Pianist to Pianist

A collection of pianistic, pedagogical, methodical, musical, artistic, and cultural contemplations, concepts, observations, and concerns, from pianist to pianist, pedagogue to pedagogue, musician to musician and from a curious and critical observer.

The Holy Trinity of Music: Rhythm, Harmony, and Melody.

Rhythm is like organized space, architecture in time - a matrix that is warped and sectioned by the gravity of larger entities which attract smaller ones; in the same way there is a pull towards the larger, more important note, often the first beat; smaller notes belong to and move towards the bigger note. Rhythm is also an organic cycle that has properties of inevitability in continuity. While tempo is speed, rhythm can for example be sharp or mellow and thus define and express the character of the music it gives foundation to. Rhythm is like the skeleton that gives the body shape.

Harmony is a force like gravity of a planet - a force demanding the return of a thrown or raised object back to the ground; the same way dissonant harmonies, having higher energy, need to be released, resolved into consonant ones. Dissonant chords, e.g. a dominant sevenths, like an acid or base, demand reaction until they are tonic. Harmony, independent of the different systems it serves, is also a force that emotionally stimulates the archetypes of our collective and individual memories and reality. It is like atmospheric pressure (dissonance) that needs to equalize (resolve), resulting in (harmonic) motion: wind (cadence). A chord can through color or spacing be happy, sad, mysterious, victorious, playful, sensual, odd, etc. - something to listen for*. Harmony is like the muscles covering the skeleton, giving movement, poise, strength, and expression to the body.

Melody is like aerodynamics above the surface of the planet - like air, it needs more energy to go up and releases energy when going down. Melody can also gather momentum as well as linger and soar in thermodynamics. Melody obeys natural dynamics: a raised voice is louder, a halved string needs double the bow movement, a smaller air column needs more air flow to vibrate. On the piano we have to recreate natural dynamics, as the piano has no such properties. Melody is like the skin, covering the contour given by the skeleton and the muscles, the first thing we encounter.

One has to wonder why publishers of Urtext editions, for example Henle, hired experts to provide fingerings when the composer's Urtext didn't include any.

Fingerings were (and should be) taught as principles, not isolated instructions, and composers only marked fingerings in their scores when there was an urgent reason i.e. a particular expressive articulation and/or an innovative pianistic idea. The fingerings of composers worked well for their hand on their instruments and need to be interpreted - like all musical notation - in context.

A reason the western harmonic system collapsed could be the fact that though the circle of fifths seems like a perfectly closed system - a circle - it actually is not; it does not add up. Perfect fifths would, when declined trough the 12 steps of the full circle, gain a quarter half tone and not arrive at C, which is what the circle suggests, but a microtone higher. Though the attempted perfection of the circle of fifths might have left a shadow of doubt on the validity of the harmonic system, it worked just fine for Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and all the other titans of the musical pantheon.

Until someone felt compelled to dissolve the harmonic system. Not that the idea hadn't been approached before: Liszt's "ohne Tonalität", Wagner's Tristan, Scriabin's Ecstasy, ... to name a few examples. But in early 20th century Mr. Schönberg had the will and the skill to pronounce the old system, the one that sounded so beautiful in the hands of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Medtner, at an end and to replace it with various forms of atonality. The reasons for such a drastic step might be difficult to ascertain, but a prophetic notion of the impending departure of humanity in Europe might be of relevance. Some of those various forms were:

Melodies, structural elements, tend to go to the 1, as they obey the law of gravity, like dance or conducting, executing the 1 with a down-movement preceded by an up-movement.

Melody obeys the rhythm's principle of going to 1, the harmony's principle of dissonant tension, and the melody's principle of natural dynamic. See: 141 • The Holy Trinity of Music

VS

Passages, ornamental or transitory groups tend to compress before the 1, as they obey the law of organic muscle motion, like the galloping horse's compression of four.

Only a machine can move evenly and accelerate with the same kinesthetic application. We pianists have different applications for fast playing. A horse, when accelerating, falls into gallop, switches to a different movement type altogether. We pianists are animals, not machines.