AUBE TZERKO—Master Piano Teacher and Student of Artur Schnabel
An Article by Richard Brodie
Aube Tzerko was born in 1907 in Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the Chicago Musical College, he studied with Artur Schnabel in the 1930s at the Berlin Hochschüle für Musik. During that time he was one of the few students that Schnabel— himself a piano teacher of genius—selected to be an assistant in his master classes. Tzerko then embarked on a concert career, touring extensively in Europe, Canada, and the United States. In the early 1960s he was named to head the piano department at UCLA where he presided until his retirement in 1992. In the course of his teaching career Aube Tzerko tutored privately some of the best pianists of his day. He died in Los Angeles in September of 1995.
Tzerko’s range of knowledge, particularly of the aesthetics of piano playing, was so complete as to constitute a system. Together with his natural pedagogical gifts, this knowledge—much of which, by his own admission, derived from Schnabel—made him a pedagogue of great and deserved renown. Most remarkable was his ability to break down a piece of music into its component parts to see how they worked together musically (“I decompose in order to compose,” he once quipped).
For three years I had the privilege of attending this great teacher’s masterclass at UCLA, during which time I took copious notes. Below is a small sampling of the over 150 quotations from my notebooks, which are available in their entirety in
my book on this extraordinary piano teacher, “SECRETS OF PIANO MASTERY: A BREAKTHROUGH GUIDE TO PIANO TECHNIQUE. With Quotations of AUBE TZERKO.”
In my opinion Tzerko’s quotations rival—in their brilliance and eloquence and in their great utility—the aphorisms of Robert Schumann.
Some quotations of Aube Tzerko from his master class at UCLA. . .
“You cannot be free until you realize that there is a disciplined concept in everything you do.
Your ears are the Supreme Court.
Learn to fall in love with the sounds you are making. If you don’t fall in love with them, how can we?
You have to have a certain pride and ambition to make things right.
Clichés become clichés because of the essential truth in them. The fact that they are overused does not detract from their value.
“If you play a piece of music simply, it is quite possible that you are playing it correctly.
Each new phrase should follow with a certain intuitive logic from the preceding one.
“Take care not to accent the ‘ands’ and ‘ors, that is, the notes that fall between the beats. These are connectors or passing tones only and play no part in the harmonic structure. Stress only notes that fall on the beat.
It is important to avoid playing with excessive evenness dynamically. To play excessively evenly at the piano is to play without accents, which is incorrect. The melody, harmony, meter, and rhythmical pattern of the music will always give you clues as to which notes to stress and by how much, and which ones not to.
The left hand should always feel different from the right. The feeling should be one of subdued strength.
Keep the left hand in the shadow of the right. Let it be the accompanist to the ‘singer’ right hand.
To develop a healthy pianissimo, do not start with a mezzo forte and work down. Start rather with absolute silence, then bring it up.
Play orchestrally. All instruments must excel. Listen to the piano as a good a conductor listens to his instruments.
Speed and flow come about as a result of achieving an incessant pulse.
[Of rubato] Like a rubber band, you may stretch the rhythm, but you must not break it.
One should not use rubato to excess. The ‘stealing’ of time should be like taking a cherry from a grocery store, not like robbing a bank.
“Whenever you play, you must project as if you were on a stage, but listen as if you were in the audience.
To play with feeling, you don’t necessarily have to feel a certain feeling! Instead you should be preoccupied quite dispassionately with translating that feeling into sound through dynamic movement.
Do not touch the piano until you decide what you want to do.
Always submit to the personality of the piece. One’s own personality must be totally subdued.
On Practicing—(The Art of Being One’s Own Piano Teacher)
“Concentrate on just one problem at a time. This is the most effective way of dealing with any task.
Practice the mechanics and the music at the same time.
Always know what problem it is that you are working on.
Teach yourself like a baby—simply, methodically, logically.
Don’t practice notes. Practice musical ideas.
Always practice with character, even when practicing little snippets.
Professionals practice slowly, amateurs fast.