Friday, April 2, 2010

Today I sing the praises of Muzio Clementi! Remember him? He presents a good example of a casualty of standard music notation. I am talking about his brilliant collection of Preludes and Exercises for piano in all the major and minor keys.

What is a prelude? In his day they were improvisatory introductions to more formal works, usually fugues--as in Preludes and Fugues. The key word is improvisatory, a quality which is hard to notate and even harder to read. Every measure has the right number of notes and the correct disposition of note values. What makes it improvisatory is that it takes its timing, not from standard metric considerations but from the sound itself.

Yesterday working on the E minor Prelude a teenage student unearthed the brilliance of these insightful piano sound studies. The right hand seems to be playing normal E minor scales. The left hand elegantly enhances the lyrical disposition of each scale so that metric timing is outweighed by sensitive voicing.

Of course, the prelude can be played with the metric consideration foremost in one's mind. But that will only evoke memories of what you probably disliked about Clementi when you were a young piano student. The other way will evoke awareness of how sensitive the interaction can be between your ear and the piano.