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#574332 - 11/20/07 05:36 AM Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Piano&Violin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/06/06
Posts: 356
Loc: Frankfurt, Germany
To my surprise I heard that pianists occasionally make difficult parts of music easier for their play. Is that a common thing?

I do understand that amateurs would do such things or with non-classical music, but this was a piano college graduate talking about classic piano literature.

Could it actually happen that I go to a concert, let's say to hear the Beethoven Pathetique and the pianist had "changed" bits thereof as s/he didn't manage in the original? Or is that (hopefully!?) reserved for the "non-performing mediocre"?

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#574333 - 11/20/07 06:06 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Robert Kenessy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/07/07
Posts: 394
Loc: Enebyberg Sweden
Very interesting topic.

First of all, I think there is a big difference between, on the one hand, skipping a few notes aiming at technical ease, audible to experts only. And on the other hand skipping sections, measures or simply changing (improving) the composition.

I have heard:
1) a professional concert pianist who changed the keys of repeat sections in Schubert SOnata Rondo's to make them identical. Say the form is ABACA and the second and third A section are simply in a different key, but the same otherwise. He just tranposed (and cleverly bridged harmonically speaking) the second and third a section back to exactely the first version.

2) a college professor who moved some notes and chords up or down in the coda of Chopin's first Ballade to make it easier.

3) Supposedly Strawinsky didn't play all the notes in his own Petroushka for solo piano.

4) What about Horowitz who played the chromatic run at the end of Chopin's first scherzo in 'zig zag'octaves (LH octave: c#; RH octave+1 higher: D; LH octave minus 1 lower:D#; RH octave+1 higher: E) is this liberty allowed?

5) What about some Chopin pieces which end in octaves in you can guess he would have added another octave, had he had as 88 keys on his piano (end of G minor Ballade; Winter wind study). Do you add the octave?

6) Especially in the 20th century, composers became less prescriptive. E.g. Bartók wrote at a number of places 'due o tre ad libitum' for two or three repeats. He also told a student of his who had gone through the pain of exactely memorising the opening section of his 'The Night's music' (which imitates nature sounds in a random fashion and is therefore extremely hard to memorize), that she can play as many of the night's sounds in whatever order she liked. Nowadays, no one would dare this in a concert. But a bit more spontaneity from the pianist would harm!
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.. it seems to me that the inherent nature [of the piano tone] becomes really expressive only by means of the present tendency to use the piano as a percussion instrument - Béla Bartók, early 1927.

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#574334 - 11/20/07 06:19 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Witold Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/03/07
Posts: 128
Accompanists do this all the time, solo performers more rarely, though I'm sure it happens a lot. Of course, in this case "making easier" doesn't necessarily mean only to change notes, you can also make it easier by ignoring some articulations or dynamics, taking some extra time where it isn't musically motivated, choosing a slower tempo than indicated etc. But don't expect people to admit that they do this...

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with this. Of course, at the practise stage, one should always try to learn everything exactly as written. Hopefully, one should also know how to choose pieces that one can play exactly as written. However, when the date of the concert arrives, if there is a few bars that still cause problems (a situation I believe most pianists are familiar with), the performer faces a decision. Either play each note as written, potentially at the cost of the musical fluency, or for example leave out an occassional note in the accompaniment to be able to play the melody as perfectly as possible and keep the music flowing without staggering. The choice is between notes or music. Composers usually write music, not notes, so I'd choose the second option. But as I said, one should not choose a repertoire that forces decisions like this. Of course, this is also probably more rare among the world class pianists, as they are technically capable of handling just about anything in the classical piano litterature.

As a composer I've had lots of performances by both professionals and amateurs. I respect very highly those performers that have the courage to admit that something is to hard to play as written and offer an option that better delivers the musical message by making it a bit less technically demanding. If I hear a performer rehearse a few days before the concert and something is obviously not working, I usually offer an alternative way to play it that the performer can play without staggering. In some cases the performers have said "no thanks" and assured me that they'll learn it in time and then totally screwed up in the performance. I don't ask these people to perform my music again.

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#574335 - 11/20/07 07:39 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Piano&Violin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/06/06
Posts: 356
Loc: Frankfurt, Germany
Thanks for your detailed replies, it's very informative for me!

I admit my view was restricted to the solo performer who can choose his/her repertoire and my ideal that the aim should be to have a piece well mastered before it is included in the performance repertoire.

I understand there are many situations which are different and where time is a factor; if to choose between notes and music, I'd go for the music, too!

Witold, what exactly do you mean by "world class pianists", in particular their skill and knowledge in comparison to other pianists? I guess that you would consider Lang Lang, Martha Argerich to be world class pianists.

But what about the skill of a pianist who has a degree in "piano performance" from one of the top music schools or from a regular university, or who has completed masterclass of several years with one of the outstanding piano professors/teachers? What skill level is to be expected of them?

I've always thought that many of these are great pianists who can be expected to play almost everything technically, although their names are not known simply because the number of famous pianists who can be "absorbed by the market" to be at the top, with regards to famous concert halls, record contracts is very low.

Are these good pianists, as a rule, or should I expect the majority of them to be on a level where they'd say (if they admit of course) that such and such pieces are too difficult - if only because they concentrated on a completely different type of music - or that they may have to change the notes at times?

Another question that just comes to thought: even the most renouned piano professors and teachers cannot know everything. If such a teacher never really looked into contemporary music for example, could s/he teach a student such, maybe after some preparation time, or would a student be better advised to seek a specialist for that particular area, even if that professor would not be considered to be so good overall?

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#574336 - 11/20/07 08:30 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
John Pels Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/31/07
Posts: 1264
Loc: Tomball, Texas
I don't know about changing actual passages in solo literature. I have seen redistributions and been guilty of same to make certain sections more idiomatic, but I wouldn't be inclined to actually alter the score. In accompaniments on the other hand, I don't have the same compulsions especially in orchestra reductions. I have been working on the Strauss Four Last Songs and Barber's Knoxville Summer of 1915 with my wife, and be assured I make modifications as I go. I am not convinced that either are playable as they are written. Strauss wrote wonderfully for the piano and his lied is testament to that fact. This orchestra reduction was not written by him. It was produced posthumously. The Barber was written by the composer, but I feel that some sections do not benefit from the complexity at times and the practice time it would take to play it thusly would not be rewarded in performance. For most accompanists this is the norm. My teacher was inclined to say "It was no easier for Chopin!!!" The solo score was gospel.I agree with that, and it would likely be an embarrassment to leave out key sections or notes. I have a video of Gilels playing the Tchaikowsky and he leaves out some interlocking octaves in the 2nd movement. IT HAPPENS!

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#574337 - 11/20/07 09:22 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
calpiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/08/07
Posts: 146
Loc: California
 Quote:
Originally posted by Witold:
The choice is between notes or music. Composers usually write music, not notes, so I'd choose the second option. But as I said, one should not choose a repertoire that forces decisions like this.
[/b]
Very well said! I don't advocate drastically changing the notes or sections, but the music should dictate over the notes.

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#574338 - 11/20/07 09:56 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
BruceD Offline
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Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18233
Loc: Victoria, BC
One should keep in mind that basic piano repertoire is so well-known by most listeners interested in the genre, that one fools practically nobody by changing the score to make it easier to play.

I, like some others, consider the score sacrosanct and that any gesture to simplify or omit any portion of it shows poor judgment on the part of the pianist; it the work is for performance, s/he should not have chosen to play the work in the first place if it can't be performed as written. This does not mean that I would hesitate to re-distribute some notes from one hand to the other if such were to ease the execution of the passage, but the notes of the passage will still be those that the composer wrote and the musical integrity of the piece thus remains intact.

To the original question : Is it common? I would not think so.

Regards,
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#574339 - 11/20/07 10:20 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Fleeting Visions Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/06
Posts: 1501
Loc: Champaign, IL
 Quote:
Originally posted by Robert Kenessey:


4) What about Horowitz who played the chromatic run at the end of Chopin's first scherzo in 'zig zag'octaves (LH octave: c#; RH octave+1 higher: D; LH octave minus 1 lower:D#; RH octave+1 higher: E) is this liberty allowed?

5) What about some Chopin pieces which end in octaves in you can guess he would have added another octave, had he had as 88 keys on his piano (end of G minor Ballade; Winter wind study). Do you add the octave?

[/b]
Are these points pertinent to the discussion of making music easier to play?

Common terms for that technique are staggered, blind, or Liszt octaves.

Regards,

Daniel
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#574340 - 11/20/07 10:36 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Brendan Online   content



Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 5327
Loc: McAllen, TX
 Quote:
Originally posted by Witold:
Accompanists do this all the time, solo performers more rarely[/b]
Exactly.

In the case of playing concerto and orchestral reductions, it's a given that the collaborative pianist (the politically-correct term \:D ) will drop notes to make the part more accessible. I've never understood why editors who do concerto reductions try to accommodate every voice of the orchestra. I've seen some reductions that occupy as many as four staves - there is no way that anyone will play every note of that, so why not make it accessible in the first place instead of making the pianist do the dirty work?

As far as instrumental sonatas and duo-pieces are concerned, I think it goes on a case-by-case basis. In the Franck violin sonata, there are multiple stretches of 9ths, 10ths, and 11ths. While I can get most of these, it's sometimes way out of reach (for almost anyone) and I redistribute the notes so that I don't have to break the chord, avoiding disruption of the phrase. If you voice it well, it's absolutely imperceptible. Ditto for the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata.

Now - do I do the same in Franck's Prelude, Chorale, et Fugue or in Rachmaninoff Etudes? No, so clearly there is a double-standard. On the other hand, there are passages in the solo literature that are simply poorly-written for the piano (certain spots in the last movement of Petrushka come to mind) where the composer should have known better.
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#574341 - 11/20/07 10:45 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Max W Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/02
Posts: 2846
Loc: RHUL
Essentially isn't the whole point of learning music and practising to make it easier to play? I'd say there are a few possibilities that make the pianists job easier that don't involve changing the notes - things like redistributing/alternating notes between the hands (I think this is actually quite common when you have repeated note passages..), crossing over your hands rather than playing it as a leap with one hand, using rubato (I've seen many examples where the musical directions a composer has offered actually work to make the music easier to play as well as the musical intentions), using two fingers on a single note so it's easier to play it louder...I feel a bit like I'm clutching at straws for examples, but I'm sure there could be more.

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#574342 - 11/20/07 10:52 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Piano*Dad Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10410
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
I'll ditto Brendan's exactly!

It's fair game to rewrite an orchestral reduction. Hand limitations also make reworking some chords (or rolling them) necessary. Rewriting passages simply to simplify them is something to avoid. If you have to do that you are into the wrong repertoire.

My son is currently finishing up the Rach G-minor prelude. He has a tendency to 'simplify' some measures of wicked rapid chord stuff by leaving out a few notes in the left hand. Ol' Piano*Dad comes down like the proverbial ton of bricks. \:D

You can't presume no one will notice. Avoiding inconveniently tough hand movements does not build technique or self-confidence, and if that is not enough of a deterrent a competent judge might indeed notice.

Brendan makes an interesting point about some pieces in the solo repertoire having poorly written passages. I wonder if this will become an increasingly common problem as programs like Finale and Sibelius replace writing on a page while sitting at a piano. Composing on a computer can allow so much freedom that a composer can easily forget the ergonomics of the human body. I realize that good training is supposed to overcome things like this, but at the margin the technology may make for a greater frequency of poorly written passages in otherwise important and 'good' writing.
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#574343 - 11/20/07 10:54 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
vanityx3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/06
Posts: 269
I've heard cases of pianists playing Hungarian Rhaspsody #2 by Liszt in a easier way at the end of it.

Actually if you go on youtube and listen to Hamelin play it, then Lang Lang, the end sounds a lot different. Hamelin's interpretation sounds a lot fuller
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#574344 - 11/20/07 01:01 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
my teacher as accompanist does this often (as he told me), especially when he's not paid much for the job or given short notice. but i wouldn't want some pianists perform a solo piece and change notes to make it easier to play, unless it's just hitting wrong notes or recover from a memory slip or something not intentional. for a professional pianist, it just shouldn't be done intentionally, i would think.

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#574345 - 11/20/07 01:06 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
hopinmad Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/07
Posts: 1001
Loc: Eryri/Manchester
I quite simply dislike the idea of scores being changed by the interpreter, much.
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#574346 - 11/20/07 01:45 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8927
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
A friend of mine, a pianist with an excellent ear, told me that in concert Murray Perahia left out many of the lower notes in the 3rds of the Chopin G# minor etude.

My reaction was "well then why play it?" He replied "because it's beautiful music".

Yes, but...
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#574347 - 11/20/07 01:50 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8927
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
I've never understood why editors who do concerto reductions try to accommodate every voice of the orchestra. I've seen some reductions that occupy as many as four staves...
Egon Petri's reduction of the Busoni Concerto has the solo pianist helping out the "collaborative pianist" when otherwise not engaged.

As if the solo pianist doesn't have enough to play...
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#574348 - 11/20/07 01:53 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by dnephi:
 Quote:
Originally posted by Robert Kenessey:


4) What about Horowitz who played the chromatic run at the end of Chopin's first scherzo in 'zig zag'octaves (LH octave: c#; RH octave+1 higher: D; LH octave minus 1 lower:D#; RH octave+1 higher: E) is this liberty allowed?

5) What about some Chopin pieces which end in octaves in you can guess he would have added another octave, had he had as 88 keys on his piano (end of G minor Ballade; Winter wind study). Do you add the octave?

[/b]
Are these points pertinent to the discussion of making music easier to play?

Common terms for that technique are staggered, blind, or Liszt octaves.

Regards,

Daniel [/b]
Well, I thought those examples were interesting.

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#574349 - 11/20/07 01:55 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by argerichfan:
 Quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
I've never understood why editors who do concerto reductions try to accommodate every voice of the orchestra. I've seen some reductions that occupy as many as four staves...
Egon Petri's reduction of the Busoni Concerto has the solo pianist helping out the "collaborative pianist" when otherwise not engaged.

As if the solo pianist doesn't have enough to play... [/b]
I remember accompanying - sorry, collaborating with - someone doing Beethoven 4. The accompaniment was so awkward, I remember thinking I'd rather do the solo part - at least it was written for piano.

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#574350 - 11/20/07 02:21 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
apple* Offline


Registered: 01/01/03
Posts: 19862
Loc: Kansas
sometimes i disagree with the composer and will play what i thing sounds better.

it's not like anyone's watching.

- i of course get quite a thrill... learning a piece properly.
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#574351 - 11/20/07 03:59 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Brooklyn Pianist Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/11/07
Posts: 84
Loc: Brooklyn
I've cheated once (I don't count rolling chords because my hands just aren't big enough sometimes).

In the opening of Beethoven's opus 2 no 3, you can split some of the rapid thirds between the RH and the LH. I defy anyone to hear the difference.
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#574352 - 11/20/07 07:34 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8927
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Brooklyn Pianist:
In the opening of Beethoven's opus 2 no 3, you can split some of the rapid thirds between the RH and the LH. I defy anyone to hear the difference.
Unlikely anyone would. And I have seen it done in concert... I was sitting in the third row.

Well so much for adhering to the written note. But I won't do that... after all, then why not sneak in the left hand for the difficult right hand 16th notes in the development beginning at measure 97?

Actually that's not a bad idea, come to think of it... ;\)
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#574353 - 11/20/07 07:49 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8927
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Phlebas:
I remember accompanying - sorry, collaborating with - someone doing Beethoven 4. The accompaniment was so awkward, I remember thinking I'd rather do the solo part - at least it was written for piano.
Oh, I totally understand. I've been there. With due respect, the pianist I "collaborated" with made rather a mess of the solo piano part.

I kept thinking: (a) I could probably play it better (though I have never studied Beethoven 4), and (b) why am I devoting so much time to playing Kullak's awkward -and difficult- orchestral transcription?... then (c) I hope she doesn't ask me out for tea afterwards.

Crikey, why not spend the time on one of Liszt's brilliant Beethoven symphony transcriptions?

At there's some glory in the latter... \:D
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#574354 - 11/20/07 08:36 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
This reminds me of a concert I did a few weeks ago. It was several hours long, and I had to play for all of it. One piece on the program was Schubert's "Der Erlkönig" - that's the piece that has quickly repeated R.H. triplets in octaves, and they go on for pages and pages!

I had to have a little talk with myself about it. I thought 'no use killing myself over this thing, and putting my arm out of commission'!

I do many hours of rehearsing each week, and am constantly performing. Tendonitis (or at best, a sore arm) would shoot a big hole in my livelihood, so I made the decision to 'fake' the repeated notes.

Even if the piano's action could have kept up the pace, I am certain I would have drowned out the singing had I played every note! There have been discussions here about how pianos were much lighter in touch & tone in Schubert's day.

I was also betting the audience would be focused on the singer, not the accompanist.

I'm glad to say, no tomatoes were hurled in my direction. \:\)
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#574355 - 11/20/07 08:42 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Theowne Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/06
Posts: 1099
Loc: Toronto, Canada
What do you mean by faking the repeated notes? Do you mean omitting some every now and then, or playing every other note, etc? Sorry I'm not sure from your post.
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#574356 - 11/20/07 08:56 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
I alternated the high and low notes in the octaves like so:
515 151 515 151

or like this:
515 515 515 515

(this represents the four triplets in each bar).

When the piano part was exposed, I would attempt to play as written:

555 555 555 555
111 111 111 111

It is a truly exhausting piece! Unless you are accustomed to practicing repeated octaves (which I simply don't have time to do)...

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#574357 - 11/20/07 09:14 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
currawong Offline
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Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5966
Loc: Down Under
re Erlkönig:
There's the Gerald Moore fake, where he plays the octave triplets one note in each hand wherever it's possible, just to give the arm a rest. It works pretty well, but I like yours even more \:D

And I too rearrange the piano reduction of the Strauss 4 Last Songs - to make it [i]actually sound like[i/] the orchestral version, instead of a whole lot of awkward notes.
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#574358 - 11/20/07 09:46 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8927
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by whippen boy:
It is a truly exhausting piece! Unless you are accustomed to practicing repeated octaves (which I simply don't have time to do)...

A basic tremolo in triplets will work also... and do I care to admit that I've done that? Gerald Moore, in one of his excellent books, demonstrates how he divided those octaves between two hands... fair enough.

whippen boy, so you played it in F minor per your score? I suffered through it with a tenor in G minor, also the key in which Liszt transcribed it.

And whilst we're at it, I once had to fill in at a moment's notice for an informal recital. The soprano sang Rachmaninov's song How fair this spot (Op. 21 #7), and due to time constraints I grew weary of Rachmaninov's incessant 2 against 3 within the right hand.

Oh puh-leeze, I left out many inner notes and no one noticed. And my paycheck was the same. (Don't kill me, tomasino.)

Alas, on the same program was the Op. 34 #4 (Day to night comparing went the wind), and what with all the cruel 4 against 3, not to mention other difficulties, I lost almost a whole night's sleep working on it.

And yet, that is one of Rachmaninov's most atmospheric songs. Utterly delectable. The piano postlude of 4 measures is pure magic. Those right hand chords... WOW! It doesn't get any better.
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#574359 - 11/20/07 10:00 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
 Quote:
Originally posted by argerichfan:
whippen boy, so you played it in F minor per your score?
I yanked that image off of the 'net, and really don't recall the key that I played it in. Nor do I want to remember. \:D

Hmm, I do recall some other tough slogs on that concert: the practially atonal O soft embalmer of the still midnight by Britten, and and the wild orchestral reduction leading up to O Black Swan from Menotti's "The Medium". I should have charged by the note (or for each accidental)!

Yes, it was a Halloween concert. \:\)
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#574360 - 11/20/07 10:58 PM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
argerichfan Offline
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Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8927
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by whippen boy:
...and the wild orchestral reduction leading up to O Black Swan from Menotti's "The Medium". I should have charged by the note (or for each accidental)!
Well I understand. However, Menotti arranged The Medium for two pianos, and I played it once (secondo) for an amateur production back in my late teens.

What a fabulous opera. At least until I discovered The Saint of Bleecker Street which played almost too perfectly to my (then) high Anglican beliefs.

But as an accompanist, nothing matches "To this we've come" from The Consul. One of the great soprano scenas, the piano reduction by Thomas Schippers is not easy (particularly the "papers!" moment), but it never fails to make an impact if the soprano has enough voice. It requires a Turandot.
_________________________
Jason

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#574361 - 11/21/07 07:53 AM Re: Is it common for pianists to make difficult parts easier?
Robert Kenessy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/07/07
Posts: 394
Loc: Enebyberg Sweden
A friend of mine went to an Ashkenazy recital in the 90-ies. He completely omitted the 19th of the 24 preludes by Chopin (of course not stated in the program). Nr 19 is (coincidentally?)technically at least in the top quarter of the 24 preludes.

Naughty!
_________________________
Robert Kenessy

.. it seems to me that the inherent nature [of the piano tone] becomes really expressive only by means of the present tendency to use the piano as a percussion instrument - Béla Bartók, early 1927.

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