Brahms Op. 87 measure

February 3, 2020, 6:05 PM · I'm playing the Brahms Op. 87 piano trio with friends and have been struggling with a particularly big moment that seems to require a big left hand jump:

is there any sneaky way around it? The final open G could offer me a moment to shift but the three following Gs are important and exposed in the music. I could even try to leave out the last tied figure to favor the finish. I'm anticipating the answer will be "practice the quick shift from third position placing the 2nd finger in 5th position!" Most recordings sound seamless here...

Replies (13)

Edited: February 3, 2020, 7:06 PM · Hi Sarah,
It will depend on your proportions how you execute this, but the solution lies in pivots and learning to play 'outside' your normal 1-4 frame. Try the following:

Start in 3rd position as usual then slide the octave slowly and continuously higher by pivoting from your wrist only (flexing at the wrist.) Your frame will distort but keep the octave in tune. If you can reach 5th position (F#s) then you're in business. Just place 2-4 and you're done.

If you can't quite make it, start over, but this time start in 4th position. Check your 1st finger with open E. Then extend your hand back from the wrist only and play D-D. As before slide slowly and continuously from the wrist only and see if you can hit the F#s. Place 2-4 on the Gs.

Keep starting at higher positions, hand extended back, to find your ideal position to pivot back and forth from 3rd to 5th.

Now of course there's no reason you can't incorporate your arm, but learning the range of your wrist pivot will help you find your points of contact with the fiddle.

At the start of the passage you can start in your normal 3rd position, and over the passage start shifting your arm while leaving the fingers in 3rd ('pancake hand' is useful after all) to help get your arm closer to 5th position.

Another useful exercise is finger substitutions. Starting in 3rd position place your 4th finger on D on E-string, and without moving 4, extend your 1st finger on A-string from D to G (just move your pinky if you can't play the perfect 5th with 1-4.) Now do a similar thing on the E-string and replace the 4 with 1 (or 2) on the D without changing positions. After you arrive at the D with your 1st finger you can then "crawl" shift by shifting your pinky/arm to G/6th position.

By using a combination of pivots and crawls, you can find notes quickly and accurately without the traditional arm shift.

P.S. it's useful to learn 5th position (where your thumb hits the crook where the neck joins the body) like 1st, so you can find it 'blind' and from any position from above and below. (It's also useful to learn your natural harmonics in the same way.)

February 3, 2020, 6:45 PM · I'd work (slowly!) on the handshape you need for for those three Gs. First, I suggest, using the guitar position until it feels reasonably natural and then moving to the normal playing position. The important finger here is the 2nd. Get used to anchoring that firmly on the A string so that you can reach back to the G on the D and forward to the high G on the E.

Whether you use the 4th finger for that top G is up to you. I have a fairly short pinky, and for that reach between the two top Gs with the 2nd finger on the A string it is actually easier for me to use my 3rd finger for that top G.

I'm not expecting Brahms Op 87 to come knocking at my door in the foreseeable future, so this is academic for me, but I have sometimes come across similar bits of awkwardness in orchestral music, and what I have outlined above is the sort of approach I take.

February 3, 2020, 7:54 PM · I would consider doing the first two octaves in 3rd position but with a 1-3 fingered octave rather than a 1-4 octave.

My inclination would be to do a substitution-based 1-3 fingered octave shift at the end. I generally find that my 1-3 octaves are far more reliable than my 2-4 octaves, though.

The advantage of the 2-4 fingered octave fingering that's marked is that it is better suited to that pivot/fling motion that Jeewon is talking about. If you start from 1-3 on the octave below your hand is already in a slightly extended frame.

February 3, 2020, 8:09 PM · A variation on Lydia's good idea, you could start with a 1-4 octave, then substitute 4 with 3 to do a 1-3 octave. If you're comfortable with ending on 2-4, you could play 1-3 on the lower octave, then 2-4 on the upper octave and avoid shifting or pivoting altogether. The crawl depends on feeling a 2-3 substitution on G on A-string, and tuning the two fingered octaves. It all depends on your proportions and what feels most secure.
February 3, 2020, 9:11 PM · Fingered octaves do not belong in chamber music. Blah!
February 4, 2020, 9:15 AM · Sarah, "I'm anticipating the answer will be "practice the quick shift from third position placing the 2nd finger in 5th position!" indeed, you can certainly benefit from learning and experimenting with the options outlined above, but it can certainly also be practiced, played simply like you say. To be honest I don't think it is a big deal, once you have practiced it you can do that shift relaxed and fluid, I think. The G on the E-string can be played (added) just a fraction after sounding the G on the A-string.
Edited: February 5, 2020, 10:48 AM · Agree with Jean D. If I had to do that, my 2-4 octaves are never in tune, so 1-3 or 1-4 octave at the end. To get there, start with a normal third position 1st finger G, then at the last triplet; open G, harmonic 2nd finger G, then the first finger is in position to start the octave double stop. The bowing can help. Start the first triplet down, so the octave is with an up-bow flourish. Don't worry about hitting the D string in between. The same fingering puzzle happens on pg. 1 of Prokofief concerto - 2
February 4, 2020, 11:07 AM · If you practice anything carefully enough it will come with time. But pivot and crawl shifts are the tricks of the trade, the "sneaky way around" such passages I think the OP was looking for.

Just tried it out and, without having practiced it, for me I like Lydia's 1-3 on the bottom and 2-4 on the top (much easier to find 5th position than 6th for me.) If you can't play fingered octaves in tune you really shouldn't be playing Brahms.

However you decide to finger the passage I still believe a pivot will be faster than an arm shift.
If you decide to shift 1-4 to 1-4 make sure you place 1 on both D and A strings in 3rd position so you don't have to cross strings.

Lastly the seamlessness of the shift also relies on bowing. In particular leave plenty of bow for the last G on D-string and carefully time the shift so it meets the bow, that is, you need to feel the target position simultaneously with the bow change.

February 4, 2020, 8:12 PM · Thank you all! These suggestions are fantastic, glad I asked the forum.
February 4, 2020, 10:40 PM · Paul, I think I find myself using fingered octaves MORE in chamber music than I do in solo music. In general also, the ability to frame the hand around a 1-3 (or 2-4) octave offers tremendous fingering flexibility in a very wide range of music. A very similar set of triplet octaves to this Brahms passage occurs in the A-major Dvorak piano quintet, at a pretty fast tempo.

I've previous mentioned that I really dislike scale practice, but I've found regular (though not always daily) fingered octave scale and arpeggio practice (as well as the easiest of the Kreutzer octave etudes in fingered octaves) to be enormously worthwhile, so that they feel as absolutely secure as regular octaves. Being able to jump to an octave essentially securely places you in that position and is fantastically useful for a broad range of things; I sometimes feel it's safer to shift to the octave rather than a single note in some passages. I'm reasonably certain that I can pick that 1-3 G octave out of thin air; I can feel it in my head, so to speak.

February 5, 2020, 3:36 PM · Are you preparing this for performance or are you playing with friends for recreation? If the latter I would do the easy thing and play only the upper G of the last octave. I bet--even if you did perform it--very few people would notice the missing lower G. It seems the better option than risking an intonation mishap in such an exposed note.
Edited: February 5, 2020, 4:30 PM · There is analogous passage in Kreisler's cadenza to Tartini's g minor (Devil's Trill) sonata. Traditionally, the four G's are played 0 - 1 - 2 - 4 there, held simultaneously - so my teacher told me. It's possible, and not as uncomfortable as it looks.
February 7, 2020, 10:16 AM · Paul in chamber music you do regularly vibrate with 3th finger instead of 4th, while keeping your 1st finger in place, don't you? That is a comparable stretch to a fingered octave.

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