You may have thought that playing four-hand piano music was a breeze. There are more fingers to play the notes, so doesn’t that make things easier?
No. Two people playing together on one piano have challenges that few other chamber music musicians have. Let us explain.
There’s no simplicity here. Composers who either create music for four-hands or who transcribe music from other forms into four-hand music, compose for the same high level as solo compositions. Each part - the high part or “primo” part and the low part or “secondo” part - has intentional challenges that must be played as flawlessly as possible.
Synchronicity is harder than it looks. Duo playing obviously requires playing together, but hitting the keys consistently at exactly the same time as your partner is incredibly challenging. Just try it. Sit down at a piano and start playing just the same chord together at different parts of the piano. You have to anticipate each other, breathe together, and then end the note together. Not as easy as it looks!
It’s a balancing act. Great duos listen to each other carefully so that the melody or other parts of the music are evident to the audience. Each has to be constantly aware of the other and what part of the music should be heard above the other.
Dance like everyone is watching (because they are). Choreography is essential in four-hand playing. There is no line where the primo part stops and the secondo part begins. Sometimes the parts are intertwined in a way that hands cross one another, and you have to know if you are the one going under or over your partner.
And what about those pedals?
Good pedaling is essential. Normally, the pedals provide a variety of “effects”: holding notes longer by keeping the dampers from falling back on the strings, adding overall softness, or just keeping one damper open to sustain a single note. But when you have two people playing: who takes over pressing the pedals? Well, it depends. Often the person playing the secondo part takes over the pedals. On the other hand (pun intended), there are times when the person playing the primo part takes on the pedals, perhaps to highlight a passage they are playing on their own. The best duos know who is doing what and switch feet seamlessly.
So, here’s a Mozart piece that will be played on November 4 by Daniel and Andrew Hsu. In this case, it’s the fabulous twin sisters, Christina and Michelle Naughton who performed in our SOLO Piano Series in December 2017. Enjoy!