Piano Technique and Education with Ossip Gabrilowitsch


Characteristic Touch

I remember the comment made to me by Russian pianist and composer Arthur Hochman regarding tonal variety and quality:

"For me, a pianist comes before all other artists – his name is Gabrilowitsch.”

The quality of the tones he extracts from his instrument is incredible. When I asked him how he did it, he replied quite politely:

"Nice tone? It is quite difficult to express this. It's a bit of a matter of originality, experimentation, experience and memory. First we listen, then we produce the tone. We change it until we express our ideal. Finally, we memorize how we succeeded.

I can't say that I consistently produce beautiful tones; I strive for a characteristic intonation – but it may not always be beautiful.

There is no fixed and consistent method of producing beautiful tones because people and hands differ. A method that works well for one person may not work for another.

While some pianists get easy results with a high wrist position, others may prefer a low wrist level. Some may use curved fingers, while others may use open and straight fingers.

Of course, there are certain principles that form the basis. One of them is that the arms and wrist are loose and relaxed. I suggest you adopt the hand position that is easiest for you. I can also allow a high or low wrist position, provided the tone is nice.”

Technical Study

“Yes, I think technical work should be done outside of the parts. Arpeggio and scale work should be done with a metronome. However, these works should not be far from musicality. If a scale is being played, it should be played with a nice and high quality tone and there should be variety.

For example, if you are studying the Czerny etude, you have to give the same precision and attention that you would give to Beethoven's piano sonata. You must bring all the musical quality of that study into your intonation. -I will play this measure 16 times and I will have finished it - this is an erroneous point of view. Don't steal anything just by mechanical perception. Interpret everything from a musical point of view.

I give Czerny pieces to my students – but not too many studies. I prefer Chopin and Rubinstein.

I'm using a 6-set study by Rubinstein, including the staccato etude.

Dr. I find William Mason's book “Touch and Technique” very useful. I personally benefited greatly from this book. He should be the first to commit the body/arm weight principle. This principle is now widely accepted in Europe.

Let's remember the famous philosopher Seneca's words: “A man should have enough knowledge to be his own doctor when he reaches 25 years old. Otherwise that man is an idiot.”

We can say this for pianists as well. After working technically for a certain period of time, one should realize his own shortcomings and choose technical studies accordingly.

I encourage my students to produce their own technical work. Many enjoy it and create great workouts.

It is very important that you have different expressions and full intonation. One of the biggest mistakes is monotonous and nested clauses with no difference.

Clarity is critical when playing the piano. This is how the pianist can express himself.


You talk about speed as a skill hard to acquire by others? In general, I observed the tendency to play everything fast, and the urge to get results quickly, leaving no time for clear and understandable touch.

The clearer intonation and the difference in phrases a piece of performance is, the piece will never sound as fast as it did.

Let me explain based on a Gavotte I composed. After a recital in Paris, a very talented female pianist who had memorized this piece came to me and asked me to listen to her.

After sitting on the chair, he finished the piece by playing at a speed that even I could not follow. Seeing the expression on my face, he said in a sad tone, "Your pace was like this, I listened to you many times."

Asking his permission, I went to the piano and explained the situation by playing: “Even if my tempo is close to yours, it sounds much slower than yours. The reason is the clarity of the notes and phrases divided into phrases, the balanced presentation of everything”


How did I gain the strength I have? The concept of strength does not depend on the size of your hand or the strength of your arm. A pianist with small dimensions can perform all works with the force they deserve.

You must have fingers that are strong enough to have a say under the weight of the arm and hand. The nail joint of your finger should be stable in all conditions.

You shouldn't be constantly observing this.


I don't have a special method or rule about memorization. Some pieces will be easily memorized by their nature, but it is obvious that Bach's fugs will require a lot of effort.

The most useful method for memorizing a difficult work is to write it down. Yes, you heard it right – to be written! You should not underestimate visual memory.

When I play with the orchestra, I know not only the piano score, but the notes of the whole orchestra. Although it is very difficult to write notes from memory compared to piano solo, it is the most solid method of memorization.

The pieces I played in my early years are still in my memory, and for the recital pieces I have given lately, I occasionally shuffle the sheet music. First impressions are the most memorable.”

Mr. Gabrilowitsch has completely stopped teaching, devoting all his time to concerts and recitals. Meanwhile, conducting and composition studies continue.


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