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The right hand during playing with the left alone
written with the gracious help of Mr. Oberon Smith.

This page is under construction

Single handed music… does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?


One of the most misunderstood problems with single handed music, is what to do with the non performing hand.  After attending 30 years of piano recitals at Orchestra Hall here in Chicago, I am amazed at the current lack of professionalism in today’s young pianist.  I recently attended a concert of the new “greatest pianist” of the month. And I will admit, he performed a feat of stunning muscle development, by performing the Saint-Saëns'  Etudes for left hand alone, all of them in one sitting. I will not comment here on the performance, but, the presentation. Now it is of great physical prowess to do a stunt like this, and at times he showed how hard he was working for the audience by placing his right hand on the bridge of the piano and popping about like the shadow puppets of his homeland. Very dramatic, very physical, very unnecessary, and  very incorrect.

Caricature of some well known pianists of the 19th century with all their antics.

In days of old, when I was bold, and studying piano, the subject came up of using a left hand alone piece. I was in a master class with Dr. Rudolph Ganz, at the time, (please see his listing on this site, for a wonderful, rewarding piece of left hand alone literature), and I worked my left hand to the bone learning it. When it came to my lesson, proud as ever to present this, I got taken to the proverbial “woodshed”.  I was sternly informed that the right hand was to be cupped and placed in my lap, palm up (technically I have it facing my body), never…. NEVER…. To move from that position and placement, especially when the music got harder, and harder. My shoulders were to remain level and relaxed, and thankfully, Dr. Ganz never allowed ballet movements on the bench. (How many times have we seen pianists that dance the music for you on the bench, while not presenting the tone and emotions on the keyboard, another topic).

Rudolf Ganz was obviously very concerned with the position of the hands during playing - both to make things easy - and to make the pianist's movements as inconspicuous as possible. Here he is trying out a Bogenklavier. The original Bogenklavier was an invention by Johann Hohlfeld in Berlin - combining a keyboard-instrument with a bowed instrument in a Hurdy-Gurdy sort of way. The instrument above
seems more to be a curved piano making the distance to each key equal. Like similar attempts with PC keyboards it met with an enormous .....lack of success.

Now this may sound out dated, Victorian, passé, whatever, but, compared to the wet noodle hanging to the side, the leverage balancing act on the bench, or the “This is hard guys, I got to lean into the keys”, placement I have seen of late. I am grateful to Dr. Ganz, lets leave the twist, the turns, the ups and downs, the hop and pop to the Disco floor. One of my most cherished concert memories, is from Artur Rubinstein, he performed the Scriabin Prelude and Nocturne, and guess what, he sat down, cupped his right hand, placed it in his lap, and never moved it. The visual effect of the credenza in the Nocturne, well, no one at that concert will ever forget his sheer presence of performance.

My thanks to Oberon Smith for sharing these memoirs of Rudolf Ganz
and for the enlightenment about a problem, that is indeed relevant for
pianists playing left hand works.

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