Sunday, July 12, 2009

A rookie's lessons learned - I Due Fiumi

A day or two after I posted my recital clip on Youtube, I received an email asking me for tips on playing it. A week later, I got another email asking about a particular section. Last week, I received a third request for tips on I Due Fiumi (henceforth, IDF). It's quite likely that the only three people in the entire Interwebs who are interested on my take on IDF have now expressed their interest to me. But hey, if there are three of you, maybe there are more (perhaps 5 even?), so I figure it's a good post topic.

From general to specific, here are my thoughts on IDF. I would appreciate it if Anthony B, Monica K, and any other frequent / regular / sporadic visitor to these parts could chime in with their observations. My perspective is relatively unique, in that I am a new piano player, with a fool for a teacher* (most of the time). More advanced / technically accomplished pianists probably would have a different point of view.

* - "He who teaches himself has a fool for a teacher." - German Proverb. All sorts of bloggy goodness here, no?

- IDF, it turns out, is much easier than it sounds. In fact, of Einaudi's pieces that I have learned so far (IDF, Limbo, Ombre, and at the moment, I Giorni), it is by far the easiest. There are some passages that took me some time to play (and significantly more time to play well), but hold that thought. I would, as Monica K. has, recommend IDF as a first Einaudi piece for anybody who is relatively new to piano. mom3gram, I know you tend to downplay yourself, but I am completely certain that you could have this piece up and running in time for next month's ABF Recital.

- I always (AlWAYS, I say) played the main body section better the second time around. I have no explanation for this.

- In the recordings, Einaudi himself starts at about 108 beats per minute, then at measure 17, speeds it to about 120 (or thereabouts). Then returns the slower tempo at the coda. When I listen to my recording, I wish I had done this, because my own recordings sound slow and tentative in comparison to the real thing. Also, Einaudi pushes and pulls on the tempo quite a bit, and pauses at the end of almost every phrase. If the sheet music reflected his performance, there would be fermatas every four measures or so. Adhering (somewhat) to those imaginary markings made my performance sound more like his.

- A slight majority of the piece is played with the Una Corda (soft) pedal. In practice, this meant that my recital recording was too quiet. Folks with better control of the pianissimo side of the dynamic spectrum could do better than I, but I found I had to move everything up a little towards the forte side of things. You'll notice nothing in the sheet music calls for more than mezzoforte... I didn't adhere to that, but would have if I had better control of quiet notes.

- For the sake of simplicity, I played the left hand arpeggios mostly 531313, 531313, etc. I wasn't able to keep this up for the pattern in measure 6, which I played 541414 everywhere it appeared. My teacher did not like this, but it was too ingrained in me to change by the time I played it for her. Other important exceptions were measures 12 and 80. I simply could not play the following measure smoothly until I changed the pattern to 543434 (then then 321212 in the following measure). That helped A LOT! And there was one more exception to this, which deserves its own bullet.

- On the LH, there is a pattern that comes up a lot at the end of almost every phrase. The first instance of it starts in measure 7. Two observations here... first, Einaudi seems to slow down near the end of the second measure when he plays this, so I did too. Second, I played the LH 5312135, then started the next measure with the fourth (ring) finger. My teacher hated this, and my wife thought it looked very unnatural. But it worked for me.

- I neglected the coda section in my early practice, and should not have. Later, trying to get a good recording was frustrating. In about a half dozen takes, I played the whole thing well, only to make a fatal error on the coda. I believe Anthony B experienced something similar.

- To me, the piece revolves around the part where the RH moves up the register... starting in measure 33. Meanwhile, the LH is doing a countermelody that actually requires it to move around a little. This was my first exposure to this LH pattern, which, it turns out is a common one in Einaudi's music. I had to play these measures a lot, slowly, repetitively, over and over and over again, to acquire the pattern. For folks like me, without much piano experience, this is the painful, dues-paying portion of learning a piece like this. It was annoying and tedious, and (Ral is not going to like hearing this) I did not like it. After about maybe 10 hours of going through it in this manner, I slowly began to build up speed, and then one day it all came together magically. (Gremlins, again.) To this day, it remains my favorite passage of music to play on the piano (measures 33 through 52).

- One of my teacher's tips that simplified it for me was to start the RH (on measure 34) with my ring finger (would that be 4?). It's not natural for me, because that High C gets a lot of play in this part, and I'm using the weakest finger to play them. But it makes everything else much simpler.

- And once I had the RH down, I found I could, as Anthony B suggested, let my RH go on autopilot while I made sure the LH hit its assignments correctly. You'll know you are getting close when you can do this. (Of course, folks like Euan and Kawaigirl probably sight-read the music with that mindset.)

- There is an octave-plus chromatic scale part starting in measures 45 and 49. At first, I tried to do this with only a two crossovers (5154321543212), but that was, as we used to say in Texas, ignant. Impossible for me to do smoothly. After awhile, I sort of lost count of how many crossovers it took me, but it was at least three. What I probably do now is 5154321432132, but I'm no longer tied to a particular pattern on those anymore. I think that is because once in awhile, I would miss on the way down, and adjust on the fly, and play it successfully.

- Last thing, and it's subtle. Einaudi pauses briefly on the first 8th note in measures 60 and 64 (another imaginary fermata). When I got it in my mind that this represented the end of one phrase, and the second 8th note the beginning of the next, this made the passage much smoother for me.

Whew. All I got. As I said earlier, I would be happy if anybody had their own tips and pointers to throw in. One last comment: many of the things I learned and described here have made I Giorni easier to learn. I hope I continue to see these kinds of progressions as I move to more complicated pieces. After all, I have less than 11 months to learn Le Onde for the next recital.

- Aw2pp, who goes on and on like Internet words are free or something. Sheesh.


Monica K. said...

Wow! That's a very detailed and insightful analysis of IDF!! (erm... I make a lot of the same fingering mistakes your teacher doesn't like, but since she's not MY teacher, I'll keep on making them!).

I don't have a lot to add, but I can describe what I'm working on now, which is fine-tuning my pedaling. I have a very bad habit of pedaling pretty much nonstop and lifting up only for chord changes. With IDF, I had noticed that this doesn't sound good when the left hand plays adjacent notes (e.g., the last two notes in measure 12, and elsewhere, esp. the coda, measures 88 and 96). So what I'm doing now is working on lifting up on the pedal right as I'm playing those adjacent notes so they don't blur together in a dissonant mess. It's tricky to do this without making sound abrupt or choppy, but I'm making progress.

Oh, and I completely agree with you about rubato in IDF. The music doesn't indicate it, but this piece only works if you stick in extensive rubato.

ral said...

Hey, I resemble that remark.

FYI, a chromatic scale is half-steps. I haven't tried to play I due fiumi but just looking at the music RH measures 45-47 and 49-51 have a descending C major scale ending on G.

Since it starts with an octave, I'm guessing a regular scale fingering pattern would work -- 5154321321432 (3 on E and then 4 on B descending).

On another topic, starting on a 4 to stick with a single hand position (pre-positioning the other fingrers for a phrase) is a neat trick -- I am learning a piece that needs exactly that and it really works.

Always Wanted to Play Piano said...

No offense meant, Ral. I have taken to heart your recommendation to enjoy practicing, and thought of you when I remembered how painful the brute force approach was to learning those patterns. It wasn't fun, and I could hear your voice (well, your virtual voice, that is) express concern.

Sue said...

Jillian is translating all this to me! WHOA...

Jillain says "well it what I think it is... but what do all those #'s mean?"

ral said...

No offense taken. I guess I should have included a ":-)".

The #'s: fingers. Thumb=1, pinkie=5.

ral said...

No offense taken. I guess I should have included a ":-)".

The #'s: fingers. Thumb=1, pinkie=5.