VIDEO: The Teaching of Tobias Matthay (1/10): Introduction. Eunice Norton, 1995.

Welcome to an evening with Tobias Matthay. I want to introduce him first with this photograph.
I hope you can see it. It is the way he…it was a typical pose as
he listened to students and music. He was a very gentle, very kind, super sensitive
man of the highest values and ideals. A tremendous influence on me, of course, because
I was there when I was 15 years of age. And…, my purpose in being here is to reveal
to you the whole Matthay because Matthay has been known for his method of playing the piano,
which was a very new thing… in 1903 when he published his first book, “The Act of Touch.”
Then he established a school, which was buzzing with students very soon, and of course I came
in later – between the two world wars. I was 15 years old and I stayed for 8 years. So, I have…, everything that I’m going to
say tonight I learned from Matthay. He planted the seeds for my life work, which have evolved
into what I am today. He did not teach by illustration. He was not
a professional pianist; he taught by explanation. And he felt, anyway, that that was the best
way. So, I think that we learned a great deal.
He analyzed things, but he did not speak about muscles. He spoke about the touch – by feel,
and sound, and so we were able to absorb it gradually and finally make a habit of this
wonderful, new touch. One has to be completely relaxed. I always
say that all the weight must be on the seat, not in your arms. You have to be buoyant,
ready to take flight. And then you’re ready to learn the principles
of the theory. The main…, the two main things are rotation and sensitivity to the key. Now, sensitivity tot he key means that you…,
your fingertip, from the last joint, just the fingertips are on the keys. Your hands
must be…, your fingers must be on the keys all the time. And I’m going to show you the whole thing…um,
first, and then I’m going to have the students try it, and then they will play and we will
apply it to the music…because all of these…these skills were in Matthay’s mind were actually
for the purpose of producing more beautiful..more essence in the music and not…not for technique
at all. So, the first thing is that I’m on the seat.
And all my weight is there. That’s the first thing. I’m not in the middle. And you should sit at a height…this is a
pretty good height… with a sort of gentle slope. For children, they’re told to drop their arms
and their hands, of course are at the side. In order to play at all they have to turn
their whole hand over, which means the first rotation. Well, that sounds like a very simple thing,
but it’s not quite that simple. And rotation is the… [playing]. That’s the simple thing.
Now, when you do a scale…can you see, can everybody see what I’m doing? There’s only one problem that I have found
with students and that is the thumb. When you have, uh, a passage, certain passages,
it feels different…it feels difficult for them to understand [playing]…there. That’s difficult. And…, um, now the resistance to the key.
Here…this is the part of the finger, the fatty part of the finger, the most sensitive
part of the hand. And
one is on the key and feels the key want to stay up and you want to put it down to make
sound. You have to put it down from the surface – always from the surface. [playing] Now, this is a big, big change from those
who have learned to raise their fingers high. If you raise your fingers high, you aren’t
on the key when you strike the key. [playing] That’s what you get. If you’re on the key,
you make whatever sound you want. Whatever amount…, [playing]. It’s a difference between
that [play]…and that [play]. You hear the difference? It’s a big difference. Well, that…, those are the main features
of the theory. But, many people have thought that rotation was just to make it easier to
play, to stay relaxed and get over the keys more easily. That’s not true. Rotation influences
the music that you can make. It influences durations, it influences accents, it influences..uh,
all kinds of subtleties, and is a very, very important musical thing. Of course, when you get used to doing this,
it’s so habitual that you aren’t aware that your doing anything particularly from minute
to minute accept how much sound and the kind of sound that you want, I mean that you aren’t
aware of the technical part of it at all. And you can…uh, make legato, staccato…,
over-lapping legato. I feel wedded to the keys. The keys are my friends and I’m always
[play] so happy to be on the keys. I have some quotations from Matthay: he says,
“Heavy, resting weight kills music.” “All forced finger lifting and a heavy arm are
eliminated. Wrist action means loss of power and loss of subtlety of dynamics.” “Have a
free, poised arm.” That means a light arm…means a light arm…And really, your arm moves,
he calls it a vibrating arm, but you’re not supposed to be worrying about that because
that’s just automatic. When you rotate, of course your arm has to turn, so you don’t
think about that. You just think about what you do with the key. These two things, the rotation and the resistance
to the key, are the two things that are constants in all your playing, all of it. You never…,
never change that. It’s just what you do with it that counts. And Matthay’s philosophy of music was quite
different from the overall accepted attitudes today. He believed that music is an expression
of essence, of eloquence, and vision, divinely inspired, that the act of touch makes it possible
to be realized, all of these things. After 10 years of this theory being known,
there was an article in the London Music Times that I read, which is amazing… only ten…this
is a quotation from the London Music Times, “Only ten years after the appearance of Matthay’s
method in his first book, “The Act of Touch,” in 1903, this one man’s fad, as it was supposed
to be, has within these ten short years altered radically the whole system of modern pianoforte
teaching. Probably never in art has an almost world-wide revolution been accomplished in
so short a time.” Isn’t that marvelous? It was a real sensation.


  • eunicenortonarchive


    Sorry for the difficulty, but the recorded sound balance problem occurred during the original taping. Perhaps I can add subtitles if I ge t a chance, since I can hear everything on my system. -Ed.

  • Marquis Bieshaar

    I would love to watch this WITH subtitles because i'm very very interested in this video but it is very difficult to hear what she is saying!

  • Very interesting, thank you. I have to say it's one of the most singular facts of pianistic pedagogy that Matthay is not better known. My studies of him have absolutely transformed my playing and what a tragedy I think it is that despite 10 years of instruction from the age of 8 to 18, nobody ever told me about forearm rotation or was able to address the stiffness and fatigue I so suffered. Instead, Hanon, more Hanon! What a disgrace.

  • I would love to watch this WITH subtitles too!!!!!Very interesting!

  • There are really two main levels of dynamics in these sessions. If you were to amplify the sections where EN is talking, and reduce the volume on those where the student is playing, it would probably work quite well, although with noticeable background noise. I think this would be better than subtitles.

  • It is interesting that the student in this part of the class has a very stiff left wrist. This appears to result from trying to use a fingering that doesn't allow the hand time to change position, thus locking the wrist in a very unnatural position. EN herself does this as second-nature, but speaks only about interpretation (perhaps more Schnabel than Matthay, despite the subject). There is, of course, a problem in playing the key from contact if you have to get there first.

  • eunicenortonarchive

    Yes, indeed. But, I have already "gained" the sound file as much as possible even using digi-tools and an outboard amplifier, etc. There is only so much that can be done with the source. Unfortunately, I am not able to readily attach subtitles, which would now be the best solution. It is a question of time and equipment, of which I now have neither. One solution is to try to listen using a desktop type system with an amplified sound system. It sounds better that way. -Ed.

  • eunicenortonarchive

    Apt comments. Alas, interpretation suggestion is often the only recourse approach during a one-time lesson with another teacher's student. Also, it is thus precisely the point to get there with as much time to enable contact, accordingly! And there are always those exceptions to such general rules…

  • I appreciate how hard this would be. And, indeed, my "solution" was to leap for the volume slider whenever the focus was about to change…

  • You may activate the subtitles in all master class videos? Also in The teaching of Arthur Schnabel. Thank you very much.

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