A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability

Posted by: pianoloverus

A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 08:12 AM

Are there some that you think qualify in this regard?

For example, I believe the Paris Conservatory requires all those applying to play the Chopin Sonata No.2, presumably because they think both the technical and musical demands are very high and broad. Or the most recent Chopin competition had Chopin's Polonaise Fantasie as a required piece, I'd guess for similar reasons. Of course, both the Paris Conservatory and Chopin Competition have the pianists play a lot more than those single pieces so that they are not really using the single piece alone to from a judgement.

I think there are many pieces that could be used by themselves to form a good judgement about a pianist's skills. Which would you suggest?
Posted by: landorrano

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 08:24 AM

Minuet in G major, BWV 114
Posted by: Verbum mirabilis

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 08:47 AM

B minor sonata, by you-know-who.
Posted by: AldenH

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 11:22 AM

Beethoven Op. 106. It would be revealing of various flaws.
Posted by: jeffreyjones

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 11:39 AM

A Mozart slow movement is usually more than enough to tell me the caliber of pianist I'm listening to.
Posted by: Pogorelich.

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 12:14 PM

Anything, but especially Beethoven.
Posted by: Keith D Kerman

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 12:38 PM

Originally Posted By: jeffreyjones
A Mozart slow movement is usually more than enough to tell me the caliber of pianist I'm listening to.


I would change pianist to musician in your statement, but I definitely know what you mean. I have heard otherwise great artists crash and burn in a Mozart slow movement. The funny thing to me is that among the piano sonatas, there are only a few slow movements that I think are worth listening to, but they all demand such incredible musicianship to pull off.
However, I don't think that Mozart slow movement is going to tell you how that same pianist will play a big virtuoso work, for example.

Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.
Anything, but especially Beethoven.


I was just about to agree with this. After a bit more thought, I can think of great Beethoven players whose Chopin is no where near as good, and vice versa.
I think Beethoven does show one's musicianship ( or lack there of ) more than any other composer.

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Are there some that you think qualify in this regard?

For example, I believe the Paris Conservatory requires all those applying to play the Chopin Sonata No.2, presumably because they think both the technical and musical demands are very high and broad. Or the most recent Chopin competition had Chopin's Polonaise Fantasie as a required piece, I'd guess for similar reasons.


I would suspect that someone who plays a great Chopin second sonata would be able to be at least competent in all the standard repertoire. The Polonaise Fanasie less so than the sonata, but one has to be a great musician to play a great Polonaise Fantasy.

This is a difficult question, because I have heard people sound great in one big piece and mediocre in another, so if either was the only thing one heard, they would judge the pianist inaccurately.
Posted by: Orange Soda King

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 12:38 PM

I'll side with Mozart, but I also think Beethoven and Schubert, too.
Posted by: jeffreyjones

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 12:49 PM

Originally Posted By: Keith D Kerman
Originally Posted By: jeffreyjones
A Mozart slow movement is usually more than enough to tell me the caliber of pianist I'm listening to.


I would change pianist to musician in your statement, but I definitely know what you mean. I have heard otherwise great artists crash and burn in a Mozart slow movement. The funny thing to me is that among the piano sonatas, there are only a few slow movements that I think are worth listening to, but they all demand such incredible musicianship to pull off.
However, I don't think that Mozart slow movement is going to tell you how that same pianist will play a big virtuoso work, for example.


It's true that most of them won't tell you about the depth of the pianist's technique, but for the most part, great musicianship and great pianism tend to go hand in hand. The exceptions are very few.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 01:03 PM

Originally Posted By: jeffreyjones


It's true that most of them won't tell you about the depth of the pianist's technique, but for the most part, great musicianship and great pianism tend to go hand in hand. The exceptions are very few.


I can think of many pianists who are great 'musicians' but do not have great technical ability. They are/were mainly from an older generation (I suspect that these days, they wouldn't ever make it on the concert platform or recording studio, but become teachers), but for me, a performance of a Mozart or Beethoven Sonata where the slow movement is sublime but the outer ones are marred by technical problems don't make for a satisfying musical experience. But they were (and some still are) generally considered as 'great musicians' in their time.
Posted by: Ian_G

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 04:09 PM

First bars of Schubert 894 or Beethoven 4 should do it.
Posted by: BruceD

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 04:19 PM

What varied and diverse abilities is a single piece going to help judge? It's difficult for me to imagine one piece that covers the whole spectrum of musicianship and technique. That said, I'm sure there is much in the advanced repertoire that would give good indications of the artistic and technical "potential" of a pianist, but I would be hard pressed to find one that could really "judge a pianist's abilit(ies).

Or, am I splitting hairs - which I don't like to do, having to cherish the few remaining ones I have!

Regards,
Posted by: Pogorelich.

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 05:29 PM

I really think it doesn't need to be just one piece, you can tell someone's artistic ability from pretty much anything!
Posted by: BDB

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 05:41 PM

You can tell how well I play piano by listening to me play Chopsticks.
Posted by: DonaldLee

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 06:05 PM

I don't agree with the practice, but I put my vote in for Chopin's 4th Ballade. For musicianship alone, I would say Traumerei.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 07:44 PM

I can't remember which competition did this but one recently had a choice of Beethoven's Variations in c minor and Mendelssohn's Serious Variations as the required work. Of course, the competitors had to play many other works but I also think those two pieces were chosen with great care.
Posted by: ChopinAddict

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 07:49 PM

Originally Posted By: jeffreyjones
A Mozart slow movement is usually more than enough to tell me the caliber of pianist I'm listening to.


thumb
Posted by: TrueMusic

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 07:55 PM

I'm surprised no one mentioned playing a Bach fugue. Particularly one of the slow 5 voice ones....
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 08:53 PM

Originally Posted By: TrueMusic
I'm surprised no one mentioned playing a Bach fugue. Particularly one of the slow 5 voice ones....
Many of the great pianists past and present play very little Bach at all. In addition, what would such a piece show about the technical ability of the pianist?
Posted by: TrueMusic

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/01/12 08:57 PM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: TrueMusic
I'm surprised no one mentioned playing a Bach fugue. Particularly one of the slow 5 voice ones....
Many of the great pianists past and present play very little Bach at all. In addition, what would such a piece show about the technical ability of the pianist?


I know that, and it's sad that they don't play much Bach. But such a piece requires so much control....5 voices that need to be balanced, slow tempo, and still playing with feeling. I feel like if you can convincingly pull off this it shows a lot about you piano playing. I guess it doesn't show if you can play a virtuosic work by liszt or Rach, but it shows a lot about musicianship and tonal control. I imagine there are few pianist who could do a 5 voice fugue and not perform at some level of virtuosity.
Posted by: TheHappyMoron

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/02/12 07:25 AM

I agree with the beethoven. A late sonata requires a great deal of musicianship. I also believe something like the prokofiev 7 would do. It's so easy for that piece to become just a muddle of notes.
Posted by: WhoDwaldi

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/02/12 03:42 PM

Bach Invention No. 14 in B-flat Major. Very telling, musically and technically, especially in the case of those who think it's too easy.
Posted by: DanS

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/02/12 07:01 PM

Originally Posted By: TrueMusic
I'm surprised no one mentioned playing a Bach fugue. Particularly one of the slow 5 voice ones....


That's what I was thinking. I remember hearing a story about a young Liszt playing for an old Beethoven. As the story goes, Liszt played a bunch of techincally brilliant pieces and Beethoven looked at him rather bored and exasperated and said "can you play a Bach fugue?" I don't know if this storys true, but it says a lot.

For more modern pieces, I think Jeux d'eau is a good measuring stick. It's both technically and musically challenging.
Posted by: sophial

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/02/12 11:43 PM

I don't think that story is true.
Posted by: celegorma

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/03/12 12:59 AM

Beethoven 110
Posted by: TrueMusic

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/03/12 05:52 AM

Originally Posted By: sophial
I don't think that story is true.


I just finished reading Alan walkers 1st volume of liszt biography - although the story has been sensationalized, as far as we know Lizst did indeed meet Beethoven and receive a sort of "approval" as an artist, and I believe it was when he played a bach fugue and then transposed it at Beethoven's command. I'd have to pull out the biography to check that though, but I remember that there are indeed parts of that which are true.
Posted by: Cheeto717

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/03/12 09:26 AM

I'll put in my vote for a Beethoven sonata. Not necessarily a late one... some of the early ones are quite challenging.
Posted by: sophial

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/03/12 11:21 AM

Originally Posted By: TrueMusic
Originally Posted By: sophial
I don't think that story is true.


I just finished reading Alan walkers 1st volume of liszt biography - although the story has been sensationalized, as far as we know Lizst did indeed meet Beethoven and receive a sort of "approval" as an artist, and I believe it was when he played a bach fugue and then transposed it at Beethoven's command. I'd have to pull out the biography to check that though, but I remember that there are indeed parts of that which are true.


Sorry, I should have expanded on that more. Walker provides Liszt's account of the event given later to one of his students. Czerny had arranged the meeting although Beethoven was initially resistant given his "repugnance to infant prodigies" (Liszt was eleven at the time). Liszt says " I first played a short piece by Ries. When I had finished, Beethoven asked me whether I could play a Bach fugue. I chose the C-minor Fugue from the WTC. 'And could you also transpose the fugue at once into another key?" Beethoven asked me. Fortunately I was able to do so". ... After this Beethoven smiles at him, pats his head, and then Liszt asks if he can play LvB's first movement of the C-major concerto for him. After this, Beethoven kisses him on the forehead.

So yes, he asked him to play a fugue, but there is no indication in this version that Liszt had played a lot of shallow flashy pieces and that Beethoven had reacted out of irritation to what he played. It sounds as if he wanted to see if Liszt could play and then immediately transpose a fugue on demand-- quite a test for an 11 year old. Liszt passed it.
Posted by: Derulux

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/03/12 11:47 AM

Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.
Anything, but especially Beethoven.

I agree. I think just about anything can be used. Heck, a pianist's ability to turn a C-major scale into something musical says a lot about their ability and musicianship.
Posted by: TrueMusic

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/03/12 10:44 PM

Originally Posted By: sophial
Originally Posted By: TrueMusic
Originally Posted By: sophial
I don't think that story is true.


I just finished reading Alan walkers 1st volume of liszt biography - although the story has been sensationalized, as far as we know Lizst did indeed meet Beethoven and receive a sort of "approval" as an artist, and I believe it was when he played a bach fugue and then transposed it at Beethoven's command. I'd have to pull out the biography to check that though, but I remember that there are indeed parts of that which are true.


Sorry, I should have expanded on that more. Walker provides Liszt's account of the event given later to one of his students. Czerny had arranged the meeting although Beethoven was initially resistant given his "repugnance to infant prodigies" (Liszt was eleven at the time). Liszt says " I first played a short piece by Ries. When I had finished, Beethoven asked me whether I could play a Bach fugue. I chose the C-minor Fugue from the WTC. 'And could you also transpose the fugue at once into another key?" Beethoven asked me. Fortunately I was able to do so". ... After this Beethoven smiles at him, pats his head, and then Liszt asks if he can play LvB's first movement of the C-major concerto for him. After this, Beethoven kisses him on the forehead.

So yes, he asked him to play a fugue, but there is no indication in this version that Liszt had played a lot of shallow flashy pieces and that Beethoven had reacted out of irritation to what he played. It sounds as if he wanted to see if Liszt could play and then immediately transpose a fugue on demand-- quite a test for an 11 year old. Liszt passed it.


Alright, I didn't know if you were saying the whole encounter was untrue or not! Good clarification.

I still put my vote in for a fugue.

But I guess anything can do as well, because you can tell a good pianist pretty darn quickly no matter what they're playing.
Posted by: im@me

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 10:36 AM

Two or Three contrasting chopin etudes
Posted by: Kuanpiano

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 10:52 AM

Pretty much anything would work, and it doesn't even have to be something like Beethoven. Just like how musicians often specialize in a the works of a few composers or schools, I don't think that being unable to play Bach of Mozart is really indicative of a bad pianist.
Posted by: Derulux

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 01:00 PM

Originally Posted By: Kuanpiano
Pretty much anything would work, and it doesn't even have to be something like Beethoven. Just like how musicians often specialize in a the works of a few composers or schools, I don't think that being unable to play Bach of Mozart is really indicative of a bad pianist.

I support this statement 100%. I think a lot of diversified playing is more indicative of musicianship, but having a specialty does not necessarily mean you cannot be a very talented pianist.

Kuan- I'm interested in your thoughts here. Would you say the ability to play many different styles/periods lends itself to better musicianship? And does that possibly indicate a higher level of pianism? (I actually separated the two until I started writing my response, but now I'm not as sure..)
Posted by: landorrano

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 01:18 PM

Originally Posted By: Kuanpiano
I don't think that being unable to play Bach of Mozart is really indicative of a bad pianist.


True, it's indicative of a jazz pianist !
Posted by: Batuhan

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 02:33 PM

Chopin Scherzo No. 1
Posted by: Entheo

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 04:09 PM

my late, great teacher once said that all the technique a pianist needed was contained in the chopin etudes and bach preludes & fugues. pick one...
Posted by: Praeludium

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 04:29 PM

Originally Posted By: Entheo
my late, great teacher once said that all the technique a pianist needed was contained in the chopin etudes and bach preludes & fugues. pick one...


Does it mean that by learning Chopin and Bach you also learn how to play Ligeti, Murail and Stockhausen ?
Posted by: TrueMusic

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 06:35 PM

Originally Posted By: Praeludium
Originally Posted By: Entheo
my late, great teacher once said that all the technique a pianist needed was contained in the chopin etudes and bach preludes & fugues. pick one...


Does it mean that by learning Chopin and Bach this you also learn how to play Ligeti, Murail and Stockhausen ?


I would say, personally, that if you can master all the Chopin Etudes & at least a number of the P&F's, particularly the more difficult fugues, you should have the acquired technique and knowledge of how to learn difficult works in order to play most anything. Notice the italics. I'm not saying this is a sure, but if you truly can master those pieces, you should have the ability to learn anything [I'm not saying this will make the likes of Ligeti & others easy for you, they're incredibly difficult, but by that point you should have the knowledge of how to break apart a piece and learn technical difficulties.]

Of course, I'm not anywhere near that point, so I could be very wrong.
Posted by: Kuanpiano

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 06:37 PM

Originally Posted By: Derulux
Originally Posted By: Kuanpiano
Pretty much anything would work, and it doesn't even have to be something like Beethoven. Just like how musicians often specialize in a the works of a few composers or schools, I don't think that being unable to play Bach of Mozart is really indicative of a bad pianist.

I support this statement 100%. I think a lot of diversified playing is more indicative of musicianship, but having a specialty does not necessarily mean you cannot be a very talented pianist.

Kuan- I'm interested in your thoughts here. Would you say the ability to play many different styles/periods lends itself to better musicianship? And does that possibly indicate a higher level of pianism? (I actually separated the two until I started writing my response, but now I'm not as sure..)

I think it certainly is good because it shows a really broad understanding of different musical styles. But it's not a bad thing to be a specialist!

I think it's a good indicator of musicianship, not so much about pianism. Playing Medtner or the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues requires an understanding of counterpoint and the interplay between voices in the same way that Bach does, but the pianistic technique is really quite different. Certainly, IMO, a specialist in the romantics and the modern schools would have a higher level of pianism than a specialist in the Baroque and Classical periods due to the leaps in technique development.

But at the end of the day, a specialist in the Romantics (like Horowitz) who's more weak at the classics and baroque styles can still be considered a very competent musician and pianist.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 10:19 PM

To try and answer my own thread I'd say that any piece with following characteristics would do:

1. composed by a great composer, preferably from Classical period through mid 20th century(Bach or contemporary perhaps requiring somewhat more specialized skills that may not transfer so clearly to more commonly played literature)
2. requires virtuoso technique(otherwise how could one evaluate the pianist's technique?)
3. generally considered to be a masterpiece(mostly guarantees the piece can be used to judge the pianist's musicianship and offer the greatest musical challenges)
4. of considerable length(longer works having organizational difficulties that often don't appear in shorter ones and a greater opportunity to have a variety of difficulties)

So based on the above there are certainly a very long list of possible pieces. A few examples:

For Beethoven:any of the most difficult half of his Sonatas, any of the major variation sets

For Schumann: any of his major works e.g. Davidsbundler, any of the Sonatas, Carnaval, Symphonic Etudes, Fantasy in C, Kreisleriana, Fantasy Pieces, etc.

Of course, any piece can offer some insight into a pianist's ability, but I was interested in pieces that can be used to make the best judgement.

Does anyone know some other examples besides the ones I mentioned in my OP that have been used as required pieces in competitions(not talking about some required contemporary piece here) or as required pieces for auditions?
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/08/12 10:32 PM

Originally Posted By: Verbum mirabilis
B minor sonata, by you-know-who.
Haydn or Scarlatti?
Posted by: Derulux

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/09/12 01:15 AM

Originally Posted By: Kuanpiano
Originally Posted By: Derulux
Originally Posted By: Kuanpiano
Pretty much anything would work, and it doesn't even have to be something like Beethoven. Just like how musicians often specialize in a the works of a few composers or schools, I don't think that being unable to play Bach of Mozart is really indicative of a bad pianist.

I support this statement 100%. I think a lot of diversified playing is more indicative of musicianship, but having a specialty does not necessarily mean you cannot be a very talented pianist.

Kuan- I'm interested in your thoughts here. Would you say the ability to play many different styles/periods lends itself to better musicianship? And does that possibly indicate a higher level of pianism? (I actually separated the two until I started writing my response, but now I'm not as sure..)

I think it certainly is good because it shows a really broad understanding of different musical styles. But it's not a bad thing to be a specialist!

I think it's a good indicator of musicianship, not so much about pianism. Playing Medtner or the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues requires an understanding of counterpoint and the interplay between voices in the same way that Bach does, but the pianistic technique is really quite different. Certainly, IMO, a specialist in the romantics and the modern schools would have a higher level of pianism than a specialist in the Baroque and Classical periods due to the leaps in technique development.

But at the end of the day, a specialist in the Romantics (like Horowitz) who's more weak at the classics and baroque styles can still be considered a very competent musician and pianist.

I think bringing up Horowitz is a great example. I don't think it's possible to doubt his ability as a pianist, and I think most people would be hard-pressed to doubt his ability as a musician. But there are certain pieces that just do not seem to work for him as well as others. Some Mozart I like. some, I do not. Some Beethoven I like. Some, I do not. So, I think this brings up a great case for an argument like: "The best piece to judge a pianist/musician by is the piece which the pianist favors and considers their best."

You know, an interesting anecdote: I happened to watch Penn & Teller's "Fool Me". It's a British show, I think. But in one of the episodes, a man took the stage to perform a cup-and-balls routine. It was amazing. Penn said it was not only the best cup-and-balls routine he'd ever seen, but that the man was perfect at it. He also said, "It is not so much the song, but the singer..." and I think that is a very acute observation that merited at least an aside in the discussion.
Posted by: Entheo

Re: A single piece that can be used to judge a pianist's ability - 12/09/12 08:46 AM

Originally Posted By: TrueMusic
Originally Posted By: Praeludium
Originally Posted By: Entheo
my late, great teacher once said that all the technique a pianist needed was contained in the chopin etudes and bach preludes & fugues. pick one...


Does it mean that by learning Chopin and Bach this you also learn how to play Ligeti, Murail and Stockhausen ?


I would say, personally, that if you can master all the Chopin Etudes & at least a number of the P&F's, particularly the more difficult fugues, you should have the acquired technique and knowledge of how to learn difficult works in order to play most anything. Notice the italics. I'm not saying this is a sure, but if you truly can master those pieces, you should have the ability to learn anything [I'm not saying this will make the likes of Ligeti & others easy for you, they're incredibly difficult, but by that point you should have the knowledge of how to break apart a piece and learn technical difficulties.]

Of course, I'm not anywhere near that point, so I could be very wrong.


what TrueMusic said.

in relation to the OP's original question, i believe you could judge a pianist's ability by how they play any chopin etude and/or bach P&F.