Russians; a Piano; the Legend.
(Fascinate story about
Russian Classical Technique of Playing the Piano)
Prof. Lev Naumov probably the
most EFFECTIVE teacher of the piano WORLDWIDE of the whole 20 Century; this
photo has been given to the author of this Web-Site by Lev Nikolaevitch
Famous Russian Piano-Schooling
System fascinates piano students worldwide again and again. Besides, many
piano music admirers become assured that the musical event the Russian
artists might participate in, nearly MUST represent a truly higher artistic
quality. As well the piano teachers who even very little, sometimes,
somewhere... still have been learned by the Russians, become likely more
trustful for the students.
Quite a strange fact:
very few musicians are able to take into consideration that each one
Russian pianist truly CANNOT represent equally high artistic level as
represent the Great Russian Masters of the piano, and consequently it is
not truth that any Russian or in Russia educated piano tutor is able to
work in equally high professional way. One ought to be sure as well that any
sole & one, homogenous Russian Piano School really does NOT
exist; that fact should be apparent to us all. On the other hand, factually
many great individualities have appeared in the piano field in Russia,
putting ultimate touches on development of the piano art NOT only in their
homeland, particularly in the first half of the 20th Century.
They were such artists
(1863 - 1931); among his students were Vladimir
Horowitz and Harry Neuhaus...
(1875 - 1961) and his disciples - Samuil Feinberg,
Dmitry Kabalevsky, Grigory Ginsburg, Tatiana Nikolaeva,
IGUMNOV (1873 - 1948); he
taught, among others - Lev Oborin, Jakov Flier, Maria
Grinberg, Jakov Milstein...
Nikolaev (1876 - 1942); among
his students were Vladimir Sofronitsky, Maria Yudina, Dmitry
Shostakovitch, Pavel Serebryakov...
NEUHAUS (1888 - 1964); among
his students could be found such pianists as Svjatoslav
Richter, Emil Gilels, Jakov Zak, Lev Naumov,
Radu Lupu, Vera
Gornostaeva, Evgeny Malinin, Evgeny Mogilevsky...
After them were coming the tens and
hundreds students of their students (and pupils of their pupils), who,
working around the World started to develop and evolve the Great Russian
Piano Tradition. In this tradition, seeing the problem from professional
piano pedagogical point of view, most interesting is the very special
approach to the piano technique: Russians are used to INTEGRATE all the
musical abilities and aptitudes, which commonly provide the pianists with
the real skill of playing as naturally as the Italian singers sing.
The pedagogic art and
artistic activity of all of above maintained masters, have been grounded
under many various influences, mainly coming to Russia from the Romantic
tradition via such masters as John Field (1782 - 1837) and Anton Rubinstein
(1829 - 1894). Still before all, the Russian Piano Pedagogy grew under
influence coming from the three other Masters yet:
- Theodor Leschetizky
(1830 - 1915), who taught as genuinely Russian master as Vassily Safonov, more late the teacher of Alexander Scriabin, Nikolai
Medtner, Josef Lhevinne and Rosina Bessie (later Lhevinne).
- Franz LISZT (1811
- 1886), the artist who primarily influenced the Russians as the greatest pianist-virtuoso
in the whole history of music...
- and Frederic CHOPIN (1810 - 1849), who put the most
perceptible touches on the Russian piano pedagogical art.
However, the Russian Piano-Schooling System
sometimes becomes considered as a phenomenon caused by the collective work,
Russian piano masters' activity was strictly INDIVIDUAL yet. These artists
did not work as members of any particular GROUP, and as well they did not
represent any ONE & SAME point of view on playing and teaching the
piano; surely no one of above maintained piano masters would like to accept
such dishonorable summarization. Factually, this phenomenon a Russian
Piano Legend should be interpreted in analogous way as it happens in the
history of Art, generally. Though, we are used to define some particular
eras or even informal groups of artists who simultaneously lived and worked
in particular periods and/or places as the Viennese Classics, French
Impressionists, Slavonic Romantics, etc still in spite of all such
categorizations the particular artists working even in the same cities in
the same time are fully recognizable as clearly different
Seeing the problem from
another point of view, we have to maintain yet that herein exists something
HABITUALLY SHARED by all the greater Russian individual approaches to the
piano question, which approves common evaluation related to the entire
- The piano technique
is being interpreted by elite of the Russian piano teachers as such kind
to play the piano well
that cannot be obtained in any MECHANICAL
- The piano playing is
being interpreted by them as an activity of the evidently creative character.
This is this main component of the whole
matter, which if superficially interpreted might even cause the feeling
of identity of many Russian teaching methods in history of the piano. Positively
said: the technique of playing the piano according to Russian standards
must be obtained in the artistically QUALIFIED way. That is why the piano technique is being interpreted by
elite of the Russian piano teachers as a phenomenon that includes much more
than the action of fingers and hands only. Furthermore, the artistically
proper piano technique according to the Russian piano methodical rules
cannot be developed as something of the one-track character: the artistic IMAGE, the creative HEARING,
the IDEA doubtlessly must always be present in the performance as well as
in PRACTICING the piano!
artistically clear musical INTONATION (a kind of the internal anticipative
ergo creative hearing) is the most essential point in adequate
understanding of the whole Russian Piano Miracle.
It is truly sorrowful that so many adepts
of the piano from around the World deeply believe in existence of something
that could be defined as the MYSTERIOUS RUSSIAN TECHNIQUE, which
according to the most common opinions concerns exceptionally FINGERS and
HANDS' action, and if rationally used finally must bring the ARTISTIC
SUCCESS! Factually, nothing of that kind had ever existed in the Russian
professional piano schooling. Any magical training system surely does NOT
exist in the Russian modern piano teaching formula, too! And actually no
one Russian teacher might show HOW one could duplicate the quickness of
ones fingers using purely mechanical tricks.
In the Russian leading
piano systems one cannot find any concept that would exceptionally be
related to FINGERS or HANDS, once fingers' and/or hands' action have never
been seen as the most fundamental elements of the matter. As well in the
Russian leading schools or conservatories of music no one student is being
forced to endless studies on SCALES, PASSAGES, DOUBLE TONES, OCTAVES
separately. In spite of it or, better said thanks to that kind of
approach they ARE able to play such elements of the piano pieces much
better then they who so desperately try to polish these elements, strongly
believing in possibility to gain the proper piano technique just via
improving their fingers' dexterity. Of course, due to the nature of theirs
instruments violinists, cellists and wind players must work on scales
& passages much more then the pianists have to; the piano tuner decides
the cleanness of the piano pitch yet, so the pianists have nothing to do
with this problem. Therefore the exercising of pianists' hearing, focusing
their attention on the EXTERNAL clearness of intonation factually has no
great importance in the professional piano schooling. Instead, the pianists
HAVE TO focus their attention on the anticipative ARTISTIC INTONATING that
must constantly act, guarantying the actual smoothness and virtual
vividness of performed sounds and phrases; generally such activity firmly
assures the fluency in developing the musical Form. As well the emotional colors and dynamic
values of the sound have to persistently be watched when
practicing and playing the piano, because just these elements determine the
whole future TECHNICAL progress of the piano students.
Of course, the mechanical part in piano
technique doubtlessly exists and is the very important aspect of the whole
thing. The Russian piano masters are interested in building the rational
proportions between the usage of fingers' energy and the hands' weight in
playing and especially in practicing the piano. They strongly avoid
speaking about purely mechanical errors yet; instead they always try to
solve the technical problems focusing students' hearing and fantasy on such
VALUES of the SOUND that would help in recognizing any possible manual
disorder in playing.
grounders of The Russian Professional Piano-Schooling System perfectly knew
that if something HAD NOT formerly been recognized, planned and shaped by
the artistically skillful and active FANTASY, nothing positive could
factually happen in the PRACTICE. When IDEA does not rule the practice
the practice becomes ruled by something UNKNOWN and it should be more than
very clear that such kind of activity cannot yield anything of artistically
This Supreme Law is valid at all of the schooling levels: from the
first lessons up to the post-graduated studies.
approach, at least, firmly supports the students' activity in their
individual searches for instrumentally proper solutions. Indeed: this is
the THEORY! But such theory means nothing else as a generalization made
after many years long PRACTICE. And that is how the real everyday work in
any schooling level really looks alike in the leading Russian schools and
conservatories of music.
In my opinion, going
THAT WAY along, not only Russians would be able to build the suitably integrated,
harmonized, stable and solid piano technique. This is the
"top-secret" idea of piano professional schooling in Russia in
the past as well as today. And that is
one & sole, Chopin-based, in Russia practically tested
piano pedagogic concept, which if becomes assimilated by any other piano
schooling system, might bring much instrumental ease connecting its
piano-technical thinking with the real essence of musicality.
Which aspect of the matter represents so high value in the Russian Classical Technique of
Playing the Piano?
In my opinion - this is the real ARTISTIC approach to any piano
Let you have a look at
the following model: as long as the student tries to "relax the
muscles" in any particularly difficult phase of the musical piece,
having no image of its MUSICAL IDEA he is unable to gain the exact image
of the whole situation. Relaxation, besides, had obtained nearly religious
or, better-said, OBSESSIVE sense in several piano-schooling systems (as in
the Taubman Approach, for instance). I feel the necessity to
maintain that many years ago I have been infected by this truly dangerous
Working in the
Russian-like, Chopin-based way, the students would gain just really working
HABITS that in the future might efficiently provide them forward if any
technical problem might happen. The students would getting sure skills
then, which will give them the practical knowledge related to "WHAT &
HOW " should persistently be observed in the sound's quality. As well,
herewith they become informed about the way, the certain kind of piano technical INCOMPETENCY could
finally be thrown out. That should mean that the pure "relaxation"
becomes replaced by the "energy & weight managing", which
does not include any shadow of
PASSIVITY that I am truly afraid is so typical to relaxation,
As it has been formerly
maintained, this formula has straight relation even to the first phases of
the piano schooling. Building possibly firm interest in FANTASY'S ACTIVITY
the Russians especially emphasize its NECESSITY in the first phases of the
children piano education IN SPITE of quality of their musical talents!
According to Russians beliefs, again, the manually unfit students NEED even
more help in activating of their likely dead FANTASY.
That is why
they never try to improve the pupils' manual abilities focusing their
attention on the hands' action! The magical circle of piano technical incompetence starts just from this point: THE FANTASY cannot be vitalized
by any kind of the PHYSICAL (manual) ACTION, and because the any smallest
physical MOTION is practically ruled just by FANTASY, it should finally
become clear that any kind of relaxation or other manual acting definitely
CANNOT ACTIVATE the pianists' fingers and hands. AMEN!
The Russians know
perfectly well - what is bad and what is good for the
acting pianists' hands. It should be however clear, that such knowledge
might be possessed by any pianist, and everywhere! The hands' acting
straightly shows: WHAT, factually, HAPPENS in the pianist's MIND. One has
to be sure that hard, rude thinking and indeterminate emotions must
definitely produce inharmonious, physically offensive motions, additionally
inducing hard and rude sounds that must come just as the simply LOGICAL
The best Russian
teachers apparently believe in possibility to improve the quality of
EXTERNAL, physical aspects of the instrumental skills primarily
improving the INTELLECTUAL and EMOTIONAL approach to the playing,
represented by such elements as hearing, thinking, creating emotionally
clear images. The very interesting hereby is the fact that all these
artistically most important elements of the matter represent as well the
technologically most important side of the technique of playing the piano.
As Prof. Neuhaus said: "Music lives within us, in our brain, in our
consciousness; its domicile can be accurately established: it is our
hearing." Therefore only affecting the hearing, causing changes in
thinking, awaking the fantasy the pianists (violinists, singers, etc.)
would be able to achieve the stable, firm and permanent results in REALLY
VISIBLE, mechanical side of their instrumental technique. This quotation
verifies the straightest connection between Russians piano tradition and
the Chopin's Method; as Prof. Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger wrote [in his
Introduction to the Chopin's "Sketches for the Method"] herein
did not exist any discontinuity between the physical and mental domain in
the Chopin's teaching. I hope, I do not have remain the fact that to
understand the Chopin's Method even partiall, one should become acquainted
with truly greatly larger material then the Chopin's "Sketches for the
It should mean, that
NOT the NUMBER of played studies, scales and passages, exclusively would
decide the piano technical growth. The QUALITY or (better said) the MANNER
these scales, passages and studies would be realized in, plays the decisive
role in the piano technical progress as a whole.
worldwide, make the raw mistake understanding the hearing &
artistically creative fantasy as a part or phase of work on the
artistic INTERPRETATION only; these factors have to be seen as the most
IMPORTANT and indispensable BASIS, necessary to any technically proper,
PHYSICALLY adequate motion of fingers and hands. As long as this truth
would be hidden to us, the actual ARTISTIC INCOMPETENCY would cause the
instrumentally improper, ergonomically WRONG MOTIONS and rise very melancholic
feelings among our students.
The Russian piano technical formula could
be defined as follows: seeking for the best results, one should mainly
remember the following things:
- The artistic IMAGE-MAKING instead of looking for nuances...
- The active INTONATING instead of playing by heart...
ergonomic ENERGY & WEIGHT management instead of muscle power's
usage and the endless hands'
As you see, nothing of esoteric character could
be found herein. Everybody can start to try this easy and truly effective
way. The joy that comes from being CREATIVE is typical not only to all the
genuine artists it should come to any human being who dares to act in
Well, only they who possess something
could be able to share this with
others. Who of us would like to become granted by the
"relaxation" shining from the stage, or to share the joy caused
by "dexterity" of fingers? Piano adepts, who are getting no joy
from IMAGE-MAKING, must seek for substitutes that would originate the
illusion of "being an
Artist"; they actually need in any possible surrogate of the "Art-making". As the
result they overuse their hands and fingers only, trying to find the key to
the doors of Art in the
absolutely wrong way. Seeking for the finally good result one has to be
sure that they, who are looking for "relaxation" PROBABLY could
find it! Who looks for "fingers' dexterity" probably will find
it, too. As well: who wants to make his hands iron-strong probably sometimes will get as strong
hands as the Finnish woodsmen have...
Still no one of them,
who is seeking for above maintained elements, will achieve the goal they
PROBABLY were looking for because the artistically proper piano technique
cannot be developed as the SIDE-RESULT of work targeted on clearly
non-artistic objects. At this place I would like suggest reading the Prof.
Harry Neuhaus great book about the piano art. It represents the genuine
knowledge of typically Russian approach to main questions of forming the
piano instrumental technique. It has being written in very condensed and
attractive form; additionally, it brings up much larger view on
intellectual backgrounds that have played very essential role in forming
this surprisingly generous phenomenon recognized today as The Russian
Piano Schooling System.
Additionally, I would
like suggest to read this file, or - for
instance - this one,
With my Very Best Wishes!
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