Monday, June 11, 2007

tone or technique

My mother has just written an e-mail in response to Hassan's description of the concert by Lortie, which I sent her in an e-mail some time ago. She is preparing to move into a house at a place called Leisure World, which somehow conjures up a combination of The Stepford Wives and Westworld (my mother will either be turned into a robot or killed by one) but I believe is perfectly pleasant.

... the long piece you sent by Hassan about his reaction to the recital by Louis Lortie was simply enchanting. I am having anxiety attacks about being so out of touch with you in the midst of this chaotic move, so am shoving everything aside for the moment to respond to this amazing account of his response to this performance. What is particularly interesting to me is the perennial issue of describing a physical action using language. The conversation he had with the man he eventually sat next to was fascinating. He quoted that guy's saying that good tone is the key to proper piano technique, when it seems to me that only through proper technique do you arrive at good tone. Mrs. Gunn was a fanatic about good tone, and looking back at it, I feel a very beautiful tone resulted from her emphasis, but that it was achieved by much tension and forcing. Am pretty sure that was why Ann's master teacher, Mistislav Munch, had her do months of nothing but the double thirds etude with emphasis on different members of the groups of four sixteenth notes. It was a way to trick the body into producing the tone without forcing.

[Ann is the pianist Ann Schein, with whom my mother shared lessons for many years.]


Alexander Frey said...

Hello, first of all, a beautiful tone is not produced by the whole body or by strength from the shoulders. Nothing in pianism should be so produced. The piano is a singing instrument under the right hands. It is not an instrument that one practice's his/her body building and wieght training workouts. Great tone is produced by a supple use of the wrist guiding the fingers. Amen.

Helen DeWitt said...

It may be that this is to some extent a problem of using language to describe the action of the body. My mother felt that her early teachers had tried to get her to produce good tone without giving her guidance on the physical training needed to do so without strain. In her mid-30s she had a Japanese teacher who told her to go back and start from scratch, playing the first piece in Czerny's Art of Finger Dexterity using the whole weight of the arm. I see that this is in direct opposition to what you are saying; can only say that my mother found that after hundreds of hours of this unbelievably tedious work she did find that she was able to play passages that had given great difficulty before, without sacrificing the tone. She felt that up to that point she had been doing everything from the wrist and fingers and that this had led to many limitations in what she was able to achieve.