Facilitation of the learning and memorization processes of harmonically challenging piano works: “Metopes”, op. 29 by Karol Szymanowski
It has been a common performance practice for more than one and a half centuries for solo piano works to be performed on stage from memory. The traditional musical training equips pianists with the necessary harmonic and theoretical knowledge to successfully cope with this task. However, this is only true for the piano repertoire written until the end of the 19th century, and a significant portion of piano music written after that point is much more difficult to learn and memorize due to its harmonic complexity. The tonal system had reached its apogee and almost exhausted its resources at this time; while the music moved further beyond the tonal borders, the core harmonic training only thoroughly covers the same territory as it did a hundred and fifty years ago. The newer harmonic systems are covered rather as surveys. This presents a challenge to those willing to learn harmonically advanced pieces written at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century or later.
Metopes by Karol Szymanowski is an example of such a piece. I believe that works like Metopes are neglected by students and in general by pianists mainly because they are too difficult to learn and memorize. My goal is to prove that it might be much easier to learn it than it first may seem. This paper is not a pure harmonic analysis. I will be approaching the piece from the perspective of a student or performer who is learning and memorizing it. The harmonic system used is not consistent, so I am investigating the principles that help organize the seemingly random set of sounds in the mind of a performer, thus greatly facilitating the process of memorization. The paper mainly focuses on only one kind of musical memory engaged in the memorization process: analytical memory. Three other types of memory are aural, visual, and finger memories. Four concepts that can help the analytical memorization are defined and exploited: 1. Familiarization with the harmonic language of a piece 2. Association of textural structures with familiar, mostly tonal, patterns 3. The principle of dividing large complex sections into smaller blocks 4. Finding formulas that reveal the internal logic of a pattern and help organize the information in the brain
Emphasis is placed on the explanation of the harmonic language, the main elements of which are the whole-tone scale and polytonality. Tritone bitonality is discussed as the underlying structural principle. The harmonic elements of Metopes are extracted, indexed, and even offered in the form of simple exercises preceding the memorization process. The harmonic terms used in the paper are defined and explained. In the course of the paper I go through the scores themselves, expose the harmonic constructions, and show that the harmonies and textures are much more transparent and easier to understand than they first might seem.
0522: Music education