Here below you can find some excerpts from emails sent to me at the beginning of 2008 by my young Mexican Colleague and my answers given on his questions, which concern – talking widely – the piano in general... How the ideas created by great Immanuel Kant would participate in our project, will step by step become clear to you, I promise.
1. At the beginning my Colleague wrote:
As a reader I must say that I was a step closer to the Feldenkrais method and I appreciate you for discouraging me for doing perhaps the most incredibly stupid thing on my life....
On the other hand I'm telling you about this for the next reason:
I'm a student pianist wanting to be "concertist" someday and have several problems recently with the techniques I'm using right now, which can be reduced to the Neuhaus technique (from one part) and some kind of weird Viennese only finger technique (on the other)....
The weird thing is that my interpretation isn't bad (totally) with any of the techniques and the problem I have is that I have been mixing them frequently and my teachers mock me... So I started with my investigation on the techniques around the world and found really interesting things like the Liszt technique (that found in your web page) and the Kochevitsky "mental" piano playing besides the 3 important of the old times...
So my question is:
How do I manage to have several techniques and not to get mocked for using a technique that the teacher is using, or more likely, what should i have to say to my teachers to make them understand that everything is about music and not technique?
My answer looked as follows alike (do not be confused reading answers on questions you have not seen at all; a little bit later the entire time-mixing complex would be adequately solved):
I would like to answer your questions in such a way: using several techniques simultaneously could only enrich your instrumental power. Watching your videos on YouTube (they are truly good), nobody would be able to properly answer, which one technique is in the use in this or that particular phase of any played piece? Practically, these techniques have been melted down in your practice into one, factually, the quite well working mechanism. My sincerest Congratulations! Just try to forget the problem...!
The next question, as I suppose, could be a little bit more complicated; In my opinion, no one your STRAIGHT WORD will bring any positive result. Instead, your teachers must actually become completely subconsciously assured that your personal interest toward music is truly genuine, unquestioned and definite, which is – in my opinion, besides – the purest truth. They must recognize the REAL MUSICIAN under the skin of theirs, up to yesterday, INCOMPLETELY known student. Be sure, any kind of verbal convincing would be ineffective. You actually must start to play more and more seriously, and all the things would become only better and better...
You asked: what should i have to say to my teachers to make them understand that everything is about music and not technique?
Well, I suppose, you probably see this problem in the too desperate way? Yes, all we do, should be focused on the music making and here exists no problem that might be separated from this order. The technique still exists as a problem and sometimes as the truly big one. Thus, we should deal with any technical difficulty having in a view such an important question: does my actual technical idea really fits the artistic aspect of a thing, or it has been created according to specific prejudice concerning the so called piano manual tricks, the [not always well-informed] Tradition just brought to me?
The "Psycho-technical" method, proposed by Mr. George Kochevitsky is a too serious theme in order to being discussed in two-three sentences; let us deal with it at the closest chance.
The last problem here is related to the contents of my Web Site: it is fully dedicated to the Chopin's and Neuhaus' Methods and that is why the teaching art of The Great LISZT, I must underline it again – not young, but actually Old Liszt – is being just very slightly touched in several of my texts only...
2. My Mexican Friend wrote a little bit later:
Anyway, I've been thinking, in the philosophy of the "object" of the piano that IS the thing that should be changed into form of a total idea of the piece in each mind; that looking close to it, you can likely "fit" this philosophy into Kant's philosophy.
Kant talks about the "subject" and the "object" of a whole in each thing we know, making the objects the things surrounding the subject, which makes particular the subject in itself and making this for better comprehension, also applied into making "truths" that part from the subject changes itself into other truths...; some kind of Philology if you will, also called .... not sure, but I think it's A PRIORI judgment .... or is it A POSTERIORI ???.... uhhh.... whatever, this' is just a conclusion about what I do see in your researches.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Also, I see to agree with you about the exercises but not in the whole extend.... Yes, in the mean that each exercise should be played as an independent piece and yes that it's absurd to repeat to infinite to have incredibly strong fingers (which, ok, it's a lie), but I don't agree much in the point of view you take against them, that sometimes the exercises are absurd, but I think the real utility of the exercises are based in some formulas (like the 3rd's of Heller of the 8ves of Kullak) to be applied later on other pieces (like the 3rd interval study of Chopin and many concert works) .... if I can recall right somewhere else I read that Liszt (don't know if young one or the big one ... said that basically all the piano can be reduced to certain formulas (Hanon like) and can be applied anywhere.... so I finish my indagations here and ask for some feedback to make a little forum.
Also, I wanted to ask about the individual development of the pieces.... for example.... I studied Islamey like 4 months ago and gave up at the end (it was just too difficult) but still handle to play 3/4 of it quite well, a lot of mistakes, yes, but in time and with the character, and, my development with the piece was like: "ok, first 4 bars separated hands and then play together very slow and then going on with the velocity and then the character .... then next 8 bars and next the bridge and then the theme again and so and so...." but I did that on my own, because I do my own formula to study pieces, and I'm sure each one has to develop their way of playing pieces like: "Everyone breaks nuts differently to their manner" .... so focusing on this matter, what do you suggest for example to be taught to a kid or a new student?
My next answers look as follows:
Dear Friend! For a while, I had put the texts of several of your emails into one page and now I'd like to write down the answer, in which the main topics you apparently might be interested in, would become at least slightly touched.
Before all, I truly do not like to offend you, or even destroy any smallest share of your enthusiasm! I have seen and heard your videos on Youtube and my feelings related to your pianism are seriously optimistic. Well! Let us name my opinions as follows: they only are The Generally Optimistic Warnings, yeah...!
1. This is truly irrational to believe that "If I could actually practice in the same way the Great Liszt did, I will play as well as he played". Means: If you, she, he, I would even know with absolute exactness, HOW Liszt (Hofmann, Godowsky, Joseph Lhevinne or any other real virtuoso) had practiced this or any other motive, phrase, problem, piece etc – this knowledge would bring only the very small change into my, your, their situation. Being informed HOW – for a sample – the Great Liszt had practiced the particular piece of music, we would yet stay again in the complete ignorance related to the PRACTICING MIND & BODY entirety, to Liszt himself and to all of HIS personal qualities. Nobody could disagree with the thesis – the thermally worked iron would behave completely differently than thermally worked potassium, zinc, copper, wood, wax or the titan. That is why applying the same practicing standards to different pianists, we obviously will get the very different results. Do you agree?
2. This is truly irrational to believe that the same words and sentences, expressed by our mouth, would mean to our brains exactly the same, as they would mean to Liszt, Bach or Chopin – if they would be able to listen to us, for instance. Even among mathematicians does not exist the full agreement related to the literal meaning of many particular notions or theories, however the mathematic language is equipped with a value of the highest explicitness. That is why, we, musicians, who even cannot imagine HOW works the musical intelligence of incomparably high level, as these, which belonged to Bach, Beethoven, Liszt or Chopin – quoting any of these Masters – we have no right to believe that we really are able to understand their statements in the exactly same way, they have interpreted these opinions by themselves. Looking for the real Truth, one must take into consideration this, rather commonly accepted aspect, too: the words do not mean the same for all of us, human beings. The meaning of the words strictly depends on our possibility to interpret them – once the human's intellect does not act in the same way as works the even most sophisticated analyzer of exhaust gases on a post of the car diagnostics (fortunately!). The two widely learned human beings would very easily interpret the same musical phenomenon in the diametrically different ways, indeed.
3. Thinking about your phrases: "the individual development of the pieces", "Everyone breaks nuts differently to their manner", "what do you suggest for example to be taught to a kid or a new student", I would like to say: one should act rationally, so – wanting to preserve the student's (why not kid's) individuality, I see irrational the strictly authoritarian way of teaching. The model: "A Teacher, who knows all – and – A Student, who knows nothing" should become forgotten as soon as possible. The main task for the teacher is to me: to detect, what kind of musical expression fits the student's actual emotional needs and HOW it would be possible to conjoin the student's actual learning level and activity of his fantasy with the "musical needs" of the studied piece of music – in order to avoid the musical and/or psychological catastrophe... The way of practicing the piece would ever become better and better if the student would like to keep in a view this one, very simple thing: when the pianist focuses his attention on any non-musical element, the musical Spirit of the piece immediately flows away and this, what he is studying after, only is the really dead body of the piece, which has very less to do with this beautiful music, it formerly represented.
4. After reading this phrase: "I read that Liszt (don't know if young one or the big one) said that basically all the piano can be reduced to certain formulas (Hanon like) and can be applied anywhere" - I would like to very kindly ask you for finding the source of this opinion...!
You know, this is the very common habit, practiced by quite many authors: they – "quoting" – factually just put their personal opinions "into Liszt's mouth" and this one opinion in my opinion rightly is the opinion of a kind that could never belong to Liszt himself. Why so? The answer is truly simple: being not only Great Artist, Ferenc Liszt was the largely learned and deeply honest, very noble man. Opinion you quoted, is still the rude simplification that could only be prepared by the truly unprepared intellect. Means, NOT by the man whom belong more than 3000 letters written to Caroline von Sayn-Wittgenstein, apart from letters to Hugo, Delacroix, Chopin, George Sand, etc, etc. Shortly said, such kind of an opinion, surely cannot be assigned to F. Liszt. Of course, on the second hand, this opinion is not heartbreaking, because factually "all the piano" could be reduced to such formulas as scales & passages, repetitions, chords, octaves and double tones, to possibilities to play staccato, portamento, legato, legatissimo, marcato, staccatsissimo, to accents and diminuendi & crescendi, to forte, pianissimo, mezzo forte, piano and fortissimo... Wow! And to much and many more. But, what has here to do Mr. Hanon? At the last end: let you have a look at the both of our Generally Optimistic Warnings! Thank you...!
Liszt Ferenc, The Great LISZT (1811-1886)
5. Thinking about the famous Hanon's exercises: they could bring much good or much bad to ones playing – depending on the way, one might like to practice them. The truest truth is here: practicing ones hands and fingers well via proper usage of fingers' energy and the hands' weight, one factually would never feel any necessity for the "additional technical training", because all the piano would be in order. The need or even psychological compulsion to TRAIN the fingers is the genuine sign of an instrumental disorder in ones playing technique. In any case – this is my understanding of the thing.
6. Thinking about such problem as "A PRIORI ... in opposition to ... A POSTERIORI" in our work, I would like to say, they both are parts of the endless process of BEING, in which the most important aspect, when deliberating the piano playing – is the continuous feeling of the flowing of Time. Such feeling is as well important for the "longer sounds", as to the "small and even sharp" sounds. The longers should not be passive, and these smallers should not divide and disturb the flowing of the developed musical Form. Let you, please, compare the way the works of poetry, painting, architecture, drama and music exist in.
My Mexican Colleague answered:
Wow, that's a long mail and took me a while to read it an comprehend it...
First of all, saying the truth as an honest way to make people better in their work instead of attacking, is what I was truly searching, for this I really appreciate your time and patience answering my questions and let me tell you, you have done (miles away) far much good than damage....
OK, let me go by parts:
1) First, let me congratulate you for all the effort you have made into the Chopin-Neuhaus Method and let me be part of the testifiers that IT WORKS!!!!! I mean WOW!!!!!!! IT TRULY WORKS!!!!
Let me explain why:
1.1) I have 2 students that actually they are my friends and like also music and have just started to practice piano with me .... Today, Monday I showed them what I have been reading (this, your work) and just like magic they started to play better in no time, the musical ideas, the same technique for itself (I practiced with the Hanon making it more musical than technical).
1.2) Also started to work with the WTC and I just improved it a lot in no time, just figuring out what sounds come next, what impressions I have note by note, what images I could see and all those things that would take me more than this E-mail to describe.
1.3) So as an epilogue of this part I must truly thank you fondly for creating this method if I can I'll show you when I have my next recital how much this help me to develop my musical skills.
2) You quote: "This is truly irrational to believe that 'If I could actually practice in the same way the Great Liszt did, I will play as well as he played'. Do you agree?"
Yes, I do agree totally and have nothing really to discuss here, because you are right, we don't know how he made his exercises, but we know that we should do our way to become musically good at understanding their music (don't know if I made myself clear here).
3) "The meaning of the words strictly depends on our possibility to interpret them."
Again I completely agree with this-
4) Thinking about your phrases: "The individual development of the pieces", "Everyone breaks nuts differently to their manner", "What do you suggest for example to be taught to a kid or a new student?". I would like to say: one should act rationally, so – wanting to preserve the student's (why not kid's) individuality, I see irrational the strictly authoritarian way of teaching...
Again, I agree here and all the under explanation, just wanted to make the difference with kid and student because you cannot have the same vocabulary speaking with a kid of 7 years old that, for example, a person of 40 or whatever, and also the way to practice is not the same since kids are more intuition because they haven't been marked by other people and by our society manners (whichever society) and they are more likely to play, so as a teacher one MUST try to show a child that music is a game (also big people, why not?)... the unique problem we MIGHT face here is that for SOME big people music, as well as other Beauty Arts, is not about having fun (even when I, now, think it is), but about Beauty... but I don't to enter in details here because it's quite useless, that's why I make the little division.
5) About Liszt quotation.... I think I read it on George Kochevitsky "The Art of Piano Playing: A Scientifical Approach", which archive I'm adding to this mail, but I only make the synthesis of the idea, not the ACTUAL phrase and included Mr. Hanon because what's his studies book about.... A lot of formulas and scales and arpeggios.... base of a lot of things on piano pieces, yet, not the whole...
6) "My sincerest Congratulations! Just try to forget the problem...!" (about the problem).
Thanks a lot, I now see that I should try to forget it (the problem) and thanks for the advice!
7) "The musical ideas and images presented in your playing are not enough clearly differentiated, I mean: joy is not enough blissful and depression is not enough depressed... (wow!)"
Yes, I totally agree with you and believe me.... this might be the most "light" comment, and yet true, about my piano playing.... Many prof. tell me this all the time and finally I started to change it.... so let me saying you like this: "This is not the first time nor shall be the last one"... Anyway, thanks for noticing and for the advise...
And about my projects.....
I thought I tell you already that I am in the Academy.... it has been 4 years now and I have 4 rest ahead.... so in my opinion.... it started professionally 4 years ago ..... but have a long way to go...
Phew, I finished... Thanks a lot for the time and the patience...
PS: Your technique works and I'm the next "fan" (if you will) on your list, also let me remind you that the videos uploaded in Youtube were taken in August of 2007 .... so big 4 months have passed since..... and that your page has become of my favourites.... Thanks a lot for being so dedicated into the study of a beauty art and discovering something that, in my humble opinion, is going to turn the piano-world upside-down...
Our correspondence is quite intensive, but of course it would probably be irrational to put all its contents here, or... maybe – not? In any case, I decided to quote below some of my next thoughts related to the matter:
1. How to understand the Neuhaus-like technique...? In your first email, you wrote, "the techniques I'm using right now ... can be reduced to the Neuhaus technique (from one part) and some kind of weird Viennese only finger technique (on the other)...."
- The entire problem is quite complicated because in my opinion, here absolutely does NOT exist any Neuhaus-technique at all. Instead, here exists the Neuhaus-like way of understanding the pianist's role at the piano in the process of music making. These are the radically different things and they should rather not be mixed. I know, the fans of Feldenkrais Method or of so called Taubman Approach would never agree with such a natural way of thinking about "all the piano" (as you see, yours expression is quoted hereby again). The entire Neuhaus-like technique of playing the piano could be compressed into very few general directives, as – for instance – rationalism in the hands' usage, which must include the rational (again and again) dividing of weight & energy coming from the each one element of the hand, and of course, the active using of an artistically rich fantasy. One could not found in the Neuhaus' famous book, The Art of Piano Playing, any catalogue of physiologically proper and/or physiologically improper 'moves' – this farce definitely belongs to Neuhaus-dislike directions, actually, in unprofessional piano schooling.
Generally seen, the Neuhaus-like piano technical idea should be build having in a view such elements, as:
1. Artistically valuable playing of one tone...
2. Artistically valuable playing of the two, three, four, five tones...
3. Artistically valuable playing of all manners of scales...
4. Artistically valuable playing of all forms of arpeggio, the broken chords...
5. Artistically valuable playing of all forms of the double notes...
6. Artistically valuable playing of all forms of the chords...
7. Artistically valuable implementation of "jumps" or "leaps"...
At the last end, the Master is still bringing to the light such an interesting judgment: "in the chapter on the artistic image and in the chapter on tone I have persistently referred to technical problems; it cannot be done otherwise, for in art, as in life, everything is one, and all the aspects which we designate by different names are inextricably bound together" [H. Neuhaus, The Art of Piano Playing, London 1993, p. 139 - 140].
2. I would like to very sincerely Congratulate your activity as the piano-hobbyist! Bravo! Being not the piano-hobbyists, we would never become the HAPPY piano-artists, nut only BITTER-SOUR piano, so called professionals, which shape the very unhappy sort of the human population. In my opinion the piano art, exactly as well as drama, painting and all of the other classes of the Beaux Arts, should be seen as the form of very largely understood ENTERTAINMENT, because it is NOT a part of science nor any kind of religion. It would truly be very pitiful if a man, whom belong the "Beauty making" must feel himself at the instrument as... who? Scientist? Priest, slave, masochist, something different still of about equally strange character?
3. Your actually studied piano repertoire is not so tremendously difficult, and this is the point you should profoundly be thankful to your actual teachers for! Among my course-participants I likely often meet the really talented young pianists, who, being forced to play the pieces, which exceed their possibilities on thousands light years – technically as well, as even more mentally and emotionally – must experience everyday so strong stresses and so tough, even purely muscular discomfort, that their "all the piano" living becomes the 'chain of suffering' only. Let you imagine 13 years old girl, who must play the "Wanderer Fantasy"...! Besides, I would greatly be interested in your next program. Let you ask your teachers about it...!
On the second hand, being 18 years old you surely can start to play some Etudes of Liszt (for instance op. 1) and, let us say, Mendelssohn or Liadov, Safonov, Leschetitzky, etc, etc.
4. Musical ideas and images presented in your playing are not enough clearly differentiated, I mean: joy is not enough blissful and sorrows are not enough depressed... Wow! Simply said, your artistic palette is not enough rich and THIS IS your single and unique problem, which you interpret in exactly invalid way, as it commonly happens in 10.000 thousand cases – hence: as something weird in the manual side of your piano technique... This was very natural, still quite a dangerous error that could push you toward as musically unnatural solution as any of those purely mechanical quasi-miracles, which are used to see the entire emotional, aural and intellectual aspects of the piano playing as nearly unimportant supplements to such "crucial fundaments" of the game, as MUSCLES, SKELETON and PHYSICAL MOTIONS. Let us allow to put herein a slightly ironical commentary: [MUSCLES, SKELETON and MOTIONS] hanging in the emotional, aural & intellectual emptiness... Of course, each one piano tutor, addicted to such beliefs, would always be ready to confirm his/her profound THEORETICAL understanding of the essential role of musicality and music making, sometimes, EVEN in the piano technical schooling. But in fact, in Theirs papers, books, video samples and entire the master-courses, when They appear at the piano in front of the students, they automatically will focus their speeches concerning the classical piano technique on motions, skeletons, wrists, fingers, elbows, shoulders, sitting position, keys, leaps, jumps, backs, so – generally said – on all the possible, purely physical elements of the matter, automatically (again) directing the whole thing to the Cave of Eternal Emptiness...
Taking this sorrowful fact into consideration, the Wish expressed by my Mexican Friend, who believe my pedagogic activity will turn the piano-world upside-down, should be understood as the very good sign of getting well in this, potentially, so enjoyable field! I must put the very important remark to this place now: I know very well, I am not alone and – what probably is the most optimistic feature of the situation – I am just trying to open such doors that, historically seen, become opened for more than 150 years not only by Chopin and finally – by Liszt, too, but as well by truly many, even anonymous piano teachers, who did not like to play and teach the piano starting from purely mechanistic positions. The entire situation, however somebody might like to be of the different opinion, does not remember (even very slightly) the condition of poetry and literature between real end of the period of Enlightenment and the real beginning of Romanticism. The difference hides in our and their relations to Humanism: as well to representatives of Enlightenment as to Romantic authors, Humanity in entire spectrum of its values, was the central point of interest. Today the piano world becomes clearly divided into them, whom the most important are purely mechanical aspects of the piano and them, who would like to see the entire mechanical side of playing as strictly dependent on – generally said – aural, mental and emotional factors which absolutely MUST be SCHOOLED and TRAINED as the very basement, the beautiful building of entire Piano Art should be developed on.
At the last end I feel a profound need (categorical imperative) to explain the incompletely comprehensible role of the great philosopher's Name here on this page; according to Nietzsche, who in this way apparently liked to undervalue a significance of his thinking system in eyes of his readers worldwide, Kant was a Chinese among European thinkers. Once my Mexican Friend had used this great Name in one of his emails, I decided to apply it as a title of this page, but particularly, because I highly appreciate the old Chinese way of dealing with notions & theirs designates – practically as well, as theoretically. To conjoin, I strongly believe in this, is much better than to divide; that is why, and especially, having in a view the following sentence, only the ideal of morality and the universalization of refined value through the improvement of the mind of man "belongs to culture", I am severely assured, Immanuel Kant would be quite happy seeing his Name on this Page...
Wishing you all, all the Best,
PS If I forgot any question, please – let you ask about it again! Thanks!