Breithaupt: The Natural Piano-Technic

What is the Natural Manner of Playing the Piano by utilizing the Weight of the Arm? It was theorized since 1905.

This blog takes its name from a monumental treaty of piano technique written in 1905 by Rudolf Maria Breithaupt (1873-1945), The Natural Piano-Technic, that had vast echo and widespread diffusion in all Europe.

The treaty falls into the heated controversy on the analysis of the piano technique occurred at the beginning of the last century by scholars and pedagogues such as Friedrich Steinhausen, Rudolf Breithaupt, Tobias Matthay (The Art of Touch in All Its Diversity, 1903;  The Visible and Invisible in Piano Technique, 1932), and Otto Ortmann  (The Physical Basics of Piano Touch and Tone, 1925).

Breithaupt puts himself in open contrast against the 19th century executive tradition: the recordings of Vladimir von Pachmann, Raul Pugno, Alexander Michalowsky, show a sound technique and a brilliant agility, a Czerny- Kalkbrenner type technique, that perfectly masters very high speed and pearly touch, but lacks sound variety and strength.

This tradition preserved a technique born for pianos with a partially metal frame and were not able to exploit the resources of the new pianos whose metal frame was casted in a block. 

Breithaupt then thorises a "modern" sound technique, able to fulfill the potentials of the concert piano developed by the industrial technology around 1870, and able to restore on the modern pianos the range of sounds that was achieved on the romantic pianos with a different technique. 

The romantic technique, kept unaltered, on the modern instrument provoked a depletion of the sonority; the new technique recreated, with a modified instrument and in larger halls, the traditional conditions of perception of the sound texture.

Rudolf Breithaupt

"Don't think at fingers!",  "Don't play with fingers!" are the slogans that well synthesize the basic principle of the new weight technique antithetical to the digital technique. 

The latter requires the innatural articulation of the fingers with immobile hands and the exclusion of any contribution of the arm, which can lead, besides an unnecessary effort of muscular energy, to stiffening, twitching and false extension of the fingers.

On the contrary the natural technique codified by Breithaupt supports the need of making proper use of the inertial weight of the all arm from the shoulder down until the hand. 

The first fundamental form of pianistic movement is therefore the free fall ("freier Fall"): in a totally passive way the weight of the arm is unloaded to the hand, and from there to the fingertips while the fingers have to learn to sustain that weight without collapsing. 

Gradually the pianist learns to measure the weight in relation to the kind of sound that is needed and thus learns the education to the  "sense of weight".

From the free fall, which is the basic movement for the weight transmission, all the other forms of movement arise:  "The simple lateral shifting of the weight through a series of vertical free falls determines the non-legato sound. The legato sound instead relies on the so-called rolling ("Rollung") of the weight, namely on the transmission of the weight from one finger to the other achieved by using the rotation of the forearm".

"The second fundamental form of pianistic movement is the rotation of the forearm (on a longitudinal axis that links the elbow to the wrist) which is totally ignored by traditional schools"

The treaty is dedicated the the great venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño: it was through the empirical observation of her playing that Breithaupt started to develop his theories. 

Claudio Arrau said:  "Teresa Carreño played in a ideally natural way. She studied with Breithaupt when she was, I believe, around 45 years old. Before that she was playing French-style: jeu perlé with rigid hand, without power. Then she changed completely. I remember Teresa Carreño as a perfect example of a technique that exploited the natural weight of the body". (Joseph Horowitz: Conversations with Arrau, 1982).

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