Hand injury should not be a tragedy, but...     


 Dear Friends!

 The real progress in playing, primarily, does NOT depend on the THINGS the pianists work on, but on the WAY they complete their work in...

 Indeed, that is the truth, but firstly: I am very sorry I am NOT the English native speaker...!  So, let you, please, take this fact into friendly consideration reading this text! Thank you!

 Well. The story begun quite long time ago: becoming a student of the Academy (Higher School) of Music in Katowice, Poland (Krystian Zimmerman graduated from here some years later), I got for summer holidays many instrumentally difficult pieces to the "independent preparing". I should do them ready before starts the 1st semester of my piano studies. Among these pieces were some Chopin's Etudes, Schumann's Toccata and Beethoven's Sonata op. 2 No 3. I worked truly hard - still, fruitlessly.

 As the uniquely stable result of my whole diligence I got very upsetting, mutual (sometimes more, sometimes less offensive) pains in my hands only...!

 What I did then? Wow! It wasn't anything sophisticated: I just put my burning hands into cold water many times daily and tried to cut the pain down. It surely was not the best solution - still it worked, giving at least the temporary help! If I, unfortunately, might possess "a natural tendency towards these types of problems [tendinitis or carpal tunnel]", such kind of practicing and playing the piano might obviously cause some serious consequences. Thanks to Nature - nothing of that kind has ever happened!

 Being in the real troubles at that point I persistently looked for any rational solution. I tried nearly all the possible piano technical systems, included these proposed by Breithaupt, Steinhausen, Leimer/Gieseking & others. I exercised scales and arpeggios, Hanon, Cortot, Brahms and endless amount of various studies, trying to strengthen the PHYSICAL power of my fingers, etc. It is indisputably clear to me nowadays, I just went the wrong way along: as many others I believed in possibility to obtain the real piano mastery, truly having NO IMAGE related to the factual PSYCHOTECHNICAL ground, the piano technical skills should be grown on...

 The years went by; I graduated in Katowice achieving the Master of Music degree in the piano (soloist & pedagogue) and started my sovereign artistic life - teaching, playing chamber music, accompanying, giving solo recitals and concerts with various orchestras in Poland as well as in other European countries. Though, honestly said, I have never even partially been satisfied thereupon, especially in relation to my piano technique, which has never been adequate enough. Maybe, being more crazy about practicing I would achieve any greater success via more hard practicing? But as well it is possible, that I would get the chronic tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome then? Thanks to Nature, my genuine laziness saved me from such unpleasant eventualities! And suddenly...

 Luckily, I asked of and got at last a stipendium from the Polish Ministry of Culture and started to continue my piano studies in the Moscow 'P. Tshaikovsky' Conservatoire of Music. This fact actually gave me opportunity to become acquainted with the Great Russian piano tradition. Short (six months long) Moscow studies yet seriously influenced my future approach to the piano and my manner of managing the "music-making" - generally. As the most important thing I gained here, doubtlessly was the understanding of theory of the MUSICAL INTONATION.

 Ability "to artistically valuable, vivid, internal, IMAGINATIVE intonation of the realizing sounds, phrases, etc." - not only in my opinion factually decides character of the piano instrumental acting. Said more simply: of real instrumental technique of the pianist. The IDEA, through its emotionally active content (the IMAGE), factually DETERMINES any thinkable element of any possible PHYSICAL movement completed by elements of the pianist's body. They who believe in any different model of the matter just actually would be forced to master their technique EXCLUSIVELY practicing the elements, which actually might have nothing to do with any musical problem. This fact must cause the clear consequences: having no straight connection with naturally harmonic musical THOUGHT, they cannot be able to the MECHANICALLY HARMONIC work, too. It is much enough to start the destructive processes in the pianists' hands, which in future must cause the malady, if at least any "innocent" element of the "acting device" become physically overloaded! This is the way the inappropriate VISION of the matter will force pianists to prepare the soil, all tendinitis and carpal tunnels MUST earlier or later reveal itself on, in spite of the time such misfortune might happened in.

 Now to the story, again.

 Experiencing and drawing comparisons between lessons provided by such Professors as E. Timakin (the teacher of M. Pletnev and I. Pogorelich - in the Central Music School at Moscow Conservatoire), A. Sumbatian (V. Ashkenazy - in the CMS), L. Oborin (V. Ashkenazy in the Conservatoire), L. Naumov (V. Viardo, A. Gavrilov, etc.), J. Flier (many, many...), J. Zak, J. Milstein, T. Nikolayeva, D. Bashkirov and others, I became assured that however all of these masters clearly are the strong artistic individualities – their mastery includes something COMMON...

 Many years later I understood, that THIS "shared value" was their relation to the way, which in the professional piano schooling has been INDICATED by the Chopin's pedagogic practice (known via literature only) and sketchily described in his own reports. This should not, of course, mean that I see all the Russian piano systems as unchanged continuity of the Chopin's Method (let you have a look at this file)

 OK. After my Moscow period came years of experiments, sometimes - of pedagogically unsure decisions and of others more or less unfit piano instrumental conclusions. But at last came this Great Day when IT has happily happened: I finally understood the particularity of relation between CHOPIN'S and NEUHAUS' piano Methods and became able to efficiently act according to the rules both of them were constructed by.

 How look these rules alike?

 The FIRST and the most important one could be described as below:

1. No one motion realized by the human being can SENSIBLY be performed being DEPRIVED of the real support given by his/her emotional, imaginative and intellectual powers.

 And the next one:

2. Any piano sound caused by any physical motion CARRIERS forward the elements of our "inner self" and due to persistent acting of the emotional resonance, it CAUSES the relevant emotional REACTION in the listener's mind: artistic emptiness - causes lack of interest; artistic richness - caused attention, etc.


3. Piano technical schooling should be seen as the truly heterogeneous process, which should nearly synchronically be realized on at least the two levels: related to the pianist's Mind and to the pianist's BODY. The teachers must take into consideration the UNREVERSIBILITY of elements in this process: all FACTORS that affect MIND, as well affect the BODY, but nothing of that kind might happen inversely. Mastering any mechanical skill apart from its MUSICAL (intellectual, emotional, psychical) background, they would only drain the student's brain off.

 That is why:

4. Factually do not exist any "dull" exercise, "boredom" scale or "bad" study for the piano! Any Hanon's exercise COULD be instrumentally EFFECTIVE and even artistically beautiful. The similar valuation might concern any other thing or HABIT related to the piano technical schooling (or - to piano playing as a whole); such master-works as the Studies of Chopin, Debussy, Scriabin, Rachmaninov or Szymanowski - COULD (and it happens very often, I'm afraid) be performed awfully, brutally, without any artistically estimable sense.


5. The real progress in playing, primarily, does NOT depend on the THINGS the pianists work on, but on the WAY they complete their work in.

 As the next important aspect of the matter I see this one:

6. In the pedagogical work we obviously have to take into consideration the essential role of the usage of artistic INTUITION; as Benedetto Croce (1868-1952) said: "The Art is The Intuition"!

Well! What does it practically mean?

Theory, even the best one, cannot dictate the solutions in the artistic work. Wanting to bring up the creative artistic individuality, the teachers cannot isolate the students from theirs individually OWN and differentiated emotions and thoughts, which all hail from the same source yet: they come just from purely intuitive bottom of their mind. And however sometimes it could be difficult to detect even drips of musicality in the students' approach to the piano, starting to form their artistic capability from exercising theirs fingers - might destroy even such minimal intuitive potencies one could detect in theirs musicality. Yes, we should try and try again to ignite their IMAGINATION instead. Furthermore, only acting via artistically interesting images we, the teachers - would be able to MOTIVATE the students effectively! Apart from real effectiveness of such kind of approach, teachers who decide to go this way along, would cause less boredom for their students and more enjoyment for themselves as well.

I do not must maintain at this place, that such approach requires the genuine vividness of the teacher's creativity. As well it obligates him/her to be a person who is able to understand the youth (including theirs feeling of humor), being likewise up to date in possible many intellectual areas.

 The last question concerns the physical (manual) aspects of playing the piano. However the real talents rather do not need many bits of advice related to this specific field - they still could seriously need the help in UNDERSTANDING of the musical Idea of the particular piece. As well they might greatly benefit from our help related to CREATING the appropriate Images related to the phases of development of the Form. Greater talents intuitively choose the best piano instrumental (manual) solutions; let us do not be surprised - sometimes they seem to be appropriate ONLY for them...

 Teaching students who haven't been as greatly gifted from Nature, we should offer them more and more piano technical support. In any case, it cannot mean that they obviously HAVE to manually complete the things, literally imitate us - their tutors. After more than 30 years long practice I dare to say, that it could be much enough if they would follow the way started by Bach and apparently continued by Chopin, Godowski, Hofmann, Neuhaus and Horowitz:

7. The piano playing, physically, should mainly be managed by intelligent usage of the power that causes when the liberated elements of the hand drop down. We need of course actively support this happening using the energy and actively controlling the suitability of gained results, comparing them to the particular artistic imaginations. Synchronically, all the produced sounds should be virtually guided forward via INTONATION, which solely is able to provide and fulfill them with the emotional authenticity. The physical power of the musculature of hands should be used in the truly minimal amount.

That is why the myth about necessity to endless strengthening of the fingers' power, a sorrowful "legacy" generated by YOUNG Liszt and diffused thoroughly via Mrs. Boissier's memoirs, should definitely be laid to rest.


 Writing these words up, I am, precisely said, ready to say: Thank you for your patience!

 Good Bye! Up to the next meeting...!

Yours truly - Stefan Kutrzeba

 PS I would like to sincerely suggest visiting this Web Page and - consequently - some others linked to it, too.

Revised: 2006-04-05.