of Autumn, Eco I, first half of first line
Harmonics produced with one hand playing notes on keyboard and the other
on a specific point on the string.
In Eco I, which is the very beginning passage of George Crumb’s Eleven
Echoes of Autumn, the pianist is required to play the written notes on
the keyboard with one hand while simultaneously placing fingers at specific
points on the corresponding strings with the other hand. It seems that
it is easiest to play on the keyboard with the right hand and stop the
strings with the left. The resulting notes heard are always the fifth partials
in the overtone series above the notes played on the keyboard. Crumb makes
this very clear by putting in parenthesis the actual pitches that will
be produced (including their exact range). For the first four note groupings,
only two fingers at a time have to be prepared over two strings. At the
middle of the line after the indication for five seconds of silence, the
slower sixteenth-note figure is continuous and involves four notes.
To prepare the piano for Eco I, the pianist has to locate and mark the
precise spots on the strings that produce the fifth partials for the following
eight notes: D2, E2, B2, A2, F1, D#1, B-flat2, and G#1 on the piano. It
is easiest to mark the spots with either a white crayon or a thin piece
of masking tape. The powder of white chalk marks will evaporate with each
vibration of the string. It is important to locate the precise spots and
mark them carefully in order that the higher harmonic is heard clearly
and with resonance. Otherwise, the note played on the keyboard can be made
to sound muted and unclear in pitch. This makes tuning the produced harmonic
to the actual pitch necessary.
On a nine-foot grand piano, a potential complication arises because the
fifth partial can be found at two spots on each of these lengthy bass strings.
The pianist needs to find the spot that produces the most resonance as
well as the one that is easiest to reach for the left arm. I have found
the fifth partials of all six pitches to be either close to the dampers
or on the middle of the strings on the grand piano I use. Reaching and
leaning into the piano to place the left hand fingers up to the middle
points of up to four bass strings at once proved to be impractical. Strings
lengthen increasingly for the lower notes, and the harmonics for the lowest
F and D# strings proved to be a farther reach into the piano than is comfortable.
The stopping points for these mid-string harmonics were also separated
too much for the left hand fingers to comfortably span the F and D# plus
the B-flat and G# strings. Placing the fingers of the left hand on the
strings near the dampers is the more practical solution also because the
lesser stretch over the strings facilitates the playing on the keyboard
of the right-hand notes. When leaning far into the piano, the right hand
would have to play the keyboard notes with the right hand in a far back
position, which makes for less ability to control dynamics and articulation.
In executing the middle passage involving F, D#, B-flat, and G# that comes
after the five-second pause, a certain fingering is suggested for the hand
on the strings (probably left-hand) that will reduce finger stretching.
Put the left-hand fourth finger on F, fifth finger on D#, then move the
second finger up to B-flat as the repeated D#’s are played. Then
play the B-flat with second finger and the G# with the third. In other
words, there is no need to place all four fingers at once over the four