It had begun to seem unlikely that Peter Feuchtwanger's piano exercises could ever be brought into a form in which they would be accessible to a wider audience. For years, even decades, there were discussions trying to solve this problem, while the exercises themselves were only passed on by specially chosen students and Feuchtwanger himself. Finally, however, modern technology has provided a means of transmission to outsiders, through a combination of printed and video materials. Their benefits are now readily available, and so this publication will be widely welcomed.
The group of exercises demonstrated here was developed as a result of Feuchtwanger's exceptional gift for finding homogeneous sequences of movement. Far more than a mere method of piano instruction, they have two aims:
- they give "healthy" pianists a foundation in useful organic movements, and thus provide a set of prerequisites for piano-playing
- they have enabled a substantial number of pianists with physical problems, sometimes of a very serious nature, to rediscover, or even find for the first time, a natural approach to the keyboard.
Thus they present the basis of Feuchtwanger's art of piano playing, having their roots
in his infallible sensitivity to the relationship of player and instrument, and guiding the former to an attitude free of wear and tear both for himself and the piano. None of this will come as news to the countless pianists who have profited directly from Feuchtwanger's teaching. His method has its roots in a school of pianism derived from some of the greatest exponents of the discipline, both those that he himself knew - Clara Haskil, Edwin Fischer, Alfred Cortot - and those whose playing, as preserved in early recordings, reveals the same approach to the piano, such as lgnaz Friedman. At the heart lies a Chopinesque aesthetics of piano playing, as numerous descriptions of Chopin's playing and teaching, not to mention the views he himself expounded in his "Sketchess for a Piano Method" (1), confirm. The emphasis on fluidity of movement and the admonition "facilement! facilement!" reported from his lessons could equally be Feuchtwanger's. Such concerns address the attainment of that quality of ease which is often cited in reports of Chopin's playing, and which connects with another recurring theme of Feuchtwanger's, the "purposelessness" described in Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. "When I have a good day, I get the feeling that IT is playing, not I: Edwin Fischer's apocryphal remark hits the nail on the head.
That Chopin and Feuchtwanger each developed this way of playing more or less autodidactically (Feuchtwanger was initially self-taught, taking lessons only later in his youth) is a further indication of the common ground between them. Jan Kleczynski's report of Chopin's playing and teaching, written after interviewing a large number of his pupils, corresponds entirely to Feuchtwanger's approach: "He (Chopin) schooled the hand with infinite care before assigning, it to the reproduction of musical ideas. In order to bring the hand to a position that was both advantageous and graceful, he threw it effortlessly onto the keyboard." And there is another essential point of agreement: the influence of the Italian bel canto style and its realisation in piano sound.
Feuchtwanger's exercises also prepare the hand for the execution of his special fingerings: fingerings which exist not for their own sake, but seek to encourage sequences of movement that are not only completely natural, but also congruent and compatible with the musical line. The fingerings of Chopin, on which Kleczynski comments, are related to Feuchtwanger's; the observation, "Hence also his fingerings, which are so original that they shocked the older generation of pianists, and which strove always to maintain the hand in the same shape" (2), could equally refer to the latter.
Everyone who has worked with Feuchtwanger himself and has really understood his approach has found his pianistic life influenced by the encounter. I wish this publication not only a wide distnibution, but also the recognition that it lays the foundations for "the true art of playing keyboard instruments".
(1) Frédéric Chopin: Esquisses pour une méthode de piano, ed. Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, flammarion 1993
(2) Jan Kleczynski, Frédéric Chopin. De l´interprétation de ses oeuvres. (Paris 1880), pp. 36 and 42. Further information about Chopin's fingerings is contained in Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Chopin vii par ses élèves (Neuchâtel 1988), p. 173 ff. and passim.