A journey through Chopin’s Etudes in the context of his life, the history of the piano, and the Romantic movement in music.

Double-volume set examining the life and work of Frederic Chopin and the history of pianism, plus a comprehensive examination of how the piano is actually played. The Etudes of Chopin are used as a framework for this exposition, as they form a landmark in the development of piano playing, but the insights to be gained from this study are applicable across the repertoire.

The subject of how the piano is actually played has virtually never been addressed in book form, and precious little in any other form. This is because it is generally assumed that high-level performers are born with an innate talent which cannot be learnt or taught. Thus discussion has virtually always focused on the ‘musical’ side of the subject – ‘interpretation’, style, taste, phrasing, poetic meaning – while the physical side is bypassed with the assumption that you either have it or you don’t.

This work is based on the unarguable principle that ‘interpretation’ and ‘technique’ are inseparable and must be considered together at all times. As Vladimir Horowitz said, without the first, one is a machine; without the second, one is an amateur. This important work is a major addition to the literature, readily understood and appreciated by pianists of all levels who have long pondered these questions, as well as a work to be enjoyed by general readers.

It is true that unless the necessary brain-hand skills are developed at an early age, one can never develop into a first class performer. All virtuosi start out as ‘child prodigies’. It is not exceptional; it is the rule. If someone is not playing their chosen instrument at a high level by the age of twelve they will never become masters of it. Similarly with dancers, chess players, mathematicians. However, the action of the fingers and hands are most definitely definable, and even those who are not destined to become top-ranking performers can improve their skills by understanding the principles at play. Mastering the Etudes exposes for the first time the actual physical processes involved in playing the piano, covering every contingency that can be encountered, with a clear analysis of what is really going on physically. Even non-performers can glean useful insights about brain-hand co-ordination from this study.

The ‘musical’ side is nonetheless essential: one must know where the music came from in order to be able to understand and ‘interpret’ it. Thus the first volume, Genius of the Piano, gives an in-depth overview of the background to the Etudes. This overview covers Chopin’s life and milieu, as well as the historical context. For example, the concept of ‘singing tone’ in piano playing and exactly how ‘singing tone’ on the piano is produced – chapter 3 of Mastering the Etudes – is paired with an examination of Chopin’s close relationship with the world of opera and bel canto singing in chapter 3 of Genius of the Piano. At the same time, each chapter of Genius of the Piano focuses on a different aspect of Chopin’s world, and thereby his motivation in composing the music becomes clear.

After studying in London, Paris and Warsaw, Alan Kogosowski gained detailed anatomical knowledge of the workings of the hand and fingers after a catastrophic car accident at age 21 which broke four fingers in his right hand. His renowned 1984 recreation of Chopin’s last concert is now available on Amazon Prime Video in the US and UK. Kogosowski orchestrated Rachmaninoff’s ‘Concerto Elegiaque’ and also restored Chopin’s Third Concerto. Both scores are available from Theodore Presser Company. The Rachmaninoff concerto was recorded by Kogosowski with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi for Chandos. Kogosowski has lectured and written on repetitive strain, derived from his knowledge of hand use in piano playing. This new work is the culmination of a lifetime’s experience.
Each volume of e-book: $20
Both volumes: $35

Note: the colour pictures in the first volume, Genius of the Piano, come out much better in colour than in black & white when printed; one can specify at Office Depot which pages one wants printed in colour. The front and back covers should be printed in colour, with a clear plastic cover, the whole coil-bound.