Posts Tagged ‘keyboard technique’

more keyboard perspectives

August 10, 2014

…and a call for contributions


© Tilman Skowroneck 2014, updated 2 May 2016.

In my previous post I introduced my new article about Beethoven’s Broadwood piano in Keyboard Perspectives Vol. V. The next following volume of Keyboard Perspectives, of which I am the guest editor, is rolling out of the press as we speak. A table of contents and the full text of my introduction can be found here. The volume can be ordered by sending an email to

Next year’s issue of Keyboard Perspectives, Volume VII, will be “a special issue devoted to a selection of topics that are, in one way or another, connected to Beethoven’s Sonata, op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”), and the question of why it became so problematically emblematic of nineteenth-century pianism.” It includes “six essays, complementing one another, originate from a seminar taught at McGill University by Tom Beghin, who will also be guest editor of the volume.” (excerpt from the Westfield Newsletter Volume xxv/2, p. 4)

I will return as guest editor in Keyboard Perspectives Volume VIII.

This issue will give special attention to the combination instrument of the late eighteenth century (such as the combination of organ and harpsichord, and organ and fortepiano), and such keyboard instruments that had a place in their time, even if they perhaps did not make it into the pantheon of mainstream keyboard culture: various subspecies of the budding fortepiano, for instance (such as the Clavecin Royal, or the Tangentenflügel, to name but two examples). Why were these instruments made, who financed their manufacture, who played them, in what musical contexts?
Contributions that address this topic area are especially welcome, but please do not hesitate to submit proposals that address other keyboard-related topics as well. Proposals can be sent to me via the address provided on the contact page. They should reach me no later than the end of September 2014.

brahms’ handel or handel’s brahms?

February 19, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

In anticipation of Murray Perahia’s new CD with Brahms’ Handel Variations, which I ordered minutes ago, a few thoughts about the tangles of performance practice in this work are in order.

These magnificent variations are based on an aria from Handel’s first keyboard suite in B-flat Major. Although Brahms – as we read in the article I linked to above – drew his inspiration mainly from the bass, the theme, with all its added and omitted twiddles, is Handel’s own. Now, how does the pianist have to approach these eight bars of Early Music? (more…)

faithful amz

May 26, 2010

One of my years-old ideas about Beethoven’s piano playing is that it developed from, roughly said, “impetuous-youthful-but-rough” via “virtuosic-professional” to “stepwise declining”. First signs of that “decline” can be seen in documents from around 1800. Clear indications date from 1805 and onward.

This view is not so much based on my innate perseverance in the making of claims, but rather on the circumstance that I spent my time returning to the canonic documents about Beethoven’s playing, re-reading, re-organizing and re-interpreting their meaning (at that moment and over time). Unbelievable that a perfectly accessible passage in a very well known body of source material (the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung from Leipzig) has escaped my (and – it seems – most Beethoven scholars’) attention. It beautifully summarizes what I have tried to establish:

AMZ Zehnter Jahrgang, No. 19, 3 February 1808 p. 303. In a review of the trio Op. 2 by Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven’s former student, we find the following passage:

“Mr. R. is the last, and in fact perhaps the only pupil mr. v. Beethoven consented to take on, and whom he kept here in Vienna for some time also for the following reason; that he played his (Beethoven’s) piano concertos and other important works in public, which the composer himself no longer liked to do, [who has] in fact really neglected himself regarding his playing for several years.” (more…)

balance of the hands V

March 26, 2008

Final post about handedness and keyboard technique

Continuo practicing

Depending on one’s handedness, the preparation of continuo bass lines and continuo chords calls for different approaches. Obviously, continuo is about harmonies and bass line phrasing, but in terms of performance, it is first and foremost about being together. One could describe the ideal state of mind of a continuo player as ‘being part of the music’ to the extreme. Continuo playing is not about waiting and reacting, it is about anticipating, participating and breathing. No matter what her or his handedness, if the continuo player worries about the poor performance of her or his non-dominant hand, this will likely prevent the directness (I keep wanting to write “flow,” but to be honest, I do not know very much about flow) and spontaneity necessary for a good performance. (more…)

balance of the hands IV

March 23, 2008

Part IV of V about handedness and keyboard technique

3) Learning complex passages in two hands

How do we practice a complex passage that involves both hands? I am thinking of technical writing such as in bars 60-64 in the Gigue of Bach’s fifth partita. Trying to approach such passages while comfortably relying on our dominant hand will lead us nowhere. I prepare this kind of music by first establishing in detail how both hands have to interact and trying to practice away any jerky or panicky arm or finger movement at about half tempo. Now I make extra sure that my dominant hand knows exactly where it has to go and what it has to do – increasing the security here can be compared with establishing anchor points, with memorizing the moments when the balance within the hand is perfect or, in short, with giving that hand extra authority. Now I can begin to work with the non-dominant hand, focussing on two things: agility and coordination. By first ‘grounding’ the dominant hand, I give freedom to the non-dominant hand, and eventually the passage emerges as secure and repeatable. (more…)

balance of the hands III

March 23, 2008

Part III of V about handedness and keyboard technique

I came to acknowledge the potential of my dominant hand in keyboard playing through an accident. I am posting all this partly so that others won’t need to repeat the trick I played on myself. One day, early on in my studies, in a period where I fought to overcome some invisible technical barriers through a fierce practicing routine, I got up at six in the morning and fetched breakfast. The idea was to start with my exercises at seven sharp, together with the wakeup chorus of Czerny and Clementi produced by the pianists elsewhere in the dormitory. At a quarter past six, I tried to cut the crust off a bit of elderly Gouda cheese, using a cheese plane. At 6:15:30 I was running for my medicine box: the plane had slipped and I had chipped off two of my finger tops – moderately enough not to need a doctor; thoroughly enough – as it turned out – not to be able to play with that hand – my non-dominant hand – for a month (I will stick to the terms dominant hand and non-dominant hand in order to make it easy for both right-handed and left-handed readers to wade through my text). I stopped the blood flow and kept myself from fainting, cleaned up the mess, had a quiet hour of self-contemplation, canceled my harpsichord lesson and returned to eating cheese. There is nothing so upsetting as an interrupted routine. (more…)

balance of the hands II

March 21, 2008

Part II of V about handedness and keyboard technique

The ideal of balance between the hands of a keyboard player was clearly not at all the most likely historical cause of why the standard keyboard developed as it did, with the treble at the right-hand side. To be sure, speaking as a historian, that cause can never be definitely stated. The development of keyboard instruments took a long period and most of the remainders of its early stages are lost. And even if they were not – surviving artifacts rarely disclose their most important secret: why their inventors made them as they did.

The only valid statement about the mechanics behind the development of the modern keyboard layout is, hence, one about correlations (more…)