Further to my first two posts, a reader has written in asking how to avoid the problem of fatigue in the RH in the forte passages from bar 13, and at the beginning of the coda. As with all piano playing, we have to use the right tool for the job, and because of Chopin’s patterns, it has to be forearm rotation.
I would like to propose a way of practising these RH patterns whereby the fingers themselves are mere extensions of a rotating arm, like the blades of a propeller. We do not use the finger as an isolated unit, the finger is swung into position on the right key at the right moment by the forearm. However – and this is a very big however – the finger is not passive! The tip of the finger remains constantly active, alert and responsive. Rotary movements of the forearm are quicker and faster than digital movements, and WAY more economical. This is because these motions are natural to the way our body moves, and isolated finger movements are not. Clearly I can’t give an effective piano lesson in writing, so I will assume the reader who is capable of playing this piece will have developed forearm rotation to some extent. Here are a few pointers to bear in mind when practising this, and other passages using rotation:
- The elbow itself is more or less stationary
- The arm moves on the horizontal plane (from side to side), and not on the vertical (up and down)
- The firmer the finger, the louder the sound
In the following exercise (RH alone), you will notice that each pair of notes is transformed into a sextuplet with an accent on every third note. Thus, each note of the original pair receives an accent. Practise very slowly to start with, exaggerating the rotary motions. As you get faster, the motions will get smaller and smaller. In the final product, experience the blend of active finger and freely rotating arm. There should be no tension or sense of effort at all.
You can also do this in different rhythms – slow-quick-quick and quick-quick-slow.
Throughout this piece, we need to use the basses for support. By this, I mean the lowest notes in the LH groups which underpin the whole. Starting from bar 4 (the RH entry), it will be very helpful to hear the bass line thus, and to give more weight to these notes than the rest of the LH sextuplet group:
Most of the time, this bass line should not be too obvious – feel it, and present it subtly. The chromatic bass line in bars 21-25, etc., can certainly have a stronger profile.
Pedal markings in any edition are misleading in that they can never show partial or fractional pedalling (pedal put down half way, or a quarter of the way), or pedal effects such as vibrato pedal (fluttering movements of the foot to thin out the texture). Artur Rubinstein used almost no pedal at the beginning, aiming for a very transparent, leggiero effect. Others pedal more liberally and more generously, because they are after a different effect. Both of these approaches are of course equally beautiful if done with conviction, and neither is better than the other. It all depends on your conception of the piece. I suggest tiny pedals in the piano opening, deeper and longer in the forte when the pedal can be used to build up the sound and to achieve a more harmonic effect. Do not even think about changing the pedal during bars 37 and 38, it’s mean and pedantic not to catch all of this C sharp minor harmony in one long pedal. If you’re worried about the non-harmonic tones in the RH, don’t be. No dissonance whatever will be perceived if the initial G sharp octave bass is strong enough.
The key to managing this is flexibility of timings. Any attempt at a metronomic pulse will render this section meaningless. The RH melody needs to float above the LH, the LH itself sounding like swirls of cloud (with the occasional tenor notes emerging in dialogue with the main line). Judicious use of the left pedal can produce some lovely colourings. I would suggest that the ornaments be vocal in style – not too fast, and rather free.