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Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing, Part III Josef Lhvinne

Etude Magazine. December, 1923
Departments: Interviews , Pianists


Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing
Secured Exclusively for The Etude by Interview with the Distinguished Virtuoso
Etude Magazine Cover
JOSEF LHVINNE December, 1923

This Series Began in the Etude for October. Each Installment May be Read
Selected content from the
Independently. December, 1923 issue of The
Etude Magazine:
The Attention of Etude Readers is Called to the Editorial on Beautiful Tone Page 814
Should Piano Playing Undergo
a Radical Reform? Vladimir
Mr. Lhvinnes ideas upon technic, tone and interpretation are not only distinctive in de Pachmann
their force and simplicity, but also are expressed with terms which make them readily
remembered. For years, many of the great pianists of the world have applauded his What the Metropolitan Music
Critic Looks for Most By
remarkable technical ability and his audiences are fascinated by the delicacy of his tone. Henry T. Finck.
THE ETUDE feels that it is rendering a real service to the profession and to the art by
Basic Principles in Pianoforte
presenting this exceptional series of articles. The succeeding articles in the series will be Playing, Part III Josef
filled with practical ideas. Lhvinne

The Secret of a Beautiful Tone The Mystery of Beautiful Piano

It will be remembered that in the previous section of this series a promise was made
that we would next attempt to determine the secret of a beautiful tone. In this
connection it must be recollected that considerable attention was given to the matter of You are reading Basic
individuality. In the first place, every piano student who aspires to acquire a beautiful Principles in Pianoforte
tone must have a mental concept of what a beautiful tone is. Some people are born with Playing, Part III Josef
Lhvinne from the December,
a sense of the beautiful in sound. They do not need to be told. It is like the finely 1923 issue of The Etude
balanced sense of color possessed by some, in contrast to those who are color blind. If Magazine.
you have this sense of tonal beauty you are lucky. If you do not have it, do not despair; The Mystery of Beautiful Piano
because, by hard work and experience in listening to pianists who do possess a beautiful Tone is the previous story in
The Etude
tone, you may develop it. I have known innumerable students with a very disagreeable
tone, who have in time developed an attractive one by persistent effort. However, if you What the Metropolitan Music
Critic Looks for Most By Henry
are tonally deaf to lovely sound qualities there is very little hope for you. T. Finck. is the next entry in
The Etude.
On the other hand, there are those who have a natural tonal sense but who do not have
the technical qualifications for producing good tone at the piano; and it is to those that Search
my remarks are now directed. The adjustment of the hand and arm to conditions that
produce good tone is half of the battle. That is, the student must get clearly in mind what
contributes to good tone production on the keyboard. In work with my masters, in
personal investigations of technical principles, and through hearing intimately most of the
great pianists, from Rubinstein to the present, certain basic facts seem to be associated Categories
with those who have good tone in contrast to those who do not.
Advertisements (24)
Cushions of Flesh Cartoons (16)
Childrens Page (25)
In the previous section we have spoken of the part of the finger that comes in contact Composers (148)
with the keys. If that part is well covered with cushions of flesh, the tone is likely to be Editorials (205)
far better than if it were hard and bony. Therefore, the main principle at the first is to Etude Gallery (48)
see that the key is touched with as resilient a portion of the finger as possible, if a lovely, Five Minute Talks With Girls
ringing, singing tone is desired instead of the hard, metallic one. What part of the finger (10)
tip is this? Certainly not the part immediately behind the finger nail. There the tone Interviews (88)
produced is still bony and unresponsive. Just a little farther back in the first joint of the Letters (14)
finger you will notice that the cushion of flesh is apparently more elastic, less resisting, Miscellaneous (136)
more springy. Strike the key with this portion of the finger, not on the finger tips as some Musicology (172)
of the older European methods suggested. To accomplish this, I would call your attention Obituaries (13)
to the illustration in Section II, in which it is distinctly stated that the finger moves as a Organ & Choir (129)
whole and at one joint onlythe joint connecting the finger with the body of the hand. If Photographs (13)
the fingers descend upon the keys in this fashion you will notice that they do not strike on Pianists (104)
but just a little behind the tips. In other words, the key is touched with as large a surface Prize Winning Essays (13)
on the first joint of the finger as is feasible. Puzzle Pictures (7)
Q&A (105)
It is almost an axiom to say that the smaller the surface of the first joint of the finger Recital Programs (61)
touching the key, the harder and blunter the tone; the larger the surface, the more Special Notices (55)
ringing and singing the tone. Naturally if you find a passage requiring a very brilliant, Student Life and Work (10)
brittle tone you employ a small striking surface, using only the tips of the fingers. This is Teaching (204)
just one of the elements of good piano tone; but it should be mastered by all progressive Violin (91)
piano students. Indeed, this in itself will improve your tone immensely, even though you Vocalists (136)
may not employ some of the other principles which we shall discuss later. Before
dismissing the subject, let the student think for a moment of the luscious quality of tone Womans Work In Music (43)
which often accompanies melodic passages in which the thumb is used a great deal. This World of Music (199)
is due in no small measure to the large, springy cushion of flesh on the thumb, in contrast
with the much smaller cushion employed with the fingers, by the student who has been Monthly Archives
trained to strike with the very tip of the finger. November 1887 (20)
The Part the Wrist Plays in a Good Tone July 1891 (31)
August 1891 (16)
Very few students realize the part the wrist plays in the production of a good tone. If December 1891 (5)
they were compelled to ride at a high rate of speed, over a rough road, in an automobile July 1893 (12)
without springs or shock absorbers, they would go through a very terrible experience, October 1894 (4)
They would be jarred and bumped almost to death. Yet that is what many students April 1895 (24)
actually do in their piano playing. If the cushions of flesh on the ends of the fingers are May 1895 (26)
the pneumatic tires in piano playing, the wrist is the spring or the shock absorber. For this October 1895 (33)
reason it is next to impossible to produce a good singing tone with a stiff wrist. The wrist January 1897 (10)
must always be flexible. The more spring the less bump; and it is bumps that make for April 1897 (8)
bad tone on the piano. May 1897 (6)
June 1897 (11)
Of course, if you are playing a passage like the following from the Liszt Campanella, July 1897 (11)
where the greatest possible brilliancy is demanded, a stiff wrist and pointed fingers are October 1897 (5)
not only permissible, but absolutely necessary. December 1897 (18)
February 1898 (7)
March 1898 (8)
May 1898 (6)
July 1898 (45)
November 1898 (5)
December 1898 (7)
June 1899 (11)
September 1899 (16)
October 1899 (5)
November 1899 (4)
January 1900 (8)
February 1900 (7)
March 1900 (64)
April 1900 (7)
Or a passage like the following from the Schumann Papillons, which should be an June 1900 (15)
imitation of brass instruments, must be played with pointed fingers and stiff wrists. July 1900 (8)
January 1901 (10)
February 1901 (9)
March 1901 (5)
April 1901 (22)
May 1901 (9)
July 1901 (30)
September 1901 (12)
October 1901 (10)
November 1901 (12)
December 1901 (49)
January 1902 (12)
February 1902 (21)
The same is true of the following lovely passage from Moszowski (sic) Etude In Double April 1902 (11)
Notes, Opus 64, only with a lighter touch. May 1902 (53)
July 1902 (9)
August 1902 (10)
September 1902 (20)
October 1902 (6)
November 1902 (17)
January 1903 (7)
February 1903 (5)
March 1903 (3)
April 1903 (6)
May 1903 (9)
August 1903 (7)
September 1903 (4)
October 1903 (9)
November 1903 (3)
The cultivation of a singing touch should be a part of the daily work of every student December 1903 (5)
who has passed the first few grades of elementary study, if indeed it may not be February 1904 (3)
introduced earlier with students of more mature intelligence. All sorts of exercises will be March 1904 (51)
devised by the skillful teacher. One of the simplest is to take the simple scale like this. April 1904 (21)
May 1904 (5)
June 1904 (6)
July 1904 (6)
August 1904 (5)
September 1904 (9)
October 1904 (19)
December 1904 (4)
January 1905 (7)
Poise the hand about two inches above the keys. Hold the hand in normal position as you February 1905 (7)
would upon the piano keyboard (not with the fingers drooping down toward the keys). March 1905 (3)
Now let the hand fall a little with the first joint of the second finger, the wrist still held June 1905 (3)
very flexible so that the weight of the descending hand and arm carries the key down to July 1905 (4)
key bottom, quite without any sensation of a blow. It is the blow or the bump, which is January 1906 (4)
ruinous to good tone. The piano is not a typewriter to be thumped upon so that a sharp, February 1906 (11)
clear type impression will be made. Rather imagine that you are actually playing upon the March 1906 (19)
wires, ringing them with soft feltcovered hammers and not with hard metal bars. July 1906 (58)
August 1906 (4)
As the hand descends for this swinging touch, the finger is curved normally; it is not held October 1906 (4)
straight. As the finger touches the keysurface, it feels as though it were grasping the key December 1906 (1)
not striking or hitting it. There is a vast difference of sensation here. Always feel as August 1907 (11)
though you had hold of the key, not that you are merely delivering a blow to it. Do not December 1907 (1)
think of the ivory surface of the keyboard as you would of a table. That idea is entirely May 1908 (7)
wrong. Those who play the piano as though they were strumming on a table will never get August 1908 (5)
the innate principle of a good tone. December 1908 (15)
January 1909 (8)
Again when the hand descends, as large a surface of the finger tip as feasible engages February 1909 (6)
the key; and the wrist is so loose that it normally sinks below the level of the keyboard. March 1909 (4)
Observe your hand sensations very carefully. The tone is produced in the downward swing April 1909 (12)
of the hand. If it were possible to take one of the exaggeratedly slow moving pictures of May 1909 (10)
this touch, there would be no spot, no place, no movement where the movement seemed June 1909 (5)
to stop on the way down. If there were such a place it would produce a bump. The tone July 1909 (13)
seems to ring out beautiful and clear. The key is touched on the wing, as it were, in the August 1909 (11)
downward passage. All this concerns only the first note of the melody or a phrase, the September 1909 (5)
other notes, if the melody to be played legato must be taken with the fingers quite near October 1909 (2)
the keys raising or dropping the wrist according to the design of the melody. December 1909 (1)
January 1910 (19)
The student who values a good tone will have the patience to practice all his scale/in February 1910 (11)
both hands, one finger at a time, until this principle becomes automatic, until it is just as March 1910 (11)
natural as free and easy walking. He will find that his playing becomes more graceful, April 1910 (17)
more pleasurable, more satisfying to his sense of tonal beauty and to his hearers. But he May 1910 (8)
has to listen! June 1910 (14)
When he attempts a powerful forte passage later in his musical life, he will discover that July 1910 (5)
he can make the piano ring with the greatest possible volume, without making it sound August 1910 (45)
bangy. The reason why a number of people say that they do not care for piano playing September 1910 (11)
is that so many socalled performers upon the instrument treat it as though it were an October 1910 (9)
anvil and go on hammering out musical horse shoes. November 1910 (13)
December 1910 (4)
In Section 1 of this series some of the Etude readers may have been a little out of January 1911 (1)
patience with the extent of my remarks about rests. If rests are important, the method of February 1911 (1)
stopping the sound of the note is quite as important as the method of sounding it. The March 1911 (8)
most superficial examination of the inside of the keyboard reveals that the sound is April 1911 (5)
stopped by the felt damper coming up against the keys. In brilliant compositions, such, May 1911 (2)
for instance, as the Mendelssohn Scherzo in E Minor, in a passage like this the sound must June 1911 (2)
stop quickly and abruptly as in all full staccato passages. July 1911 (7)
August 1911 (4)
September 1911 (2)
October 1911 (9)
November 1911 (14)
December 1911 (1)
January 1912 (6)
February 1912 (4)
March 1912 (13)
April 1912 (5)
May 1912 (6)
June 1912 (1)
July 1912 (2)
August 1912 (1)
September 1912 (12)
But in melodic passages it is very offensive to have a sound bump at the end of the November 1912 (1)
tone. Therefore, at the end of the tones in melodic passages the student reverses the January 1913 (11)
process by which he produces the tone. The wrist must be gradually raised and go high February 1913 (5)
until the finger will leave the key, like an aeroplane leaves the ground; and, of course, March 1913 (7)
the key itself ascends gradually and the damper comes up to the wire without the August 1913 (2)
bumping off sound. Many, many students strike the keys right but do not seem to have October 1913 (5)
mastered the very simple, but very vital principle of releasing them so that there is no November 1913 (6)
jerkiness. Details? Ahathese are the details upon which those who aspire to be masters January 1914 (3)
work their hardest. February 1914 (3)

Although we have reached the third section of our discussion of this fascinating subject May 1914 (2)

which has so much to do in determining how to play the instrument so that it will be June 1914 (7)
really musical in contrast to the street piano we have been able as yet to cover only a few September 1914 (7)
of the main points. In the next section we shall take up the matter of how to acquire October 1914 (11)

great delicacy of touch and its antithesis, great power. This will be illustrated by a rare January 1915 (4)

Russian portrait of Anton Rubinstein in a position at the instrument in which we shall February 1915 (9)

attempt to show how that famous lion of the keyboard produced some of his powerful March 1915 (2)
effects. April 1915 (3)
May 1915 (1)
September 1915 (1)
November 1915 (27)
January 1916 (5)
May 1916 (5)
August 1916 (6)
September 1916 (3)
October 1916 (4)
November 1916 (2)
May 1917 (2)
June 1917 (2)
July 1917 (1)
December 1917 (3)
February 1918 (8)
November 1918 (11)
December 1918 (3)
October 1919 (16)
February 1920 (3)
April 1920 (5)
May 1920 (2)
July 1920 (9)
August 1920 (1)
September 1920 (6)
October 1920 (3)
January 1921 (2)
March 1921 (4)
April 1921 (6)
May 1921 (4)
January 1922 (7)
April 1922 (2)
May 1922 (2)
June 1922 (1)
September 1922 (2)
February 1923 (2)
March 1923 (3)
August 1923 (1)
October 1923 (4)
November 1923 (3)
December 1923 (4)
January 1924 (6)
March 1924 (4)
April 1924 (5)
June 1924 (1)
September 1924 (1)
July 1925 (1)
August 1925 (6)
September 1925 (7)
November 1925 (3)
September 1928 (2)
March 1929 (1)
May 1929 (1)
December 1929 (1)
April 1931 (1)
February 1932 (3)
December 1933 (1)
April 1934 (1)
April 1935 (1)
November 1936 (5)
January 1938 (2)
February 1938 (1)

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