The Role of the Pianist
I am an amateur pianist, and have been playing the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann music for several years. When I first began, my only concern was getting the notes right. That kept me going for a while, but eventually something more was needed. As any musician will tell you, playing the notes is not the same as playing the music.
Composers often mark up a score with indications of how they want the piece played, such as the general tempo, when to get louder and softer, and when to speed up and slow down. Apart from that, however, musicians must rely on their best judgment. But how does one form that judgment?
One approach is to employ certain musical conventions, such as "group notes into phrases" and "connect phrases as if telling a story." These conventions are effective up to a point, but they are intellectual in nature and an over-reliance on them can lead to a sterile performance.
Because my playing depends on my listening in the moment, the music that comes out will sound different depending on my state and the quality of my attention.
The role of the pianist is to convey the emotional quality of the music to the audience. The Gurdjieff / de Hartmann music has a vast emotional content, which is often subtle and enigmatic. As a pianist, I have no choice but to search for this emotional quality as I play the piece, listening and letting it affect me. In fact, this role is not much different from the role of the audience. My job is to play the music in such a way that it supports their listening. And the only way to do that is to play in such a way that it supports my listening. Because my playing depends on my listening in the moment, the music that comes out will sound different depending on my state and the quality of my attention. Each time I play a piece is an opportunity for me (and the audience) to hear it in a new way.
The situation is the same for every pianist I have spoken with. In fact, you can observe this in the various recordings of the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann music. Different pianists play the same piece quite differently, even though they each follow the written indications of the composer.
The recordings by de Hartmann are especially interesting because they tend to stray from the written score. He always seems willing to improvise different notes or phrases in his search for the essence of the piece. This situation caused a problem for the editors of the sheet music when they tried to come up with the definitive version of a piece: should they use the version that de Hartmann wrote on paper or a transcription of the way he played it? In several cases, the differences were so dramatic they included both.
... at a deeper level, they seem to have a lot in common -- a sense of awe, a reverence for life, and a yearning to have a stronger connection to it.
As an example, consider the hymn, which is No. 12 of Volume 3 of the collected works (but which de Hartmann knew as “February 14, 1926”, the date of its composition). Here is a recording I made, following the notes and indications in the score
However, de Hartmann’s rendition* of the piece is completely different.
To me, the two versions evoke very different surface emotions: the markings in the score suggest grandeur, whereas de Hartmann’s rendition is prayerful. But at a deeper level they seem to have a lot in common: a sense of awe, a reverence for life, and a yearning to have a stronger connection with it.
The question of how to play a piece is never settled. It is always an exploration.
For more on the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann music, visit our MUSIC page.
*Permission for the use of the de Hartmann score has been granted by the Thomas de Hartmann Estate.