Sunday, March 9, 2014

Chopin and Beethoven

I am not the first person to notice close connections between these two giants of piano composition in the early 19th century, though that connection might be hard to discern in the overly self-indulgent virtuosity that seems de riguer in the hands of certain players.

Just looking over some of the Preludes while giving Beethoven some extremely detailed study reveals similarities I never noticed before: For example
  1. A fascination with multi-level meters:  what look like repeated eighth-note chords actually going against the grain of the quarter- and half-notes they accompany
  2. Figures that repeat odd numbered groupings within duple meters
  3. The indication to play lento or sostenuto when "nothing" seems to be happening
The last one is by far the most revealing when it comes to measuring the distance between visual and auditory response.  As a student I was a fast reader at the expense of being a good listener.  An observant and wise teacher (Hans Neumann) caught me at it and knew how to change it, for which I will always be grateful.   It seems these two activities occupy the mind in opposite direction, the one ultra fast, the other even faster though on the surface ostensibly slower.

The trouble is that most of our education relies on quick responses to visual information, in fact everything in our multi-tasked environment suggests that this is the way to go.  But listening, though it seems at first to be passive, is actually attuning one's mind to the speed of vibration, than which nothing is faster.

The ear signal requires the ability to open the mind to peripheral vibration, the parts of the sound that cannot be written down, and the parts that vary from piano to piano and from room to room.

This is definitely the hard part.