Debussy framed articles and videos enrich our study

It’s always a blissful coincidence when a piano teacher discovers a wealth of contemporary commentary about a composer whose music is under study in a partnered learning environment. With a framing introduction about the creator, a mentor and pupil can journey beyond details of notation, fingering, harmony, to absorb context, history, and varying compositional approaches to a vast repertoire.

Within this expanded universe of knowing, Stephen Hough, pianist, has written a detailed article about Debussy and his Modernist status among composers who preceded and followed him. Amidst the writer’s many crafted lines about Debussy in this “new” light, a few are fleshed out as companion to playing samples. (linked within the NYT text)

“No other composer feels to me more improvised, more free-flowing. But then the player is conscious of a contradiction as the score is studied more closely: Music that sounds created in the moment is loaded with instructions on how to achieve this.”

Hough refuses to stereotype Debussy with superficial claims about whole tone scales and water motifs. Instead, he carefully sifts through various compositions to support his individually tailored analyses.

In Pagodes from Estampes the pianist emphasizes the composer’s exposure to Javanese gamelan music at a Paris Exposition in 1889. “A Newly learned, fully absorbed language” is imbued with a pentatonic scale that creates a “color” dimension.

In the universe of tactile “feel,” Hough waxes poetic:

“…this is music made as molded by playing, as dough is folded with yeast to create bread. As the fingers reach the keys, sound and touch seem to fuse into one. The keyboard has ceased to be a mere function for hammers to strike strings, and has become a precious horizontal artifact to caress. This is music of the piano as much as for the piano. The poet Léon-Paul Fargue, having watched Debussy play, wrote that he “would start by brushing the keys, prodding the odd one here and there, making a pass over them and then he would sink into velvet.”


“Debussy’s piano music is perfectly conceived for the instrument. But it isn’t just that it fits beautifully under the hand or sounds wonderful as the vibrations leave the soundboard and enter the ear. To play the opening of “Reflets dans l’Eau” (from “Images,” Book One) feels as if the composer has transplanted his fingerprints onto the pads of your digits. The way the chords are placed on the keys (flat-fingered on the black notes) is not so much a vision of reflections, whether trees, clouds or water lilies. It is as if each three-padded triad is an actual laying of a flower onto the water’s surface.”

A pertinent New York Times feature highlighting “The Week’s Best Classical Music Moments on YouTube,” includes the performance of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing both books of “Images.”

The Times reviewer supplements Hough’s Debussy analysis with his own comments: “Painterly colors and milky textures are requisite, of course. But details matter in Debussy.” Tommasini sees “rhythm and the use of rubato as intrinsic to the playing.” It’s Michelangeli’s use of rubato that shines through for him.

In the realm of rubato and musical expression, Hough chimes reflects about the music of Chopin as it relates to Debussy: “I think the secret to playing Debussy’s music lies in its Chopinist roots — he edited the Polish composer’s works for Durand — and in his ties to his older, old-fashioned compatriots Massenet, Delibes and others.”

These comments do not detract from paragraphs that Hough includes about the “jazz” inferences of Debussy as they appear in “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” and “Minstrels.”

But the writer returns to the fold of “Romantic sentimentality” by citing “Clair de Lune” and the “Deux Arabesques” as emblematic.


In the pedagogical realm, Graham Fitch, pianist, author and teacher has posted a valuable practicing resource for those learning The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin.

Fitch has a timely introduction to the work:

“The title ‘La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin’ came from Leconte de Lisle’s poem by the same name, included in the Chansons ecossaises (Scottish Songs) from 1852. In this, the eighth piece from the first book of Préludes composed around 1910, Debussy is painting a picture of an innocent and naive Scottish girl. He uses conventional diatonic harmony blended in with pentatonic scales, modal cadences as well as parallel chord movement.”

Fitch adds Debussy’s own riveting comments about pedaling:
“Pedaling cannot be written down. It varies from one instrument to another, from one room, or one hall, to another.”

Daniel Barenboim has produced a series of you tube videos that explore various aspects of the Debussy’s music. These are delivered in short segments of commentary and interspersed playing samples. At the fore, Barenboim asserts that Debussy was more influenced by literature and nature than by a school of painting known as Impressionism. (a common cliche that doesn’t hold much water)

Barenboim on Clair de Lune


Finally, one of my favorite performances of “Moonlight” rendered by pianist, Seong-Jin Cho

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)


The “Best Interview” with Seymour Bernstein

Seymour’s fan club encompasses a vast array of e-list recipients who feel the pulse of the pianist’s response to a universe of infinite wonders. In a steady stream of emails FROM: see.less (not more–mour), TO: his many cyber-connected admirers, a cascade of attachments might contain a photo display of newborn puppies snuggling with a feline mother surrogate; or e-parcels will capture a tiger befriending a kangaroo. Interspersed among heart-warming animal kingdom posts, Bernstein will sometimes forward a set of eye-catching waterfall slides, giving full credit to a pupil photographer. A plethora of these peak experiences spring rhythmically from photo depictions of nature’s gifts, while they concurrently flow beside student concert updates, wrapped with affection.

Clearly Seymour’s embrace of life, filled with bundles of giving, is as touching as a child who experiences a first sunrise. At 90, Seymour is still agelessly wide-eyed and curious: always evolving and learning with a passion.


If Bernstein’s many past reflective interviews were enough to satisfy those interested in the pianist’s career as teacher, performer, author, composer, this latest posting stands out as unique. (It has acquired Seymour’s signature recommendation)

“Dear friends, I believe that this is one of the best interviews I have ever had.


I agree that it IS the best, based on reminiscences that are priceless and shared with impeccable timing.

“Living the Classical Life” (convened by Zsolt Bognar)

May Seymour continue to impart his gifts, talents, and precious anecdotes to a growing audience of dedicated followers.


NOTE: Seymour’s Vimeo on pedaling is a must see.
Link within blog:

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Piano Teachers and Pedaling

In the cosmos of pedaling, where the “soul of the piano” is explored, I asked a few teachers about when and how they introduce students to the use of the sustaining or damper pedal.

Definition of Terms:

Legato/Syncopated Pedal

“In legato pedaling, the sustain pedal is pressed down after a note or chord has been played but before it has been released. It’s called legato pedaling because the pedal is used as a way to connect notes together and create the illusion of smooth playing. This technique is also called syncopated pedaling.”

The Direct Pedal

“In the direct pedal, the sustain pedal is depressed at the same moment the keys are struck. This is useful for accenting a sharp attack or giving a big chord some extra resonance.”

The Preliminary Pedal

“The pedal is pressed down before the first notes of a piece or section. This allows the piano to be at its most resonant when the keys are struck and creates a full, deep, and beautiful sound.”


Irina Morozova

I introduce pedal when students are ready. Usually it doesn’t happen until the second or even third year (with kids). I give them simple exercises for direct and late (syncopated) pedal and explain the difference. Pedaling is an extremely difficult subject to write about: It’s too complicated and subtle. But when students are ready to pedal, I expect them to do it perfectly so we work very hard on it, using more and more complex pedal tricks.

Rami Bar-Niv

I introduce pedaling when we get to repertoire that requires it and when the student can reach the pedal comfortably. I don’t use pedal extenders for small kids. I prefer that the student is first well-grounded in playing without the pedal.

When I teach the use of the pedal, I start with syncopated pedaling as “default” and later move on to various pedal techniques and uses as they are deemed necessary and required by the music.

I never mention the concept that pedal is used for legato playing even though it can help with legato at times. I view the pedal as enhancement and enrichment of the sound and as an aid in phrasing. The use of the pedal depends not only on the music that’s being played but also on the piano it’s being played on and the room it’s being played in.


Seymour Bernstein presents his views on pedaling with compelling demonstrations of actual exercises he enlists in the early years of study, continuing with a more complex mentoring/development of pedal techniques as students advance.

In vimeo format, Bernstein explains and demonstrates the history of the right pedal.

Seymour’s Introduction

We learn two startling facts: 1) Hairpins, (cresc. and decresc. markings), beginning with Beethoven, mean tempo fluctuations, and 2) In my opinion, the asterisks, following Chopin’s pedal indications, mean nothing at all. Along the way, I reveal important information concerning interpretation, all coupled with PowerPoint slides which show the points under discussion. It’s a must for all teachers and serious pianists.


In his book, The Art of Piano Fingering, Rami Bar-Niv explores finger pedaling as a technique applied to the same measures of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor (LH) that Bernstein referenced in his video trailer. Bar-Niv, then further probes the same work.

Bar-Niv: The tool of finger pedaling can be very helpful when playing without using the sustain pedal or when pedaling needs to be cleared if some extra resonance and overtones are still desired. It can also be very effective when we wish to bring out some extra-hidden voices/melodies in the music.


Kirsten: From my teaching perspective, the world of pedaling is filled with complexity. Mentoring students about how to use the pedal as an enhancement of musical lines, fleshing out colors and nuances the pianoforte affords, is an incremental journey. Attentive listening should be at its center, supported by technical and physical approaches that best realize what is an imagined sound image. The process of assimilating various dimensions of pedaling may take years of exposure to varied repertoire. And what might work for a Chopin composition in sound imagery terms, will not necessarily carry over to a Debussy Prelude. It’s our job as teachers to help sort through the varied tonal and atonal vocabularies of composers as we explore their works. By experimenting with pedaling options and exchanging ideas back and forth with our pupils we foster mutual musical growth.


Irina Morozova

Rami Bar-Niv
Author The Art of Piano Fingering

Rami’s Rhapsody Piano Camp for Adults of all piano-playing levels in San Francisco, April 22-28, 2018.
Piano camp for adults, all levels,
beginners to piano teachers.
Utica, NY. June and October.

Seymour Bernstein

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Jeanne Bamberger, 94, shares a rich and abundant musical life

A former student of legendary pianist, Artur Schnabel, Jeanne Shapiro Bamberger sat comfortably at her piano bench, nestled in her Berkeley Hills home. She meticulously traced her East to West Coast journey that’s reached beyond the boundaries of piano performance. Through decades of creative discovery, Bamberger has synthesized elements of music and cognition; form, structure, analysis, with an understanding of how we react/respond to music. Her work has had a far-reaching effect. Four of her titles are read and respected across an audience of many disciplines, while her popular U.C. Berkeley course, “Music Cognition” draws interest/attendance from diverse academic, scientific and musical communities.

Adding to a prolific output of university-based activities, she’s created a software program that’s allied to the website It has integrated a community of musicians and technology mavens, some of whom sit in Bamberger’s classroom. Their posted mission “is to build computer-based and hands-on products that will help you develop your creative intuitions while having fun with music.”

Bamberger’s list of well-reviewed books include:
The Mind behind the Musical Ear (Harvard University Press, 1995), Developing Musical Intuitions: A Project-based Introduction to Making and Understanding Music (Oxford University Press, 2000), Discovering the Musical Mind: A view of Creativity as Learning (Oxford University Press, 2013) and The Art of Listening.

Of no surprise, Jeanne Bamberger has been regaled as “one of the seminal figures in the fields of music cognition and child development.” (Bio: UC Berkeley, Music Department-

In our videotaped conversation, Jeanne revealed her inquisitive mind that, in part, sprang from her deep immersion in Philosophy study at the University of Minneapolis. Nevertheless, her interest in music, embedded early in life, never waned. Her status as a child prodigy led her to teachers, some of whom embraced the approach of Jacques Dalcroze.

Johanna Graudon, a Russian mentor, who had, herself, studied with Schnabel in Berlin, sent Jeanne to her very own teacher. It forged a lineage that continued through shrinking degrees of separation, to the Contemporary music cosmos at U.C. Berkeley where Ernst Krenek and Roger Sessions became influential figures in Bamberger’s musical development.

Of particular interest, however, is Jeanne’s recorded memories of lessons with Artur Schnabel that were based in New York City during the 1950’s. In the company of Leon Fleisher, Claude Frank among other notables in fields of performance and musicology, Bamberger provided what is historically significant and of relevance to musicians, students, and educators around the world.

LINK: Schnabel Music Foundation

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Playing Mozart: Phrasing and Nuance

Expressing Mozart’s piano music beautifully is a composite of many ingredients that include vocal modeling; an understanding of form/structure and harmonic elements; sound imaging, and in the cosmos of the imagination, exploring how to produce what we want to hear. In our ongoing phase of “experimentation,” we delve through a terrain of unclarity, seeking ways to phrase expressively with shape and contour, accepting the premise that decisions we make are subject to change as our immersion deepens.

In a spirit of being receptive to a filter of new “ideas”, I revisited Mozart’s Sonata in F, K. 332, (Exposition) recreating the steps I took in sculpting phrases.

Along the path of my renewed journey, I discovered the following “POINTS of Interest” about the Exposition that provided a necessary framing of my re-learning process. I borrow a few, in part, from Dr. Clark Ross:

“There are seven distinct thematic ideas, if the transition is included. Each of the thematic ideas has a musical character that is distinct from the others.” (My comment, I found many more themes in this Exposition than in most of the Mozart Sonatas I’ve studied, and each uniquely different theme needs realization through a synthesis of the musical and physical aspects of playing.)

“Principal Theme 2, (PT2) and Second Theme 3 (ST3) have similar textures (homo-rhythmic, homophonic) but their character is different. PT2 is playful, dance-like, while ST3 is more solemn and chorale-like.

“The direct modulation to d minor at the beginning of the transition (in a markedly contrasting section) is striking. It’s part of the abrupt dramatic change to the “Sturm und Drang” character. “Storm and Stress.” (from Wikipedia: Sturm und Drang is literally “turbulence and urgency.”)

(Paraphrase)…. This transition is uniquely syncopated and intense, emphasized by frequent Sforzando markings–(I note a poignant sequential modulation from D minor to C minor, via diminished chord entrances) SEQUENCES, like these, are formidable in Mozart’s music and provoke emotional/aesthetic responses.

Dr. Ross effectively reinforces structural and harmonic considerations in the Exposition that are important underpinnings of analyses, but these will not amply address the aesthetics of creating well-shaped phrases with a Mozartean singing-tone character.

In my tutorial, I absorbed a harmonic and structural dimension that ultimately complemented and expanded a hands-on, “experimental” journey through the Exposition. It included “emotional” responses to harmonic shifts and sequences that permeate the composer’s music, while it infused the learning process with a pronounced feature of attentive listening. (i.e Listening to the decay from a previous note or sonority into the next, especially in crossover measures) Riveted attention to dissolving tones, prevents unwanted accents in measures where students misguidedly believe that the first beat of 3/4, in this instance, comes with an unchallenged pronounced emphasis. If executed in this way, a phrase can be upended by interruptions in the smooth flow of a musical line. Similarly, crescendo’s made prematurely and peaking on a downbeat, because of metrical misconception, must be re-aligned otherwise to enhance expressive playing.

Where Mozart has a plethora of juxtaposed repeated notes in his contrasting themes, I demonstrate ways of shaping these, so they’re not robotically rendered.

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Theory and Harmonic Analyses serve musical expression

Theoretical analysis has been part of my personal immersion at the piano since I began studies at the New York City High School of Performing Arts. As a student enrolled in the the Music department, I had three years of Sight-singing/Ear training, extensive exposure to harmony and musical structure, all within a performance-centered curriculum. And while I obsessively mapped out my piano pieces for every vestige of primary and secondary dominants, pivot chords leading to modulations, deceptive cadences, first and second themes, variations, points of Development and what characterized every section of a composition, I didn’t fully understand how to synthesize these analytical ingredients into expressive playing. (At that point in my adolescent life, I was more of an “intuitive” player.)

It was after years of study at the Oberlin Conservatory with its enriched courses of Theory, Music history, Eurhythmics, Keyboard Harmony and Piano Literature, that an expressive musical dimension surfaced as a resonating theme in my approach to learning piano works of varied historical periods. I would no longer compartmentalize what I considered to be a unity of elements in pursuit of beauty.

I still inveterately mark up a “new” composition with harmonic tracking, structural annotations, and fingering choices that comport with what I believe serves the best realization of phrases and this unshackled habit is fully fleshed out in the attached score. (Enrique Granados, Valse Poetico No. 1)

In synch with these scribbles, I dared to upload a video on my second day of practicing as I slowly waded through the music, bar-to-bar, separate hands, no less, with in-depth scrutiny of harmonic and interval analysis; symmetries of phrases; what was different?–how certain harmonic progressions created an “emotional response.” The iii chord, for example, known as the “Mediant,” was a heart-wrencher as it was poignantly “unexpected.” And in this cosmos of “affect” linked to harmonic events, expected and unexpected, I’d been taken by the book, Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard Meyer.

In a second video posting, which was my reconnection with Burgmuller’s “Barcarolle,” Op. 100, I embraced “Elements of Expressive Playing” that underscored awareness of pivotal harmonic junctures (modulations) that necessitated an emotional and physical synthesis. (i.e. How to “delay” the approach to certain sonorities in modulation; how to use a supple wrist to soften the impact of after beat chords, and to sensitively advance tapered cadences; how Rotation factored into a bridge back to a Recapitulation; how the beginning and end of the Barcarolle must be related, with a sense of reflection, mood connection, etc.) All identified key departures had an embedded affective significance that was bonded to choreography. In this pursuit, labeling a key shift needed translation into the physical playing experience with the “singing tone” as an underpinning.

In summary, a music-learning journey should deeply plant the seeds of cognitive, affective and kinesthetic awareness in the earliest phase of exploration. It must ideally include an array of analyses that serves the highest form of musical expression and shared human emotions.

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Favorite you tube video picks for 2018! (carried over from 2017)

I slipped up and missed the deadline for my end of 2017 super You Tube picks–realizing a bit late, that readers were celebrating the New Year in different time zones. Piano lovers from Japan and Australia had already popped champagne bottles 18 or so hours before those of us partook on the West Coast–And with USA Central, Mountain, Pacific and Eastern Standard times causing out of synch drifts of celebration, my Big Five You Tube List fizzled at 9 p.m. P.S.T, Dec. 31, as the stroke of Midnight Times Square (E.S.T.) ball drop welcomed 2018!

Still, redemption lay in a timeless series launched by the New York Times with long columns of piggy-backed you tube videos, Classical in genre, that were time-monitored for their mind-blowing moments. They fleshed out feats of virtuosity; heaven-on-earth phrase turns; wailing trills and heart-melting cadences. A harpist, Amy Turk, was singled out for her miraculous transcription/performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, amassing over 4 million views!

It became my bonus heist pick, falling outside keyboard bounds.

In the Piano Universe

Luis Fernando Perez

The artistry of Luis Fernando Pérez (Spain, b. 1977) topped my list, though choices following, from various years, accorded no preferential order.

Pianist, Perez, was my most treasured “new” You Tube surfing discovery, though he’d been circulating through Europe for years as soloist, chamber music player, and recording artist, earning performance awards along the way. Yet even with prestigious IMG Management, Perez had not reached the pinnacle of “big Name,” billboard success, having instead chosen a more true-to-art journey, reflected in his passion for Spanish repertoire that he chose to play in selected concert venues. (Carnegie Hall, or the Walt Disney complex were not along his musical route)

Perez’s website had revealed touch-downs at European Festivals interspersed by a foray to Kansas for a Master class and performance. He landed in North Carolina for a recital, though his travels inevitably pointed back to Europe.

In 2014, Perez played in Bilbao, Nantes, Paris, Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza, San Sebastian, Brussels, Saint Petersburg, Budapest, Warsaw, Tokyo, Lyon, and Toulouse, with no further Internet posted concerts on his site. Judging by a significant escalation in Internet exposure post 2014, his energies seemed redirected to the recording cosmos.

Bryce Morrison, published a 2012 review in Gramaphone that amply described the pianist’s abundant gifts.

“RISING TO PRISTINE GLORY: Luis Fernando Pérez is clearly among the most individual and gifted pianists of today’s generation.

“And, in his more recent disc of Granados’s Goyescas, his playing is audaciously personal and has an improvisatory freedom and coloration very much his own. He achieves a superb senseof contrast, of innocence and experience…”


Perez’s interpretation of Spanish music is compelling as “channeled” through his performance of Enrique Granados Valses Poeticos. His radiant singing tone; broad palette of “colors,” and poignant creation of emotional intimacy draw the listener into a deep and abiding relationship with the composer.


Seymour Bernstein: A newly discovered awakening to tempo and mood in the Schumann Arabesque

A previous blog gave details and background about Bernstein’s epiphanies:

Seymour’s performance speaks for itself with its effortless spill of melody bundled in harmonic warmth. There’s no tempo impetuosity, or pre-meditated, boundary-determined section transitions. It’s all woven together as pure poetry flowing from the heart.

David Fray: A humbling encore follows a concerto performance:

J.S. Allemande from Partita No. 6 in E minor

This is an inspired rendering, well-voiced by Maestro Fray.


Irina Morozova – Bortkiewicz Etude Opus 15, No 9

Heaven on earth playing with impeccable fluidity. No words suffice to describe.


George Li plays Haydn with his emblematic liquidity and singing tone.

The complete Haydn sonata in B minor was the divine opener to Li’s October 2017 recital at S.F. Davies Hall.

Finally, Happy You Tube Surfing to All in 2018!

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)