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The following list of works includes more than just books on piano technique. It also includes published lectures, essays, and in one instance, sheet music. These latter works were chosen because of their value in improving your piano technique and musical understanding. One common element unites them: they are all, in my opinion, absolutely extraordinary works, far above the norm, works that will allow you to increase your musical perception and ability in the most unexpected and profound ways.
1) FAMOUS PIANISTS AND THEIR TECHNIQUE. By Reginald Gerig. 560 pages,
The colorful history of the great theorists and their theories on piano technique is brilliantly and definitively chronicled in Reginald Gerig’s classic work, FAMOUS PIANISTS AND THEIR TECHNIQUE. In this work Gerig not only describes every major theory on piano technique, but quotes the relevant parts of the original treatises at such length that there is little need to read the originals.
But theories and theorists are only part of the book. As the title implies, the techniques of the great historical pianists are also examined. These pianists include the ranks of the great composer-pianists themselves—Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Chopin. To do this, Gerig exhaustively quotes the contemporary sources—colleagues, witnesses, and students—for their priceless recollections of the words and playing mannerisms of these masters. This feature alone, for true students of the piano, is worth a hundred times the price of the book. Without mincing words, Gerig’s book can be legitimately described as “the Bible” on piano technique.
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2) SECRETS OF PIANO MASTERY: A BREAKTHROUGH GUIDE TO PIANO TECHNIQUE, Revised Edition – Copyright 2011. By Richard M. Brodie. 144 pages.
The one thing Gerig’s book, FAMOUS PIANISTS AND THEIR TECHNIQUE (see above), does not do is to come to any conclusions about what constitutes the BASIC COORDINATION to all piano technique. This lack is made up for by Richard Brodie’s new book,
SECRETS OF PIANO MASTERY: A BREAKTHROUGH GUIDE TO PIANO TECHNIQUE.
In this book the mystery of the interrelationship of the arm, hand, and the fingers in key depression is finally solved. Also revealed is the true role of arm weight in key depression as well as the exact touch necessary for achieving maximum control of the key—all subjects of intense historical controversy.
The book also contains priceless wisdom on the aesthetics of music making—phrasing, articulation, and interpretation (plus some great tips on practicing)—from Brodie’s mentor, Aube Tzerko, a student and assistant of Artur Schnabel in Berlin in the 1930s and a renowned piano pedagogue in his own right.
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3) CHOPIN: PIANIST AND TEACHER: AS SEEN BY HIS PUPILS. By Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger.
There is one classification of books that is priceless simply by virtue of its genre—and that is the type of book that is a compilation of the reminiscences, personal accounts, diary excerpts and the like of people who were intimately associated with a person of genius. In the case of Chopin, of course, this was a figure of immense genius. And as a source of wisdom on piano technique, the accounts of his pupils on their impressions of him, and of his actual words and teachings, can only be considered priceless and unique, as Chopin was, by all reports, not only one of the greatest composers of music for the piano, but was also one of the greatest pianists of all time as well as being the single most sought-after piano pedagogue of his day.
It is also interesting how highly intelligent and articulate so many of these friends and pupils of Chopin were themselves. This is true in most such cases, the friends and acquaintances of Franz Schubert being another fine example of this phenomenon [see “Schubert: A Documentary Biography” by Otto Erich Deutsch]. That this happens should come as no surprise, as gaining entry into the entourage of a figure of genius always involves a screening process that takes place quite naturally, as brilliant thinkers and creators are by nature attracted to other intelligent people and are consequently unlikely to “suffer fools gladly”.
True, one must always consider the testimony of witnesses with at least a trace of skepticism. This is especially true with a subject like piano technique, as casual observation of a person playing the piano can be famously unreliable as to the actual physiological processes involved. Consider, for example, seeing a pianist play a passage with his hand “flapping” up and down. Since one cannot see into the workings of the pianist’s musculature, it is impossible to determine through casual observation whether 1) the hand is being “flapped” passively by active finger action, or 2) the hand is contracting vigorously at the wrist on its own, or 3) the hand is being shaken down by a thrusting action of the forearm.
In spite of this, given this minor warning, the book is a must-buy!
The book also has Chopin’s own complete sketches for the piano method he intended to write, but that he tragically did not live long enough to do.
This makes the book a must-must-buy!
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4) THE THIRTY-TWO SONATAS FOR PIANO OF BEETHOVEN. Edited by Artur Schnabel.
Artur Schnabel’s editing of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas in two volumes (1000+ pages total) stands as one of the most unlikely and yet colossal resources of pianistic wisdom generally and piano technique in particular ever compiled. Schnabel’s thorough and highly original fingering alone makes the work of immense value to pianists, as his fingering forces them into assuming unexpected positions with the arms and hands in certain passages that not only facilitate correct expression but also shed light on Schnabel’s stupendous and seemingly highly personal technique. The work is also replete with subtle suggestions for articulation—crescendos, diminuendos, accelerandos, and ritards (often just between two or three notes)—that make a given passage come alive in a way that was Schnabel’s unique and privileged gift. (These suggestions are all notated in small print to differentiate them from Beethoven’s own rather sparse markings). There are also many suggestions and annotations throughout the text, some of them quite lengthy, on such subjects as the exact way to perform certain complicated embellishments, the disparity in the several contemporary editions between certain musical passages and which one is probably correct and why, and other critical comments of genius. It is highly recommended that at some time or other one follow the score while listening simultaneously to Schnabel’s recorded performances of the sonatas themselves. (CDs of the complete sonatas plus many other of Schnabel’s performances will soon be available on this website).
The original edition of the 32 Sonatas edited by Schnabel was published in Milan, Italy by Edizioni Curci in three volumes, and is still in print in a two-volume five-language (English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish) American edition.
THIS WORK IS STILL AVAILABLE COMMERCIALLY. To view or purchase, click on the graphic link below.
5) THE TEACHING OF ARTUR SCHNABEL. By Konrad Wolff. 187 pages, 1974 (Out of print, but used copies available here!)
This book,THE TEACHING OF ARTUR SCHNABEL, was originally published in 1974. In 1979 it was reprinted in paperback under the title, SCHNABEL’S INTERPRETATION OF PIANO MUSIC. Both versions are now out of print. Although Schnabel died in 1951 before the original manuscript was completed, the author, a student of Schnabel’s, worked on it in collaboration with Schnabel himself. As Schnabel was (in my opinion) the greatest pianist who ever lived and as he possessed one of the most brilliant and articulate musical minds in all of history, this book would be a bombshell even if it were written by a total hack. But Wolff was anything but a hack; on the contrary he was himself a brilliant and articulate thinker, and the combination of a musical genius for a subject and a superior intelligence for an author has produced a work that the serious pianist is advised to go to any lengths short of murder to acquire (buying a copy from this website is one source of availability not involving any criminality!)
No book on piano technique this erudite, this profound, and above all this original has ever been written or is ever likely to be written again! In this book Wolff/Schnabel deal with the answers to questions so subtle and intricate that most pianists of even professional competence wouldn’t even think to ask them. On the subject of articulation, for example, there are no less than five chapters—Articulation: Introduction, Melodic Articulation, Harmonic Articulation, Metric Articulation, and Rhythmic Articulation. These chapters and others, replete with musical examples, go into each subject in unprecedented depth.
However, it must be said that the book, treasure that it is, is only for the very advanced pianist. It is also not an easy read. Many of the explanations are enigmatic, with the reader wishing he could communicate back through the veil of time with the author or Schnabel himself for clarification. And of course, as with any book on this subject, an assertion or two may be debatable, or (perish the thought!) even wrong. Perhaps the book’s almost forbidding profundity explains the possible lack of demand which might have led to its being taken out of print. Until it is restored to print, and if you are a serious student of piano technique and a worshipper at the shrine of great piano music and performance, you should buy any used copy of this book that you can get your hands on.
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6) MUSIC, WIT, AND WISDOM: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ARTUR SCHNABEL Just released!! 298 pages, 2009. Contact schnabelmusicfoundation.com
In 1945 Ernest Hutchings invited Artur Schnabel to give a series of twelve lectures at the University of Chicago on any subject he chose. Schnabel chose to tell his life story as a musician and as a human being. Following each of the twelve lectures was a question-and-answer session with the student audience. By some miracle, a verbatim stenograhic record of the entire event has preserved it for posterity. First published in book form by St Martin’s Press in 1961, it was reissued in paperback by Dover in 1988. This paperback version also contains an English translation of Schnabel’s rather formal essay, REFLECTIONS ON MUSIC, delivered in German in three lectures at the University of Manchester in 1933. Both the hardback and paperback editions are now out of print.
Like the Collected Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Schnabel’s own story from his own mouth is first and foremost a profoundly moving human document, at once a fascinating chronicling of personal events as well as an outpouring of thoughts, emotions, and wisdom from one of the warmest, most brilliant, and most profoundly gifted of human beings. It is also a fascinating look at a time and place in history—of Europe, and to some degree of the United States—from the 1880s until the 1950s.
Schnabel, a gifted story teller, did not begin learning English until he was thirty-eight. When he gave these lectures in English at the age of sixty-three, he had achieved such a level of eloquence in his adopted language that his extemporaneous recounting of his life transports the reader back in time as if the reader were living his life with him. It is this quality that makes of MUSIC, WIT, AND WISDOM a truly living social history of one of the most dramatic—and traumatic—periods in human history. This aspect of it alone makes the book worth the reading.
For musicians, however, Schnabel’s reminiscences of his musical life are priceless. His early years as a prodigy in turn-of-the-century Vienna, his studies with Leschetitzky, his musical philosophy, his encounters with the great musical talents and composers of his day, his extraordinary career as a musical genius—all this is an intellectual banquet for the musician and historically-minded music lover. Especially rewarding for the musician are the question-and-answer sessions in which Schnabel expounds and philosophizes (with considerable wit, incidentally!) on an unexpected variety of musical, social, political, and moral issues that would not normally be part of an autobiography. As a source book for quotes on music making and piano technique, the book rivals in quality some of the writings of Robert Schumann (for samplings of the above, see the page entitled “Schnabel Quotes” on this website). The book is quite simply one of the great classics of music history as well as being a great read for any student of nineteenth- and twentieth-century social history and humanism.
THIS BOOK HAS JUST BEEN RELEASED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ITS UNABRIDGED FORM. FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO PURCHASE, PLEASE CONTACT THE SCHNABEL MUSIC FOUNDATION AT schnabelmusicfoundation.com
7) ARTUR SCHNABEL. By Cesar Saerchinger. 354 pages, 1957.
Technically speaking, this book—the definitive biography of Artur Schnabel—is not a resource book on piano technique, and for that reason probably does not belong on this list. Nevertheless, Schnabel’s status as the pianistic giant that he is warrants its inclusion on the list if even the slightest hint or tip can be gleaned from its pages. Even without such a hint or tip, this brilliantly written and entertaining biography presents a picture of the man and of the period in which he lived that is second in quality only to Schnabel’s own autobiography listed above, MUSIC, WIT, AND WISDOM.
The book’s value as a resource on piano technique for the inquiring pianist is twofold: 1) as a source book of quotations from Schnabel on technique and music making, it is second only to MUSIC, WIT, AND WISDOM; 2) the book also contains many photos of Schnabel, a few of which show him seated in playing position at the piano. Foremost among these is a large side view on the dust jacket of the hardbound first edition of Schnabel in the act of playing. No other photo, to my knowledge, more perfectly shows the ideal playing position of the entire upper body than this one. For this reason alone the book should be acquired. The photo shows Schnabel not on a bench but sitting firmly back against the back of his vertical straight-backed chair, a chair that he used even in performance. His upper arms do not hang down vertically, but extend out considerably from the shoulder girdle (about 45 degrees) with the forearms roughly level, and the fingers comfortably curved so that they touch the keys on their tips.
THIS BOOK HAS JUST BEEN REPUBLISHED IN PAPERBACK [March 2007]! To view or purchase, please click on the graphic link below. (Copies of the out-of-print hardback first edition with dust jacket are also available on this website. Please click on the “Order/Contact Us” button and inquire as to availability and price).