what is the ‘french school of piano playing’? some links would help. thanks
This title is available as instant sheet music download: Cramer (Grande Sonate in D Minor)
I have heard of the french school of violin playing but not piano playing. There were three different ways to hold the bow during the nineteenth and early twentieth century – French – German – Russian. However, I do not know if the french school of piano playing related to a certain technique or a certain style of composition. If I was in your shoes then I would go to the closest library and ask the librarian for help finding some reference book such as the Groves Music Dictionary either on the shelves or through inter-library loan.
French schools (plural) of pianism would in fairness probably be closer the mark — you’ll shortly see why
— but all have their roots in the grand tradition of the Clavecinistes as personified by François Couperin (Le Grand): on the one hand a heritage of opulence of expression married to elegance of execution and wit, on the other hand a certain element of frivolity and theatricality, sometimes edging towards the distinctly lightweight, or worse.By the time the piano has established itself firmly in French musical life, between 1790 and 1820, let’s say, that heritage I mentioned has turned into several strands of French pianistic style and method: ‘Le Style Brilliant’, ‘Le Style Sévère’ and ‘Jeu de Bravoure’. Of these, the Style Brilliant not only was the most widely adopted, within France as well as widely without, but in many ways it also had the greatest longevity. Its most recognisable attributes are tremendous brilliance of execution and ornamentation, complex ornamentation, cascades of extended passage work of great ingenuity: *glitter* with a vengeance. Among the many exponents of this style are Kalkbrenner, Hérold (yes, the operatic composer, but a substantial pianistic one too), Zimmermann, Herz, Pixis, Hünten. The many foreign born exponents are no accident: Paris was rapidly becoming *the* musical centre of Europe and of European pianism, and in the same way that Cramer and Clementi stood at the centre of London pianistic excellence at roughly the same time, likewise figures like Kalkbrenner dominated the Parisian one.In stark contrast to this, the Style Sévère set at its centre an extreme discipline of expression combined with tremendous physical precision while making strenuous demands of the player’s intellectual as well as physical staying power. The greatest, most audacious, and sadly the last exponent of note and importance of the Style Sévère, was Charles Valentin Alkan who, though he dabbled in the Style Brilliant in his early career, embodied and enshrined all the virtues as well as the grinding demands of the Style Sévère in the two monumental series of études in major and minor keys (opp.35 & 39) as well as the equally monumental Grande Sonate ‘Quatre Ages’ op. 33. Upon his death in 1888, the Style Sévère slipped unobserved and scarcely mourned to its grave too, the manner of its passing not unlike that of its last and greatest exponent.As an extension of Le Style Brilliant, the so-called Jeu Perlé has lived on to the present day, becoming an intrinsic part of the armoury of pianists such as Cortot, the Casadesus family, Magda Taillefero (again not French by birth, but Latin American), while a hybrid of Style Brilliant and Style Sévère lived on in the extremely precise yet demandingly flamboyant pianism of Camille Saint Saëns, passed on as a tradition to his students such as Fauré, and on to Ravel and into the present day, as well as through figures such as composers Vincent d’Indy, Georges Auric and Paul Dukas, and influential players like Marie Jaël, Marguérite Long, and Vlado Perlemuter, himself a student from two traditions, French of Polish extraction, and by training: Mauritz Moszkowsky and Cortot.Finally, in one of the greatest pianist/creators of all time, Fréderic Chopin, having made Paris his world and his home, the last stylistic element, that of Jeu de Bravoure, finds its greatest exponent, a style that marries strenuous intellectual and especially contrapuntal rigour to great complexity of pianistic invention and execution, making no concession to ease of execution for reasons of pianistic convenience, in favour of precisely conceived of effects. In that regard, it is Debussy who picks up this particular baton from Chopin and, characteristically, being an implaccably proud ‘Musicien Français’, marries it to the more ancient heritage of the Clavecinistes themselves he considers his roots, to forge a competely new pianistic language, uniquely his own.All the French schools of pianism, ultimately, converged in the late 19thC/early 20thC into a singular tradition of extreme elegance, deftness of execution, and of wit, technically prefering key surface control over depth, grace over power and restraint over histrionics. Not a bad pedigree, by any standards.