Notes from the 1998 World Piano Pedagogy Convention: Jerome Lowenthal, Learning As Forgetting

"In order to become an artist, the student must be able to throw away the book of his studies."

World Piano Pedagogy Convention Notes

Notes by Brent Hugh
Assistant Professor of Piano
Missouri Western State College Department of Music

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These are part of my notes from the 1998 World Piano Pedagogy Convention in Fort Worth, Texas.

I am not fast enough at note-taking to produce anything like a verbatim transcript of the session--in fact, only a very small percentage of the notes could be considered exact quotations of the session. Rather than a verbatim transcript, consider these notes to be my own personal thoughts, reflections, reactions, interpretation, and commentary to the ideas and examples given by the session presenter.

Friday, October 23rd, 1998

Jerome Lowenthal

Learning As Forgetting
"In order to become an artist, the student must be able to throw away the
book of his studies."

Exactitude is not the same as truth.  The truth is rather complicated and
messy, so if you are making a simple, exact, precise statement, you are
most certainly *not* telling the truth--or, at least, not the whole truth.

In order to give a sophisticated (and more complete and truthful)
understanding of music, teachers must *first* give an unsophisticated (and
more simple and precise) understanding.  Then, when the student is ready,
the teacher can help bring the student to the fuller, more complete, and
sophisticated understanding.

For instance, we teach beginners that Eb and D# are one and the same note.
But advanced students know they are really different--Eb and D# may be
played or sung as different pitches and they certainly function in
different ways.  Eb and D# really are two different notes.

Example: Key Centers
In the beginning, we teach that the key signature (coupled, perhaps, with
checking the final chord of the piece) tells the key.  Later we learn that
the situation is somewhat more difficult.

For instance, in the Bartok 2nd Bagatelle, the right hand has a key
signature of 4 sharps, suggesting E Major.  The left hand has 4 flats,
suggesting C Phrygian. What is the real "key" of this piece?  To come to a
conclusion, the musician must examine the whole idea of what a "key" is,
and not just look at the first and last measures of the work.

Another example of a complicated situation of key/key signature is in the
Chopin 2nd Ballade.

A good example of a problem that can happen if students 
don't understand the whole idea of "key" is at the beginning 
of the Beethoven Sonata Op. 31, No. 3.  Students often hear 
(and play) the first chord of this work as a pretty 
consonance--a point of rest or repose (i.e., I with a
dded 6th, a la Debussy).  But this initial chord should
be heard in the context of Eb major as a ii6 chord, 
with all that implies--and certainly what it implies
is much more than simply a pretty, but essentially
consonant harmony.

Tonal ambiguities are common in Chopin.  For instance, the f minor fantasy
ends in Ab major. So you can't just hear the movement from f minor to Ab
major as a modulation, but as a "tear in the tonal fabric".  The f minor
and Ab major form a "pair" of complementary, not opposing keys.

Example: Rhythm
Iambic pentameter means five "equal" feet, yet no one ever speaks it (for
instance, when performing a play of Shakespeare) as five exactly equal feet
unless trying to sound like a robot.

In a similar vein, in a 4/4 measure filled with eighth notes, all 8 eighth
notes are not all equal.  If you play them all equal (as we teach beginners
to do) then you are playing like a robot.

Example: Urtext Editions
In the beginning, we teach that "urtext=original=good".  Certainly we
emphasize that urtext editions are *far* superior to the ordinary sort of
mangled edition.

Later, musicians realize that there is no such thing as a "real" urtext,
that is, the one final, true, exact representation of the composer's

For instance, Chopin would publish 3 authorized editions of a particular
work, plus we have the original manuscript, and markings and "corrections"
he made in his students' copies of his works.  In many important cases,
none of these 5 "officially approved" versions (3 editions + manuscript +
student corrections) agree with any of the others.  So which of these is
the "urtext"?

Example: Tempo Markings
In the beginning, we learn that lento-adagio-andante-moderato-allegro, etc
are all lined up like ducks in a row and each one is associated with
certain metronome marks--like the way they come pre-printed on metronomes.

Later, musicians learn that the situation is much more complicated. For
instance, with the word "andantino":  Mozart, who spoke fluent Italian,
conceived of andantino as being somewhere between adagio and andante.
Brahms, who didn't speak Italian at all, thought of andantino as being
basically the same as allegretto.

Dynamic Markings
First we learn pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff all lined up in a row.  Later we learn,
for instance, that Chopin and Schumann often wrote 'f' to mean something
like > or sf.

First we learn the basic style periods: baroque, classic, romantic, etc.
We learn that Beethoven had 3 style periods.

Later, we discover that Beethoven didn't know he had three style periods.  

The advanced musician learns a flexible idea of style, and that "Every
great artist creates his or her own predecessors".  That is, composers
refer to, quote, imitate, etc. a *variety* of influences, and these
influences may change drastically from one work to the next, and do not
necessarily follow a neat, straight line from one period of life to the next.

At first we learn simplified pedaling such as

   1  2  3  1  2  3  1  2  3
   D     U  D     U  D     U

   [D=pedal down, U=pedal up]

See, for instance, examples of this sort of pedal marking everywhere in
editions of Chopin.

Later we learn that there are infinite nuances to pedaling.  There are an
infinite numbers of degrees by which a pedal may be either pressed down or
let up.  There are nuances to exactly when the pedal is changed (a little
before the beat, exactly on the beat, a little after the beat, a lot after
the beat).

There are ways, using the pedal, to stop part of the sound while letting
rest ring on.  There are ways to lend a certain shimmer to a high, fast,
fingery passage, without making it sound "pedaled" at all.

These pedal nuances are used as a matter of course by advanced pianists,
yet the student has no inkling that these things are possible to do with
the pedal.

At first, the teacher must give certainties, definitive answers. But, when
the student is ready, the teacher must subvert these certainties and
definitive answers, "in the interest of art".


Brent Hugh
MWSC Department of Music

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++++++ University of Missouri-Kansas City, Conservatory of Music +++++++
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