It’s that festive time of year, and you may want to do a little book shopping. Here is a selection of books on piano playing that are at the top of my list, presented here in no particular order. I have, inevitably, missed out many others – perhaps I can save those for another post!

The Art of Piano Playing – Heinrich Neuhaus

If you like the idea of tracing your pianistic lineage (which I don’t actually), Neuhaus is my “grandfather” via my final teacher, Nina Svetlanova who studied with him for many years. This book is arguably the best single book on piano playing, which it discusses in every aspect from the physical to the philosophical. It is a mine of information and anecdote, and no serious pianist should be without it on their bookshelf.

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The Art of Piano Playing – George Kochevitsky

I discovered this book as a postgraduate student and again I would recommend it to everyone (especially piano teachers) as it discusses areas not covered in most books on the subject. Kochevitsky delves into the history of piano playing from the finger school to the anatomic-physiological school to more modern schools where the mind plays a vital part. There is a lot of invaluable scientific information on the central nervous system and the role of neurophysiology. The book is short, easy to read and contains illustrations and a very full bibliography.

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Pianists at Play – Dean Elder

This inspiring book is a collection of interviews, master lessons and technical regimes culled from issues of Clavier Magazine over the years. It features such luminaries as Artur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Casadesus, Serkin, Lili Kraus, Bachauer, and many other great pianists and teachers. There is a wonderful illustrated interview with Adele Marcus, entitled “Mechanics of an Advanced Technique” together with her technical regime. This book can be used for reference, or for browsing, and is guaranteed to get you rushing back to the piano with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. If you haven’t got this book, GET IT!

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Speaking of Pianists – Abram Chasins

I found this in a second-hand bookstore in New York, signed by the author. It is a memoir of Mr. Chasins’ studies and experiences with the great pianists he knew, including chapters on Rubinstein, Rachmaninov, Godowksky, Lhevinne and others. I have read it many times, and tend to recommend it to students who need a bit of a boost.

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Music Study in Germany – Amy Fay

This dates from 1869 – 1875 and is a series of letters home from American piano student Amy Fay from her European adventure, and lessons with Liszt, Tausig and others. There was a time when a first edition of this book was worth a fortune. Now it has been reprinted, and can even be read for free online. Download the e-book here.

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The Great Pianists – Harold C. Schoenberg

The classic history of pianists and piano playing from start (Bach and Mozart) to twentieth century schools. Read more about it here.

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Practising the Piano – Frank Merrick

The book, from the 1950s, contains some of the universal principles of practising, some personal anecdotes and many suggestions. Given the personal nature of practising, and the different schools and systems, you’re not going to agree with everything he says. One part which feels very dated, which I consider erroneous, is his advice on strain and injury. Otherwise this is an excellent book.

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Music at Your Fingertips – Ruth Slenczynska

This remarkable pianist is apparently still living, and still performing at the age of 86! As for the book, I can do no better than quote the synopsis. “Intended for the aspiring artist as well as the enthusiastic amateur, this invaluable guide to piano practice and performance covers every major aspect of pianistic technique. Drawing from more than forty years experience as a teacher and highly acclaimed performer as well as from her studies with Rachmaninoff, Schnabel, and Cortot, Slenczynska clearly demonstrates such basics as the proper use of hand positions, fingering, pedaling, ornamentation, various fingering touches, and counting. She also gives detailed instructions on the art of program building, carefully analyzing the concert programs of Horowitz, Rubinstein, and Serkin and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of their program construction. She includes repertoire lists for performance at various levels of ability, a complete chart of ornament interpretation, and authoritative advice on posture, sight-reading, rhythm, note-learning, and memorization. Her book is essential reading for all who enjoy in the piano-beginners, serious students, teachers, and listeners.”

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Etudes for Piano Teachers – Stewart Gordon

This book is more for teachers, and I have found myself referring to it again and again over the years. It is a collection of essays examining the challenges involved in piano teaching. For readers of this blog, the author has some important information on practising that I endorse wholeheartedly. A must-read. 

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The Russian Piano School – trans. and ed. Christopher Barnes

This book was recommended to me and is now on order – I can’t wait for it to arrive! According to the blurb, this is what is has to offer:

The Russian Piano School offers a further and fuller insight into the views on technique and interpretation of several of the 20th century’s greatest Russian teachers and performers. Contributions come from the elder generation of Alexander Goldenweiser (a friend and contemporary of Rachmaninov), his pupil Samuel Feinberg, Heinrich Neuhaus and Konstantin Igumnov, as well as from a younger generation including Yakov Flier, Lev Oborin, Yakov Zak, and Grigorii Ginzburg, who tutored many master pianists of the present day. The book addresses several of the major technical and interpretative problems facing the pianist. This book should be of interest to both piano teachers and students, to professional performers, and also to many amateurs who aspire to reach beyond the first foothills of Parnassus.

Part One offers a series of writings that illustrate the philosophy and methods of the school:

  • The Road to Artistry, Samuil Feinberg
  • Advice from a Pianist and Teacher, Alexander Goldenweiser
  • Some Principles of Pianoforte Technique, Lev Oborin
  • Some Remarks on Technique, Konstantin Igumnov
  • Notes on Mastery of the Piano, Grigorii Ginzburg

Part Two gives a privileged insight into the classroom methods of various teachers as they work with students on that repertoire in which Russian artists have always particularly excelled – Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev:

  • Beethoven’s Appassionata: A Performer’s Commentary, Samuil Feinberg
  • Three Answers to Questions about Beethoven’s Sonata Appassionata, Sviatoslav Richter
  • Work on Beethoven’s Sonata in A major Opus 101, Heinrich Neuhaus
  • Chopin Etudes (based on classes with Samuil Feinberg), Maria Eshchenko
  • Reflections on Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, Yakov Flier
  • Notes on Chopin’s Ballade in F minor, Alexander Goldenweiser
  • Chopin’s Fourth Ballade in F minor, Konstantin Igumnov
  • Lessons with Yakov Flier (on Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1 and Prokofiev’s Sonata No 3), Nina Lelchuk Lelchuk
    Yakov Zak as Teacher (on Liszt’s B-minor Sonata, Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques, and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody), Olga Stupakova

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I am taking a short holiday (as I am sure, dear Reader, are you). Therefore, there won’t be a post next week.

A P P Y   H O L I D A Y !