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The Piano and the Orchestra

The Piano and the Orchestra

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Published by Piano-Tutorial
The pianist can achieve in the way of color may be likened to what the painters call "monochrome." For in reality the piano, like any other instrument, has only one color; but the artistic player can subdivide the color into an infinite number and variety of shades. http://piano-tutorial.com
The pianist can achieve in the way of color may be likened to what the painters call "monochrome." For in reality the piano, like any other instrument, has only one color; but the artistic player can subdivide the color into an infinite number and variety of shades. http://piano-tutorial.com

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Published by: Piano-Tutorial on Aug 08, 2009
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08/08/2010

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the piano and the orchestraThe pianist can achieve in the way of colourmay be likened to what the painters call" monochrome." For in reality the piano, likeany other instrument, has only one colour; butthe artistic player can subdivide the colour intoan infinite number and variety of shades. Thevirtue of a specific charm, too, attaches as muchto the piano as to other instruments, though,perhaps, in a lesser degree of sensuousness thanto some others. Is it because of this lesser sen-suous charm that the art of the piano is consid-ered the chastest of all instruments? I amrather inclined to think that it is, partly atleast, due to this chastity that it " wears " best,that we can listen longer to a piano than toother instruments, and that this chastity mayhave had a reflex action upon the character ofits unparagoned literature.For this literature, though, we have to thankthe pianists themselves, or, speaking more pre-cisely, we are indebted to the circumstance thatthe piano is the only single instrument capableof conveying the complete entity of a composi-tion. That melody, bass, harmony, figuration,polyphony, and the most intricate contrapun-tal devices can by skilful hands be ren-dered simultaneously and (to all intents andpurposes) completely on the piano has prob-ably been the inducement which persuaded thegreat masters of music to choose it as their fa-vourite instrument.It may be mentioned at this point that thepiano did not have the effect of impairing theorchestration of the great composers as somemusical wiseacres assert from time to timefor they have written just as fine works for avariety of other instruments, not to speak oftheir symphonies. Thus has, for instance, themost substantial part of the violin literaturebeen contributed by piano-players (Bach, Mo-zart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruch,Saint- Saens, Tschaikowski, and many others) .As to the literature of the orchestra, it camealmost exclusively from those masters whoseonly, or chief est, medium of musical utterancewas the piano. Highly organised natures, asthey were, they liked to dress their thoughts,sometimes, in the colour splendour of the or-chestra. Looking at the depth of their pianoworks, however, at their sterling merit, at theirpoetry, I feel that even a refined musical na-ture may find lifelong contentment in thepiano despite its limitations if, as I said be-fore, the artist keeps within its boundaries andcommands its possibilities. For it is, after all,not so very little that the piano has to offer.It is both governed and manipulated by oneand the same mind and person; its mechanismis so fine and yet so simple as to make its tonePage 1
 
the piano and the orchestraresponse quite as direct as that of any otherstringed instrument; it admits of the thor-oughly personal element of touch; it requiresno auxiliary instruments (for even in the Con-certo the orchestra is not a mere accompanistbut an equal partner, as the name " Concerto "implies) ; its limitations are not as bad as thoseof some other instruments or of the voice; itoutweighs these limitations very fairly by thevast wealth of its dynamic and touch varieties.Considering all these and many other points ofmerit, I think that a musician may be prettywell satisfied with being a pianist. His realmis in more than one respect smaller than thatof the conductor, to be sure, but on the otherhand the conductor loses many lovely momentsof sweet intimacy which are granted to thepianist when, world-oblivious and alone withhis instrument he can commune with his in-nermost and best self. Consecrated moments,these, which he would exchange with no musi-cian of any other type and which wealth canneither buy nor power compel.Music makers are, like the rest of mankind,not free from sin. On the whole, however, Ithink that the transgressions of pianists againstthe canons of art are less grave and lessfrequent than those of other music makers;perhaps, because they are usually bettergrounded as musicians than are singers andsuch players of other instruments as the publicplaces on a par with the pianists I have inmind. But, while their sins may be less in num-ber and gravity let it be well understood thatthe pianists are no saints. Alas, no! It is ratherstrange, though, that their worst misdeeds areinduced by that very virtue of the piano of re-quiring no auxiliary instruments, of being in-dependent. If it were not so; if the pianistwere compelled always to play in companywith other musicians, these other players mightat times differ with him as to conception,tempo, etc., and their views and wishes shouldhave to be reckoned with, for the sake of bothequilibrium and sweet peace.Left entirely to himself, however, as thepianist usually is in his performances, he some-times yields to a tendency to move altogethertoo freely, to forget the deference due to thecomposition and its creator, and to allow hismuch-beloved " individuality " to glitter witha false and presumptuous brightness. Such apianist does not only fail in his mission as aninterpreter but he also misjudges the possibili-ties of the piano. He will, for instance, try toproduce six forte-s when the piano has notmore than three to give, all told, except at asacrifice of its dignity and its specific charm.The extremest contrasts, the greatest forteand the finest piano, are given factors deter-Page 2
 
the piano and the orchestramined by the individual piano, by the player'sskill of touch, and by the acoustic properties ofthe hall. These given factors the pianist mustbear in mind, as well as the limitations of thepiano as to colour, if he means to keep clearof dilettanteism and charlatanry. A nice ap-preciation of the realm over which he rules, asto its boundaries and possibilities, must be thesupreme endeavour of every sovereign hencealso of every sovereign musician.Now, I hear it so often said of this and thatpianist that " he plays with so much feeling "that I cannot help wondering if he does not,sometimes at least, play with ff so much feel-ing " where it is not in the least called for andwhere ff so much feeling " constitutes a decidedtrespass against the aesthetic boundaries of thecomposition. My apprehension is usually wellfounded, for the pianist that plays everything" with so much feeling " is an artist in nameonly, but in reality a sentimentalist, if not avulgar sensationalist or a ranter upon the key-board. What sane pianist would, for instance,attempt to play a cantilena with the same ap-pealing sensuousness as the most mediocre'cellist can do with the greatest ease? Yet manypianists attempt it; but since they are fullyaware that they can never attain such ends bylegitimate, artistic means, they make either theaccompaniment or the rhythm, if not thephrasing, bear the brunt of their palpable dilet-tanteism. Of such illusory endeavours I cannotwarn too strongly, for they are bound to de-stroy the organic relation of the melody to itsauxiliaries and to change the musical " physi-ognomy " of a piece into a " grimace." Thtefault reveals that the pianist's spirit of adven-ture is too willing, but the flesh of the fin-gers and their technic too weak.The artistic and the dilettantic manners ofexpression must be sharply differentiated.They differ, principally, as follows: the artistknows and feels how far the responsiveness ofhis instrument, at any particular part of hispiece, will allow him to go without violatingaesthetics, and without stepping outside of thenature of his instrument. He shapes his rendi-tion of the piece accordingly and practises wiseeconomy in the use of force and in the displayof feeling. As to feeling, per se f it is the ripeproduct of a multitude of aesthetic processeswhich the moment creates and develops; butthe artist will keep this product from assert-ing itself until he has complied with every re-quirement of artistic workmanship ; until hehas, so to speak, provided a cleanly coveredand fully set table upon which these matters of" feeling " appear as finishing, decorativetouches, say, as flowers.The dilettante, on the other hand, does notPage 3

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