Every so often a performance like this pops up on You Tube that allows the listener to reflect upon why the playing is so moving.
This Romantic era composition, in slow tempo is no race to the finish line. The pianist is challenged to sustain a singing line without losing a thread of connection from note to note, phrase to phrase, harmony to harmony.
For me, the beauty of this reading resides, in part, in the performer’s ability to listen attentively from the end of one note to the next. (Horowitz’s wide palette of color contrasts and dynamics feed into this extraordinary performance)
In Just Being at the Piano, Mildred Portney-Chase expands upon an important dimension of “Tone.”
“Listen to the sound as it fades and let your hand tune into this sound. Your hand should float slowly up on the same path which it went down…Imagine that the tone rises like warm air and follow its path upward with your hand. Your hand rides on the sound.”
Attentive listening is pivotal to creating a beautiful tone, but it must be intertwined with a relaxed, physical approach to the piano that creates the Oneness of which Portney-Chase weaves throughout her book.
Horowitz is the epitome of this floating, flowing connection between an artist and the piano, but he’s also attuned to unexpected harmonic shifts that Leonard B. Meyer references in his book, Emotion and Meaning in Music.
Meyer emphasizes that what’s “unexpected,” harmonically or melodically as a piece unfolds creates an “emotional response.” A composer might have written a phrase ending in a dominant to tonic progression, and then repeat the same phrase but for a surprising landing on the VI chord, that elicits a “Deceptive” cadence of magical audible consequence. (Just one brief example)
While one can get overly analytical about modulations, noting them in the score in a pedantic fashion, the true artist “feels” the emotional impact of these as a performance unfolds because he has become “aware” of them in his practicing. “Unexpected” changes cannot be contrived or preplanned. (Boris Berman, master teacher reiterates) Rather, in the moment of being at the piano, certain harmonic events may be experienced with a poignancy that radiates out to an audience of listeners.
Perhaps it may not be easy to specifically explain why a sonority resonated in a different way from the others, but still, the effect is unusually divine.
Seymour Bernstein, pianist/teacher/philosopher explores “voicing” in part 4 of his series, You and the Piano. He says, “To experience polyphony with your own two hands is one of the privileges of being a pianist. Like the converging rays of sun, each voice of a chord fuses into a radiant hall.”
Bernstein illustrates radiance as he performs “The Poet Speaks” from Schumann’s Kinderszenen. (“Scenes of Childhood”)
Portney-Chase and Bernstein both explore areas that are vital to practicing from day-to-day.
We need only revisit Horowitz’s ethereal reading of the Liszt Consolation to learn by example that music-making is a synthesis of listening, feeling, and physical oneness with the instrument.
Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney-Chase at Amazon.com
Seymour Bernstein, Video Part 4, You and the Piano
Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard B. Meyer
Inspiring Masterclasses of Boris Berman