1929 German Polydor recordings, 1940s Moscow studio recordings. Rare performances of a master playing in an Imperial style that remained untainted during the drabness of the Soviet dictatorship's aesthetic.
- J. S. Bach Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue: Fantasy
- J. S. Bach Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue: Fugue
- J. S. Bach WTC Book II Prelude in G
- J. S. Bach WTC Book II Fugue in G
- J. S. Bach WTC Book II Prelude in A
- J. S. Bach WTC Book II Fugue in A
- J. S. Bach WTC Book II Prelude in A minor
- J. S. Bach WTC Book II Fugue in A minor
- Bach-Feinberg Allein Gott in der höh sei ehr
- Bach-Feinberg Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten
- Bach-Feinberg Concerto after Vivaldi: Allegro
- Beethoven Piano Sonata in F minor, "Appassionata" op. 57: I
- Beethoven Piano Sonata in F minor, "Appassionata" op. 57: II
- Beethoven Piano Sonata in F minor, "Appassionata" op. 57: III
- Schumann Waldszenen: Jagdlied
- Schumann Waldszenen: Vogel als prophet
- Liszt Consolation no. 5
- Liszt Consolation no. 6
- Liadov Idylle
- Feinberg Suite op. 11: I
- Feinberg Suite op. 11: II
- Feinberg Suite op. 11: III
- Feinberg Suite op. 11: IV
- Stanchinsky Prelude in canon form
- Scriabin Mazurka op. 25, no. 7
- Scriabin Etude op. 42, no. 3
- Scriabin Fragilité
One of Russia’s master musicians, Samuil Evgenievch Feinberg (1890-1962) was equally a profound interpreter, gifted teacher, and accomplished composer. Feinberg transformed his sound and style to enter the realm of each composer he played. His recording of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier remains unsurpassed, unique for being strict with the Preludes while taking the Fugues greater freedom. Modern music was important to Feinberg, who received the approval of Scriabin and the leading composers of his time: one program from Petersburg on May 18, 1924 is representative:
Myaskovsky: Sonata no.2
Alexandrov: Sonata no.3
Prokofiev: Sonata no.4
Scriabin: Sonata no.5
Feinberg: Sonata no.6
Four other recitals reveal his repertoire:
Small Hall, Moscow, May 5, 1925
Scriabin: Sonatas nos. 1 , 4, 5, 6, 7
Small Hall, Moscow, May 9, 1925
Scriabin: Sonatas nos. 2, 3, 8, 9, 10
Berlin, March 12, 1929
Vivaldi-Bach-Feinberg: Concerto in A minor
Bach: Toccata in D
Beethoven: Sonata op.57 “Appassionata”
Feinberg: Sonata no.7 and Two Preludes (op. 8, op.15)
Stanchinsky: Two Preludes in Canonic Form
Scriabin: Fifth Sonata
Moscow, October 15, 1934
Handel: Suite in F
Schumann: Allegro op.8; Waldszenen (2 pieces)
Chopin: Sonata in B minor, op.58
Feinberg: Adagio op.24; Sonata no.8
Taneev: Prelude & Fugue
Liszt: Feux Follets; Leggierezza
Health problems forced Feinberg to retire from concertizing in the mid-1950’s, yet he recorded until the week of his death in 1962 and left substantial writings on interpretation and technique which were published only in Russian: hopefully they will be translated in the future. -Allan Evans
[The following conversation with Feinberg was conducted by the psychologist A. V. Vitsinsky in Moscow on January 23, 1946, transcribed by a stenographer and published in Pianists in Conversation, 1st edition, ed. M. G. Sokolov. Moscow, 1990. Feinberg’s comments are highly speculative. He frequently interjects “perhaps…but…maybe.” As all of his non-didactic writings and speeches were made with caution, restraint, and bore obligatory references to the Soviet dictatorship, this unique text remains his most candid.]
My parents didn’t study music but they enjoyed it.. My father was a highly educated (Ph.D) lawyer. I was six years old when I started to teach myself and play by ear. It was discovered that I had perfect pitch and could identify any note, but I didn’t start formal studies until I was 10 years old. I grew up in Moscow.
When I was ten I started to study more or less formally: before that they tried to teach me but it was sporadic. In the beginning I had my sister’s teacher, Sofia Abramova Gourevich. She played wonderfully. Her mother was very musical but more interested in salon music. The whole family was musical and treated me very affectionately due to my abilities. Sofia Abramova taught me a little bit but I was on my own before I was 10, improvising and only playing by ear. I read music and even remember one example: they assigned me a Beethoven Sonatina G major but by mistake I bought the easy Sonata in G (op 49): That was a big step forward.
I don’t remember exactly when, perhaps at ten or eleven, I began lessons with A. F. Jensen, working with him systematically. He gave me a lot. He made us [Feinberg and his sister] play four-hands so we got acquainted with Beethoven and other classics. But I was familiar with Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn much earlier than Chopin or Tchaikovsky: other classics came even later. Our home wasn’t so musical that people would come over. My childhood memories are more connected with Beethoven. It was a joke in Russia that kids are sitting on the 2nd volume of Beethoven sonatas and playing from the 1st. It was the same with me: I played from the 1st volume because the 2nd was too difficult.
I studied with great interest but was a bit distracted and sometimes was just plain lazy. I could improvise for hours with great passion, but practicing exercises for hours wasn’t for me. I was always careful with my teachers and learned what they assigned. Jensen was a student of Prof. Shishkin and when I started at the Conservatory, Shishkin was still teaching. I studied with Jensen up to age 14, afterwards with Goldenweiser.
Did you come to Jensen with habits formed while you played alone?
Yes, with dilettantish playing, as I could easily play Beethoven sonatas. But it was a big mess because Jensen immediately started teaching things which I felt were easy. I don’t recall him being very demanding. I easily and quickly memorized all those little pieces so the main work was fulfilling my teacher’s more exacting directions. Jensen believed I should be raised on the classics. We were playing a lot of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. When I turned 13 he gave me a gift – the complete volumes of Chopin in Mikuli’s edition. He thought that even Chopin should be approached with caution, for in some pieces there is a sickly beginning capable of influencing the healthy development of a musician. Jensen took a very conservative position. From age 12 I went to concerts very often: I heard D’Albert, Reisenauer, Hofmann, and other eminent musicians.
At that time was there a very serious attitude toward your musical education? Did you consider becoming a professional musician?
Yes. When I started with Jensen it was clear that I would become a professional musician. But my parents had a very serious attitude and never overestimated my abilities. They tried to give me everything necessary: concert tickets, scores, and an instrument. I remember that in the early stages of my education a fine piano appeared–very expensive and somehow difficult for my parents, but they did everything to nurture a real musician and never showed me off, pampered me, or lavished praise. Such things didn’t exist.
When I was about 12, I wrote a certain composition. My father tried to talk me into writing it out but at that time I thought that if you’ve composed something, why write it down? It is ready anyway. But as my father was interested to see if I could manage to, I did. It was like a Nocturne, in F# minor, somewhere between Mendelssohn and Heller. E-sharp took the place of F-natural.
Did your parents think you needed to develop this side of your talent, or guide you in this direction as well?
Yes, Jensen constantly reminded my parents about that. He said it was necessary for me to start theory classes but I was a Gymnasium student and had its lessons to study, so I didn’t have enough time left for composing. In 1905, I was fifteen and started studying with A. B. Goldenweiser. He sought to force me to study more professionally. Goldenweiser suggested that those classes shouldn’t be private but at the Philharmonia’s music school, where he was a professor. I started to work there, mixing Gymnasium with Music School, but those studies were interrupted by the 1905 Revolution. The Philharmonic society’s Board of Directors took a very reactionary position and the most progressive professors left, including Goldenweiser. In 1906, he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory and as his student I got in too.
Compared to Jensen, what was new in your studies with Goldenweiser?
Do you want me to define my work with Goldenweiser?
That will be very desirable in order to understand your road of development and if you are not against it, maybe you will tell us which kind of atmosphere and interests were at the Conservatory at that time, the kinds of people and surroundings?
I don’t want to talk about it because I will be compelled to talk about people who are still alive.
But what were you playing? What kind of music left the deepest traces in your memory? What were your programs in your 8th and 9th years?
This kind of biography will be of no interest to anyone. I was meeting with a lot of people who gave me something and I gave them something but I don’t want to talk about it. Goldenweiser continued with the classics, above all Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. I started to work on the Well Tempered Clavier with him which I later played at the graduation exam. I also played Liszt and Chopin, but less. Goldenweiser now does not use this method any more, since at that time he was a very young teacher, 32 years old, and his inclinations were towards the classics. Perhaps that explains how when I later started to study Liszt and Chopin, I had some difficulties which I was overcame by myself, after the Conservatory. But it is important to note that when I was about to graduate, Goldenweiser assigned me the 3rd Rachmaninoff Concerto. The rules then were that the whole program should be prepared no more than 2-3 months before graduation and Goldenweiser adhered to these rules. When I was finishing 9th level my graduation program included not only the 48 Preludes & Fugues by Bach, (I studied both books during the year and was only repeating them here) but also a Handel Concerto in Stradal’s transcription, an Adagio by Mozart, Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor, the 4th Sonata of Scriabin, then Franck’s Prelude Choral & Fugue, then Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Concerto, all prepared in a very short time.
While studying at the Conservatory ( and Goldenweiser remembers this), it was clear that I learned very quickly. If he assigned me 2 Preludes & Fugues by Bach on a Tuesday to be ready and memorized for Friday, I was able to. I remember I once needed to learn the 8th sonata of Scriabin very fast, which I had never heard played or seen the score to. I learned it in 4 days, a record for me. Now I would never try to study such a work in so few days. Now my perception of everything is less intense. I memorized things very fast in a short period of time and could prepare them for a concert, but then I would forget them very fast. But the works I needed to repeat at a young age I remembered for life, for example, Preludes & Fugues of Bach, most of Beethoven’s Sonatas, all that I played in my youth. If I hear something, I don’t have at all the ability to play it by ear, yet I remember things very well if done consciously, actively, and studied thoroughly on my own. Then I remember itquickly and permanently, but if I need to grab something quickly, that is not easy.
So, when you must rely on the ear alone, it is not easy to remember?
When I’m studying thoroughly it also involves the ear, because everything I remember I can reproduce in my inner ear. There I am working actively, trying to get acquainted with the work thoroughly and practically. I don’t have a good visual memory. When I play the same piece in different editions it never interferes as I don’t always know where I am through a visual perception of the text. My memory of course – aural memory and inner hearing, is always connected to a feeling of movement. I always know where the sound lies and with which finger it is produced.
What if the movement is isolated? Have you ever studied away from the instrument?
I never did. and never use this method, but it can be very good. There are a few methods I respect very much in spite of my never using them so I cannot recommend them because I’ve never tried them myself. It never happened that I was away from an instrument for any period. I was never forced to read a score by eye only.
Which composers made such a strong impressions on me to serve as an impulse to create and improvise?
Of course first of all the classics, Bach and Beethoven, they are the most important. Then Chopin – he influenced me enormously. From the time when Jensen gave me the scores as a gift I was deeply into Chopin. But then I was very conservative and didn’t have a development like others, who could play Scriabin’s late compositions by age 12. My musical development was more gradual. It didn’t matter what I encountered- I had a cautious attitude towards everything new, especially at certain times when someone frightened me with Wagner and Liszt. Chopin or Schumann never frightened me as I always thought of it as beautiful music which I simply didn’t know well enough. The same with Tchaikovsky: He attracted me but I played him less. To play Tchaikovsky symphonies with my sister was more difficult than to play Beethoven or Mozart.
I had a new friend who was a passionate Wagnerite but he obviously indicated excerpts which failed to involve me. That happens very often. Wagner”s music always left an antipathic impression on me, not from its complex harmony but simply because it impresses me as being in poor taste. Wagner has such melodies, of which the harmonization still seems unpleasant. But I value Wagner very highly for other qualities. The same with Liszt. First he scared me with his Rhapsodies, which seemed very coarse musically: only much later did I understand his worth. I started to value Liszt after the Conservatory when I was studying the B minor Sonata.
I also became acquainted with Scriabin in the Conservatory. I was very attracted to his music but he seemed to me at the time a difficult composer, like Medtner. Also at that time I underestimated Rachmaninoff despite my attraction to him and liking his music.
Did you only study the piano at the Conservatory?
Only the piano.
Did you perform at evening recitals?
I was in very good standing with Goldenweiser so he always chose me to play, even at symphonic concerts. For example I played Chopin’s E minor concerto with [Issay] Dobrowen: He played the first movement, and I the second and third. That was a symphonic concert conducted by Ippolitov-Ivanov at the Great Hall, called the Rubinstein concert. If you are interested in the psychology of creativity, I can enlighten you.
Have images ever appeared which relate to your creative process as a composer?
I would say it like this: First of all, creativity is planned. In this case we clearly see the connection in a desire to put some idea, thought, picture into music. There is vocal creativity first of all, where we have a word. I need to mention that in my songs I went through a conscious realization of this or that idea or image in the text. For example, I have a song based on a poem by Blok, then the name of the poem. . . there is no way around Singing Blizzards. In this case I was not thinking that I must depict a blizzard but somehow, sounds in the accompaniment, provided what was necessary.
I was extremely interested in this occurrence and even thought that we can use definitions such as a hidden plan as opposed to a conscious plan. Of course what I value most in music is hidden planning, when certain ideas suddenly and unexpectedly reach very vivid and complete resolutions.
If you were to ask me to explain this, I could not. Only after time passes do I clearly know how in certain cases an impression influenced me in a particular composition. In songs this is an intuitive creative process in which the word finds adequate expression in sound, however it is difficult to say if we can have the perspective of something being wrong or right. That I think is more likely related to the philosophy of art. We should not deny a natural link between thought and a musical image because there is a flexible connection between them showing how the same musical image corresponds to different meanings, emotions and their opposites.
An emotional state can correspond to various musical ideas. The philosopher Schopenhauer talked about it sometime ago: he had a special interest in this matter. Wagner also wrote on it in his theoretical works.
At a recent lecture I called this connection epigraphic in the same way an epigraph is sometimes able to open, more or less, a fullness. It is the same when a text can be set by different composers who grasped the main thought of the poem very differently. All of this can be very true, right, and emotionally persuasive.
But I allow for the moment of conscious depiction. For example, in Liszt’s [Legende no.1] Predication aux oiseaux, he depicts the chirping of birds, or in Au bord d’une source, the splash of a stream. It is hard to imagine that Liszt didn’t notice that, for it is clear that the idea of depiction is at work here.
But sometimes there are compositions where the meaning is revealed unexpectedly, even to the composer himself. It happens in some Romantics. With Schubert and Schumann you wouldn’t find an external depiction but rather, an inner connection. That is what I call hidden planning and I think that it is not only in songs but in all of music, in each composition. Yet a composition cannot be written without the inner urge, without the inner goal. These inner qualities will not be present with a formal goal only. I cannot imagine such a composition, however I can easily let myself think that composers need a formal perspective to let these inner feelings appear and realize themselves, and immediately, after this perspective, we have a meaning which fills a given form. Without that I cannot imagine a real musical artist, and even more, a composer.
I was never this sort of Formalist. Once, yesterday, I was playing the Appassionata on the radio and the announcer asked if I thought Beethoven had a certain image of an idea. I said that I didn’t gain such knowledge from Beethoven’s biographies and also many things remain unclear to me, , . but I cannot imagine that the moment would never come when a certain melody, theme or musical depiction would correspond to a certain thought or image. I realize that this will be very subjective, but for that moment, it will be necessary. For example, in a lyrical poem by Tiutchev [Blessed is one who visited this world in its woeful moments] this is a brilliant thought but I can feel it deeply only in this precise case. And this case is not the only one which gives us the possibility to open up the meaning but in this very moment, the main thoughts of the poem are opening with a special force. And I am sure that a performer without a formal attitude towards interpretation needs to have those moments. Those moments should not necessarily come to him on stage: they can come while he is studying at home. As a pianist you have this experience, because all of a sudden, the thought and idea of a work become exceptionally clear and bright, as the idea connects with something. And if our perception is such, we have more of a basis to think that the composer was also inspired by a high point in his life and his composition was not just a formal process.
Regarding my own creativity, I always feel that if I am working on some composition a big part of my real emotions, my real life are in it, that my creative process is not remote from life and the emotions. There can be such vivid artistic impressions, sometimes happening in life. However if I were to teach composition, I would more likely recommend to my students not to wait for this inner voice which forces a person to work and accomplish an idea. On the contrary, I would advise them to take a formal point of view because the rest is inevitable if you are a real artist. From my point of view, if you are a real musician and you react to, say, the sound of thirds, it would occupy a certain place in your life. And the opposite too, for if something is happening in your life, you also feel it musically.
Does it apply to performance practice?
Yes it can apply to performance practice but I don’t think we can fully separate musical performance from people who write creative compositions. I don’t think it is normal: maybe [Heinrich] Neuhaus is right: In his last article he said that Richter is a hidden composer. It is as if you fill a certain container up to its brim, you are never sure that it wouldn’t go over. And if you think that performing is a creative moment, which is overflowing together with a certain performing goal, then the creative moment always allows us to sometime feel itself in a thematic improvisation, a new reading of the text or something not always connected to performing.
What is the inner relationship between your activities of creation and performance?
About my creative activity. . . what can I say? Unfortunately my creative work was very often interrupted by such difficult responsibilities as performance goals and teaching – that I was absolutely knocked out of the composition world. Creative work needs the same cultivation, even more than performing work. I can tell you the terrible feelings I experienced. When you have a musical thought but it is not fully formed for a final draft, you doubt that you are at a certain edge and are afraid to forget something very important or notate it incorrectly, but at the same time you need to leave this work because you have other commitments.
I should say that one of the most unpleasant musical feelings is when a composer is afraid to forget an important theme or idea, however I never forget anything valuable. My ideas all reappeared but unfinished compositions resulted because of this. For example I performed the 1st Piano Concerto in 1930. There were a few places with which I was not totally satisfied. If I would have revised those unsatisfactory parts at that time, I would have finished it, but now time has passed and I don’t want to go back to this circle of ideas, so the Concerto remains a composition which I don’t play only because of those few bars. In spite of many requests during those years, I refused to play it. I need to rework the orchestration and I don’t want to return to those thoughts.
But if we judge by how fruitful your composing and performing activities have been, we can say that in your case, both directions, more or less, harmoniously intervened in complementing each other.
I don’t think it’s exactly like this. It only seems to be harmonious, but no: performing reflected on composing, yes, but it slowed it down very much. I don’t know: maybe I didn’t lose anything valuable this way, but I have moments when I regret that I gave too much to performing. Yet on the contrary, I cannot say so [about composing effecting performance], as I noticed that along with the appearance of my compositions, my abilities as a pianist were improving. For me it was absolutely clear that my pianism and technical mastery of the instrument owe a lot to my composing. I am always surprised why good composers sometimes don’t play the piano well. I remember a very long time ago I spoke with Goldenweiser about a very successful performance of his and he replied that he wasn’t practicing before, but only composing. And that is exactly what helped me wonderfully. You are writing, seated at the table, and when you get to the piano after, you realize you are playing better. Somehow this moment of activating the sound image influences the kinetic process.
What is the creative process when you are at the instrument?
I create and compose at the instrument. Very often I need to get the major impulse when I am at the keyboard because a lot of ideas form without an instrument. Sometimes a plan comes without an instrument, sometime the major theme comes this way, but before I touch the keyboard, everything seems very remoteto me. I become moved by music only when I am perceiving it through its actual sound. I need sound, not to understand where a chord is resolved or something like that, but so I can feel the sound’s elemental force. As a performer, what do want to mention as being most important? I only can say that when I look back at my work, at my interpretive path, clearly it always gave me new possibilities as a performer. It is a great pity that it naturally ended so early: so that with age, more and more difficulties will appear which pianists never experience in their youth. Because of our great experience, we can overcome a lot of difficulties by known methods. I for example could not play trills and need to use certain forces which you do not need. I know that because many different pianists . . . lets say an occurence such as Gilels, who appeared like a meteor which demonstrated absolutely phenomenal digital and motor abilities. But if we want to talk about Gilels’s technique, we cannot say that five years ago he didn’t have the technique he has now. We don’t feel that, even if he were to tell me that he once lacked something which he now has. If he is playing the same work we cannot say that before he didn’t grasp something and now does. I did not have this. On the contrary, if I will select any of my periods as a pianist, it seemed to me that in each period I was gaining something new, something which before I didn’t have on a great scale, and the one who can prove this is Goldenweiser. I remember when I finished Conservatory at 21, in 1911, I came to Goldenweiser about 1916-1917 to show him what I had done during that time. He was stunned by my success and progress in the technical field. This way, at age 27, I was much better technically than at age 21. By age 32 I was playing incomparably better technically than at age 27. Of course a certain age comes when you stop progressing, naturally. In truth, I think that I can even make some progress now but of course it’s more difficult. Obviously, my views on pianism were correct because I achieved results from them. If I were to look from this point of view at what I’m doing now, when I’m working on a new work and compare it with what I did when I was 17 or 18, the feeling now is that I was only wasting time then. In other words, I didn’t understand many principles or facets of pianism which are absolutely clear now. But if we compare it with the results I gain in my current way of overcoming this or that technical difficulty, then we see I had wasted a lot of time.
Do you attribute your success which took place between 1927-32 only to the work you did on technique or was it a result of the combination of all the different work you did and in this case was it connected with your playing for Goldenweiser? Or were you consciously working on perfecting your piano abilities?
I need to say that I was never self-assured as a pianist. I was very attentive to how others worked and studied. At a certain time in my life, my teachers gave me a lot, but maybe I studied not only from these teachers. This period of acutely perfecting my technique corresponded with working independently. Things which I could not achieve at the Conservatory came with ease. Earlier my attention was given to those areas, for example, Goldenweiser noticed a gap in my finger technique, so he made me work on Czerny’s Studies, but in spite of my diligent application, it brought no result. Later, I found those studies so easy that I didn’t need to play them. But at that time I did all of them (op. 740). Obviously something else is important here.
What else? Some special exercise or some different approach?
An absolutely different attitude towards fingers and finger technique. One matter of great importance to me is this: If something seems very difficult to me, I always try to find some simplicity. I cannot imagine that there are such difficulties for which is there is not some simple method. If I cannot get something, I will think it over: What is behind it? I think, look, and seek: What kind of movement is necessary here? Any finger difficulty is resolved this way in the end .
Is simplification a result only on the basis of a rational division and rethinking of the inner structure of a difficulty?
Yes, of course. In this case I need to say that I am no fan of convoluted ideas on technical work. Let’s take a composition such as my 2nd sonata. This is one of the most difficult creations for piano. I wrote it in about two weeks. When it was finished I played it flawlessly. Maybe later when I returned to the sonata, I needed to refresh a few things, but in the beginning I had a totally free command of it and I think that this instinctive understanding of the inner meaning of the sonata is one of the main foundations for a genuine playing technique. Then the ability to sight-read and score reading develops your technique, but sometimes you sit and work on an Etude and you can think as much as you want whether or not to lift a finger – this Liszt/Busoni work [unspecified] would not help at all. Genuine technique should be linked to a real image, maybe a genuine sound image with an understanding of your own capability and shortcomings. Maybe composers who do not play well enough get the sound image easier but with an insufficient understanding of their pianistic abilities and their shortcomings. But such great composers as Rachmaninoff, Medtner and Scriabin were wonderful pianists. They came to their pianism through their own compositions. Long ago, [Nikolai] Zverev [teacher of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin] was upset that Rachmaninoff was improvising instead of playing scales: maybe Rachmaninoff was right? A lot of pianists are reaching a high peak not because they are working so much but in spite of working so much. Especially if you take archaic systems of pianism: those systems are complexes of the most unsuccessful methods and we can only be surprised how genuine pianists surmounted them. If we only imagine how Liszt was taught by Czerny, this system of placing different objects on the hands to create an immobile wrist! I recently saw one school where they recommend a certain way to place the elbow and play. I tried to play this way – everything interests me.
As a pianist, how is your own system developing?
Usually I try simply just to play. I should say that not everything even things which seem very difficult, turn out badly. Sometimes very difficult spots come out fine right away, and only then a new row of difficulties appears. In general I would say that my work on a piece is more likely a fight with future difficulties rather than the desire to master difficulties at first. This trill, in the Appassionata’s beginning came out nicely but then didn’t go well! Then I needed some kind of method to overcome this problem. Many pianists complain that it’s not hard to get through the difficulties but to preserve the solutions and habits which they gained during their work.
If we’ll take for example an absolutely new composition which you never played or heard?
I will try just to play it less than fully and until I wouldn’t feel any difficulties such as tired hands, leaps, other things.
Would you play a tempo from the score right away?
Yes, I read scores pretty well. I don’t think you need to play in a slow tempo if you can play it fast. Later, if you have imprecisions, then it can be played slower or with other methods – it depends how well your mechanism is in order.
Are you playing a work as a whole or in pieces?
Of course I am forced to play it in pieces because if I find a passage that I wouldn’t pass by, I will try to master it .
So are you learning a composition sectionally while working out the score?
It is more likely this way: I think for example it is harmful to write in fingering too early. It should be gradually introduced during the process of playing. Students make a mistake if they immediately write fingering in. By the way, it is dangerous before the performance to play in a slow tempo because you can start playing by mistake with different fingering and not with the same hand. I use the slow tempo for a certain goal: when it seems that I still have some imprecision, unevenness, or inadequate tone.
Does it apply to certain passages or to the whole composition?
No, to play the whole work slowly is a torture and unnecessary. I am surprised by some pianists: not everything is similarly difficult. Even Etudes have different goals depending on which place you are. This slow playing is torturous because you want to play in a natural tempo. That’s why I only play certain passages slowly.
Do you remember at a certain meeting Neuhaus was talking about a method of slow motion?
Yes. That was a successful comparison but if I am looking through the lens I am looking at the separate sections. Let’s take Liszt’s B minor Sonata. What is the sense to teach the beginning of the 1st page slowly? I remember when my teacher forced me to play like this, to take the Adagio slower than written.
But some pianists now do the same thing.
This is torture. Adagio is written this way and performed in order to be perceived in this precise tempo. I understand that an Andante con moto or appassionato will be better understood if it will be played slower, but an adagio or largo is the opposite. In a slow tempo they are distorted.
What are the forms of practicing before a concert?
That depends on the circumstances of life. Ideally if I have a concert in 2 weeks I always try to work more in the first week than the second as I often feel I gain good results at the performance because I started to work early on. On the contrary, some slips at the concert can be explained by my having overworked right before the concert. I’m not brave enough to perform in public a composition which I did not play at all. But sometimes if you know a work quite well, it might be better not to play it at all before a concert. I often notice that when I remember a composition which I didn’t play for a relatively long time but had worked on in the past very thoroughly, sometimes the first performance came out very well right away. Then comes the moment when you start working on it and for unknown reasons it is even coming out worse and then afterwards this work again gives a good result. So it is very difficult to understand the correlation between work and result. Here we have somehow a very complex curve. Recently while playing an encore, [Beethoven’s] Sonata in C# minor, op.27, no.2, it sounded worse because the previous day I had worked on details in it. And if in a Beethoven recital I sometimes play it as an encore without working the previous day, then the result is much better. But this cannot be recommended. You just need to listen to yourself so you would not overdo it before a concert. You need enough time to start getting ready for a concert.
In the days preceding your concert do you work mostly on the whole thing or details, separate fragments, certain passages?
Of course part of it is the playing itself, but such playing when I go back every minute to certain details which seem to me inadequately played. I recently thought that there are such works which I have played for a long time already, such as the Appassionata: if I wouldn’t conceive a new idea on how to play it, then this work wouldn’t have any meaning for me. The work is rewarding only when you are finding some new sound and your own new conceptions.
During rehearsal in the concert hall, are you playing the work from beginning with the idea not to go back to anything despite its outcome?
Sometimes I give myself this goal: to play if not all, then maybe one part from beginning to end, because only then can you find what is a bit difficult or easy for you with a more precise and accurate judgment.
Are you working on special exercises or technical work each day?
In principle, I do not deny the benefit of a good exercise. I even think it might be good to do that but unfortunately I don’t have time for this work. I think we need to understand it as follows: if we can’t get a certain spot right, we need to find the means and approach for it to come out. It’s always some pieces which don’t come out. If I cannot do the trill in the Appassionata, then I learn the end of the trill and that is my technical work. I am polishing these seven notes absolutely slowly in order to know that in the end we have these seven notes and that it started to come out. Also one of the methods is to learn the ends of these passages, the fragments from which these passages are built from. With each difficulty you need to pay attention to what this problem consists of, to the most important moments. I would advise learning the simpler things which rest on the foundation of this difficulty.