Friday, January 17, 2014

Pianist Cziffra's Fingering for the Rapid Octaves in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6; Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Pianist Georges Cziffra's Special Fingering for The Rapid
Octaves in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6, in D-Flat Major

A Short Essay by: Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 3)

(*) First Published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 17th, 2014, under:
Pianist Cziffra's Fingering for Rapid Octaves in Liszt's Rhapsody No. 6.


Recently, I demonstrated the octave section of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 for a student, with an apologetic attitude for my limitations, as a sample of the bravura period of the composer. Thanks to an unmet friend Marija, I soon after revisited a video of a performance by Georges Cziffra, the foremost mid-Twentieth century Lisztian, whom I had known about since my teens when the late Kourosh Haddadi (کورش حدادی), my first piano teacher, introduced me to a tape of his Rhapsodies. Like other Cziffra performances, this studio recording  is a tour de force of passion, power and momentum, with a propensity to bring out the massive orchestral side of the instrument unreservedly -- read "fortissimo over a sustained pedal" -- when it's called for. Those qualities are also evident in another performance of this Rhapsody, about the same time, and apparently before a live audience.)


The latter part of the work is well-known for its rapid repetitive octaves in both hands, typically achieved by developing a "dropping wrist" approach, while keeping the hands close to the keyboard surface. There are pianists who can race through these passages flawlessly and at astonishing speeds, but I doubt if quite with Cziffra's ease of execution. This time, I noticed why.

Cziffra's relatively large hands suggest and allow him to employ an alternating 4th-5th finger technique for the outer notes when repeated, thus making it only necessary for the thumb to articulate twice as fast its successive attacks. That means a more quiet wrist, and a more relaxed hand, hence, more endurance and speed with much less fatigue. Also, as I had observed earlier, he plays the divergent chromatic run toward the end by using not only a 4-5 fingering, but also by employing the 3rd finger, to achieve a better legato.

Whether the technique fits most everyone's hands for these passages, or that it's worth the effort to re-finger the entire section if you already play the piece, I encourage every pianist to study and appreciate the ingenuity of this highly original pianist's technique. That's besides the fact that he also lets himself quite naturally to elaborate many of the passages, a tradition that Liszt himself subscribed to readily.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

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