Numerous pianist-composers have written their own finger exercises. At times these exercises were performed away from the piano and were termed “finger gymnastics.” E. Piccirilli mentions in his book, Gymnastics and Massage of the Hand, published in 1914 in Rome how the conductor of La Scala, Tonassi, had seen Franz Liszt use such exercises before sitting down at the piano. A detailed description is given in Piccirilli’s book. These finger gymnastics were confirmed by a blind keyboard player, Luigi Modulo, who was the organist at S. Simon Grange. Modulo said that Liszt had shown these exercises to a friend of the director of the Institute of Padua; and that the institute produced the best students. I will deal with these forgotten exercises in future blogs.
Carl Czerny and the Beethoven lineage
Carl Czerny wrote exercise books to facilitate the playing of Beethoven; among them were The School and Velocity and The Art of Finger Dexterity. My own instructor, Mischa Kottler, demonstrated his lineage back to Beethoven and the Czerny exercises and directed me on how to play Czerny’s studies. Mischa studied in Vienna in the 1920’s with Emil von Sauer, who studied with Franz Liszt, who studied with Carl Czerny who studied four years with Beethoven himself. Beethoven was a great innovator of piano technique and passed his secrets on to his students. I know which of the techniques I employ were, in fact, used by Beethoven. I have already blogged on this website about his innovative prepared thumb and will blog about other key techniques.
Cortot’s elaborate finger exercises based on Chopin
Chopin wrote two volumes of concert etudes; his opus 10 and opus 25. They include studies in every key. We see the influence of J.S. Bach who Chopin not only admired and regularly practiced; but also imitated Bach’s use of diverse key signatures in his own compositions. After studying with von Sauer, Mischa then went to Paris to study under Alfred Cortot. Cortot, in turn, was tutored by a pupil of Chopin. When I was taught the Chopin etudes, Mischa insisted that I purchase the edition written by Cortot. I had to send my order to Paris in order to purchase it. Alfred Cortot wrote an introduction with elaborate instructions for each etude. I had to play these”pre-study” studies for Mischa as part of my “going through the mill”. For my next blog I will discuss a great study for assisting small to medium sized hands, which I invented; so, I am at liberty to demonstrate it.