Approaching fingerings

Approaching fingerings

 

Two questions to choosing the correct finger

Often, during a lesson, I receive the familiar question (familiar, I would presume to all of you fellow teachers): “Sir, what finger should I use to play this note?”

This question quickly resolves to me showing the “correct” fingering to the student, but this action of mine often leaves me with an aura of discontent. This discontent derives from the fact that in a short lesson of twenty minutes or so, I didn’t get to explain to the student how to actually choose those fingerings by themselves.

And this comes into contradiction with one of my personal advocations in teaching when I discuss with fellow teachers, which is that when you give the students the tools to make decisions by themselves it makes our teaching lives much, much easier —As if you didn’t know this already, but there you go.

So, enabling students to “self-teach” themselves not only saves precious time, but also allow us, teachers, to work on the most important thing in any given piece: the interpretation. Ideally, technical stuff should never bother a student or a teacher, but, unfortunately, since interpretation naturally dictates the mastering of technique, each lesson is doomed to have the element of technique always pending.

Back to our issue here, I had to devise a quick method to show the students how to choose fingerings.

Interpretation is paramount

Indeed, interpretation is paramount. So, axiomatically, when we decide about technical things in a piece, such as fingerings, we should only care about the acoustic end-result of our performance and not how successfully we chose our techniques. (Or shouldn’t we? Keep reading) How we achieve a successful acoustic result though, is nobody’s business. It’s only our own business.

Thus, we could have chosen to use the worst possible fingerings if this would ultimately have helped us reflect the composers’ mind accurately on the keyboard.

However, we should never forget, that one of our main goals in performance should also be to develop all of our fingers, so as to achieve equal results with any combination of fingerings; for this reason, sometimes we should choose to use alternative fingerings even if it seems that we risk sabotaging the intended interpretation.

Also, we should always remember that fingerings should be individually tailored to each of us since everybody has a unique set of hands. That’s why you always hear teachers moaning about this or that bad choice of fingerings in some editions. No hand is the same. Or is it? I believe that every single hand is so different from another, even if you measure two sets of hands from different people and find that they have the exact same dimensions; the reason is that, even if those two different sets of hands have indeed the same length, mass or perimeter of tips, however, I doubt that they would possess, say, the same strength, perspiration quality, dryness classification, or flexibility.

So, this is the quick way I found that could help a pianist find their interpretational way, fingering-wise.

Thus, you are to answer the following two questions in order to choose your fingerings:

First Question:

Which finger falls naturally on the next note?

When you answer this question, usually most of your work has been done. Answering this question basically means that we choose fingerings depending on the next available finger.

Let’s see this in practice: If, for instance, we had to play the C major scale, and in the last three notes we chose to play A with the third finger, then, naturally, we would have to choose the fourth finger for the B note and the fifth finger for the last C note. So, this is the point of the first question.

Often though, we have to choose different fingerings from the ones that seem proper in order to assist us in achieving specific effects that other fingers wouldn’t be able to easily accomplish. For example, in that C major scale that was just mentioned, we could have used first finger on the last note (C), if for example we had a sforzando on that C and we judged that a fifth finger wouldn’t be sufficient to achieve the desired power that a sforzando would require.

However, I am an avid supporter of the idea of choosing the next available finger in any case, since this often exercises all our fingers; for example, we’ve all fallen into the trap of playing, say, a trill, with the second and third finger rather than the third and fourth, anticipating that the second and third finger would not let us down and we would achieve a more satisfactory result. That could be true, but then we delay developing our third and fourth fingers and make them competent in a future trill situation.

Thus, if we always choose fingerings depending on interpretational validity, which is the norm, then we risk overdeveloping certain fingers/positions/personal technical strengths and create a technical imbalance in our individual technique— and this imbalance, in return, will not help our overall interpretational abilities; it’s a vicious circle.

So, as a general rule, play the next note with, basically, the next available finger. Even if you find that you could potentially and regrettably risk sacrificing the musical result by using a weaker finger, at least you might gain some benefits in technique down the line.

Second Question:

What happens if I play this passage faster using the fingering I chose from answering the first question?

Let me elaborate: Back to the C major scale from above. If for instance you were asked to play the C major scale slowly and legato you could arguably achieve a satisfactory result by just using your first and second finger to play the whole scale. (See Example A, below)

Example A

However, what happens if you choose to play that same C major scale at a much faster tempo, by also using your first and second finger? (Say, four notes on 120 metronome beat, or even faster.) (See Example B, below) Will it sound equally legato using the same fingerings? You see? You risk playing that scale unevenly, amongst others.

Example B

Often, at low speeds, questionable fingerings might not make that big a difference. However, it is in faster tempos where the correct fingerings shine and the poorly-chosen ones expose the artist.

Thus, poor fingerings choice is also, when at fast speeds something that sounds acceptable at slower speeds, loses flair and prohibits the intended interpretation by the editor.

Final Thoughts

So: To quickly choose fingerings you need to ask the above two questions, in that particular order.

Also, note, that the sacrifice of correct interpretation can only be allowed to happen if the outcome of a wrong interpretation will eventually allow the overall improvement of our technique.

Because, ultimately, improvement of technique means the improvement of interpretation.

© Nikos Kokkinis – 20th of November 2017.

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The Piano Prison

The Piano Prison

The Piano prison

or, the dark side of encouragement and motivation in music

I prefer to drink a pint of salted lemon juice, sprinkled with red pepper shavings, paprika, ample tabasco, a dessert spoon of dried garlic, and two spoons of cod liver oil, than hear the following expressions again:

“Oh, I love the piano! After high school I’m going to devote myself entirely to it together with my studies in law.”

“John, your dad’s right. You need to practice if you want that iPhone for the holidays.”

“Listen to me Nikos, you could become a wonderful pianist— if only you were spending a bit more time on the piano.”

“Absolutely Victor, do take the year off! But then, you should get back to the piano if you want that diploma.”


Who’s not disgusted by the above expressions? Who doesn’t feel nauseated? Who doesn’t want to… I don’t know what…perhaps break the piano into a thousand pieces?

Clearly, those people above don’t seem too excited to keep playing the piano, don’t you think? I used the example-dialogues above so as to show that not everybody is liking piano as much as we or other people we know, do. And it’s absolutely normal. However, people in those examples above keep receiving encouragement and motivation from the others to keep doing piano. 

In this article, I’ll be trying to find out if, and when, motivation and encouragement are needed in this music life of ours. I strongly believe that (despite what voguish teachers say) not everybody should be motivated in becoming a pianist, or a musician for that matter.

Read on.

 

Who needs encouragement and motivation

 

Who needs encouragement, after all? Do you know any pianist that needs it? I don’t. I never did…

I never met a student who was on the “fifth-gear” in becoming a pianist that needed motivation and encouragement. I never knew a sensitive, shy, overwhelmed, but internally pumped-up by their musical targets, student, that begged for motivation or encouragement. 

Encouragement and motivation, those two mere words, meant nothing for the winning pianists— they meant zilch for the unassuming pianists that “eat” the weak and the itinerant piano colleagues for breakfast.

However, those are, in fact, the very living souls that must receive encouragement and motivation, at all costs.— those unassuming pianists. But not to persuade them or lure them into something they don’t want to do, but to push them even further, to achieve more. We should show them the way to excel.

Indeed, encouragement needs the musician who eagerly wants to succeed in their preferred disciple. Motivation needs the one who’s hungry for learning and longs for ultimately having a say with her/his art; but for many reasons— such as intimidation, natural timidity, personal provenance, etc.— that musician cannot bring themselves to be unearthed. 

 

Who doesn’t need encouragement and motivation

 

I know now, that a lot of teachers are going to hate this and gleefully rub their hands in anticipation of my pedagogical failure here, and are going to point their fingers and profess that “AAALLL people need encouragement and motivation, no matter what,” and this and that and the other thing.

However, those teachers are never going to win over many students’ hearts on the pedagogical arena, at the end of the day; because life is about accepting facts swiftly, see reality in the eye, and be bravely honest.

Thus, I believe encouragement doesn’t need the student who… hates the piano, basically. All these words, such as motivation, encouragement, inspiration are not for the non-interested individuals. It’s noise to their ears. 

I’ve heard it over and over again: “I hate the piano, sir,” or, “oh, piano’s so hard,” or, “I like singing because it’s much easier than piano.” I also heard the same thing but even more subtly: “Two things I love the most in my life, Nikos, chemistry and becoming a pianist,” or, “I wish I could buy the piano this year, but we had to fix the garage door and it cost a lot.” 

Basically, the expressions to describe the same thing (piano indifference) are endless — and of course, when it happens that I’m the listener, it’s like talking to a brick wall; because, quite a lot of the time I’m there to teach the piano, not to persuade someone that piano is great; that’s not the point of teaching the piano.

There are students who despise the practising phase of the piano, my fellow pianists. However, they would often innocently confess that they “like” the sound of the piano; for instance,  they adore the piano when they listen to the Moonlight Sonata or an arrangement from a “fake book” of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. But, they cringe when it’s practice-time. 

It’s like trying to persuade me to go the gym. I prefer to break both my legs in a horrific car accident, than setting foot in a gym ever again— and yes, despite its health benefits. It’s sheer torture for me— Where should I start… the horrific smell in there, the sweaty humidity, the vain people and their pompous faces, the special communicative expressions they use over there, the horrible music. Though, I really have to admit that I prefer drinking coffee and eating baguettes in the gym cafeteria than going to the actual gym area, since they always have the fattest foods available there. It’s just me. 

I wouldn’t like a personal trainer to come up to me and say, “Hey Nikos, if you play your cards right, you could be a competitor for the quarter-marathon next Sunday.” I don’t like this type of encouragement. This is not my calling. I’m never gonna become a gymnast or a marathon runner. I can’t be bothered dear sirs to do that because, amongst others, I’m super-lazy. There are more chances to spot an elephant watching Volodos at Carnegie Hall holding a cigar on his trunk, than me running like a lunatic in a marathon.

…Meanwhile, some readers are indeed reading this with disgust. “How is this possible this guy to hate exercising and the gym?” they would say. “Soon he is going to profess that going to the hairdresser’s once a week is a bad thing.”  Well, each to their own. 

In the same fashion, I hate it when I see someone suffer as a musician, because, perhaps a teacher or an uncle, once convinced them that they were good and they could become great.

 

The Piano-Prison

 

Piano is a big, horrible, unforgiving and merciless piece of heavy wood, that can never be wrestled. 

Even the greatest wrestlers, like Horowitz, Arrau or Richter, failed to topple that heavy beast— well, if you asked them I’m sure that they would have agreed with me. For us though, they were always firmly on top of the beast, bridling its horns with exceptional composure and flair. 

What I’m trying to say is, that the punishment must stop now, my dearest colleagues. No student deserves to suffer on the piano stool. I know we have to make a living and all, but why do we always have to subconsciously force our students to like our wonderful instrument? 

I like the piano, don’t get me wrong. No matter what criticism I was getting from people —and I was getting a lot— I couldn’t care less and I kept going. I knew from the start that piano and music was what I wanted to devote myself to. I couldn’t imagine myself going on another journey. Piano was my Ithaca

But despite my pompous drivel above, it’s just that not many people are like me, and perhaps like you, the readers of this article. We, teachers, must finally understand that piano is simply torturous for some students. I can see the pain in their expressions when I ask them to practice the e minor scale, when I try to persuade them to complete the final line of the sonata or when I encourage them that playing in a concert is always a good idea. I can sense the suffering when I notice them looking at their watch in the middle of a lesson or when they tell me that after school they are equally excited to study medicine or piano. I can sense it in their eyes, I can smell it in the air even before they have entered the classroom. 

You are not allowed with soft words and smiles —and, undoubtedly, with sheer honesty and honourable intentions— to inadvertently sentence your student to life in the piano-prison. 

The piano-prison is a horrible place. It’s a place where people are forced to practise the piano. And they hate it. 

They’re being forced by their own prejudices, stuck-up thoughts and fears, but also forced by their own beloved friends, relatives and acquaintances. Sometimes, this happens in all innocence. 

Piano-prison is so nasty, and the bail to get out of there is no easy target; But, the bail’s cost can be paid by some more easily than by some others. “What’s the bail?’ One might ask. Well. To stop the piano: this is the cost of that bail. Sometimes it’s impossible to meet that bail…  

 

Don’t hijack a student’s calling. 

 

Putting aside your virtuous intentions, It’s not ethical and, frankly, it’s none of your business, as they say, to hijack a student’s calling —Basically, this is what the piano-prison results to.

First and foremost, before teaching the piano and its technique, we must try to sense what’s the student’s calling —What they really want to do. No scales, no strong fingers, no cadenzas, nor long dresses, nor anything. 

I know that our one-way mission should be to simply teach the piano, of course, but we should try and snatch a little bit from that mission to feed the student’s personal goals. And how to do this? By stopping doing this overestimated endeavour: Uncontrollable encouragement and motivation for all. 

Let’s sit back and wait a bit; the students know best — they themselves are going to show us the path to how to teach them.

Encouragement is to be employed only after we’ve established a student’s calling. Motivation is only needed when we are sure that our student has wholeheartedly decided by their own capacities to make piano their destination. Not before. 

So stop motivating and encouraging the indifferent. You only extend their suffering. Because the piano-prison is lurking around the corner.

How To Afford A Piano

How To Afford A Piano

 

Disclaimer: if you are a sensitive individual, if sometimes you take what you read personally, if you occasionally are ever so slightly uptight about what you read, then please DO NOT read this article. This article contains exaggerated opinions and harsh, disrespectful and informal expressions to facilitate an enjoyable read. Everything below should be approached with a humorous aura. No advice below is to be followed. The following article is meant to be a humorous text only. Read at your own discretion. 

About talent

About talent

Tackling the subject of “talent” in music always fascinated me. When mentioning that someone had talent I naturally meant that they were good in their field but I didn’t necessarily mean that they were special; I knew that talent was possible for all of us.

I would like to express that I am fed up with this unending notion of people who are so “talented” in knowing what talent is (pun intended). Who wouldn’t be fed up? Talent here, talent there, talent everywhere. For some, even a brick wall is extremely talented, since it knows how to stop a car.

“Oh, my Auntie is playing the trumpet, she is so amazing!” Or,”My mother in law is performing the banjo tonight with the local singers, she is so talented”! No, she is not. She just happens to play the banjo, and you’re not.

But enough of my moaning and twaddle.

What talent is

 

Talent is a glorified way of saying you do something. Basically, when you cannot do something you’re not talented, whereas if you can do it, you are. Simple.

All that about having a gift or flair are completely misguiding and can do more damage than good to the young and eager to learn.

We are all equal

 

Every human brain, in my poorest of opinions, is the same; every human being is equally blessed to do amazing things and has the same quality of capacities no matter the place of birth, the race, etc. We all have the capacities to create divine music and perform wonderfully no matter what our financial backgrounds are, our parents’ upbringing or if the stars align properly on the 1st of march.

That being said, we must also appreciate that in this cruel world there are many people plagued with disabilities; however, those people still create wonderful things. They excel in sports, in the arts and sciences. Except, of course, in the unfortunate event when a person has a medical condition, that prevents the brain or the body to function properly. But even then, this unfortunate individual is equally important in shaping the world’s future; is equally talented.

We are all equally talented.

So, the only thing that can truly separate us from each other is our personal provenance; that is, our life experiences, our unique interests and leisure activities, and other personal paths that by the sheerest of chances we happened to follow.

Let me elaborate with an example: say you were living in the mountainous area of Oymyakon in Siberia, and didn’t have the access to play the piano but nevertheless adored it; still, you wouldn’t have been considered a talented pianist, because simply, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have “met” the piano altogether. Whereas, if you, the same person who adored the piano, were growing up in New York city, a more approachable and rounded musical environment, if it happened that you played the piano amazingly, you would have been considered a talented pianist.

Why talent is irrelevant

 

Talent is irrelevant for humans because the absence of it cannot prove that this world can not move forward successfully. One might even argue, that absence of talent can be advantageous to the natural continuation of things in this extremely partially understood world. Can you disprove this? I can’t, but I can’t prove it either.

Earth will still be able to revolve even if you don’t write the next Hamlet. Roses will still be able to bloom in spring, even if you don’t manage to complete your thirty-sixth symphony and instead be left with only thirty-five completed ones. Birds will still be able to exquisitely twit even if you don’t throw eight touchdowns in a single game.

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/classical-violin-piano-violinist-1595342/

All is needed and all is equally important in the continuation of this perfectly evolved world. Thus, the notion of talent is overrated and perhaps irrelevant.

Talent depends on provenance

 

As we are all equal, I’m afraid once again and hate to burst a couple of bubbles, that talent depends on some of the following factors:

Past experiences: The more relevant experiences you’ve had in your chosen field the more chances to be vainly considered talented.

Say that your neighbour liked listening to classical piano and lent you a couple of CDs to taste some classical pieces. This immediately makes you more educated regarding classical music and favours you in comparison to another pianist who didn’t have access to quality classical music, and this already puts on track to be considered “talented”. Doesn’t surprise you that a lot of good musicians’ parents are also musicians? That doesn’t mean of course that your parents have to be musicians for you to succeed in music, but that’s another story.

Liberal access to the subject in question: Simply put, it’s a matter of access to available resources. Again, it’s like the vitamins our doctor prescribes; the more you consume healthy foods the more your chances of leading a healthy life. In our case, as long as you are exposed to a lot of quality music material and being in the company of relevant and knowledgeable people of your subject, you increase your chances of becoming proficient in your chosen field; and being proficient, equals to being considered talented in this world.

Assistance from others: How much others are willing to help you realise your potential/interest. To succeed (and therefore to uselessly manage to be considered talented) you will need support and lots of it.

Say that you want to learn the piano and become a virtuoso pianist. This is your dream and you know that you can do it. Similarly to a previous example, you live on a remote island and the only way to play the piano is for your parents to buy you one from the mainland. Well, if they don’t buy you one, I’m afraid you’re doomed to forever live in the land of “untalented” pianists. And of course, you’ll never know if you were ever going to be considered a “talented” pianist. It sounds unfair, but that’s life.

Do you begin to be getting the gist of this “talent” nonsense? I hope you do because the sooner you realise that talent means absolutely nothing and kindly dismiss the talent proclaimers, the better are your chances to succeed in music; and, why not, become a more level-headed personality- that never hurts.

Talent requires the element of comparison

 

In order to be considered talented, you need to always be compared to someone or something, well… “less talented”.

So, for example, if you could only play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with your right hand, but your friend can play a sonatina by Kuhlau hands together, he can arguably be considered more “talented” than you (especially if the person judging is not an expert). But if your friend, who plays the sonatina, is compared with someone who plays Liszt’s b minor sonata in London’s Wigmore Hall, your friend quickly becomes less talented. So unfair, isn’t it?

Talent is depended on who is judging

 

The more experienced the judge, the strictest they become when judging talent. So, if you’re eager to be considered talented, make sure you are only be judged by gentle judges.

Thus, to the eyes of a friend of mine I could be considered an amazing mind who writes prolific articles, a great piano teacher and pedagogue and a wonderful human being, whereas to the eyes of an internationally acclaimed pianist or critic, I could only be considered a deluded amateur, and a wannabe writer who writes nonsensical and laughable articles with shrill tone. What do you think? 🤔could I be one?

Source:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Esau,_цирковой_шимпанзе_за_фортепиано._1900.jpg

 

The importance of talent

 

As much as I cringe at the very idea of “talent” I must concede that, somehow, we need the notion of talent and we need talent itself. We need the talent seekers, we need our groupie aunties, we need friends who think we are the next Hemingway or Christian Blackshaw and we need the word talent to be heard as often as possible.

I would like to conclude this article by expressing that even if talent means absolutely nothing, at least hunting for it can inspire us to reach new heights.

Our Music Notation Community

How to choose the best possible piano edition

How to choose the best possible piano edition

Choosing the best edition of piano music has been a chore for a lot of us pianists since piano music entered the realm of serious music; that means, well… perhaps from the beginning of keyboard history.  Because of editions, pianists had always had to put up with stiff-liped opinions and judgmental experts, together with the ironic smirks of their beloved colleagues.

[with funny voice] “Is this the right edition for my music?” “Is the other one better?” “Will the panel of that piano competition approve of my playing?” “Will my auntie consent to my playing Chopin’s second ballad from this edition?” All those questions popped up at one time or another in our pianistic lives.

 

Edition anxiety

 

The reason why there is always a constant twaddle, moaning and superiority complex syndrome about editions and which is the most acceptable, is because pianists associate editions with their own musical standing. They think that a wrong edition could undermine their ability to perform and that a questionable edition would belittle them in the eyes of their colleagues in this judgmental world of classical music. Apparently, a correct edition would give the pianist, and generally the musician, the keys to musical legitimacy and a “license” to perform. It sounds a bit farfetched, but not too far from reality.

If only pianists could think that piano is just a piece of wood, with strings and keys that you press to make sounds…

Who has the right edition?  Nobody ever knew. Nobody will ever know. Do you know? Do you have the ultimate answer to state with authority that yours is the best edition, and no other can compete with it? As soon as the notes escape from the composer’s mind, there’s no return. They enter the realm of interpretation; an abyss of innumerable opinions and considerations. Even the original manuscript, is, in fact, an edition to the composer’s mind; an edition that in no way can replicate the actual mind.

 

There’s no best edition

 

There are a few things we are left with in order to make a plausible choice of which edition could be best for our own musical circumstances. Here, we should appreciate that there’s always no “best edition”; there’s only… “better edition”. This is because an edition is really a fictional representation of the original artefact. Even a facsimile edition is still a vaguest representation of the original work, since, arguably, you can still lose a lot of nuances (e.g. a composer’s handwriting stresses and other graphological observations that could signal underlying musical intentions). One could go as far as arguing that even the original manuscript is a “dreamy” statement of the composer’s mind.

So, when it comes to editions, we have a few of the following choices:

  1. Use straight “out-of-the-box” an edition that was suggested to us by someone else. (The suggester could be a teacher, a friend of ours, a scholar of the composer, or generally, anybody else).
  2. Get an edition from the store without really caring about its provenance and quality. Then edit this edition to fit our own performance views, or let our instructor do the editing for us and give us the end result to play.
  3. Acquire all editions of that work available in the world today, compare them (hopefully by researching) and then choose our favourite.
  4. Call every editor and ask them to explain their editorial suggestions, and then make a more informed decision regarding which edition to choose.
  5. Find the autograph music written originally by the composer, conduct our own research, and do our own editing – tough, for the laziest of us.
  6. And of course there are more drastic ways, such as finding the original manuscript of the composition, then, if the composer is not alive remove the composer from the grave and ask them to describe in writing how to perform their piece. Then, of course, make them sign their written description as a worldwide binding contract.

Can you see? The choice and the… madness are endless.

 

How to choose a music edition 

 

Simplicity is the elixir of music. 

Just pick an edition and start playing; yes, you’ve read it right. Any edition would do. Is this an oversimplification? Yes, it is. Why? Because, generally editors are mere… editors, and, of course, are human.  Often, they are well read and scholarly efficient people; well, perhaps more so than most of us, who haven’t published any editions in print. Do you have? And yes, every editor is different and every editor can be wrong or right. Every editor has their own advantages and disadvantages. There’s no perfection and there is no perfect editor. Typographical errors together with personal or universal musical preferences cannot count as legitimate reasons for dismissing an edition or an editor for that matter.

 

The best edition is “change”

 

It would be such an unfair situation for the composer and for music in general to reach editorial ultimatums and absolute certainties. Uncertainty is what drives music forward and glorifies its ever-changing medium. Static is not healthy.

Change in the musical zeitgeist should be welcomed, and change cannot happen if we live in a constant musical comfort zone. The music language is ever-evolving, and as with our spoken and written language, it evolves with assistance from our own wrongdoings. Editorial mistakes and controversial musical views are what ultimately shape music and, subsequently, our understanding of it.

So, just play; just put your fingers on the keys and paddle your own canoe like there is no tomorrow. No time to think and judge that horrifying edition. Do play and stop thinking, because music thrives in the air and not on the paper; it is this air that will eventually drive, like the most accomplished pilot, the pen on the page.

And one day, you might realise that your slower take on the La Campanella is actually not too far out from the zeitgeist.

 

 

(Many thanks to maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com, and http://www.publicdomainpictures.net for using their free images on this post)

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What is the best piano edition

What is the best piano edition

The Well-Tempered Clavier

In this article, we shall discuss – albeit in no depth whatsoever and try to give an answer to what is the best edition of any given piano work.

Before I start, please, do let me ask you the following questions: Can it ever be an ultimate edition for a pianist to follow? Can it ever be an edition that will make every other edition obsolete? Is there any such edition available to us today? I suspect, that to all those three questions your answer would, hopefully, be a resounding “No”.

At this point let’s quickly define what an “edition”, per se, of a piano work, is; this applies to all other instruments: An “edition” is a notated view of how a work should be interpreted. In our case, what takes place is, that the piano editor, by hopefully following research, presents us with her/his own notated views of a piano work.

It’s vital to understand that there are many reasons for why we need editions for works of music. Some of them are:

  1. To correct mistakes that composers themselves explicitly admitted to have done in a composition.
  2.  To correct mistakes, the editor thought the composer might negligently have done.
  3.  For a composer to improve upon a composition by correcting passages or even adding more music.
  4.  To scholarly give a personal opinion of how a piece was intended to be interpreted by the composer.
  5.  To preserve a piece’s accurate future interpretation, after consultation with the composer.
  6.  To improve the readability of a piece.
  7.  To give our own, personal interpretational view on a work of music.

Can it ever be an ultimate edition?

 

To cut to the chase, I’m afraid that NO edition is or will ever be good enough. No edition of music will ever get close enough to a composer’s music intentions. No edition will ever mirror the composer’s mind.  Here are two reasons for why this happens:

a) A composer, axiomatically, can never express themselves precisely when notating their music. This is the first point. Here’s why: say, we have a piano piece. A composer can never (or is enormously hard)  do the following: notate how hard each key should be pressed by each finger on each hand; this is also almost impossible to achieve, because there are millions of pianos in this world so a composer has to accommodate his notation for all those instruments: impossible. Moreover, the composer if they want to be as accurate as possible, they will have to precisely notate the exact progression of the dynamics; for example, how should you crescendo from a Piano to Forte in a phrase? Should it be done robotically, increasing decibel by decibel? Should it crescendo with a more “curved” progression? What kind of curve should this progression have? If you go down that road, even more questions arise: For instance, how long a composer’s staccato should last in time on a Steinway Grand D or a Yamaha U1 A? As you can see, no composer can ever notate as precisely, and perhaps no composer wants to do just that.

The only way a composition could potentially and credibly be precisely notated (if ever), is when a composer pre-selects a particular instrument (model, etc.) to perform his composition, write her/his composition to only be performed by that particular instrument, making sure that this instrument doesn’t physically depreciate of course, then choose a specific time and date for the composition to be performed, be in constant consultation with a sole performer of that composition, and by fulfilling other extremely intricate requests.

b) The second reason for why no edition will ever be sufficient enough is because a composer understands the element of the existence of an interpreter. An interpreter of a work of music could essentially be a music editor, a music critic, a listener or a performer of course. The composer, in a way, has to accept that his music will always be vaguely interpreted by his interpreters. In music, every composition will always have an interpreter, and that is the definitive meaning of the word interpreter: You essentially interpret something the way you, personally, see it.

So, what a composer fundamentally does when notating her/his music, is to give a broad map of his composition – a composition that derived from his brain (which is impossible to pick) – to a performer, and leave the performer to make do with whatever musical tools they have accumulated through time, and hope that the performer will come as close as possible to his indented idea; hard.

 

Don’t throw away your edition, just yet.

 

Indeed, please do not throw away your, allegedly, obsolete edition just yet. There are a few reasons for why you should never do that – Here is a couple of them:

1. An obsolete edition can show us the provenance of how things were done in the past. Even if we think that an edition is valid no more, at the same time, we could seize the opportunity to taste the way earlier editors used to approach editing a piece, the tools they used and even the choice of symbols they preferred.  Indeed, we could keep an old edition as an objet d’art that could be of historical value in the future, for many reasons.

2. An objectionable edition can make us better editors: Well, if we are being given everything on a plate, we will never improve our skills in this never-ending world of music; so grab the opportunity and correct a faulty edition, if you can. Do use, perhaps, your preferred fingerings, or call your old teacher and ask them if indeed this composer meant to write that extra note at the end of that piece.

 

What is the best edition?

 

The best edition is the edition you currently possess. And you have to make the best of it.

I know what you are thinking: “But my edition has a zillion wrong fingerings”, or “Wait to see how out-of-style this trill is written in my edition”, “Oh, but the editor forgot that those instruments didn’t do those things back then” and other, well, silly remarks, if I may say.

Well, that’s life I’m afraid we have to accept this fact about editions; let me be unkind and ask you, why didn’t you write a better edition to be on the shelves of Chappel’s of Bond Street or The Juilliard Store in New York. If you think that the editors of those unacceptable editions were amateurs and goofs, why is that your edition is not celebrated in last month’s cover of Pianist Magazine? Indeed, why are you reading this article right now? Guess why; because you don’t have a clue which is the best edition. (I don’t think I’m getting too many likes on my Facebook page, after this article).

I’m sick and tired of that constant fault-finding and moaning that “there are always better editions”, and “I wish this edition did this, and I wish that edition did the other thing” and “yes, I suppose this is an ok edition, but the other one is better”, and all this nonsense. Get a grip – editions are there to help and suggest. Editions are not written in stone. If you don’t want to play them, fine. Just Buy the Urtexter Intergalactic Of The Ultimate Order Edition, or something. Terribly sorry to be so harsh.

 

The purpose of any edition should also be to teach us how to follow orders

 

Instead of this constant drivel about intolerable editions, I suggest that we first learn how to actually interpret those “wrong” editorial suggestions. An edition, be it wrong or correct, cannot salvage our incapability of performing something correctly. A bad or a good edition is not going to improve our technique or musicality (that shows through technique); well, not necessarily. I’m not saying that you should follow the edition that says that it’s better to play Chopin’s first study 0p.10 with your nose, but what I’m trying to say is that a bad edition, can at least teach us how to follow orders. Always, be gracious and give credit to an editor; you can always learn something from any edition.

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The Remote Island

 

I just want to finish this, by asking you if I may, to try to relate to the following scenario;

Imagine that somehow you find yourself stranded on a remote island. You are stuck with a horrible edition of your favourite composer and you are just so eager to play their music. What, would you do? Would you just put the music down and refuse to play? Would you just say “no, I’m not playing this edition?” Or, would you try to improve upon this edition, by using your own musical capacities? – Capacities, that can never be completely perfected – What would you do? What is the right thing to do? Keep in mind, that you can never get the perfect edition.

In life, we are the ultimate editors of what comes to us.

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