Piano technique should be no more than a means; and so it should come directly out of an imperative need for musical self-expression. There Chopin opens the way to a modern conception of music teaching, resolutely turning his back on many piano professors of his time – and after! – whose teaching is based on a mechanistic conception of instrumental playing. …

Contrary to the pedagogues of the time, who sought to equalize the fingers by means of laborious and cramping exercises, Chopin cultivated the fingers’ individual characteristics, prizing their natural inequality as a source of variety in sound: ‘As many different sounds as there are fingers’ (PM). In this way he would quickly develop a great variety of colours in his pupils’ sound meanwhile sparing them much tedious labour in fighting their own physiognomy. As for evenness of fingers and the jeu perle, that touchstone of Romantic pianists, Chopin achieved it by two original means: innovatory fingering conducive to producing a flowing succession of sounds, and, in scales and arpeggios, a light movement of the hand in the direction of the run. …

In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Beethoven, Weber and Schubert, each in his own way, founded the Romantic piano style by bursting through the fetters of the eighteenth-century fortepiano. But it was left to the following generation, and principally to Chopin and Liszt, to explore the resources of the newly developed instrument (Erard, Pleyel) in the service of a new aesthetic. …

The progress made by French and English piano manufacturers enabled particularly the bass strings’ vibrations to be substantially prolonged by using the damper pedal. The fingers could then elaborate over a bass note which could be held on the pedal without dwindling too rapidly. Chopin also took advantage of this to develop his writing for the left hand. It is this extension of suppleness that underlies the accompanying voice in compositions such as the Andante spianato op. 22, the Berceuse op. 57, most Nocturnes (particularly opp. 27/1 and 2), and the trio in the ‘Funeral March’ from the Sonata op. 35.

If Chopin’s technique perhaps appears to us as the most beautiful flower of Romantic pianism, it obviously does not represent all the technique that has since been applied to the instrument. It is naturally suited to the music of its creator, to that of several of Chopin’s contemporaries and also, to a large extent, of many of his successors, particularly Grieg, Faure, Debussy, Scriabin, Albeniz and Granados. After Chopin came Liszt, who exhausted the technical possibilities of the Romantic piano by fully exploring the paths opened up by his predecessor, and joining to them his own discoveries.

Chopin, the aristocrat, was a pianist da camera; Liszt, the eloquent tribune, was a man of the stage. Chopin brought to the piano the refined art of bel canto; from the same piano Liszt wrenched sonorities evoking Berlioz or Wagner. While the Pole’s aesthetic is based on the voice, the Hungarian’s is inspired by the orchestra.

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