Giuseppe Devastato

Pianist and Composer

L'Art du Chant appliqué au Piano - (The Art of singing applied to the Piano)
S. Thalberg
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The "Art du Chant" is a collection of 25 transcriptions, which in the concept of the composer had to offer to a young pianist, a way to acquire a softer and smoother touch.

If the simple elaboration of famous melodies, do not generate particular interest regarding to how they are composed, with the inability of reaching the sophistication and complexity of patterns, to make interesting the collection no. 2, is the introduction written by Thalberg himself, who recommends to young artists twelve "General Rules to sing well on the piano”.

In the introductory remarks, Thalberg, offering to us a direct document of his art of the Piano, he exposes what he considers to be the objectives: "The art of singing well, said a famous woman, is the same that applies to any instrument”.

In fact there shall be nor allowances or sacrifices to the special mechanism of different instruments; It is the interpreter who makes sure that the mechanism is subordinated to the requirements of art.

As the piano-forte cannot, rationally speaking, replicate the beautiful art of singing in what it offers in its perfection, which means, it does not have the power to prolong the sounds, it is therefore necessary, with skills and arts, to destroy this imperfection, in order to produce not only the illusion of sustained and prolonged sounds, but also the illusion of reinforced sounds.

Feeling makes us clever, and the need of expressing what we feel, enables us to create the resources that are beyond the mechanicals.

It is with this purpose that we took time to choose these transcripts, among the most “cantabili” masterworks of older and more modern Masters.

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We have adopted a simple form, one that befits the true transcription, so that it can be grasped and conveniently performed by young pianists of a certain capability.

What will predominate in our transcriptions will be the singing part, the melody, which we have especially highlighted, in light of what a great writer said: “Not the harmony, but the melody is the one which triumphantly crosses the centuries.

Fruitful thought, from which we cannot depart and to which we always are forced to go back "

The art of singing well, is thus the need of the art of the music to which the interpreter, who is guided by feelings, must "subjugate the mechanism" of his own instrument.

It may appear as "sacrificing" the identity of the piano, but one can read through these lines, an accurate knowledge of the instrument and the desire to increase its expressive power, allowing the singing to suggest the effects and the pianist to find ways to achieve them.

This is not “trying to imitate" the singing, but to create the illusion, searching for nuances, already existing in the instrument, however, not detectable by simple "mechanism".

The purpose of the work becomes clear: To learn about the piano and, with the skill and art, to create the illusion to be able to prolong, sustain and reinforce the sounds, just like the singing voice can do.

"General Rules to sing well on the piano”.

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In order for the young pianists to be able to get a nice and varied sound, Thalberg exposes it soon after, primarily focusing on the muscle approach to take:
"As a general rule of the art of singing well, there are some here who can not find a place, but which will be present in Method of Piano-forte no. 3, that will be soon published, [sic] we recommend to young artists the followings:

1. "One of the conditions to get amplitude in the performance, a beautiful sound and a variety in the production of sound, is the elimination of any hardness. It is indispensable to have therefore, in the forearm, in the seam of it with his hand, and furthermore in the fingers, all the flexibility and the different inflections that a skilled singer has in his voice. "

These last words do not clearly explain how in the flexibility of joints, one may have different inflections.

However, comparing them with the reading of the compositions of Thalberg, we can deduce that the looseness of the wrist should be considered essential even in passages of considerable mechanical difficulty (Octaves, repeated notes, tremolos , etc.).

The "elimination of every hardness" was and still is a useful advice.

Tension, contraction of the shoulders and stiffness, prevent a deep contact with the keyboard, necessary for differentiation of touch, limiting therefore the expressiveness of sound and its expansiveness.

The risk is to harden the sound, or not having it at all, in the "simple and graceful singing”, hence, forcing it," pounding "the keys in the " noble and tragic " passages.

2. "In the broad, noble and dramatic phrasing, one must sing “di petto”, require a lot from the instrument, and greater intensity of sound, without ever banging on the keys.

3. It will be therefore necessary to approach them closely, digging into and pressing them with strength, energy and warmth.
In simple, quiet and pretty phrasings, one have to somehow soften the keyboard, press it with a “boneless hand”, and with velvet fingers; the keys in this case should be more heard rather than beaten. "

As Thalberg himself had already stated, what prevails in his transcriptions, is the melody.
His dominance is assured even visually, using the precise typographic adjustments, so that such that, as in themes as in the variations, it is clear what is "must be heard".