The Hand of God – Using Hammers and Chisels

The Hand of God – Using Hammers and Chisels


Rodin’s Hand of God is one of his best-known and most-beloved creations.  I see Sculpture as a subdivision of Architecture, but it inspires a more physical hands-on approach to molding and shaping the music.


Once I gave a recital in Parma as a participant of a Liszt Competition.  The repertoire requirements were insane and the semifinal round demanded a full 2-hour recital with many of Liszt’s most arduous works.  My recital began at the ungodly hour of eleven pm!  The first half ended with the final, fateful bars of the Sonata accompanied by the bells of the Cathedral next door ominously tolling midnight.  I was already quite ready to retire, but mustered the strength to go back onstage.  I finished the second half just before one, exhausted in every way, crawled back to my hotel room and collapsed.

I don’t know how I played, but the next day I saw one of the jurors, who offered me an interesting piece of advice:  To play the way you do, under ANY circumstance, you have to have the technique and power of a Gilels.

Gilels is perhaps the greatest Hand of God Pianist ever with a don’t-take-no-for-an-answer approach to pianism.  His fingers dig into the keyboard like chisels into marble, fashioning grandiose, larger-than-life interpretations. 


Sometimes when an interpretation doesn’t come under your fingers naturally, you need to forge out an energy-path with a certain degree of force.  Once the path is laid, you can relax and walk effortlessly along it.


The Hand of God also helps to forge an understanding of Brass and Percussion.  Listen to Gilels’ recording of Stravinsky’s Petroushka.  Despite his many deviations from Stravinsky’s Piano Transcription { and partly thanks to them }, he gives the definitive recording of the work; it likewise largely defines his Art.  Stravinsky’s Brass- and Percussion-heavy orchestration is brought to life realistically with Gilels’ Hammers and Chisels.  The contrasting colors are simply breathtaking. 

The only way to achieve the orchestral effect that he does is to accept many bright, loud and percussive colors that many pianists eschew, finding offensive.  They’re not beautiful and round enough.  Other pianists use such colors because they’re incapable of producing more rounded sounds; the effect is vulgar.  Gilels, and the greatest of Pianists, accept Brass and Percussion with open arms and integrate them into their concept of Orchestration.  As Horowitz liked to say in his inimitable, heavy Russian accent, The most important thing is CONTRAST!


Technically, using Brass and Percussion generally requires more strength and mental energy.  If your mind and body are not prepared for it, you’ll tense up immediately and start banging.  The effect is indeed ugly.  But if you carefully persevere, you’ll discover an oasis of power and beauty on the other side.  Even over a few days, your mind and body grows and adjusts, and your new colors come out quite effortlessly, in a non-forced way. This is the goal.

Whatever Orchestration you envision for your interpretation, it’s always valuable, especially in the immediate days before performance, to prepare a Brass and Percussion Ensemble transcription of your interpretation.  This prepares you for anything – a bad piano, a bad acoustic, not having slept enough and being low on energy, and yes, even starting a finger-bending 2-hour virtuoso recital an hour before midnight!  When you return to your more conservative, less bright and loud orchestration, you’ll find that it flows out of you with almost no mental effort whatsoever.  Perhaps this is what the juror meant…

It only works one way, however.  Try performing on a dull piano or with a dry acoustic or being low on energy, not having prepared yourself with something extra, and you’ll begin wanting to force the sound to compensate.  It doesn’t take long for your muscles to start blocking, your joints to start locking, and a general downward-spiraling meltdown to take place.  Remember this axiom:  Less is included in more, but more not in less.


Discover your own Hand of God, Hammer and Chisels, Brass and Percussion interpretation of our Prelude.