Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hans von Bülow's preface to his edition of Cramer's piano studies

You are wondering: why I am posting such a dull-titled text to my blog.  Well, this is one of the most fascinating guides to 19th century piano teaching methods that I have ever come across, and since it is buried in a two column format at the front of a lengthy volume of music, I doubt if it have ever been digitized before.

The really valuable things in this are:
  • a list of the studies that von Bülow used in his teaching, ranked in order of difficulty (he rated Alkan the hardest of all).
  • thoughts on fingering.  It is daunting to think that HvB expected his students to be able to play Beethoven's sonata Op. 57 as easily in F# minor as in F minor

It is nevertheless worth scanning through all of it, just to get an idea of the thought processes of one of the greatest musicians of his day (and, for a while, Liszt's son-in-law).

The English translation used is by Constance Bache, and I have retained the antiquated grammar, capitalisation, abbreviations etc. to keep the period flavour!

Here is the full text:

It is not the object of the following lines fully to descant on the merits, universally known and acknowledged, and the priceless value and lasting importance of J. B. Cramer’s Pianoforte Studies. It is a work surpassed by no other, with the exception of Muzio Clementi’s “Gradus ad Parnassum “, for which Cramer’s Studies form the best possible preparation, as well as a means of education in the “technique” and “interpretation” of pianoforte playing. If Fétis, the romantic musical authority of the day, describes them as “éminemment classiques”; if his German colleague Franz Brendel, in his “Musik_geschichte”, calls them “an epoch-making foundation for all solid study”, and another colleague, C. F. Weitzmann, in his “Geschichte des Klavierspiels” (Stuttgart—Cotta), reckons them “according to their form and contents among classical pianoforte literature”, and so on, the agreement of these most noted æsthetic and theoretic writers only establishes a fact which, in the universal spread and popularity of the work, testifies most forcibly to its great importance;—a work which is here once more offered to the public in a specially instructive edition. It may however perhaps not be superfluous to justify the appearance of the new edition by a few words, although the editor’s intention can only be fully understood by a closer insight into his work itself. The need for an instructive edition of this kind has already been often felt. Ludwig Berger, who was born in 1777, and was Clementi’s pupil about 1806, thought it necessary to edit the first twelve studies with a more complete fingering; Julius Knorr, later on, did the whole work; and Louis Kohler quite recently published, as the opening number of his ‘Klassische Hochschule des Pianisten”, a selection of thirty studies with explanatory notes which are, to some extent, very useful. 

It is idle to criticise the above-mentioned editions, as the present one is only the outcome of the criticism of them. The old want remains indeed still unfulfilled: he who observes attentively the doings of the piano-playing world cannot help seeing how seldom, in proportion to its wide circulation, the real studying material contained in Cramer is exhaustively employed. A well-conceived and methodical use of this would, on the other hand, lay a firm foundation for the discipline of the virtuoso in the best sense of the word, and would in the end develop some amount of technical and intellectual maturity in the pupil. Yet with what superficiality, what thoughtless routine, do both teacher and taught generally proceed!  Either the teaching consists of a more or less pedantic “wading” through the first part, and possibly also the second, which is then naturally finished quicker; or else the entire 84 studies are taken one after an_other and literally scrambled through, with the unsatisfactory result that, in nine cases out of ten, the player who has gone through the 84 and is suddenly set down to No. 1 cannot play the first arpeggio common chord of C major rightly,—not to mention other surprises for the examiner!  The frequent practical failure of the study of Cramer’s work rests on causes which it is the aim of this edition to remove. Among these the first and foremost is the non-observance of a systematic order of succession; this, at least, has not been carried out by the author in a consistent manner.  Moreover, the English edition gives the studies in a different order from the German. The English edition, which was before us in our work, was indeed a copy in which there were Cramer’s own corrections made by himself; and this copy, which belongs to Herr Spitzweg, the present head of the firm of Aibl, was considered conclusive for the exact settlement of all indications of time and expression.  It contains also those sixteen additional studies, not very widely known, which appeared in Vienna (and were pirated in Hamburg), the chief object of which was apparently only to make up the formal number of 100: that they are not included in the present edition is therefore not due merely to their being private property. Our attempt to remedy this evil does not demand absolute concurrence, as individual considerations will always play a certain part in teaching, if the teacher does not do his work in a pedantic manner.

A further reason why Cramer’s studies have had, comparatively speaking, so little result is because of their superabundance. A similar consideration with regard to Clementi’s “Gradus ad Parnassum” induced Herr Carl Tausig (imperial Prussian Court - pianist) to bring out a selection from that work with valuable directions how to practise them properly. These were published by Bahn (Trautwein) in Berlin, and every intelligent pianoforte teacher is recommended to adopt them. Herr Tausig has with great tact cut out, for instance, those pieces which, although very valuable in themselves, arc written in strict contrapuntal style. The pianoforte fugues and canons of Clementi, far from being a suitable preparation for Bach’s “Wohltemperirtes Klavier”, would rather prove a drawback. To play Bach requires previous studies which must only be sought in other compositions of this master himself, possibly also in those of Handel (Note 1).

The author of this edition of Cramer has in like manner ruled the rejection of all those studies which do not pursue some definite technical aim. Possibly we may even be accused of not having carried this out sufficiently, and of having devoted too much space to the repetition of similar things. To this we might reply that practical experience has shown us the advantage of such various readings. Just as one must gain by perseverance a special technical facility, so the charm of a certain amount of variety in similar work acts with a stimulating and refreshing effect, and at the same time strengthens and advances the pupil, and is sometimes useful also as a test. After playing several exercises of the same sort the player should turn back again to the first of that particular kind.

With regard to some other studies, the technical aim of which is perhaps still more systematically developed in Clementi’s “Gradus”, but certainly in conjunction with greater difficulties, we may remark that in a regulated succession of studies for a complete education in pianoforte playing J. B. Cramer is the true precursor of Clementi.

It may perhaps not be unwelcome to pianoforte teachers if we take this opportunity to mention the sequence of technical studies which the editor has adopted in his own teaching. It includes all branches of studies, ranging from the beginner to the virtuoso.

As soon as the first rudiments have been learned, for which we warmly recommend the first part of the Lebert and Stark Pianoforte School (Stuttgart—Cotta, new edition) as the most solid help, the following may be taken:

I. a) The Studies of Aloys Schmitt, Op. 16 (Berlin—Simrock), besides the “Exercises préparatoires” which serve as an introduction to the first part;—to be practised in all the twelve keys. It is worth mentioning that Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, so eminent as a pianist, laid the foundation of his admirable technique with this work.
b)    To counterbalance the comparative dryness of Schmitt’s Studies, Stephen Heller’s Op. 45 may be also used at the same time.
II. (See Note 2) a) J. B. Cramer’s Studies.
b)    Stephen Heller’s Ops. 46, 47.
c)    C. Czerny’s “Daily Practice”; also his Studies entitled “The School of Legato and Staccato”, which, up to now, has been surprisingly undervalued.
III.    a) Clementi’s “Gradus ad Parnassum”, selected and edited by Carl Tausig.
b)    Moscheles’ Op. 70. 24 Studies: a work better known in north Germany than in south, and which unreservedly merits the title of “classical”.
IV.    a) Henselt’s Studies selected from Ops. 2
b)    Next to, and as a preparation for, these: Haberbier’s “Etudes-poésies” (Hamburg— Cranz); a kind of continuation of S. Heller.
c)    Selections from Moscheles’ Characteristic Studies, Op. 75.
V. Chopin’s Studies, Ops. 10 and 25; and together with them, certain Preludes from his Op. 28 which have a special technical aim.
VI.    Liszt’s 6 Etudes de Paganini (Leipzig—Breitkopf & Härtel).
3 Conzert-Etuden (Leipzig—Kistner).
12 grand “Etudes d’exécution transcendante” (Leipzig—Breitkopf &
VII.    a) Rubinstein: Selected Studies and Preludes.
b)    V. C. Alkan: Selection of 12 grand Studies (Paris—Richault), for the most part more difficult than any of the foregoing.

On entering the 3rd stage Theodor Kullak’s ‘School of Octave Playing” (in 3 parts —Berlin) should be taken in hand, and continued without haste but also without intermission. This is a most meritorious work, and in our opinion no other can take its place: it fully deserves the often misapplied title “l’indispensable du pianiste”. It would lead us too far to specify other useful studies of a subordinate character for special technical objects.

Finally there is a third point to adduce in justification of our instructive edition, which seems to us the most important of all. It refers to the fingering, which is indicated by the author as inconsistently as it is sparingly, and which needed both amplifying and altering in order to help the player to attain the technical end in view. To prevent misunderstanding we will explain more fully this apparently disrespectful reproach to J. B. Cramer. His active time came just at the boundary between the ancient and modern period of pianoforte playing. The modern period, keeping pace with the increasing improvement of the instrument and the increasing demands on the player, has in the course of time arrived at a system of fingering which is in many points diametrically opposed to the old style. Nowadays we note, as an essential mechanical hindrance in pianoforte playing, the inequality of the ground which the fingers have to traverse, owing to the difference in the black and white keys, and it is our chief aim to make the fingers independent of this inequality, and to enable them, by continued “gymnastic” practice, to play as lightly and freely, as safely and clearly, on the black keys as on the white, and to stumble at none of the many possible combinations of white and black keys. According to the editor’s opinion, which may perhaps be considered somewhat audacious, that fingering is the best which allows of transposing the same piece into any other key without mechanical preparation and without previous trouble of deliberation. A modern virtuoso of the right kind should be able to play Beethoven’s Op. 57, for example, just as well in F# minor as in F minor. A fingering intended to promote this must naturally overthrow all the rules of the old method; as it must be based simply and solely on a correct rendering of the musical phrase, without regard to the relation of black to white keys, or of the longer fingers to the shorter. But that old method appears chiefly to have aimed at evading the obstacles which threaten the immobility of the hand in the alternate use of the black and white keys, as it also ignored, among other things, the necessity for a different fingering for different kinds of touch, such as legato, staccato, &c. It further rejected the freedom of the thumb, which is indispensable for polyphonic playing and for avoiding difficulties in transposition, and naturally considered those composers the best, whose inspiration was always led by the outward vision of the twelve semitones of the octave on the keyboard as seven broad and flat keys with five small and raised keys. According to this idea Clementi’s Pianoforte Fugues might certainly have claimed an undoubted superiority over these of a J. S. Bach.

J. B. Cramer (born at Mannheim 1771, died in London 1858) certainly understood the necessity for breaking with that old method, far better than did his predecessor Clementi, (born at Rome 1752, died in England 1832), a more important representative artist, whose teaching Cramer enjoyed as a boy in Vienna from 1783 to 1784 only. In Cramer’s studies many traces of a reform in fingering are to be found, especially also in regard to the old restriction, already alluded to, about the employment of the thumb. But, as though alarmed at his own daring, and afraid to carry out his ideas in a consistent manner, and finally yielding to the tyranny of earlier-established custom, he frequently lapses into the old beaten track.

The editor of the present edition has thought it his duty to merge the composer who looked backwards in him who looks forwards; but he has never gone so far as to enforce another fingering for pieces in which the invention of passages seems to have been induced by practice in the old method. The Hummel Concertos, for instance, (we mean the original, and not their antiquated form) must be played with Hummel’s own fingering, which is satisfactorily pointed out in his “Pianoforte School”, without attempting either to simplify or to complicate according to modern ideas: this remark does not however altogether apply to the Mozart Concertos.

The instructive footnotes added to each study spare us the necessity of making a general explanation of things which will be duly pointed out in their own particular place in connection with their practical application. Yet we may remark by the way that, as regards the marks of dynamic expression, we have thought fit to enlarge on the somewhat sketchy indications given by the author, and similar help seemed requisite in the legato slurs and staccato dots. We have taken special care to make the text as clear as possible, and have adopted the modern principle of writing all the notes to be played by the right hand on the upper stave, and all the notes for the left on the lower stave, and also of avoiding the surplus of double lines in similar motion of two parts, and so on. With regard to the metronome signs, which have been copied exactly from the original, we cannot conceal that many of them appear to us exaggerated in speed, not merely as regards the pace for practising, but also for their tempo as a piece of music. It is possible that, as in the case of Beethoven and Schumann, the latter of whom used a defective “Mälzel” during the whole of one of his creative periods, the compass of J. B. Cramer’s metronome stood to our normal pyramid as Fahrenheit to Réaumur.

Regarding the life and works of Cramer particulars may be learned from Fétis’ “Biographic universelle”, second edition, 1866, Gassner’s “Universal - Lexikon der Tonkunst”, &c. C. F. Weitzmann’s “Geschichte des Klavierspiels” has already been referred to at the beginning of this Preface,. and we fully concur in what he there says about the relation Cramer bears to his predecessors and. successors.
Unfortunately we have not, in spite of many efforts, been able to ascertain anything certain as to the dates of the successive publication of Cramer’s Studies, the fixing of which would be of not merely historical interest. Part II was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1810, (when was it published in England?) and in the notice of it in the “Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung” it was mentioned that Part I had already gone through five editions, and might be counted amongst the very best studies that had appeared in those last five years (from 1805 to 1810).


1 - Just as there used to be a Dante Faculty at Florence and other Itahan Universities (Bocaccio was the first occupant of this Professor’s chair), the members of which limited their philological activity solely to the enigmas of that great Sphinx, so in music-schools there might be a similar speciality made of the study of the giant spirit of Bach—the only one that can be compared with Dante. To play Bach’s Pianoforte works in a really finished manner is a task which, apart from the intellectual powers they demand, can only be expected fiom pianists who have gained a complete mastery of their subject, and who also, for example, no longer stammer over Beethoven’s latter P. F. Sonatas. Whither the attempts to assimilate Bach’s works lead, regarded from the standpoint of a special Pianoforte chair, is shown in the most startling manner in the celebrated Czerny edition of them, the transitory usefulness of which we do not dispute, but against the indiscriminate employment of which we must strongly warn our readers, if they would gain a true conception of Bach. The above remarks do not, however, imply that an insight, depending on individual data, into the playing of Bach (Inventions and Preludes) may not be begun at the same time as the study of Cramer.

2 - The two-part Canons (not exceeding the Compass of a fifth) by Conrad Max Kunz, Op. 14, which were published not long ago by the firm of Joseph Aibl, will prove, at this elementary stage, an excellent means of education in polyphonic playing and in the gradual furthering of the independence of the two hands.