PIANO Magazine UK (Nov-Dec 2004)

The Craft of Piano Playing by Alan Fraser

Scarecrow Press, ISBN: 0-8108-4591-1

‘the most detailed and intensive study of piano technique since Otto Ortmann‘

Here is a book so radical in approach, so meticulously and sometimes densely argued, so far beyond the scope of any short review, that anything like a serious discussion of it must be postponed until a feature article can at least begin to do justice to the thought and research that lie behind it [Noted! Ed.]. Based on the author’s 20-year immersion in the far-reaching, movement-based Feldenkrais Method and the T’ai Chi Chuan, the book is the most detailed and intensive study of the subject since Otto Ortmann’s seminal work, The Physiological Mechanics of Piano Technique, first published in 1929 but now, sadly, out of print.

As Fraser puts it in his Introduction, the Book presents ‘a new approach to the art of piano playing aimed at extending the physical and musical capacities of pianists from the dedicated amateur to top-level professionals.’ Lest we be in any doubt as to what he means by ‘top-level’, he writes. ‘Our goal is not to play like Horowitz, but as capably as he did. [Italics mine]‘. Nor is he in any doubt as to the challenge lying ahead of him. ‘The process of reforming pianistic habits by means of a written text.’ he admits, with epic understatement, ‘is not easy. However, this system of movement physics at the keyboard aims to be comprehensive enough that each pianist may find the way to a fluid, capable untangling of some of the piano’s most notorious technical Gordian knots.’

New way of manipulating the skeleton greatly enhances piano sonority

This is emphatically not a ‘self-help’ manual. Though the writing is perfectly readable, and its meaning generally clear, many of the book’s 417 pages are heavy going, if only by dint of the concentration they require. The verbal text, however, is buttressed by hand sketches, showing how many common movements at the keyboard are counterproductive, and proposing new ways of manipulating the skeletal frame of the hand to draw greatly enhanced sonorities from the instrument.

A piano technique that brings out the richness of the music we play

While the book may at first appear to treat physical phenomena in isolation, its whole raison d’être is more eloquently to communicate the emotional, spiritual, philosophical and dramatic content of the music we play. Indeed many of the detailed, and admirably illustrated, discussions of specific works reveal a very high degree of musicianship.


PIANO Magazine Book Review of The Craft of Piano Playing (.pdf)