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#1992295 - 11/29/12 07:52 AM How much can you simplify and get away with it?
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4812
I heard Paul Lewis's performance of Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy from the 1998 Bath Festival on the radio a few weeks ago, and did a double take on his rewriting of the notorious octave scales in the first 'movement' (which eventually lead to the Adagio), playing most of the LH octaves as single notes. This pianist, after all, played Rach 3 very successfully in his younger days - did he really need to simplify those passages? Out of curiosity, I made the effort to listen to his new CD recording of that work, and amazingly - in the studio - he played even more of the LH octave scales as single-note ones (only the last one remained intact). And he even left out the LH arpeggios (in D flat and B flat minor) in the section a little earlier, where both hands are meant to be playing the same arpeggios two octaves apart.

I heard another well-known pianist, Elisabeth Leonskaja, simplify the octave scales even more in a concert last year - she played both the RH and LH as single-note scales, which, in the mêlée with generous pedaling, became almost inaudible: surely not what Schubert wanted, in his most virtuosic piano piece. Why play the Wanderer if you can't play the notes as written - especially in an exposed climatic passage? Would anybody tolerate a performance of Chopin's 'Heroic' Polonaise Op.53 where the pianist plays single notes in the LH instead of octaves in the 'gallop' section?

I've never heard a performance of Brahms's Paganini Variations where the pianist plays the octave glissando variation (No.13 from Book 1) as single-note glissandi - this would make a nonsense of the whole variation. But pianists do take liberties elsewhere, e.g. in the first movement of Beethoven's C major Piano Concerto, where most play the RH octave glissando as an octave scale, or fudge the timing of the LH low G which is meant to be played with the RH octave E in the middle of the glissando - obviously difficult to synchronize in a glissando, but easy when played as an octave scale. The orchestra also comes in at this point, but some pianists - including Lewis and Kempf - play that G before the glissando, or at the end. Of the many pianists I've heard (including Argerich, Michelangeli, Zimerman, Weissenberg, Barenboim, Ashkenazy and Pletnev, as well as Kempf and Lewis), only Pollini and Lang Lang plays it as Beethoven wrote it. And as for the octave glissandi in Beethoven's Waldstein, it seems almost anything goes...

I'm somewhat ambivalent about whether pianists should play (or attempt to play) Beethoven's glissandi as he wrote them in the above examples, but if you accept that, then you should accept even more easily that pianists play the beginning of the Hammerklavier or Op.111 with two hands instead of one - after all, they're still playing all the notes as written. I personally don't have any difficulty with pianists simplifying thick chords e.g. in Rachmaninoff or Brahms concertos, where leaving out a few inner notes make no audible difference to the music. Rachmaninoff himself made far more drastic simplifications in the texture when he revised his 2nd Piano Sonata....

But where do you draw the line?



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#1992339 - 11/29/12 09:44 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
gooddog Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4777
Loc: Seattle area, WA
IMO, a technical change that allows the pianist to play a piece successfully, maintains the integrity of the composition, isn't obvious and doesn't compromise what the composer intended is probably fine. Before recordings, pianists made many more changes than are allowed today. This left more room for individuality which seems to be dying today. I am often forced to make small changes because I have small hands. In my teacher's lessons with Horowitz, the man revealed many, many notes he left out for the sake of convenience.
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#1992348 - 11/29/12 10:23 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19643
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: bennevis
....where do you draw the line?

It depends. smile

In the Wanderer Fantasy, I can't understand that someone would choose to do what you mentioned. I would think they'd just eliminate the piece from their repertoire.

I see the Waldstein passages more flexibly. I'm not sure I could explain exactly why, except to say that in the Schubert, I think octaves per se -- an octave technique and sound -- are very much an intrinsic part of the music, and in the Beethoven, I don't think they are so much.

I see the opening of the Hammerklavier as I see the Schubert, only more so. IMO dividing those first leaps between the two hands reflects an ignorant missing of much of the point of that opening attack. Apologies in advance to anyone who feels otherwise. Not so much to anyone who actually does it. grin

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#1992365 - 11/29/12 11:14 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
Chopinlover49 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/11
Posts: 624
Loc: NY and NC
I think it is unfortunate that many composers have written pieces that require large hands. Some seem to have tried to eliminate the competition by doing this, but who knows why it is done. I have small hands and arthritis, which also limits my ability to stretch the span, so I have no choice but to make adjustments on some music. I am not nearly a professional performer, however. I suppose it is the same as pro basketball where a five foot player would never consider the pros. Maybe small-handed people are squeezed out of the classical world? Although, there are many fine women pianists and I am willing to bet many of them have hands as small, or smaller, than mine. Are they making concessions? I doubt if Marta Argerich does. Anyone know?
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#1992367 - 11/29/12 11:20 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: Chopinlover49]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19643
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Chopinlover49
I think it is unfortunate that many composers have written pieces that require large hands. Some seem to have tried to eliminate the competition by doing this....

I think we can be pretty sure this doesn't apply to any of the great composers, and to very few of any ilk.

Quote:
....Maybe small-handed people are squeezed out of the classical world? Although, there are many fine women pianists and I am willing to bet many of them have hands as small, or smaller, than mine....

Alicia de Larrocha, famously small.

Old story about Josef Hofmann: He was asked how he plays so wonderfully with such small hands. He answered, "What makes you think we play with our hands?"

It's worth mentioning that nevertheless, he preferred to play on a specially-made piano with smaller keys. ha

Even without a special keyboard, there are all kinds of accommodations you can make for small hands that would be considered fine by most people for most repertoire.


Edited by Mark_C (11/29/12 11:24 AM)
Edit Reason: correcting my spelling of "de Laroccha" :-)

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#1992370 - 11/29/12 11:27 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
Wanderer Fantasy by Schubert Opus 15

We all know that Schubert can write a merry tune ...
but does the chappie have to rev up with so many ff notes ... to capture a bouncy rhythm on top of which to slap a melody. (42 notes in the first measure)

I’ve just played the first 10 measures of the Wanderer Fantasy and can find nothing to write home about.
(I played pp so as not to make my dog yowl)

Perhaps it’s time for my medication.

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#1992378 - 11/29/12 11:36 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4812
I don't have any problem about pianists with small hands redistributing notes (which I do frequently) or even leaving out 'unnecessary' ones; the same with octave glissandi which requires hands with the right flexibility as well as size. But simplifying octaves into single notes or leaving out whole passages? That's nothing to do with hand size, just technique...

I certainly think that in the Schubert, he wants an effect with those octaves which are completely dissipated when they're reduced to simple single-note scales.

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#1992383 - 11/29/12 11:47 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: btb]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4812
Originally Posted By: btb
Wanderer Fantasy by Schubert Opus 15

We all know that Schubert can write a merry tune ...
but does the chappie have to rev up with so many ff notes ... to capture a bouncy rhythm on top of which to slap a melody. (42 notes in the first measure)

I’ve just played the first 10 measures of the Wanderer Fantasy and can find nothing to write home about.
(I played pp so as not to make my dog yowl)

Perhaps it’s time for my medication.


I thought the whole point of that bouncy rhythmic tune and obsessive repeating of that same rhythm (including up to ff) was to keep all dogs awake.

May I suggest that to pacify your dog, you can play the beginning of the Adagio movement.... grin

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#1992420 - 11/29/12 01:25 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
carey Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/13/05
Posts: 6201
Loc: Phoenix, Arizona
Originally Posted By: bennevis
I heard Paul Lewis's performance of Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy from the 1998 Bath Festival on the radio a few weeks ago, and did a double take on his rewriting of the notorious octave scales in the first 'movement' (which eventually lead to the Adagio), playing most of the LH octaves as single notes. This pianist, after all, played Rach 3 very successfully in his younger days - did he really need to simplify those passages? Out of curiosity, I made the effort to listen to his new CD recording of that work, and amazingly - in the studio - he played even more of the LH octave scales as single-note ones (only the last one remained intact). And he even left out the LH arpeggios (in D flat and B flat minor) in the section a little earlier, where both hands are meant to be playing the same arpeggios two octaves apart.

I heard another well-known pianist, Elisabeth Leonskaja, simplify the octave scales even more in a concert last year - she played both the RH and LH as single-note scales, which, in the mêlée with generous pedaling, became almost inaudible: surely not what Schubert wanted, in his most virtuosic piano piece. Why play the Wanderer if you can't play the notes as written - especially in an exposed climatic passage?


Good question !! Of course Schubert had trouble playing the Wanderer himself - but then he was no Paul Lewis at the keyboard. grin I find it amazing that someone of Lewis' stature would cut corners like this. Awkward as those passages are...they're not impossible for someone with a top-notch technique.
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#1992424 - 11/29/12 01:30 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
DanS Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/12
Posts: 549
Originally Posted By: gooddog
IMO, a technical change that allows the pianist to play a piece successfully, maintains the integrity of the composition, isn't obvious and doesn't compromise what the composer intended is probably fine.


+1

I'd rather hear a performer make a subtle change and play something well than to play all the notes and mess things up.
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"Most pianists are poor musicians, they dissect music into bits-and-pieces, like a roast chicken" -Debussy

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#1992426 - 11/29/12 01:38 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: DanS]
Derulux Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5281
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: DanS
Originally Posted By: gooddog
IMO, a technical change that allows the pianist to play a piece successfully, maintains the integrity of the composition, isn't obvious and doesn't compromise what the composer intended is probably fine.


+1

I'd rather hear a performer make a subtle change and play something well than to play all the notes and mess things up.

I also agree with this.

I remember this example from a few months back, when discussing if it was okay to make changes: Valentina Lisitsa's La Campanella. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwc-nmyPm4I
Watch very closely at 0:54. She changes the right hand, presumably because the 42 stretch is pretty far, but you really can't tell unless you watch closely.
_________________________
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#1992488 - 11/29/12 04:12 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: Mark_C]
Damon Online   happy
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/22/06
Posts: 6064
Loc: St. Louis area
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: Chopinlover49
....Maybe small-handed people are squeezed out of the classical world? Although, there are many fine women pianists and I am willing to bet many of them have hands as small, or smaller, than mine....

Alicia de Larrocha, famously small.



Depends on how you define 'small'. Alicia d L. could reportedly span a 10th while some PW members report hand spans that would make octaves difficult. I would say; small for a pianist.
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It's been scientifically proven that Horowitz sucks.

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#1992515 - 11/29/12 05:38 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
jeffreyjones Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2290
Loc: San Jose, CA
Originally Posted By: bennevis
But pianists do take liberties elsewhere, e.g. in the first movement of Beethoven's C major Piano Concerto, where most play the RH octave glissando as an octave scale, or fudge the timing of the LH low G which is meant to be played with the RH octave E in the middle of the glissando - obviously difficult to synchronize in a glissando, but easy when played as an octave scale. The orchestra also comes in at this point, but some pianists - including Lewis and Kempf - play that G before the glissando, or at the end. Of the many pianists I've heard (including Argerich, Michelangeli, Zimerman, Weissenberg, Barenboim, Ashkenazy and Pletnev, as well as Kempf and Lewis), only Pollini and Lang Lang plays it as Beethoven wrote it. And as for the octave glissandi in Beethoven's Waldstein, it seems almost anything goes...


I spent a very long time figuring out how to do this passage as written. The slow glissando is simply not possible on a modern piano with a modern heavy action. The only way I managed to get it exactly right was to play it as two-handed scales, then play the E, and the E only, as a RH octave while the LH jumped to the low G and then instantly back. It can certainly be done, and even if there is a half a heartbeat's pause, it is worth the effect.

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#1992544 - 11/29/12 06:29 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: bennevis]
GeorgeB Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/10
Posts: 635
This is slightly off topic. Am I the only one who thinks the last page of the 3rd movement of Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto, the broken octaves at that sheer presto are impossible?

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#1992590 - 11/29/12 08:36 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: carey]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7753
Originally Posted By: carey
Originally Posted By: bennevis
I heard Paul Lewis's performance of Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy from the 1998 Bath Festival on the radio a few weeks ago, and did a double take on his rewriting of the notorious octave scales in the first 'movement' (which eventually lead to the Adagio), playing most of the LH octaves as single notes. This pianist, after all, played Rach 3 very successfully in his younger days - did he really need to simplify those passages? Out of curiosity, I made the effort to listen to his new CD recording of that work, and amazingly - in the studio - he played even more of the LH octave scales as single-note ones (only the last one remained intact). And he even left out the LH arpeggios (in D flat and B flat minor) in the section a little earlier, where both hands are meant to be playing the same arpeggios two octaves apart.

I heard another well-known pianist, Elisabeth Leonskaja, simplify the octave scales even more in a concert last year - she played both the RH and LH as single-note scales, which, in the mêlée with generous pedaling, became almost inaudible: surely not what Schubert wanted, in his most virtuosic piano piece. Why play the Wanderer if you can't play the notes as written - especially in an exposed climatic passage?


Good question !! Of course Schubert had trouble playing the Wanderer himself - but then he was no Paul Lewis at the keyboard. grin I find it amazing that someone of Lewis' stature would cut corners like this. Awkward as those passages are...they're not impossible for someone with a top-notch technique.



Maybe Lewis can play it, but thinks it sounds bad. Playing music on a modern piano that was written for pre-modern pianos is, in many ways, transcribing it for a different instrument. And transcribers ofter adjust the notes for sound reasons (pun intended).

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#1992620 - 11/29/12 10:44 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: GeorgeB]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19643
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: GeorgeB
....Am I the only one who thinks the last page of the 3rd movement of Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto, the broken octaves at that sheer presto are impossible?

I have good news: There's at least one other person. grin

I've never 'worked on' the piece but I've played through it many times, including with someone playing the orchestra part on the piano, and I've never been able to do that passage satisfactorily. If I keep up the tempo, the broken octaves are mush. If I insist on actually playing them, either I slow down for them or play the whole passage slower.

I've always assumed (conveniently and self-servingly) ha that if I worked seriously on the piece, I'd get that passage right, but I'm not sure I really could.

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#1992667 - 11/30/12 02:14 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: Chopinlover49]
ChopinAddict Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/09
Posts: 6094
Loc: Land of the never-ending music
Alicia de Larrocha comes to mind, although she did increase her hand span with time and managed to reach a 10th.
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Music is my best friend.


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#1992723 - 11/30/12 08:03 AM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: Mark_C]
debrucey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 2600
Loc: Manchester, UK
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: GeorgeB
....Am I the only one who thinks the last page of the 3rd movement of Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto, the broken octaves at that sheer presto are impossible?

I have good news: There's at least one other person. grin

I've never 'worked on' the piece but I've played through it many times, including with someone playing the orchestra part on the piano, and I've never been able to do that passage satisfactorily. If I keep up the tempo, the broken octaves are mush. If I insist on actually playing them, either I slow down for them or play the whole passage slower.

I've always assumed (conveniently and self-servingly) ha that if I worked seriously on the piece, I'd get that passage right, but I'm not sure I really could.


How fascinating. I've noticed that Zimmerman plays them as written for a few bars, but then switches to alternating octaves for the last bar (presumably to help with the volume). Watch closely and you will see it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSWvi7N6Gtw

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#1992806 - 11/30/12 12:37 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: debrucey]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4812
Originally Posted By: debrucey
How fascinating. I've noticed that Zimmerman plays them as written for a few bars, but then switches to alternating octaves for the last bar (presumably to help with the volume). Watch closely and you will see it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSWvi7N6Gtw



Many pianists get totally swamped by the orchestra when they should be exulting in C major grin at this point, but Beethoven never envisaged the full might of the modern orchestra when he composed this ending (with the piano trying to get heard in its lower register), so I applaud Zimerman taking the initiative to rewrite the piano part slightly....

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#1992834 - 11/30/12 01:50 PM Re: How much can you simplify and get away with it? [Re: debrucey]
Derulux Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5281
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: debrucey
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: GeorgeB
....Am I the only one who thinks the last page of the 3rd movement of Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto, the broken octaves at that sheer presto are impossible?

I have good news: There's at least one other person. grin

I've never 'worked on' the piece but I've played through it many times, including with someone playing the orchestra part on the piano, and I've never been able to do that passage satisfactorily. If I keep up the tempo, the broken octaves are mush. If I insist on actually playing them, either I slow down for them or play the whole passage slower.

I've always assumed (conveniently and self-servingly) ha that if I worked seriously on the piece, I'd get that passage right, but I'm not sure I really could.


How fascinating. I've noticed that Zimmerman plays them as written for a few bars, but then switches to alternating octaves for the last bar (presumably to help with the volume). Watch closely and you will see it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSWvi7N6Gtw


Interesting indeed. I didn't think the orchestra was overwhelming the piano, but that could be mic vs live sound balance. I think I like it better this way, actually..

29:18 - he knows right where the camera is! haha laugh
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