domenica 3 maggio 2020

Piano lesson on Czerny's Study op. 299 n. 8

Piano lesson on Czerny's  Study op. 299 n. 8

Lezione su uno studio di Czerny
The Study op. 299 no. 8 in C Major by Carl Czerny is part of the collection of Studies "The school of velocity" ("Die Schule der Geläufigkeit" is the original title in German) that the author published in 1833.

Czerny, as you know, is one of the major names in piano teaching of the nineteenth century. He was a pupil of Beethoven and teacher, among others, of the young Liszt. He was born in Vienna in 1791 and died there in 1857.

The Study op. 299 no. 8 can be considered a medium difficulty study. Its main feature, immediately evident, is the fact that it entrusts to the right hand a continuous series of quatrains of sixteenth notes, which continues uninterruptedly for 54 bars and closes at bar 55 with a conclusive chord. The left hand is instead given a simple accompaniment, with some jumps and a short polyphonic passage in the central section of the piece.

Therefore, the main purpose of the study is to develop the agility of the right hand. Within the 54 bars of continuous movement in sixteenths we find a certain variety of figurations, which require different mechanisms. This will be the object of our preparatory work.

Let's not forget the need to vary the intensity of the sound: the author has specified a series of indications of dynamics, including crescendo and diminuendo, which require further technical skills to be performed correctly.

I prepared two videos: in the first, after this short presentation, you can listen to an execution of the Study, that I made on April 29, 2020. In the second video I carry out a real lesson in piano technique and execution, where I illustrate in detail all the different figurations present in the piece and the correct method of study and realization, which is achieved through appropriate movements and positions of the hand and arm.

You can download the first video at the link

The second video can be purchased by downloading it at this link: send an email to

Dear reader, if you are a person passionate about music studies visit the page Our services or access the Download Area of ​​our blog

mercoledì 12 febbraio 2020

Music, symbolic and emotional language: a psychoanalytic reading of Musorgsky

"Both dream language and musical language touch the deepest and most delicate strings of our subconscious": this is how we read on p.121 of the book published in 2018 for the publisher Osiride of Rovereto by the psychoanalyst Renzo Luca Carrozzini, entitled Domani? Forse! Analisi di un'ingiustizia (Tomorrow? Maybe! Analysis of an injustice). Music is therefore associated with the world of dreams, for its ability to fully express our inner emotional experience, of which we are often not even fully aware: here is therefore the great value of our art also for therapeutic purposes, as amply illustrated by the same author in his famous book Manuale di musicoterapia immaginativa (Imaginative musicotherapy manual, Roma, 1991).

Modest Musorgskij
In this recent work, Carrozzini is inspired in particular by some works by Modest Musorgskij (1839-1881), composer who in his whimsical and unpredictable genius lends himself particularly effectively to exemplify the assumption enunciated.

The text is actually an autobiographical narrative, as compelling and exciting as a novel, and in its rich articulation it presents multiple reading plans. It is the story of a tragic family event, framed in an extremely dramatic political context, that is, the years immediately following the end of the Second World War; years in which the establishment of the "cold war" and the "witch-hunt" imposed by United States politics affects even absolutely honest and morally flawless people, even decorated ex-partisans, for the sole reason of being communist militants and therefore suspected of espionage activities, however not proven. So it happens that the author's father spent five years in Gaeta prison, dismissed without reason from his job and, even more seriously, from family affections. A further drama was created by the withdrawal of the communist comrades. The title refers to the heartfelt expectation of release, expressed by the prisoner in his diary, while the subtitle highlights the injustice suffered by him and his relatives.

Very strong, in this book, it is the affective and emotional component of this personal experience, lived by the Author between 7 and 12 years of age. Starting from this story you can deepen the values ​​and the deep meaning of the bond between a father and a male child, without however neglecting the beautiful female figures of the mother and older sister.

In all this, the presence of music is fundamental, its unique ability to create bonds between people, as well as infinite symbolic resonances, a true mirror of the soul.

L'interpretazione dei sogni
An Italian edition of Sigmund Freud's most famous work,
"The Interpretation of Dreams" (1900)
Psychoanalysis responds to the need to "do personal, individual work, to try to untie, to clarify some knots" that each person can feel "heavy" in his own life (p.13). Recurring dreams, connected to memories through free associations, are the keys to re-emerge what we have concealed, because "something is always censored and omitted, consciously or unconsciously" (p.17). But "our unconscious always keeps track" (p. 23) and therefore inevitably the most hidden things somehow always resurface: it is a good therapy, combined with the goodwill of the subject, the ability to undo the knots. We must be aware of the fact that "every event of our existence binds and connects to others and to others, in an intertwining difficultly imaginable and conceivable" (p.24). The Author warns us: "Dig up the past, retrace it and put it in order, I think it is useful for each of us" (p. 31). In reality "we never know exactly what our unconscious collects and what it contains ... how numerous and how varied ... the threads that make up the skein of our personal experiences. Threads with disparate colors, of different fibers, of strength and of unequal fragility. But the skeins, if well worked, can produce beautiful and elegant clothes. If poorly worked they can give clumsy and coarse clothing" (p.33).The classic "supine position favors the state of relaxation and lowers the resistance allowing, in this way, the emergence of deep 'themes', often hidden in the crumpled folds of our unconscious"(p.33).Working on yourself can lead to the most difficult questions: "Who am I? Who is my father? Who are my parents? What is my existence? What is the meaning of it?" (p.70). The ultimate goal is that "the rigid dualism between conscious and unconscious" can "be overcome. Indeed, the two sides can integrate well and act in harmony" (p.37).

Renzo Luca Carrozzini Domani forse
Through this work of analysis and self-analysis, the Author highlights the possibility of focusing on the relationship between the subject and their parents, especially in the early years of childhood, "memories that highlighted the extraordinary human qualities of mom and dad and their solid values ​​related to family, freedom and independence" (p.34). From this derives a force that manages to transcend the drama of events. And the "split mountain" of Gaeta, "has become stronger just where the rift had been created", as well as "our family has become even more united after the violent and unjust separation", so "our strength is born where so many frailties seemed to nestle" (p.94).

There is also a nice reflection on the fundamental difference between deep needs and induced desires: "If our desires are driven by advertising and consumerism they are no longer 'our' desires, they are desires driven from outside. This is one of the reasons why in today's world there is frustration, boredom and discontent: because we cannot have everything that consumer society offers us day and night" (p.72).

And time, "what is time? Time can expand and shrink very quickly, in an absolutely irrational way, just as it can run very fast or appear still and motionless" (p. 47). Already in this statement we are close to the musical experience and its mysterious, inextricable intertwining with our deep experience. "By letting particularly meaningful and emotionally pregnant memories emerge freely, we can identify with them so deeply, from the emotional point of view, that the unconscious struggles to live the present and the past simultaneously. And this happens when the past, with all the experience related to it, it still has a strong relevance in the emotional world"(p.83). 

Tableaux d'une exposition

Title page of the first edition (1886, post.)
of "Pictures at an exhibition" by Musorgskij,
piano work composed in 1874

The analytical work leads the Author to bring out "a set of strong emotions, a mixture of anger, emotion, bewilderment, trepidation and various suggestions that were mixed with a sense of liberation, redemption, determination and liberation" (p.61). And at this point, in nocturnal dreams, a precise memory appears, a re-enactment of a strong moment of childhood affectivity, closely linked to the experience of music: "I had a short dream in which I saw myself small, while listening to my favorite music of my father, sitting right next to him or on his knees. With him, really, I always listened to a lot of classical and symphonic music: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mascagni and others and in the specific case of the dream, we were listening to 'Pictures at an exhibition" by Modest Musorgsky. A dream so true and real that I was sure I had heard, listened and even appreciated the music, in fact, I would say that that was above all a sound and musical dream" (pp.61-62). "In the case of the dream in question, I remember well the notes of the piano relating to the walk, to the so-called 'walk' between one painting and another exhibited at the exhibition, as I perfectly remember some pieces of music that represent the paintings on display, such as the 'old castle ', the' ballet of the chicks', 'the gnome', 'the catacombs' and' the great gate of Kiev'. " The dream and the memories of early childhood connect to the present reality: the dream "fully corresponds to reality" and the various paintings of the Musorgsky walk (which we can certainly read as dreamlike evocation of fragments of dreams) are directly associated with the facts, the objects and situations of the dramatic and sweet encounter with the father, in the Aragonese fortress of Gaeta, after five years of absence (p.87).

Silence is also full of meaning, just like pauses in musical works: "a silence full of emotions, a long, very long, or perhaps very short silence? A throbbing, intense, moving silence that expressed a lot, indeed for us it expressed everything what there was to express. Still more hugs, more eloquent than a thousand words" (pp.87-88). Instead, we know how our society is polluted by this obsessive excess of words and by the presumption of being able to express everything with words.

Viktor Hartmann (1834-73),
The Great Gate of Kiev

Hence Musorgsky's various paintings are associated with lived experience and intense emotional involvement: the chicks (the children affected by the family tragedy), the old castle (the "huge and majestic fortress" of Gaeta, "almost worrying"), the catacombs (as prison cells), the great door (the gate of the Aragonese fortress,"huge, massive, hateful and threatening", with its heavy bolts). In particular, the Author notes the ambivalence of the image of the castle, for which "Musorgsky really composed delicate and almost gentle music ... and I had remained tied to those musical images and perhaps I had also unconsciously wanted to remain tied to because they were very reassuring. It is indeed a music that befits a fairy castle. I really wanted and wanted my father to be in a fairy castle, not in a worrying prison castle"(p.91).

Therefore the Author can say that "the dream allowed me to relive extraordinary moments that I had lived with my dad: that of a boy in Gaeta and those of a child when we listened to music together. In particular, my unconscious associated with the 'paintings of an exhibition', my visit to the Gaeta prison ... I saw my father 'exposed'... We too were 'exposed' to him as he was to us ... ". Therefore he can conclude by saying that "the unconscious works within us, keeps accounts and follows its laws, laws that are different from those of rationality, and which, on the contrary, intertwine experiences, passions, fears, anxieties, desires, fantasies, needs, aspirations and more. It is a different, 'emotional' language, which is why even very young children dream, fetuses in the womb dream and higher animals dream." (pp.96-97).

And again: "There were no words, who 'spoke' was the music with its symbolic and emotional language" (p.97).

Francisco Goya, Sabba

Another subsequent dream is linked to another famous work by Musorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain: a symphonic poem that the young composer created in 1867 and which later became famous in the adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov, after the death of friend and, as you know, "sweetening" the major harmonic and timbric harshnesses that the composer had created with his irrepressible imagination and beyond any academic rule.. Musorgsky himself had taken up his extraordinary poem to insert it as a choral page in his unfinished play, The Fair of Sorocynci of 1880, with the title The dream of the young peasant. A dream, therefore, already in the composer's fervent imagination: the dream of a young shepherd who evokes the satanic round of the witches and then awakens to the sound of a liberating bell. Dreams express "our unconscious world, where, according to Freud, fear, anguish, but also desires, fantasies, ambitions, joys and hopes linger." Above all, it is necessary to remember that "In the unconscious there are no verbal expressions, but there are other languages: those of posture, facial expression, tone of voice, love or hate. Symbolic and metaphorical languages" (pp.115-116). And what better than music can express and evoke all this? Here then the dream of shepherd Gricko becomes a "dream of transformation", in which "both the dream language and the musical one touch the deepest and most delicate strings of our subconscious" (p. 121). Therefore, "in the dream we manage to express the highest levels of our creativity. It is no coincidence that many pictorial, musical, literary and artistic masterpieces were born from dreams" (p.120).

In conclusion, the Author teaches us that the therapeutic experience, or even self-therapeutic, can truly heal our wounds, it is a "path within ourselves" (p. 102): "My emotions were transforming, they were coming out of the swamps of inertia and rushing towards life ... New life ... I felt stronger and more determined myself. I was beginning to feel that I had weapons inside me that I would need to fight life's adversities and difficulties" (p.95)."From the most atrocious and profound pains, to the joie de vivre that often arises from suffering. And it is perhaps in these extraordinary transformations that the secret of inner peace lurks" (p.122). With the fundamental help of music, great music, for example the extraordinary one of that suffering, unpredictable genius, out of any rational logic (just as our dreams seem to us), truly dreamlike, which was Modest Musorgsky.

(Note: the choral version of Night on Bald Mountain, perhaps less known than the symphonic poem, can be heard at this link:

sabato 11 gennaio 2020

Playing the opera at the piano. An example from Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana"

Playing the opera at the piano is a practice  that requires specific skills: in particular it is a matter of rendering the idea of the original version for orchestra, limiting itself to the piano only. Obviously, it is not a question of "imitating" the sound of the orchestra, but rather to "evoking" it through choices of piano instrumentation and instrumental timbre appropriate to the effect we intend to simulate.

Let's take an example, from Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" (1890) and specifically the orchestral introduction to the choir "Gli aranci olezzano".

The piano reduction that is usually used is the classical one, made by Leopoldo Mugnone for the original Sonzogno edition of 1891. We note that already in the first exposition of the main theme the melody doubled in octave, while the left hand performs an accompaniment which requires continuous jumps between the bass and the internal parts.

Gli aranci olezzano

Subsequently, in correspondence with the first entry of the choir, the writing is even more massive, especially in the left hand.

Cavalleria Rusticana

It is not possible to make excessive simplifications to "facilitate" the piano part, because this would preclude the effect of evoking the orchestral sound: it is not possible, for example, to play the melody with single keys, avoiding the doubling of octave and the filling in agreements in some moments of support. In fact, if we look the orchestral score, we note that initially the theme is given to all the strings, with doubling of octave between violins (first and second in unison, plus the oboe 1) and violas and cellos. The effect is already vigorous and well sustained in sound, as can it easily seen when listening.

Gli aranci olezzano

In the following ripresa, at the entry of the choir, the orchestral writing becomes even more massive, with the entry of all the winds (including the blaring trumpets), arranged even on three octaves, while the accompaniment is marked by percussion and tuba (in addition to the basses of the strings and winds) and in particular with the heavy chords of the trombones.

Cavalleria Rusticana di Mascagni

All this cannot be achieved with a light and chamber sound, but with a powerful and massive sound, although always soft and never strained. The suggestion of orchestral sound must accompany the sonorous idea of the pianist, ready to accompany even a large choir, in this festive and luminous page that does not yet predict the imminent tragedy what will be told in the opera.

We can hear a beautiful orchestral performance, conducted by the author himself in 1940 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, at this link.