the tetrachords and sing or play the scale both rising and falling. What happens?

Keeping the change, add a change -- any change -- in the other tetrachord. Now play or sing the scale, rising and falling. Continue in this manner until ....

Is there an end to the sentence?