Technikos: “of, or pertaining to art, artistic, skilful”

But there is no difference between interpretation and technique. Every dynamic and nuance must be produced simultaneously by a technical means (Walter Gieseking)

The next few posts will be on practising exercises, and I decided to start with double notes. This week I will give some background, and next week some practical advice.

I recommend doing some double notes every day, in the form of a scale or two, or an exercise, or indeed a study. It is the act of doing this that is more important than what you practise, and any book of exercises worth its salt will have some patterns of double notes. I favour exercises that transpose or use patterns of white and black keys – playing on just white keys is very limiting (how many pieces do you know, even elementary ones, that avoid black notes?).

Playing double notes is, mechanically speaking, one of the most difficult activities at the piano, and one that requires superfine coordination. The pair of fingers need to sound dead together and, in order to do this in a controlled way, have to be played from the surface of the keyboard. The weaker outer fingers need to be as strong and agile as the others – stronger, actually, in the right hand since the top notes will need to be projected more.

 

“Nothing by finger without arm; nothing by arm without finger” (Leonid Nikolaev)

I imagine a seesaw where one end represents “ARM” and the other “FINGER”. Because of the unhelpful assumption that we play the piano with our fingers, I am always trying to push activities of the finger as far as possible in the “ARM” direction, hoping to achieve some sort of a balance in the middle. While the best example of pure arm activity is a probably a glissando, double notes seem to come at the other end of the seesaw. Next week I will give some suggestions to increase agility and to prevent injury – if done incorrectly, double notes can be very injurious.

For me, the bible of double notes is Moszkowski’s “School of Double Notes”, op. 64. This magnum opus is in three parts, starting with a compendium of scales – major and minor scales in thirds and sixths (then seconds, fourths and diminished fifths), as well as chromatics. He gives a general fingering for each scale, and different fingerings depending on how many octaves you are playing. Part two is a collection of special exercises, itself divided into three parts. Part A features exercises that start in the key of C and which require modulation through all twelve keys. The exercises in part B may be transposed, whereas those in part C are to be played as written. The third part of the book is a collection of four extended studies. If you have this book, you really don’t need any other, but it is not for beginners. Having paid over £20 for my copy decades ago, I have found a link to the score here.

There is also a School of Double Notes by Isidor Philipp. I particularly like the last part, where he gives extracts from the standard repertoire. This makes a nice change from practising extended studies, and it is even worthwhile doing a few of these extracts slowly (they don’t have to be played at speed).

For intermediate players, where this skill can be introduced, I would recommend any of the exercises and contraptions by Dohnányi, Tankard, Beringer et al., to be practised firstly non-legato so that basic coordination can be acquired.

I will leave you today with two examples of concert studies featuring double notes, firstly Boris Berezovsky playing Liszt’s “Feux Follets” (the action starts at 00:24) and Georges Cziffra playing Chopin’s Etude in Thirds, op. 25 no. 6.

To be continued…