Friday, February 26, 2010

Frédéric and Jimi and the ways of the hand

In this Chopin year, we're going to be hearing a lot about idiomatic instrumental composition, and in particular, the ways in which the physical, tactile acts of playing interact with aural considerations.  Most of the talk will, of course, be about the keyboard, from Bach (see here) to Chopin and on to Bartók and Ligeti (tactility is also a hot topic among the complexers).  But here is also a new article about the complex handedness of Jim Hendrix and his choice of a left-handed guitar.*


* Playing "wrong-handed" is a minor fascination of mine.  From time to time, one hears about pianos with inverted (right-to-left bass-to-treble) keyboards, which can be emulated with a good midi keyboard and are, at turns, frustrating and fascinating to play.  Also, there is the example of the violinist Rudolph Kolisch, a close associate of Schoenberg, who played left-handed, which offered an acoustic advantage in quartet playing and some advantage in teaching as well, as he could face his right-handed students and demonstrate with a perfect mirror image.   Noticing that some old recorders came with alternative seventh holes (one of which could be filled with wax), I once spent some time learning to play with the hands exchanged, an exercise which seem to increase both physical and mental agility.**

**I am strongly right-handed.  Once, in a theory class, when having some problem executing left-hand passagework at the keyboard, I whimped out and blamed my weak left hand.  My teacher, a student of Boulanger then said that this was no excuse, telling the story that Madame Boulanger would raise both hands and say "there's no difference."  I really wanted to shout  "Of course there's a difference, and that's a wonderful, musically interesting thing!" But I refrained, knowing well that my teacher liked to slap the back of his students' wrists whenever encountering either unsatisfsactory performances or dissent.  


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1) Interesting Bach link, especially the performance of the Toccata, which is quite amazing.

Meaning in music is an elusive thing. Daniel, you know this much better than I do.

Bach is about layers of meaning, and much of his music is kaleidoscopic. In some aspects, it reminds me of the I-Ching (Chinese book of change), in its combinatorial/prognostic quality.

Bach’s counterpoint involves several layers of meaning. On a more abstract level they are musical signs - signs of how time flows differently in different space layers of the Milky Way.

Bach is well suited for the information age: he sounds surprisingly good in MIDI, while other composers do not.

2) And here’s my favorite performance of the C minor passacaglia:

(this must be a composer playing, perfect sense of form)

The circular, kaleidoscopic movement in both pieces is almost hypnotic.

3) Daniel, while we’re on the topic of organ, here is an interesting link to one of Messiaen’s improvisations: