Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Piano Mastery: The Harriette Brower Interviews

Piano Mastery: The Harriette Brower Interviews is a collection of forty-three interviews of the most prominent pianists of the early 20th century. The 2003 Dover Edition of this book is a compilation of selected chapters from Brower's 1915, 1917, and 1926 interviews. Although some of the material is "dated" by current standards, there is value in taking the time to learn from the past and applying the truths found there to contemporary piano pedagogy.

Brower's book offers a glimpse into the personal lives, insights, and teaching styles of her professional contemporaries. Her writing style is typical of that period; flowery and detailed. She takes the time to describe the interview setting, as well as the appearances of the pianists that she interviewed. Modern readers might become impatient with these descriptions, so it is important to keep the original publication date of these interviews in mind while reading this book. Taken in the correct context, this book offers a lot of insight into the musical world of the early 1900s. 

Some of the pianists that Brower interviewed are still remembered for their compositions, performances, and teaching methods. These include Edward McDowell, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Moritz Rosenthal, and Teresa Carreño. It is beneficial to read what these great pianists thought and said about music, teaching, and technique, especially when studying their compositions or listening to the recordings of their performances.

Brower's interview with Rachmaninoff is particularly fascinating. She describes his “reserved yet intense personality” on page 206 and the “peace and quietude” of his home on page 207. The sense of who Rachmaninoff was comes to life through her words, and adds clarity to his compositions. His "reserved yet intense personality" is discernible in even the first measures of his famous Piano Concerto #2 in C minor, Op. 18. His advice on teaching is still applicable today:

 "...do not place a child of even five years old under a poor, inefficient teacher. Else what is poorly done will have to be done all over again--a difficult matter, for early impressions are most lasting, as we all know." (page 210)

Piano Mastery was an enjoyable book to read and is a must-read for piano teachers. Although it was written 100 years ago, it is a timeless and relevant look into the lives of the people who created the music that has permanently shaped our culture today. 

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