Review by Dr. Mark Shaviner
Professor of Piano, The Academy of Music, Tel Aviv University, Israel
The past few decades have seen the numerous publications, in various nations, of method books and collections for beginners showcasing the various aspects of the “School of piano playing” as penned by Russian immigrants. Experienced pedagogues and performers, having benefitted from excellent schooling at famous Russian institutions, have been sharing their knowledge and pedagogical viewpoints, inherited from their own teachers and perfected through individual practice.
Due to the nature of my work--aside for teaching private students in the university, I also conduct Piano Literature and Piano Pedagogy courses, and chair a piano department at a music school--I have come across several such textbooks, originating in Germany, Norway, USA, and Israel.
I have read with profound interest the new book by Canadian teacher and pianist Rada Bukhman, noting its high level of professionalism and clear understanding of the main task of piano pedagogy: to see a rich and emotionally vast world of music past the keyboard (aptly reflected in the book’s title, “Discovering Color Behind the Keys).”
The reviewed volume successfully combines methodologically sound learning guides (including all the main stages of a pupil’s artistic and technical development) with anthologies of piano pieces in different genres, always tastefully chosen.
In the first part, the author presents her views on the basic means of musical expression – rhythm, quality of sound, dynamics, articulation, and pedal. Then, by way of example, various “derivatives” of these basic elements are added, involving specific solutions for performance problems: dynamically-articulated phrasing, the transition of visual and aural reading of notes to musculatory sensing of the playing apparatus, and in the sense of melody and accompaniment, the successful dynamic differentiation of voices.
All of these lessons, imperative for a young pianist, are supported by musical examples, which allow the author to examine different musical genres (note the interesting “dance” section of the book), the laws of construction of musical forms, and the dramatic plan of execution for a piece (specific comments for individual pieces are provided).
Among the most significant aspects of a young pupil’s education, the author rightly highlights the importance of developing a creatively active musical ear. The approach to this problem itself is most important, in which not only the receptive but also the reproducing ability of a musical ear is discussed.
The author recommends various ways of cultivating a musical ear, especially emphasizing the role of singing (of intervals and of one of the voices in a double-voice piece). In my point of view, this is an essential aspect in piano pedagogy. The preeminent representatives of the European school of thought gave this facet very high priority, even in the “Era of Virtuosi” (it is noteworthy to mention F. Wieck’s book “Piano and Song” or S. Thalberg’s “The Art of Singing Applied to the Piano”). It is characteristic that the Russian School of piano playing, in the face of one of its founders, Anton Rubinstein, perceived and creatively developed this essential aspect of pianistic study (it is well known that A. Rubinstein had urged his piano students to attend vocal classes). In the performance art of S. Rachmaninov, N. Medtner, K. Igumnov, and V. Horowitz, it is precisely that singing tone that gives their playing individuality, allowing for an intense, musically expressive tone. And the young representatives of the Russian school of pianism today exemplify the singing tone which they have absorbed from their predecessors.
The doubtless advantages of the book include also a selection of piano pieces, consisting of very little-known but highly interesting music. The Children’s Albums of T. Kullak, G. Sviridov, and the pieces of C. Cui, A. Borodin, N. Rimsky-Korsakov, and other contemporaneous composers offer an element of surprise among the more traditional, tried-and-tested works of the piano canon.
With great admiration for Rada Bukhman’s effort, I hope that her volume finds its way to a grateful reader, be it a performing musician, teacher, or music aficionado.
An interview with Rada Bukhman, pianist, teacher, author, about the “Russian School of Piano Playing”
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Rada Bukhman, a Vancouver-based piano teacher with native Russian roots, has produced a 212-page soft cover volume that entices with its interspersed selections of compositions at various learning levels.
The text offers a variety of fascinating topics, “Developing Initial Musical Skills: on the Nature and Development of a Musical Ear, on Rhythm, Preparatory Stage, Sight-Reading” and continues with “The Means of Expression in Performance: Sound production, Dynamics, the Art of Phrasing,” etc. among a plethora of compelling instructional headings that follow in a well-organized sequence.