LUNA NOVA HOME> Extended Techniques for Piano> Harmonics Ex. 1

George Crumb, Eleven Echoes of Autumn, Eco I

Eleven Echoes 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 notes.

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