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Thread: Pianists

  1. #1
    Senior Member Saturnus's Avatar
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    Default Pianists

    Why does the name of the pianist matter and how can people hear such difference between two sepperate pianists? When I buy a recording I think it is much more importnant to know who the conductor is, what orchestra he is conducting, who is the sound engineer, who tuned the piano and who made the piano.
    The name of the conductor can change everything, he gives the tempo, chooses which sections of the orchestra to focus on and where, and is responsible to the overall style.
    The name of the orchestra change very much also, tone colour and intonation vary from region to region and from orchestra to orchestra, some even use different instruments (Wienna Philharmonic for an example).
    The sound engineer makes sure the balance of piano-orchestra is right, the guy who tuned the piano chooses the intonation and the colour is completely decided by the pianomaker.
    The pianist merely plays the right notes at the right place, and a great deal of pianists can do that! Good pianist simply means fewer attempts to record the piece perfectly, so for the CD-buyer his name shouldn't change anything.

    Can someone point it out for me why the name of the pianist is so importnant? What he exactly is responsible for more than playing the notes mechanically right?

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Imho, there's lots more to just playing the notes in a mechanical manner. Each pianist will have his/her own intrepretation of the score being played ... if one takes the same piece, gives it to 10 pianists, you will most likely get 10 different intrepretations, each one still within the basic guidlines that were intended by the composer.

    As a keyboard player myself, albeit classical organ instead of piano, music is lots more than just notes on a page and playing them like a mechanical robot. Music must flow from the heart and soul.
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    I do agree with Krummhorn, each will have their own interpretation, phrasing also will be different, it is amazing that, “ what is a kind of percussion instrument“ can be so expressive.
    I have the greatest respect for any Pianist

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    Senior Member zlya's Avatar
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    You seem to be talking exclusively about concertos, with both piano and orchestra. Obviously for solo piano works, the pianist matters a great deal.

    Do you feel this way about all sorts of concertos? Does the name of the violinist matter in a performance of a violin concerto? For that matter, does the name of the singer matter in an opera performance? The particular pianist in a concerto determines the resulting sound every bit as much as the soloist in either of these examples. It is possible for different pianists to get different sounds from the same piano, through articulation and touch, which even influences the perceived tone color. In most concertos, the conductor follows the soloist to some extent, so he even influences the style and tempo of the rest of the orchestra.

    I think the idea of a performance in which the pianist "plays the notes mechanically right" sounds absolutely dreadful.

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    Listen to Glenn Gould play Bach. Then listen to Andras Schiff play the same piece. Tell me honestly that you can't hear a distinction in the styles.

    Listen to Emanuel Ax play Brahms. Then listen to Martha Argerich play the same piece. Tell me honestly that you can't hear a distinction in the styles.

    Of course, I know you're just baiting, but still.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zlya View Post
    You seem to be talking exclusively about concertos, with both piano and orchestra. Obviously for solo piano works, the pianist matters a great deal.
    A pianist is not some guy you sit on a bench to accomplish some score requirements. I don't really see how his importance varies from a solo work to a concerto. The conductor's job is of course important, defining the orchestral sound, but if you are talking about a piano concerto, the soul of the work is undoubtely the pianist.



    Can someone point it out for me why the name of the pianist is so importnant? What he exactly is responsible for more than playing the notes mechanically right?
    I suppose you have never played piano. There are lots of things about pianism that are easily revealed to you if you have enough skills with the instrument. You can learn about tone, colour and style, and then recognize that on pianists you hear. To the point that you can name them just by listening them. (This happens with great violinists too).

    Besides, soloists in many cases are who really define tempi. Check Horowitz-Toscanini in Tchaikovsky's 27 minute first piano concerto; and compare it with Postnikova's 38 min.

    As homework, I will ask you to listen to Rach's third twice, first Argerich and then Ashkenazy.

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    Senior Member oisfetz's Avatar
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    Don't know Martha nor Vladimir versions, but I bet that Martha takes 10/15 minutes less.
    She´s always in such a hurry!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by oisfetz View Post
    Don't know Martha nor Vladimir versions, but I bet that Martha takes 10/15 minutes less.
    She´s always in such a hurry!!
    That's because she can be in a hurry. What a great technique she has.

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    Junior Member toughcritic's Avatar
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    Unfortunately not too many people hear the details that separate one musician from the other. Let's just say if you start such a topic, hmm you should really educate yourself on this first. I actually find some comments to be a bit funny, like for example "conductor is chosing the tempo"...I mean there are too many things that I could say, I don't even know where to start. Funny topic, that's all.

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    there are too many things that I could say, I don't even know where to start.
    Please... start.

  13. #11
    Senior Member Saturnus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zlya View Post
    You seem to be talking exclusively about concertos, with both piano and orchestra. Obviously for solo piano works, the pianist matters a great deal.

    Do you feel this way about all sorts of concertos? Does the name of the violinist matter in a performance of a violin concerto? For that matter, does the name of the singer matter in an opera performance? The particular pianist in a concerto determines the resulting sound every bit as much as the soloist in either of these examples. It is possible for different pianists to get different sounds from the same piano, through articulation and touch, which even influences the perceived tone color. In most concertos, the conductor follows the soloist to some extent, so he even influences the style and tempo of the rest of the orchestra.
    The name of violinist changes everything, and the name of a singer changes more than everything. And thats why I have been wondering so much about why pianists (at the same level of technical skill) all sound so awfully similar.
    I have pondered much about this (in contrast to what The Mad Hatter thinks, I am not baiting or trolling). And I have come to the conclusion that there are more things that vary between singers and violinists than pianists, because there are more aspects of the tone itself that are decided by the performers.

    To clear my point I'll list what pianists can decide about a tone and what a violinist can decide.
    The dynamic af a piano-tone is always the same, it is always diminishing in strength, violinists can add crescendo and diminuendo at will. Piano can't have vibrato, a violinist can add vibrato to the tone and control it completely. Piano has only one temparment, and it is usually tuned by equal-temparment so it is never correctly in a certain key (the notes of a key are derived from mathematical proportions, but do not fit in an equal-temparment, so pianos are always slightly out of tune unless playing atonal music), violinist can play in all keys and in correct frequency proportions (and that's what strings and orchestras do), it can also be extremely beautiful to add a little distortion at the right places, and that can violinist do but pianists not.
    Violinists use vibrato, dynamics, tempo and temparment to add soul, flow and continuity to their melodies. A melody on a piano can only be brought to life with tempo and rather primitive dynamics (percussion-dynamics), to me a melody on a piano sounds square and dead compared to the same melody on a violin, then it sounds oval and alive.
    So, a pianist's sense of tempo matters, but so does the violinist's along with his feeling for vibrato, dynamics and his opinion on temparment. But I realize that the pianist is playing far more notes at a time so his dynamics, though primitive, give their effect, and his feeling of tempo matters more because his tempo dominates more notes, so I am not saying that being a pianist is easier. I'm just saying that being a violinist is a lot more personal, and when a violinist decides to use strict tempo he is not condemning his performance to be soulless and that is a huge advantage.


    @Manuel: I consider the soul of the every work to be the composer. Well, I know the piano is in the limelight, but most successful piano concertos have superb and carefully aranged orchestral parts. Bartók's 3rd is an obvious example of a concerto that would be straight out boring played on an extra piano replacing the orchestra, I know Bartók used the piano (honestly) as a percussion instrument, but Racmaninov's 1st & Brahm's 1st are also obvious examples.
    I cannot talk about the recordings you mentioned because I couldn't find them, but I have two recordings of the Bartók concertos, one with Stephen Kovechevic and the London Philharmonic and other with Vladmir Ashkenazy and the London Symphony Orchestra. The main difference lies in the orchestra and in the balance between the orchestra and piano.
    Last edited by Saturnus; May-06-2007 at 00:59.

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    It has to do with interpretation, and how the pianist "attacks" the keyboard...how he uses the pedals and the mechanics of course. Some pianists miss notes like Horowitz did a lot...and lastly without the pianist there is no music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by konuc View Post
    It has to do with interpretation, and how the pianist "attacks" the keyboard...how he uses the pedals and the mechanics of course. Some pianists miss notes like Horowitz did a lot...and lastly without the pianist there is no music.
    That's exactly what I was about to write yesterday, but the connection was lost and I didn't mind to write the post again.

    There are lots of things about pianists the listener will miss not being a pianist himself. The attack is a great deal, and makes a whole difference. It's not the same someone who plays almost flying above the keys, than those guys who play as if they were trying to get into the keyboard (the great Bruno Gelber comes to my mind, and of course, the great russians).

    Violinists use vibrato, dynamics, tempo and temparment to add soul, flow and continuity to their melodies. A melody on a piano can only be brought to life with tempo and rather primitive dynamics (percussion-dynamics), to me a melody on a piano sounds square and dead compared to the same melody on a violin, then it sounds oval and alive.
    There's even more to it than that: the way you hold the bow, fingerings, portamento, the strings you like to play more, how you press the strings (the extreme of the finger, or the soft pad), bowing can be fixed to a part of the string, or you can choose to move it to the sides while playing.


    But I realize that the pianist is playing far more notes at a time so his dynamics, though primitive, give their effect, and his feeling of tempo matters more because his tempo dominates more notes, so I am not saying that being a pianist is easier.
    That's just false. Even if as pianist you are not in direct contact with the strings, it doesn't mean there's less you can control about sound. The way you press the keys (which part of the finger you use), and how you drop or push your fingers, how you distribute the weight of your whole body... you can play with the finger, the wrist or the elbow. And the way you retire from the keys is also important.
    But you will only notice this stuff if you start playing piano, and you need to have certain level of profficiency and knowledge too, so that you note the difference between someone who drops his fingers over keys, and a pianist.

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    Let's remember the actual mechanics of a piano. The momentum produced by the striking of a piano key is transferred to a hammer, which swings independently towards the piano strings making a sound with an amplitude proportional to the hammers velocity, and with a timbre determined by the construction of the piano strings (timbre also varies slightly according to the amplitude).

    We can therefore conclude that how you press the keys, which part of the finger you use etc doesn't really matter, or rather only matter in the sense that it better allows the keyboardist to control the velocity of the key strike.

    Some pianists have suggested that the player can change the angle of the hammer swing by pressing the edges of the keys and therefore change the type of contact the hammer head makes with the strings, but this ignores the fact that pianos are designed so that the hammers swing in only one way and that any off-centre movement is considered a fault in the construction.

    Manuel has mentioned the retiring of the keystroke, as far as I understand it the piano key only causes the strings to be dampened upon near total release, I think it is therefore reasonable to assume that it is pretty much impossible to finely control the dampening, and the only real control the pianist has is when to kick in the dampers.

    This is not to say that a pianist can not give his own personal colours and feelings to a piano work, but he can only do so by altering the duration and amplitudes of the different notes. The pedals also add an extra dimension that I have ignored in my argument above.

    To conclude, I would agree with Saturnus' opinion that a violinist has more control over the sound produced that a pianist does, but for the pianist this is more by the fact that a piano is a much better instrument

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    We can therefore conclude that how you press the keys, which part of the finger you use etc doesn't really matter, or rather only matter in the sense that it better allows the keyboardist to control the velocity of the key strike.
    You either never played piano profficiently, or never played a piano at all. As I said before, you really need to know what playing piano is to understand what I mean.


    Manuel has mentioned the retiring of the keystroke, as far as I understand it the piano key only causes the strings to be dampened upon near total release, I think it is therefore reasonable to assume that it is pretty much impossible to finely control the dampening, and the only real control the pianist has is when to kick in the dampers.
    This confirms what I wrote above. You think playing the piano is plainly dropping and retiring fingers from keys. There's more to it than that, but you will only know what I mean after several years of playing piano. And... someone who has played piano for many years, but is still unable to see this must be a very bad pianist.

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