I am often frustrated with the way critics talk about pianists; one, including this particular critic, often describes the pianist in critique as having a "dazzling technique" - well what exactly is meant by that? I want to try and explain.
Acquiring, developing and shaping good technique is central to the life of a pianist. A teacher once taught me to think of the piano and the music written for the piano like a piece of literature; read it, analyse it, dramatise it, in other words one must think about it and then read it aloud in perfectly articulated and phrased English - He, essentially, told me to read my music to him.
Every pianist, whether they are a beginner or mature, question the very nature of technique. I think one of the greatest flaws of various young pianists is that they see technique as primarily a case of ease and agility, but there is so much more. To play all of the semi-quavers in Chopin's F major etude in tempo and cleanly is essential, but it is just as essential to play them smoothly, without unnecessary accents, with a beautiful yet equal tone and with all the dynamics is the key to a good performance and we therefore have implied technique.
From the depths of student life, I heard about a piano student who practiced for hours, purposefully, or not so, on difficult passages, learning to play them faster and often louder than any of us could have dared; speed isn't everything. Despite his clear skill of being able to fluently play these quite difficult passages I wouldn't say that he had a good technique though he serves his fingers, he doesn't observe the need to support the mind and realise the interpretative notions behind these passages. Your fingers should always serve you, but they should never lose control. Ah, so now I have mention interpretation, which is another part of pianists mind, in fact, technique and interpretation are so closely linked that sometimes it seems hard to determine where one ends and the other starts.
Let me take Schumann's Papillons, the first four bars request prestissimo - legato and fortissimo at the same time. Here, the technique influences the interpretation.
Schumann's markings proves that technique isn't everything but is indeed a strong hold. The key to masterful pianist is how one uses technique to it's greatest extents. A fine interpretation is not plausible without the aid of a fluent and docile technique. How to play a phrase intelligently, how to sing on the piano, how to make the melody distinguish itself from the accompaniment should all act together.
I divert: "How to make the melody distinguish itself from the accompaniment?": Mozart's A major sonata will prove my point: The first eight bars takes three hands. One's left hand has to double as the accompaniment and as the bearer of the theme while the right hand commands another accompaniment, with the melody in the middle and so with one hand doing two jobs, we need to be clear on the theme.
Going back to my small theory that playing the piano is like literature; any great writer, in order to express his thoughts, need a thorough knowledge of the grammar of the language that is being written, this takes time and experience. There are no short cuts and so the writer writes and so the pianist should play.
When one attempts a piece for the first time, one would play notes with both hands; one uses the pedal to connect these notes and to colour ones playing; one plays scales, runs, thirds and octaves; one memorises the piece to have engraved in the mind for perhaps future use; one contemplates dynamics and one would size up the possibilities and limitations of what has been written and in doing so we have a technique. What we have practiced a few times maybe be hesitant and awkward, though on further attempts it becomes clearly and further attempts lead to fluency and precision and so on. A million motions counts for everything.
This fluency, repetition, mechanical engineering and technique is refined with hours of repetitive practice so that the pianist, during a performance, can free their mind of the thousands of tiresome yet necessary details giving us a full flowing, technically brilliant and free spirited performance without the necessity of clogging up the brain on what should be covered in technical preparation.
Practice and time also counts for a lot.
Perhaps I am wrong and the key to being masterful pianist is spirit and feeling however I feel that spirt and feeling is only achieved by the technically aspired and correct. Beethoven once remarked to a violinist after said violinist claimed that certain passages were unplayable: "What do I care about your miserable fiddle when the spirit moves me?!"
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