Lesson 263

Etude in D Minor: Artistry

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Hello and welcome back. I'm Joseph Hoffman, and in this lesson we're going to talk about how to play "Etude in D Minor"
by Cornelius Gurlitt with artistry.
What does it mean to play a piece with artistry?
For me, an artistic performance is one that tells a captivating musical story.
A story that sparks my imagination keeps me on the edge of my seat.
Some pieces have a dramatic and exciting story to tell.
Other pieces have a more peaceful beautiful story to tell,
but as a pianist, whenever you play I want you to remember that you are a storyteller,
and you are an artist.
Instead of painting with colors, you're painting with sound.
There's always an artistic way and there's an ugly way to play any piece.
Let's take "Etude in D Minor".
You could play it like rampaging rhinoceroses.
But music like that makes me want to turn it off.
Or you can play it with artistry.
There are several important musical elements that will help you play with artistry.
The first I'd like to talk about is phrasing.
Let's take a look at the score.
The most important tool a composer has to show a phrase is the phrase mark. This long curved line is a way that the composer shows the beginning of a phrase,
and you'll see that it goes off the edge
of the staff here, which is a composer's way of saying this phrase isn't done yet. I ran out of room.
But the phrase is still going just like when you're reading a book sometimes a sentence goes off the edge of one line.
You just keep that sentence going on the next line.
A phrase is just like a musical sentence. It has a beginning, middle, and an end, but all of these notes are telling one idea.
So as you play artistically,
the concept of phrasing is taking a phrase and making it beautiful.
Making it feel like all one idea.
How do you do that?
Well the most common shape for a phrase is to start soft and grow
as the phrase
expands. Often a phrase may be going up. You see that the pitches of this phrase are going up.
And I would put the climax of this phrase right here on beat 1.
Often the highest note of a phrase is the climax. This B-flat is technically the highest note of the phrase, but even more important sometimes than the highest note is falling on a downbeat.
Remember how beat 1 in music is naturally the strongest beat?
4 1 2 3 4 1
So I'm going to put the climax right there,
and sometimes in my music I like to mark the climax of a phrase with a star symbol,
or you can just put like a little sparkle symbol around that note to somehow show that this note is
like the climax of my story.
It's where all these notes are headed.
And then after you hit the climax, that phrase is going to decrescendo.
Now a composer isn't going to mark every single crescendo and decrescendo for you. The composer may just show you the phrase, and then it will be up to you
to add in that crescendo and decrescendo because you know how to play artistically.
You know how to do phrasing.
Whenever you see a phrase, your job is to make it interesting.
You're not going to play every note
just the same as the one before it. That is the worst
form of artistry to just make everything exactly the same.
You want to show some growth in the phrase.
You can make that very interesting.
Now what about this phrase?
When a phrase is going up that's a natural time to crescendo. So we're going to go
Going to get louder, louder, louder. I put the climax of this phrase right here. It comes pretty early in the phrase
since we dropped down there.
I'm going to already start thinking of my decrescendo starting
And then the last note of a phrase is almost always one of the softest notes of the phrase.
That's just a general rule that's going to happen 95% of the time or more.
Same idea here.
Now we're crescendoing again, and
in the score we've got a crescendo marking so not
just because of the phrase, we're also going to think of just like turning up the volume in general and building up.
So maybe this crescendo will be even more, and maybe this decrescendo
will be less
than we did up here because we want this feeling of building up
to this mezzo forte.
Right? We started at a piano,
but now by here because of this crescendo,
we're phrasing within that crescendo so there still will be a little coming back down here.
But overall we're getting louder and louder to come up to a mezzo forte here.
And then remembering that also we've got this added tension
from this second.
Remember, anytime we have those seconds that's creating some dissonance in the right hand
which is going to add to the excitement
of this climax note,
which then resolves by coming to this consonant third in the right hand.
The left hand drops an octave.
Listen to that.
Okay, so anytime we resolve from dissonance to consonance, that's another time
to create some tension maybe a little louder here and then softer as we resolve that tension.
Now I'd like you to pause the video and practice just left hand by itself
and work on adding some amazing phrasing
by adding these crescendos and decrescendos, trying to drive to that climax note.
You really feel that excitement lead up to that note as the strongest note of the phrase and then decrescendo.
See how much excitement you can put into the story we're creating with this piece.
So pause to work on phrasing in the left hand, page one and page two, and then press play to go on.
Now, let's add some damper pedal.
When a piece says 'with pedal' that means it's being left up to you to figure out
where to do the damper petal lifts.
Now I'm going to give you some suggestions,
but I want you to remember that
can depend on your particular piano and the room that you're in.
For example, if I'm playing in a concert hall with a really echoey room,
maybe you know it's a wooden floor and I've got a grand piano so it's really echoey,
maybe I'm going to do more pedal lifts to try to keep it from sounding too mushy or muddy.
But on a different piano in a different room maybe I'm going to pedal more generously.
In other words, I may not lift as much.
If I were in a really echoey room, I might do a pedal lift there on this note, but
you may not choose to. You can use your ears to help guide when you need to do petal lifts the goal is to make the notes clean
and beautiful, never muddy.
I'm going to show you some places I would definitely do a lift,
and if you find that it's sounding too muddy and blurry, you can add additional pedal lifts
in other places as well.
So what I'm going to show you are
the ones I would definitely do,
and again you may find that you want to do more than this.
And a good rule of thumb
for choosing where to do pedal lifts is whenever the chords change
is a place you really need to do, and like for example here in the right hand.
I didn't do a pedal lift, and you can hear how blurry
that gets because you're hearing all three of those notes together if you don't lift your pedal.
That's why you have to do a lift here, otherwise you're hearing the C-sharp and the D and the E
all at the same time which is kind of a mushy sound.
So we want to hear just this second and then pedal lift as you go to that new chord.
So like here in measure four,
the up down,
up down, up down, remember that up comes right at the moment your fingers go down is when your foot comes up.
Up down, up down, up down.
That timing is very important.
Listen for that smooth, clean sound and you'll know you're doing it right.
Okay, so when you change chords you have to do a pedal lift. Often
it's expected to do a pedal lift on beat 1 just to again give us a fresh sound starting on the downbeat,
and sometimes just to make sure the melody doesn't get blurry, like from here to here, notice this A going to a B-flat.
If I don't lift the pedal we're hearing both of those at the same time which creates a dissonance, and the composer wasn't looking for a dissonance here.
These notes can all sound good together because they're all part of the D minor chord that's why you don't mark a lift here or here. You can keep the pedal down and those will all sound nice together
when we get here to the B-flat, then we do need a lift.
We need another lift here, again otherwise we're hearing both the B-flat and the A at the same time.
Okay, so here all the same chord we don't need a lift.
Dropping down here just to keep it from getting too muddy. Now,
you might say well don't we need a lift on this G?
If we were playing slowly, yes.
but remember we're at an allegro tempo, so this is going to happen so fast I don't think our ears will even have time
when we're playing at full speed to notice the blurriness.
So I found when I play this I'm not lifting here, and my ears are just fine with that because
again this happens so fast.
It's going to go by very quickly.
Now if you like, pause the video and mark these pedal markings
and then see if you can figure out a pedaling on page two by yourself.
Using these guidelines,
see if you can figure out the pedaling for page two and then take some time to try to add depth
damper pedal to your performance.
It adds a lot of great mood to add the damper pedal.
The last artistic element to mention today is voicing.
Remember, voicing is the art of making the melody louder than the accompaniment.
Where's the melody in this piece?
It's in the left hand.
The left hand's the melody so the right hand needs to be played very soft.
If I see a piano mark in a piece,
I like to think of my accompaniment as one dynamic less than that. So I'll make my accompaniment actually pianissimo
instead of piano,
and then I'll make my melody one louder than whatever I see, so I'll actually make my melody more like mezzo piano.
And if you average those two it becomes a piano.
Again, remember a composer is going to give you one dynamic marking to kind of represent both hands, but
your job is to take that information and now turn it into an artistic performance, which means
doing things like this. We're, well, we're going to make the melody mezzo piano,
and the left hand, or the right hand accompaniment pianissimo,
and then together that will create a piano effect.
See so the right hand very, very soft.
Okay, notice how soft I was playing that right hand.
If you play like that it's just so ugly if you ask me. You know, I want this to be very soft and intense.
And every once in a while the right hand can get louder too like when the left hand crescendo's here.
I like to crescendo my right hand a little bit as well.
Although on this one I wasn't crescendoing my right hand as much.
Those are artistic choices that I make when I play.
You know, my left hand and right hand can do two different things with dynamics. It takes practice to do that, but it adds a lot of artistry.
Now, we've talked about a lot of different artistic elements today.
We've talked about phrasing, we've talked about dynamics.
We've talked about the damper pedal. We've talked about voicing.
That's so much to think about.
So when you're practicing, how do you manage all of that?
Well, I would encourage you to focus on one element at a time.
For example, maybe when you first play through it think only about the phrasing.
When you're working on phrasing, it's usually helpful to only play the hand that is doing the melody.
So maybe just play left hand alone and just think about making a beautiful phrase.
Then try it again and pay attention to the dynamic markings
that are interacting with the phrases. Remember the
the phrases have like little mini dynamics within the phrase, but then these symbols are showing you the big picture movements
of the volume of the piece.
Then maybe one time you're just going to focus on damper pedal,
and for that maybe you'll play just right hand alone with the damper pedal, or maybe just left hand alone with the damper pedal.
So you can break out just specific elements, then maybe another time you focus just on the voicing. But eventually you want to combine all of those elements, those artistic elements, together That's what makes the most beautiful performance.
Let's hear it all put together.
Thanks for watching and learning with me today about how to play "Etude in D Minor" with artistry. Happy and artistic practicing, and see you next time!
You know what I just realized.
Maybe we are in a movie.
Of course we're in a movie!
Well, we're in a video anyway.
Haven't you noticed that camera there every time you and chef come on and tell a joke?
Or you and I, well, get in an argument?
And Nick, our camera guy, is right there watching all the time.
Didn't you notice any of that?
By the way, hi Nick!
Hi Princess!
No, no, I know that Nick is filming us and Mr. Hoffman and all that,
but what if all of that is inside another movie?
Like what if someone else is making a movie or writing a book about us?
Doing this right now, and we're stuck inside that story or movie and don't even realize it.
Like a dream inside a dream.
That would be easy to disprove.
Oh yeah? How?
Well, for one thing editors of movies are supposed to edit out ridiculous dialogue,
which means most of what you've been saying today never would have happened.
Ha ha
For another thing, if we were in a real movie I could say a common queue line and pretty much know what was going to happen next.
Oh! Good idea. Let's try it.
What was that queue line you mentioned the other day?
Uh, I don't think that's such a good idea...
Oh! I remember!
I wouldn't if I were you.
It was: We're finally safe. Nothing can go wrong now!
Oh really?
Look! It worked! The queue line worked!
I was right! I just proved we're in a movie, I proved we're in a movie. I was right!
You know what else you are?
I hate to gloat, but I saw that coming a mile away.
[Scuba yelling]