Try to hold onto that note: Schubert arr. Liszt Ständchen

Before coming across the Taubman Approach, I was taught that it was nearly sacrilege to let go of any note short of its full printed value. The idea of releasing the key and letting the pedal do, well, its job, was shocking. So I held, and I stretched, and I tried to be a “good student” to hold down the note at any cost. Part of that cost was a long-term injury to my hands.

Sometimes it’s simply not possible to keep that key down for the full value, no matter how hard you try, like this example from Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Ständchen. Firstly, in measure 39, the RH sings a long D, but the LH needs that key a beat later. To express that dotted half note fully, we simply give it a singing tone, use the pedal, get off, and make sure that the following DE dyad does not overpower the melody note. My favourite example though is in measure 41. While the melody note is notated as a dotted halfnote, the LH needs to replay that note no less than 3 times in that measure!  Why did Liszt write it in this way? It’s so annoying! Surely he knew what was going on? Taubman explained so beautifully that the score is a blueprint for how the music must sound, but does not come with an instruction manual for how to achieve that sound.  If we translate the musical result written in the score as physical instructions, we are victims of what Taubman described as “enslavement to notation”.  Taubman was clear that when we can connect, we must. “Can connect” excludes potentially injurious movements such as twisting and stretching.

 In this excerpt below, the long F in measure 41 must sing for three counts, yet we really need to get off immediately, so that the left hand has enough time to control the key descent for the accompanying chords. With the help of pedal, tools of tone production, and timing, the F will SOUND for 3 beats, but will only be held for the value of a sixteenth note.

Some other notes for this excerpt: in measure 38, the left hand is in (ie towards the fallboard), and higher than normal, while the right hand is out (towards the player) to create space when the two hands are so close together. You’ll notice in measure 40, the RH is using the long fingers, 234, allowing us to avoid using the short thumb and play towards the edge of the key, separating the hands further. 

When we listen to a wonderful performance or recording, we cannot tell if the performer is holding on or not, we respond to the musical result created. I encourage you to experiment with this concept – you will find that when you let go of a stretchy interval or chord, and use the pedal when necessary, you will find that the forearm is much freer, and it is easier to control the key and get the tone you want. Where in your music can you find places that you have been enslaved to notation?

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