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 Post subject: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2010 12:39 pm 
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I recently became acquainted with the work of the above-mentioned composer though the recordings to be found on the Piano Society site ass well as some on You Tube. I have managed to acquire a certain number of his piano works but I cannot find his 7 Preludes op 40. These have been recorded on this site by David April and there are two or three recordings to be found on You Tube, all by different pianists. There seems to be no printed version available. I have contacted the Netherlands Music Institute, but they do not have a printed copy, but only the manuscript, which they can supply against payment. The IMSLP does list a number of works by Bortkiewicz, all of them old editions, dating from the 30s and 40s. There is a scan of these Preludes, but, as these are not in the public domain in the EU, access to them has been blocked, I suppose to protect the author (dead) and his heirs (which are dead too, for all I know), which is all very well, except that in this case it is not possible to purchase the printed score!

I might end up buying a copy of the manuscript, but before I do that, does anyone know how I could obtain a legal copy of the printed score?

How did David April get one, does anyone know?

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2010 3:03 pm 
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Location: Obamanation, unfortunately...
It's legal until you get caught! :wink: Besides copyright law is more like a mere guideline than absolute.

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Mar 26, 2010 5:01 pm 
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The problem is it is not to be found.

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sat Mar 27, 2010 4:04 pm 
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richard66 wrote:
How did David April get one, does anyone know?

If you drop him a PM I am sure he will tell you - as well as be delighted to find another Bortkiewicz aficionado. His forum name is "Rachfan".

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sat Mar 27, 2010 4:12 pm 
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Thank you; I shall try.

I found these recording also on You Tube. It is funny how even on the Internet one comes meets people in two different places!

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2010 5:55 pm 
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I sure love Bortkiewicz piano concerto #1
And here is his page on IMSLP http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Bortkiew ... duardovich
One can find lots of scores of his there.
As far as legality, given the recent issues IMSLP had with Universal and other publishers(back in 2006 or was it 2007), I don't think they would be posting music not in the public domain. Also, IMSLP is posting the following disclaimer:

"Works of this composer are most likely not public domain within the EU and in those countries where the copyright term is life+70 years. They may also be protected by copyright in the USA, unless published before 1923, in which case they are PD there as well. However, this composer's works are public domain in Canada (where IMSLP is hosted), and in other countries where the copyright term is life+50 years.
IMSLP does not assume any sort of legal responsibility or liability for the consequences of downloading files that are not in the public domain in your country."

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Mon May 24, 2010 9:51 pm 
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I'm just noticing this thread now. Don't know how I missed it :oops: Anyway, I took care of richard66 when he contacted me by PM, so problem solved. :)

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Tue May 25, 2010 12:36 pm 
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And I am very grateful to you too and have been meaning to send you a message in the next few days.

Let me go a little off topic, but not so much.

Minor pianist as I am I am almost winning the technnical battle with the Prelude in f sharp minor (No 6) and am now attempting No 4. I have also bought his preludes op 33 and "From Andersen's Tales". The latter are much simpler, but at least two of them are exquisite: The Angel and The Butterfly. Those are also cooking (Simrock, available from Boosey and Hawkes). I am also attempting the Etude op 15/8. I do not know, but of all the versions I have heard they all seem too fast to appreciate the middle section. The only one I liked has been pillored as being "almost coming to a standstill"

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Tue May 25, 2010 4:01 pm 
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Hi richard66,

Sounds like you're working hard on the Bortkiewicz pieces! The Prelude 40/6 is an extraordinary piece, is it not? Bringing out the voices in the duet is the key to it. No. 4 is a lush piece, much like a nocturne. You'll enjoy working on it too.

I agree with you that the Etude 15/8 needs to be a bit leisurely. There is no tempo marking as such (nor any surviving performance practices for that matter), but rather a descriptive direction from the composer: "Mournful with much expression"--so how can that possibly be rushed??? In this etude I believe that Bortkiewicz gives you some leeway to make choices.

It's always gratifying to hear that others are taking up this beautiful music!

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 11:54 am 
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Hello David,

Yes, hard, but now I need to take a break from some of these pieces so they can "consolidate". It is amazing how this works: stay a week away from something and you need to be prepared for the results, which can seen so incredible that you wonder if it is really you playing and lead you to miss a note!

Having studied Bach extensively I have learnt to bring out the voices in most pieces I play but it does at times make me a bit impatient with composers who know little counterpoint and fail to mark the voices clearly. In his way Bortkiewicz avoids this either by writing out the voice or by placing tenuto signs over the "hidden" voice. I have also learnt to play as if the sustaining pedal were out of order (mine actually is: at times it squeaks when depressed) and it is a challenge to sustain the voice without the pedal. I often find out that with Bortkiewicz that I can connect notes without relying on the pedal, which means not always following his fingerings (thumb followed by thumb, for example).

Maybe playng these pieces has improved my technique, I do not know, or maybe it is having read "Fundamentals of Piano Practice", which echoes so many of the principles I was taught by my one and only teacher back in the 1980s. One thing it has done is to boost confidence so that when I make a mess of the piece I do not get frustrated because I am a poor pianist, but because I am not concentrated and the fingers are not relaxed. Or maybe it was my daughter, who, one day, when I was nervous while playing, pulled my arm and cried. When I stopped and relaxed and began again, she smiled and went back to playing with her toys and singing. She is only 1.

There are varous versions of the Etude on You Tube, one of them by Moritz Rosenthal, who must have heard Bortkiewicz play it. This one I consider too fast, but nowhere as fast as Koji Atwood's! The slowest version is by a Brazilian, Alexandre Dias, that lasts 1 minute longer than Koji's, which is a lot if you consider the whole piece lasts an average of 5 minutes. Dias brings out the "Rachmaninoff" character of the middle section, whereas with Koji all you can hear is a wall of sound. I notice also that his version of Prelude op 40/6 is also very much faster than yours.

No metronome markings are ever used by Bortkiewicz anywhere. Maybe this says something?

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 10:04 pm 
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Hi Richard,

Yes, I've experienced that phenomenon as well, that when you leave a piece for awhile and later return to it, many technical aspects seem to have taken care of themselves. Probably during the absence, the subconscious continues to work on the piece without our being aware of it and allowing it to gel better in our minds.

I agree that you have to follow and etch the melodies in Bortkiewicz, which are sometimes not readily apparent until you analyze the pieces a bit. And he sometimes hands off the melody to the left hand as well. And in Prelude 40/6, you actually have two active voices there, sometimes completing one another's sentences. He is very helpful with the tenuto markings or double stemming certain notes in figurations to give them greater value than the others.

Regarding sustaining tones, both Bortkiewicz and Catoire are addicted to ties! So when I'm first learning a piece by either of these composers, I carefully note the ties in early practicing sessions. Whenever I omit one accidentally, the effect is definitely not as good! They knew exactly what they wanted sound wise in prolonging those particular notes. In dealing with all the ties, independence of the fingers becomes very important too.

Your little daughter is intuitive indeed! Often I've found that these pieces cannot be played only by the hands--they require use of the entire playing mechanism meaning the trunk, upper arm, forearm (with mobile elbow), flexible wrist, quiet hand, and taut fingers. The pedagogue Josef Gat referred to integrating and synthesizing motions of the apparatus. So if I'm having difficulty in execution, before I examine things like fingering or choreography of the hands, I always first determine if my shoulders are relaxed (i.e., not raised) and whether the elbow is positioned to enable enough freedom over the compass of the keyboard. Likewise, breathing is very important in playing difficult passages or in playing cantilena or bel canto melodies. Whenever needed, the relevant parts of the mechanism must participate, whether it's the upper arm directing the whole arm, or the need for some forearm rotation in a tremelo, or use of wrist staccato in a Liszt short cadenza, etc., the playing mechanism is a repertoire unto itself.

Probably at some point you'll want to get the damper pedal fixed to eliminate that squeak. But in the meantime you're developing the technique of "finger legato" to a higher level which is certainly very beneficial.

Koji and I have messaged briefly about our varying interpretations, for example of the Bortkiewicz "Impromptu", Op. 24, No. 3. Part of it is that the performance practices were pretty much lost in the 1950s after his death. The Dutch pianist Hugo Van Dalen did his best to champion the music, but it still fell into neglect. (I blame Bortkiewicz himself to some extent, as he refused to perform and promote his own piano works in recital, as Rachmaninoff and Scriabin had done with so much success.) Another factor producing variances has to do with the personality, inclinations and intentions of the artist. So now we must explore the scores and experiment in search of the composer's intentions. Thus, it's not surprising that very noticeable differences appear in renditions by different pianists. I always try to perform any of these pieces in a conventional but artistic way that can be easily justified by the score as opposed to aiming for a startling effect of some kind.

Bortkiewicz sometimes used tempo indicators and at other times mood indicators in his scores. But yes, metronome markings seem to be absent. Of course, metronome markings are generally suspect anyway. All too often, when composers have performed their own pieces in recital, they have departed from their own markings! In other cases markings have been applied in works not only by the composers, but oftentimes by editors, some of whom have been great musicians like Raphael Joseffy... or by journeymen of questionable competence being paid by the page. Too often metronomic indications need to be taken with a grain of salt. With Bortkiewicz I always feel, once I'm acquainted with the flow of the score, that I can intuitively find a fitting tempo that falls within his tempo or mood markings and that enables a good and convincing rendition.

Sounds like you're having a wonderful time with Bortkiewicz's music. I think it's great!

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri May 28, 2010 4:58 pm 
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Dear David,

Finger legato was one of the main things I was taught and up to this day I never use the pedal for Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart and Haydn. I use very little (or none at all) in Beethoven and Schubert. I actually can play The latter's Improptus op 90 without touching the pedal at all and still the voices are clear and the melody is sustained just by changing fingers, e.g. (RH) 543 or 5-3. I was actually trying this with Bortkiewicz yesterday. I realise this is technically much more difficult to do but I feel much more secure. Another thing I do (or I like to believe I do) is to reduce finger movement to a minimum, relying instead on the wrist and the arm. I notice Bortkiewicz suggests jumping with the pinkie, (355) something I was never encouraged to do if the middle finger was an option. I recognise the raised shoulder. To be avoided! One problem I was having but seems to be gradually dissapearing, is that my fingers very often slide of a black key, hitting one of the ajacent white ones. This seemed to be caused by hitting the note but, instead of letting the finger rest, lifting it ever so slighly, causing it to slide.

What I need is a better piano! I rent a Geyer upright which I chose especially because it was not at all loud, which is an asset in a small room in a small flat with thin walls. I used to own a upright Baldwin and, after having sold it, rented another Baldwin some years later. I still remember my neighbour, who listened exclusively to classical music, told me one day he had to wear earplungs and that his whole flat shook when I played. I myself was disturbed after an hour or so, so I imagine how he felt. I can tell you that pieces with a tremolo on one note cannot be payed, as the hammer does not return fast enough.

I notice at times Bortkiewicz asks a note in the right hand to be sustained, obviously by the pedal, as the hand has to move to a higher position and this has to be tied to a note on the left hand. In the Prelude op 40/6 this occurs in the middle section where the right hand thumb plays (I write from memory) g# f# e (quaver, quaver, dotted crotchet) followed by d# d with the left hand thumb. But, since the dotted crotchet has to be released so the other fingers can play the upper voice, I wonder how this is to be played. I listened yesterday to your recording but I was not able to gain enlightenment.

Yes, in the last year or so I have been expanding my repertoire, adding composers I had never played previously and Bortkiewicz is one of them, but not the only one.

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"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sat May 29, 2010 3:22 am 
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Hi richard,

That's great that you consistently work on finger legato. I am a strong believer that we should not be overly dependent on the damper pedal. So when I'm practicing I'm always conscious of trying to hold notes to full value to the practical extent possible, as well as ties. Where that's particular difficult or even impossible, the pedal then earns its keep. Doing this allows one to use the pedal for other important purposes such as etching a melody, bringing out strategic harmonies, layering sound, and doing half and quarter pedal releases to spill excess overtones out of the mix. Even at that I probably use more pedal than you, as I prefer a wetter to a drier sound in general in romantic, late romantic and impressionistic music. I no longer play Baroque or Viennese Classical music, but when I did I was very sparing of the pedal, especially where Bach, for example, calls for a mostly nonlegato touch and sound. I also played Chopin's Etude 10/6 with virtually no pedal except for some touches in the coda. That was Chopin's whole intent in composing that etude. Yet I've heard renditions with pedal that throw a haze (or pall) over the entire piece. Of course, for the Impressionists, it would be nearly impossible to play their works without generous pedal. Sometimes Debussy and Ravel even use the direction "enveloped in the pedals".

In playing the black keys, a trick is not to play them from above, but rather close to the keys. That provides greater proximity and security, so less risk of a klinker. In conjunction with that, another good point is to ensure that you're sitting sufficiently close to the keyboard, which can also be accomplished by leaning forward. Slip-offs often occur toward the ends of the black keys nearest to you. Using flatter rather than arched fingers is helpful as well. Both flatter fingers and sitting or leaning a little closer ensure that more of the finger pads are in contact with those keys, thereby making slides and slips less likely. (Conversely, there are instances where we cleverly and deliberately execute a slide of a finger onto a natural key to avoid a change of fingers within the fingering scheme for the passage.)

Yes, trills, tremolos and rapid repeated notes executed by three fingers are more difficult on an upright than a grand piano. The reason is that the hammers strike the strings where the hammer shanks being nearly in a vertical rest position . In the grand, of course, the hammer shanks lie horizontally under the strings, so they get far more help from gravity on the fall to the hammer rest rail. Everyone who has played both types of instruments at one time or another notices that difference in the design of the piano actions and their resulting response during rapid repetitions. Also, when it comes to grands, the longer the piano, the longer the keys (including the invisible part behind the fall board). That extra length provides greater leverage to the pianist, thus enabling more control over touch and dynamics.

I had to chuckle at your experience with Baldwin. :lol: Had you owned the Baldwin Model 6000 Concert Vertical, probably all of your neighbors would have had to evacuate the building! I play a Baldwin Model L Artist Grand (6'3" or 1.83 meters) which is a parlor grand, larger than the typical medium grand. And it's powerful! Fortunately the furnishings and carpeting in the living room help to absorb some of it. When I practice during warm weather, I close the doors and windows out of consideration for the neighbors even though they're not close by. There was a blindfold test a few years ago with some people in an auditorium listening to Steinway, Yamaha, and Baldwin concert grands on stage with the pianist playing the same piece on each. They all picked the Baldwin as having the the most robust sound.

I cannot memorize anymore, so after I record a piece I put it away and move on to the next one. Plus it's been a couple of years. But if you can give me the measure number in the Bortkiewicz 40/6, I'll be glad to dig it out and fool with it a bit at the piano to see how I executed that figure you mention. If you couldn't detect what I was doing from the recording, then that's a good thing! :lol:

Incidentally, I recorded that Prelude in the early summer of 2008. It was a hot day and the A/C was running. After I finished the recording, which I liked, I noticed on the out take that just before I started playing, I could hear the faint hiss of the A/C air leaving the ceiling defuser which was not that far from the microphones. It didn't spoil the recording, so I didn't bother to rerecord it, but the purity of sound would have been still better without it. So now I always shut off the system before a recording session no matter how hot it is! Live and learn.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sun May 30, 2010 9:00 pm 
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Hello David,

Even I seem to forget about finger legato now and then! I am now working on the middle section of "The Butterfly", from "From Andersen's Tales and yes, it is perfectly possible to play that passage legato without the pedal, sparing it, as you rightly say, for other, nobler purposes. Mind you, it does come a bit crazy! The left hand going (these are intervals and "/" means two notes played together) 1/4,1/5, 1/3 5, 1/3, 2/5, 1/4, 2, 1/5 (I hope this makes sense).

Of course, attempting Ravel without the pedal... That is a trick I have never attempted! I do, however, play Chopin's Etude op 10/12 without the pedal and no pedal is called for by Chopin.

The bar in Prelude op 40/6 is No. 19 (I am counting from the first full bar), page 2, last line, first bar.

It does help to know these technical aspects of the piano or one is in for frustration. In days of yore I did not know all this and I remember how exasperated I used to get playing Albeniz' "Asturias" where there is a d (above middle c) that is both a tremolo on the left hand and a melodic note on the right hand, all these being demiquavers. :?

Add to this that quarter pedals are not really possible on an upright (while half ones I do use), which makes playing Liszt's "Consolation No. 3" a difficult task indeed and I am sure I do not make the grade.

Where I work they have an upright, which I used to play before I rented my present piano. I vow it is even louder than a Baldwin! Of course, being in an empty room with no rug or curtains and with a tile floor does add to the merriment. I remember, however, that in the end I even managed to get it to play pianissimo!

Thank you for tips for the black keys. I also find that playing from above but pushing the finger towards the fallboard helps.

In your opinion, how does a baby grand compare with an upright?

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"Please do not shoot the pianist
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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Mon May 31, 2010 5:22 am 
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Hi Richard,

Those LH intervals sounds like a wild ride! I always feel challenged in passages like that where there is little or no predictability. A Catoire piece I'm now practicing has some right-hand arpeggiated passage work in 16th notes serving as accompaniment to the left-hand melody. Similarly there is little predictability which is exacerbated by by the figuration frequently coming "out of the octave" and also requiring the thumb to be anticipatory rather than lazy. So yes, I can certainly relate to such difficulties where there is no sure pattern.

Regarding pedaling, one thing I appreciate with the Baldwin grand is that it has a shorter tone decay than Steinway, but not to the extent that it's percussive (so definitely not as extreme as Yamaha). But it is a bit more forgiving. Even with that assist, however, my ears are always keenly tuned into the pedaling to ensure that pedal changes are made as necessary. There is no science per se for pedaling; rather the ears act as the judges of the High Court.

On the choice of baby grand or upright: Here in the U.S. a baby grand is the smallest model manufactured just over 5 feet. So for Steinway that would be the Model S at 5' 1" (or 155 cm), and for Baldwin Artist Grand, the Model M1 at 5' 2" (or 157 cm). These piano lines are considered to be high performance pianos. But even at that, the piano companies build baby grands begrudgingly, as they know they cannot possibly represent quality as well as the larger grands, but the companies bow to popular demand. (In the past there have been some makes of pianos which have produced baby grands of a length under 5'. To most pianists and technicians, those have been classified merely as furniture rather than true musical instruments.)

Grands of any length have these advantages:

The sound is more aesthetic and the pianist can be more expressive.
The more sophisticated action of the grand handles repetitions far better and hammers are assisted by naturally gravity to return to the rest rail.
The keys (including the length behind the fall board) are longer than in an upright, helping, for example, to produce pianissimo more easily.

Grand's disadvantages:

Takes up considerably more space.
Higher price tag.
Heavier (and expensive) to move.

Upright advantages:

Takes up appreciably less space and can even go into a corner.
Generally available at lower cost.
Much easier to move.

Upright disadvantages:

Sound tends to bounce back into the pianist's face making expressiveness harder to judge and control.
Repetitions are slower and less reliable due to mechanical contrivances needed to return the hammers to rest position.
Keys are shorter, meaning more difficult to control dynamics and nuances.

Now here is another angle to consider--the length of the strings. The principle is this: usually the longer the strings, the richer the sound. So returning to Baldwin, for instance, the Model M1 grand's lowest A string has a "speaking length" of 46 1/2 inches or 118.1 cm. By comparison the Baldwin B252 Vertical's lowest A has a speaking length of 48 inches or 121.9 cm. Similarly the Steinway Model M1 grand's lowest A speaking length is 45 1/2 inches or 116 cm. I cannot find the K-52 Vertical's lowest A speaking length, but know it is reputed to be longer than that of the Model S.

Having said all of that, my advice is that when the time comes that you have sufficient space and will not be bothering any neighbors, you will NOT want a baby grand at that point, as there are too many compromises in constructing such a small instrument. The prevailing opinion is to look instead for at least a medium grand which usually measures between 5' 5" (165.1 cm) and 5' 8" (172.7 cm) in length. You'll be much happier with that.

Regarding that measure 19: It's been a couple of years, but I believe this is how I played it: I have fairly large hands, so could take the RH F# with 5 and hang onto it while playing the double notes in the first figure with 2-3 and the single notes in
between with the thumb including the E in the next figure. In the second figure, once I released the tied F# coinciding with the underlying E, I then made a slight hand shift to take the double notes A-C# with 1-2 and the following F# with 3 leaving plenty of fingers left to complete that plus the the entire third figure. (Often in analyzing, I work backwards in a measure to find a usable fingering so as to avoid running out of fingers.) Notice that the slight hand shift does no violence whatsoever to the phrasing there, as Bortikeiwicz, as a kindness to the pianist, does not start the legato slur until the fifth beat in the measure. If you have smaller hands, then the tactic would be to hold the F# tie as long as possible catching it in the pedal, then relinquish it with the hand, and leave the balance of the sustaining to the pedal. Does this help?

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 11:45 am 
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Hello David,

The crazy fingering is mine, to insure the best legato possible and it seems to work.

As for the Prelude, this seems to be what I do too. What I really was thinking is that the "underlying E" on the RH ought to descend to the D# on the LH. Now, how does one connect those, because there is no way to hold the E to its full value, except by using the pedal and by doing that the whole thing becomes muddled.

What you say about baby grands simply confirms what others have said before. At one point I will need something better, if not for me, for our daughter, who will not progress beyond a certain level on the upright we have. I have actually been looking into rental prices for grands, as now we are moving to a larger flat.

This discussion has been most helpful and am most grateful to you for all you have done. I hope to be able to post some success stories soon!

Richard


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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sun Jun 06, 2010 4:33 am 
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Hi Richard,

You're little daughter is adorable! And already playing the piano too! Reminds me of our own daughter at that age, but who is now 33, although she never became a musician. Enjoy your children when they're very young because they grow up far too quickly.

Regarding that measure in Bortkiewicz's 40/6: In the RH you have a short scalar figure G#, F#, E, all the notes of which are double-stemmed and marked tenuto, with that dotted E also having a dotted line to the D#, also double-stemmed and marked tenuto in the LH, indicating voice leading between the E and D# as you correctly deciphered.

Not only do scales reinforce the intervallic relationships between notes in a key signature, but also within a composition they can actually take on a momentary melodic role as you know. For that reason, scalar passages are of special significance to listeners, thus need to be appropriately etched by the pianist. Such is the case here.

On fingering, when I suggested the 3 on the F#, it was because if I held the E that concerns you with the thumb and then played the F# and the following melodic notes in the measure also with the 5th finger, I could do it only with discomfort which is to be avoided. Using the 3 on the F# assures comfort in playing but sacrifices retaining the E. So the descending scale you wish to bring out as mentioned above, has to be accomplished differently. The way to do it is to etch the G#, F# and E, not only sustaining each one for full value, but also giving them a slight accent as well for clarity. Note that the D# in the LH, serves dual purposes: 1) the continuation of a melodic line through voice leading and 2) a harmonic counterpoint for the A above it in the treble staff. Evidently, Bortkiewicz gives priority to the voice leading aspect, as melody usually trumps harmony. The best way to get it just right is to lock into your ear the exact dynamic produced by the preceding E in the RH leading to the D# in the LH. When you play the D#, replicate that exact same dynamic, thereby etching it the identical same way.

Letting go of the E is one of those compromises in pianism that we are often forced into because of competing demands within a measure--in this case, a physical impossibility (or at the least, a very uncomfortable possibility for the hand) versus a need for voice leading. Of course, Rachmaninoff which his huge hands could do this easily! :lol: Speaking of composers, they often think orchestrally rather than pianistically which can lead to some of these compromises. Anyway, in these situations, be they ties, double-stemmed tenuto notes, a long note value, or whatever, try to hang onto it to the extent practical given the limitations--in this case for one beat only which is better than nothing--and if the pedal can assist further, so much the better.

I hope this helps.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Jun 25, 2010 4:30 pm 
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Dear David,

Oh! I see only now you wrote me and I received no notification from the site! Excuse me if I seemed rude!

I am now working on many other pieces, some from op 33 and I have a question about them: In op 33/9 which fingering do you use on the left hand and how much pedal do you use?

Am I mistaken or are they finer pieces than op 40? Actually, op 40/1, which no one has recorded, is very fine indeed.

I was toying with the idea of entering a recording or two, but I see that in this case, because of copyright, I will need authorisation from the heirs of Bortkiewicz, who had none. How did you overcome that?

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:58 am 
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Hi Richard,

Regarding the Bortkiewitz Op. 33/9, this prelude is much like a nocturne--very quiet, tranquil, and played dolce throughout. It is also nearly impressionistic in style. This quiet dynamic range favors greater use of pedal, and in some places a wash of pedal where harmonies permit; however, caution is still required for neighboring (chromatic) and passing tones in the melodic line. Half-pedals and releases are indispensable there to avoid ugly blurs. So at all times the ears must remain judgmental in order to pedal for clarity.

In the matter of fingering, Bortiewicz gives us a fine seminar for the left hand fingerings in the opening of the piece. For the rapid running passages such as 26, 33, 37, 48 and 50 to be executed by the right hand, he was kind enough to write them out for us. My advice would be to use those fingerings as long as they are reasonably comfortable for your hands.

The only unconventional changes that I made were in measures 21 and 29 where on the third beat the left hand is to take a A flat actually in the treble. Redistributing the music between the hands, I assigned both of those A flats to the right hand thumb. Notice that the right hand in both cases is already holding an A flat half note with the 5th finger. It is then nothing for the right hand thumb to "poach" those A flats written in the bass clef. When redistributing music in this fashion, the cardinal rule is that the dynamic volume must be MATCHED such that there is no detectable difference to the ear of the listener as the trick is being performed.

In Op. 33, my thinking is that the finest pieces are Nos. 6-10. I believe that those preludes compete very well with those of Op. 40, all of which are all excellent pieces. I've recorded a couple of those in Op. 33 between Nos. 1 and 5 to date and plan to do the rest, but, quite honestly, I do not enjoy them nearly as much as the others in the opus. It probably all comes down to personal likes and dislikes.

You need not worry about copyrights for contemporary music when posting on Piano Society. Member recordings, of course, are not for commercial gain. The website operator has an arrangement with the copyright enforcement agencies to pay fees if requested.

I hope this helps! :)

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 4:49 pm 
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Hello, David,

I seem to relearn technique... all those things I used to do naturally and now seem to have forgotten! Indeed, in op 40/6 you recommend just what I used to do to bring out the voices in a Bach toccata (I remember the teacher - I was at the time learning - saying how good the legato was :) ): etch out the notes and try to make the passage from rh to lf seemless. In fact the countermelody adds a lot to the piece and now I can hear it. Thank you for reminding me all this!

I began reading op 40/1, which seems an interesting piece.

Concerning op 33/9, the reason I asked is: at first, on the lh, I began leaping as Bortkiewicz suggests (d-f-f using thumb-3-3). It seems he wants the player to rely on the pedal between the fs. I have being doing it another way and it seems to work, ensuring the lh is legato: the d-f-f I do thumb-3 then, holding the 3, I change for the thumb, so I have thumb,3-thumb,3. This approach works for the whole piece, which, for the moment, I am practising without the pedal. As for the rapid rh passages I do follow the suggested fingering and it is very good. I have a far worse time with the triplets, to tell the truth!

For me this prelude seems slighly "tropical". Maybe it is because it reminds me of a tango by Albéniz, where the triplets are used in a similar way.

I like op 33/3. Very short but attractive. Now here, funnily enough, no problems with the triplets: just with the hands that cross over and thumbs that bump into each other!

The pieces I am working on from "From Andersen's tales", The Angel and "The Butterfly" are coming on nicely. Maybe I can record them soon, my noisy flat permitting. Do you know them? I only have one reference, and that is Stephen Coombs recordings (available on You Tube) which seem too fast for andantino and andante. I have managed to play them at those speeds, only to slow down, as they seem to lose so much by being played as if they were marked "allegro".

Richard

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 4:49 am 
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Hi Richard,

I'm glad my suggestions are consistent with the instructions from your teacher. That way it's more reinforcing and beneficial.

When I return to Bortkiewicz, the next one I'll do will be 40/7. I haven't had a moment to look at No. 1 in any detail, but every piece in Op. 40 is well worth playing.

A couple of suggestions on the triplets:

1) Turn the metronome on and practice them to get the timing just right so that they fit seamlessly into the passages. But once you get the hang of it, turn the metronome off. It's there to be used as a tool, but in only a limited way, as playing must ultimately aim at musicality, not a rigid metronomic effect.

2) Equally important is to notice that when you're playing a triplet in the RH, it is against two 8th notes in the LH, producing a polyrhythm between the hands. The second 8th in the LH must fit between the 2nd and 3rd notes of the triplet in the RH. Here's an old aid: I'll explain each step and then insert a word in parentheses following each execution. The first notes of the RH and LH sound together simultaneously (MY). The second note of the triplet sounds alone (cup). The second 8th note in the bass sounds alone (of). And finally, the last note of the triplet sounds alone (tea). So the three against two polyrhythm is like saying: "MY-cup-of-tea." Keep that in mind, and I guarantee it'll help with the polyrhythms!

On fingering, I notice now that I had penciled into the first measure in the LH, 1-3-1-5-3-1, which did work as a possibility, but I reverted to Bortkiewicz's suggestion for good reason. The drawback is that there is a more radical position shift of the hand down into the bass, whereas the way it's written by the composer, the hand stays a bit more localized. Keeping the hands as "quiet" as possible (not in volume, but in terms of motions, extraneous motions being the worst culprits) is always more beneficial to execution. Having said that, every hand is different in size, shape, length of fingers, etc., so fingering becomes very much a personal matter. There are no rigid rules of fingering. Thus the thumb may go onto a black note, and a finger may cleverly slide off a black note onto an adjacent natural note, as examples. Often, using scale fingerings in runs, for example C# major scale fingering for a run written in C#, is usually the most sensible fingering to try first. The best fingering is the one that works both comfortably and effectively. As Anton Rubinstein once told Josef Hofmann, "Play it with your nose if you must!"

Practicing at first without pedal is wise, as you're doing now. Work on finger legato so as not to be overly dependent on the pedal. But... don't wait a long time to add the pedal. It needs to be integrated into the practicing routine, not added as an afterthought at the end like frosting on a cake.

When there is cohabitation of the hands inviting clashes of fingers, the best thing to do is to visually analyze wrist positions as potential solutions. If you raise one wrist to make room for the other lowered wrist to move under the other and now higher hand, it often makes a big difference. Try it both ways to decide which wrist should be higher and which lower to optimize the situation. This is what is meant by choreographing the hands. This is one type of sythesizing or integrating motion.

I'm not too familiar with the Andersen's Tales, at least not yet.

Andantino has a very confusing history. -ino is the Italian diminutive ending, meaning "a little" or "less". During the early Viennese Classical period, andantino first meant a little slower than andante, or in the higher range of adagio--which made perfect sense. By Beethoven's time, it came to also mean a little faster than andante, or into the lower range of moderato. When Beethoven would encounter andantino in sheet music of other composers, it confused and annoyed him. Today it generally means a little faster than andante.

That said, what I do is to think about the character of the piece. If the piece is very lyrical, I might want to take a tempo more in the upper range or adagio or lower range of andante, say MM = 60 to 69. If the piece is a bit more animated in character, then the low part of the range of moderato is probably more appropriate, say MM = 72 to 88. But most importantly, you need to experiment to see what intuitively feels right as opposed to being arbitrary about it. Regarding Coombs seemingly playing closer to allegro, I find the same with Marc-Andre Hamelin. If there is a virtuosic section in a piece that he wants to showcase (where he has a big technique), he'll sometimes up the tempo so that when he reaches that virtuosic part, it will blend into the faster tempo so that he can dazzle the listener.

I hope this has not confused you more.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 5:44 pm 
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Dear David,

I will surely try "My cup of tea"! I remember once being taught two most foolish phrases to remember the orders of sharps and flats. Even refusing to learn them I memorised them immediately and up to this day I must say them aloud to know which key signature I am confronted with! My method for the triplets up to now has been to count to six: the triplets come in at 1, 3 and 6, while the "normal" rhythm comes in at 1 and 4.

Ah, the metronome! It is still in my plans to buy my first one!

Playing the piano is a little like cooking: after one takes it up one begins to realise that what one cooks is better that what one gets at the restaurant unless one goes to the best.

When I am in the right mood, which happens once every third blue moon, I can also also get up to incredible speeds (which surprises no one more than me) but in the end I feel the music is sacrificed and I slow down a bit.

I will look at those fingerings and see what happens to the "quiet hands"!

Richard

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"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Sat Jul 10, 2010 3:48 pm 
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Hi Richard,

I'm glad my comments were useful. Yes, do get a metronome. I'd avoid the old-fashion, wind-up pendulum models that look like a wooden obelisk. Quaint, but too much trouble. Today most are electronic. (I don't have one of those, but instead an old electric Franz from the 1980s, but it still works fine.) Also you're better off, I think, with an audible "click" rather than a tone pitch (you'll find both on the market). It also needs to be loud enough to hear the signal over the piano. Some might be fine for violin, but the piano is a much more powerful instrument. If the device also offers a flashing light signal, so much the better. You can usually use one or the other, or both simultaneously. An audio and visual cue are mutually reinforcing. But once you obtain a metronome, don't overuse it.

The best uses I've found over the years are these:

1. Finding an appropriate and comfortable tempo within a descriptor such as adagio, allegro, etc.

2. Working out a nettlesome rhythmic figure in the score.

3. Playing a piece through just once or twice with the metronome to a) see if I can play up to tempo without stumbling anywhere (meaning I really don't know the music yet), or b) to find any glaring rhythmic error of which I had been totally unaware. However, you should avoid frequently playing with the metronome as it will detract from the musicality of performance. Use it by exception, not by rule. It's a tool, not a crutch.

Good luck with that.

David

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 Post subject: Re: Sergei Bortkiewicz
PostPosted: Mon Aug 02, 2010 5:57 pm 
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As promised, I am back.

I have moved into more ample premises and with much more noise from the street, so, paying the piano at 3am causes less disruption than revellers in the street cause at the same time of night and, as the tuner has called, the result is much more harmonious. The down side is that student yells of joy will surely errupt in a quiet passage in prelude II or IV. Indeed, following loud protests from our daughter, aged 1, I had to call a tuner PDQ and, after that, I took some time to convince her that prelude op 33/9, even if not played up to scratch, is not that ugly and discordant. :)

I will need to put the project to record on hold for the moment: I was putting some money on the side to invest in good microphones, but the taxman got wind of that and, to avoid me falling into temptation and spending foolishly, has decided to relieve of that sum and a little more too. I do have a microphone we use with Skype, but I doubt that will do.

I was, however, thinking about recording some of my repertoire, before attermpting such new pieces; that way I can see member's reactions and correct my playing as needed.

I took a look at Prelude op 33/1. It looks impressive, with all those bells and so on. As my piano is an upright one, and not a very good one at that (East Germany, when it still existed), there is not a hope I can manage the ppp at the beginning or the fff in the middle, though prelude 3 is almost note-perfect and I seem to be able to play the triplets in prelude 9. Its funny, really, when the triplets are in the left hand I have no problem whatsoever (witness Schubert's Impromtu op 90/1), but put in in the right one... Maybe after this big work I can return to Debussy's Arabesque No 1 and actually play it well for a change.

I am trying to figure out, are we all of 10 pianists in the world who play Bortkiewicz or are we less?

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"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
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