Playing the piano is an exceptional channel for you to express feelings and emotions that could be embarrassing or difficult to express in the ‘real-life’.
I will not teach you anything new by saying that, as an adult, you must behave in a certain way, depending on the circumstances, even if your feelings or thoughts are totally different from the mask you are required to put on.
If you take time to think about this concept, I am sure that you will find several situations when you would like to do or say something, but you are unable to express yourself fully as you must respect the codes of excellent social behaviour.
If you are in a situation in which you are too often required to keep your thoughts and emotions to yourself, it can lead to loneliness or even depression in certain cases.
While sitting at the piano, you can, on the opposite, have the freedom to share all these positive or negative emotions without being judged or blamed. You are finally free to express yourself without hurting or affecting anybody. Is it not wonderful?
You are surely familiar with anger, despair, passion & love, sadness which are feelings that are not always possible to express in public.
Depending on your personality, you could more or less often feel that you want to shout at somebody but you are sadly obliged to smile and say ‘thank you’. On other occasions, you would like to tell people how much you love them, but you must keep it for yourself, as revealing your feelings would be inappropriate.
Composers are as human as we are, and sentiments have not changed throughout history.
If you wish to express your feelings through music, I would especially recommend you to have a look at Romantic composers such as Chopin, Liszt or Schumann.
The Romantic period is well-known to be the era when music became more expressive and emotional, and the composers mentioned above are an extremely good representation of it.
During my studies, I have myself always enjoyed very much listening to a piece of music in my head in order to find out what the composer meant and what was the true meaning of a composition.
It is a fascinating and essential process during a study of a new composition, and I would greatly encourage you to spend a lot of time thinking about a piece before playing it.
Spending a lot of time with the score, away from the piano, at first, is a critical stage in your practice that should not be skipped under any circumstances.
I know that we are all eager to start playing, but having a solid knowledge of the text before practising the technical difficulties is fundamental if you wish to understand it fully and not misrepresent it.
It is essential to study and analyse the score scrupulously as it is the only infallible point of reference that you really have.
You could even imagine that each decision that you take in the interpretation would be questioned by a judge!
Knowing the score extremely well would then ensure that you do not distort the intentions of the composer and that you can then feel free to add your feelings and spontaneity at the right moment, and in the right way.
Sadly, it is actually rare to listen to performances that combine both accuracies of the score and personal input from the pianist.
Too often, we hear interpretations where the pianists play exactly what it is written on the score, without adding much emotions, or on the opposite, some others use the composition to express their own feelings without taking in consideration what the composer really wanted to express.
I believe that Dinu Lipatti has succeeded greatly at this exercise, and I can only recommend you to listen to his several recordings. They include:
• Bach-Hess Chorale “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”
• Bach Cantata BWV 147
• Mozart Sonata in A minor K310
• Mozart Concerto No 21
• Chopin Waltzes
• Chopin Nocturne opus 27 No 2
• Chopin Sonata in B minor
• Chopin Ballad No 4
• Chopin 1st Concerto
• Schumann Concerto
• Grieg Concerto
• Schubert Impromptu in G-flat major
• Liszt Sonetto 104 del petrarca
• Ravel Alborada del gracioso
Please read at what some of the greatest pianists have said about interpretation:
“I do not believe in taking up a new composition and working at the technical side of it first. I study it in the first place on the musical side. I see what may be the meaning of the music, what ideas it seeks to convey, what was in the composer’s mind when he wrote it. In other words, I get a good general idea of the composition as a whole; when I have this I can begin to work out the details.
In this connection, I was interested in reading a statement made by Ruskin in his Modern Painters. The statement, which, I think, has never been refuted, is that while the great Italian painters, Raphael, Coreggio, and the rest have left have left many immature and imperfect pictures and studies in color, their drawings are mature and finished, showing that they made many experiments and studies in color before they thought of making the finished black and white drawing. It seems they put the art thought first before the technical detail. This is the way I feel and the way I work.”
Harold Bauer (1873 – 1951)
“The vital thing in piano playing is to bring out the composer’s meaning, plus your own inspiration and feeling. You must study deeply into the composer’s idea, but you must also put your own feeling, intensity and emotion into the piece. And not only must you feel the meaning yourself, but you must play it in a way to touch others.”
Rudolph Ganz (1877 – 1972)
“We hear much talk of subjective and objective in musical interpretation. These terms are apt to be misleading. Pianists look at the subject from different viewpoints, according to their temperaments and aims. The impulsive nature takes the composition as it first appears to him, without further analysis, and strives to preserve that conception. He trusts to the present moment to furnish inspiration. Under extremely favourable circumstances he may be able to give a really inspired performance. Without these conditions, his utterances may lack all glow and power.
On the other hand, the careful analytical player, who does not trust to first impressions, who studies every point and determines beforehand exactly how he will render the compositions may lack true inspiration and leave us cold.
The ideal interpreter is one who, keeping before him the first ideal, has thought out every effect and nuance he wishes to make, yet leaves himself mentally untrammelled, to be moved by the inspiration which may come to him during the performance.”
Leopold Godowsky (1870 – 1938)
“Interpretation has two aspects, an objective and a subjective. Imagine several fine orators reading the soliloquy from Hamlet. In many respects their versions would be identical; all would presumably pronounce the words correctly, give the right accents to strong syllables, punctuate intelligibly so that the sense and construction of the speech would be clear; all would employ certain inflexions of tone and rhythm in their effort to express the ideas of the author. That is objective interpretation.
But each individual orator would probably go farther. He would hardly fail to add touches peculiar to himself: heightened stresses, dedicate shades of voice, a barely perceptible dwelling on chosen words, gestures prompted by his own feeling; in short, he would endeavour to add his mental and emotional force, which we may call his artistic personality, to that of Shakespeare. This is a subjective interpretation. No greater mistake could be made than to suppose that there is a latent antagonism between the objective and subjective sides. It is so in music also; the most ‘original’ rendering of any work may at the same time show infinite care of the composer’s intentions.”
Ernest Hutcheson (1871 – 1951)
“A pianist can express every emotion, even despotism, by means of his instrument. We often say the piano expresses all these when we really know it can say nothing at all without the pianist. If he has many emotions and the ability to express them, the piano will do his bidding.”
Joseph Hofmann (1876 – 1957)
At the same time as you express yourself, or sometimes express impressions when playing Debussy, or even express the various tones that the piano can produce while performing Schoenberg or Stockhausen, your role is also to communicate those to your audience.
As I have said earlier, your first task, as a pianist, is to understand what a composer meant, and use your skills to bring it to life.
Bringing it to life is wonderful, but if you do not pass it on to the audience, you are playing in vain!
I have always enjoyed practising, but also making research on the piece I was studying, and spending hours upon hours thinking of the true meaning of a composition and how I could express it.
But I also always enjoyed very much performing and sharing it with the audience. I find it fascinating and thrilling to be in such a position, and being able to wake up certain emotions in the heart of the listeners.
At the end of the day, it is actually the real reason why you are playing the piano. If you perform without touching the hearts of the people sitting in the audience, you have not completed your mission and missed your task entirely.
I have once performed Dante by Franz Liszt to a charming lady who did not know what the piece was all about. At the end of the performance, she told me: “I felt in hell”.
What a compliment! I fully completed my duty as this work was inspired by the reading of Dante Alighieri’s most famous epic poem, the Divine Comedy.
I cordially invite you to listen to it, as it is a fantastic composition!
I truly hope that you have greatly enjoyed reading this article and that you now understand better what the role of pianists is, and how they think and practise to offer you unforgettable piano performances.
If you are passionate about piano playing, and you would like to discover this fascinating world in greater details, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We specialise in teaching adult piano lovers, from absolute beginners without any prior musical experience. We would be delighted to show you in further details how you can play the piano but especially how to play it so well, that you have the ability to touch your audience, and sometimes even change their life!