April 23, 2016

Internal and External Paradoxes about Piano Compositions

When playing a composition on the piano, as with any instruments, the performer is “channeling” the composer.  As she has played so many pieces of so many composers, Tomoko has many insights about those musical creators and these processes.

Piano composers are a paradox. Tomoko says, “They have a special power. I feel sorry for them because they can’t explain how they create, but they need to be very precise about each note, timing and expression.” Tomoko thinks that great composers have internalized their composition process; “it general comes easily and natural.” She points out, though, “Their planning is well done.” 

Somehow the composer has to figure out how to externalize the music in his head, and use musical notation to accurately communicate it to others.   In turn, the pianist needs toward internalize the musical score, and then externalize it with body action on the piano, incorporating the head and heart.

Tomoko contends that each composer is unique. Furthermore, she says, “The never change their philosophy.”  Even when the composer explores different musical styles, he is still the same person. Therefore, part of a performer’s skill set is the ability to identify a composer when hearing his music. “Do you know who wrote that piece?” Tomoko will ask her students. She thinks that knowing about the composer can help the pianist interpret a piano piece more fully.

She cites Mozart as an example of a prolific and very sophisticated composer.  “Mozart’s sounds were not of this world. His life was all dreams, and he was very holy. He had a real connection between this life and the next life, perhaps because his mother passed away while he was in Paris.” Tomoko points out a paradox, “However, Mozart was also a super mathematician, and his composition papers sometimes had algebra notes on them.  Mozart also used musical numerology, weaving masonic numerical symbols in his open The Magic Flute, such as the number three (such as three-part harmony, characters in sets of three, and  key E flat major, which has three flats.”

At the same time, the same pianist interacts differently throughout life to Mozart. As a teacher, Tomoko asserts, “Mozart is easy for children but hard for adults; just try his variations.” Tomoko says that many of her students want to play Mozart. She responds to them, “If you want to play him, you have to go through Stravinsky, Alban Berg, and other contemporary composers. Mozart is complicated to learn.” 

As for Tomoko herself? “I have a natural feeling about Mozart.” She says, “I could play a piece of his twenty times, and not tire of it.”