The art of piano accompaniment in the instrumental repertoire – a new look at specialization.

Aktualisiert: 22. Feb.

An overview of educational programmes for pianists in higher education institutions in Germany and Austria.




Univ.-Prof. Evgeny Sinayskiy

Music and Arts University of the City of Vienna (Austria)

Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen (Germany)



 


 


In this article, I would like to conduct a comparative analysis of the different approaches to teaching instrumental accompaniment at music universities and the "Higher Schools of Music" in Germany and Austria, and also to present some aspects of the training programme I have developed for piano students.


For the majority of my colleagues - musicians both in Russia and abroad - the concept of "accompaniment in the curriculum at the conservatory" is associated with creative partnership and work with vocalists. The history of teaching accompanist skills to vocalists in most German and Austrian universities goes back more than one decade, and in some conservatories a hundred years. Students can choose between elective and specialized study of the subject, focusing on the accompaniment of operas or chamber vocal music.


The relatively long tradition of teaching "vocal" accompaniment at higher educational institutions in the German-speaking world, in my opinion, is associated with a high demand for professional accompanists in opera houses. In Germany alone, there are more than 80 state opera houses, while the number of non-profit theatres and companies is even greater. Each theatre employs several accompanists (in some large theatres there are more than a dozen) and even now, in difficult times for musicians, you can find vacancies for an opera accompanist. I cannot fail to note the wide spread of vocal education both at the professional and at the amateur level, where, undoubtedly, the role of a vocal "coach" is in great demand.


The history of teaching instrumental accompaniment is not as old as the tradition of teaching vocal accompanist mastery. I should note that in some high schools of music, since the 1960s, students were required to pass a minimum number of instrumental pieces as part of training vocal accompaniment or even as part of teaching a chamber ensemble. There was no single system of requirements, each university independently making its own curriculum.


The situation began to change fundamentally in the early 2000s. Almost all conservatories began to pay more and more attention to instrumental accompaniment both as an optional subject and as an independent educational programme with the possibility of obtaining a diploma of accompanist for instrumentalists.


In my opinion, the change in the situation is associated with the following factors:


- Gradual transition of higher musical educational institutions to the Bologna educational system. The system of bachelor's and master's degrees began to replace the system of standard diplomas we were used to. To obtain a bachelor's degree (as well as a master's), you need to gain a certain number of points that can be "earned" by completing, in addition to training in the specialty, courses in optional subjects. Many universities began to open various additional programmes, including an instrumental accompaniment course. In most cases, this is a half-year course with a free choice of programme and a presentation at the end of the semester. For this, the student receives 1-2 points. If desired, the student can choose this elective in the next semester and so on throughout the entire period of study. This system has its pros and cons. The undoubted advantage is the absence of routine and "obligation" when a student takes the chosen course. With a variety of optional courses offered by universities, students can tailor their programmes to suit their individual interests or preferences for particular teachers. Interestingly, in one small German Hochschule where a course for piano tuners was introduced, this elective gained immense popularity among students - pianists. Even with basic knowledge of piano tuning, students are able to tune their own instruments and can also earn extra money tuning others. In addition, required course credits were awarded for completing the elective. The disadvantage of such a “pick and mix” education system is undoubtedly the absence of consistent long-term training; if a student only studies accompaniment for a semester or at most two, it is very difficult for them to develop a rigorous and strong foundation of skills and repertoire.


- Understanding by the administrations of universities of the need for student pianists to acquire a practical profession. Over the past decades, a certain imbalance has developed: at the orchestral faculty, 1st year of bachelor's degree students receive intensive classes in orchestral training and upon graduation, already have considerable experience in playing in an orchestra. Having won an audition for an orchestra, they have significantly greater skills than pianists who begin to work as an accompanist. Fortunately, the balance between orchestras and pianists is currently being restored.


- The growing importance of the work of an accompanist in the modern system of music education. I would like to describe in a little more detail the role and status of the accompanist to instrumentalists in the musical universities of German-speaking Europe. Administration is conservative. From the very beginning, Austria and Germany placed the work of an accompanist at a significantly higher level than the leadership of universities in other Western European countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain and many other countries). Accompanists in Austria and Germany are mainly assigned to specific orchestral departments, often to specific professors and even students. It is almost impossible to imagine a situation where the same pianist works simultaneously in the classes of viola, opera singing and ballet (which is a standard in the Netherlands, for example). The salary level of full-time accompanists is usually equal to the salaries of university associate professors. Such employment conditions allow accompanists to focus on a certain instrumental repertoire, contributing to much more effective creative work between students, accompanists and teachers. The transition to the system of bachelor's and master's degrees has resulted in a major boost to the status of pianists. In the overwhelming majority of German and Austrian conservatories and universities, classes of students with an accompanist have received the status of a separate, independent subject. For example, at the Vienna University of Music and Arts (where yours truly works), the accompanist at the end of the semester gives the student a grade for working with a pianist. In my university, as well as in most conservatories, the accompanist works at least half of the hours prescribed by the curriculum with a young musician one-on-one, without a teacher. The subject "Solokorrepetition" appeared in the curriculum, loosely translated as "Individual work of a student with an accompanist". Changing the status of an accompanist imposes completely different requirements on the pianist. In addition to excellent knowledge of the repertoire and standard ensemble qualities, he must seriously understand the specifics of orchestral instruments, master pedagogical techniques and, in my opinion, possess the qualities of a psychologist. In terms of the level of responsibility and importance, the accompanist becomes an “instrumental coach”, by analogy with a coach in an opera house.


In my opinion, the above factors have led the artistic leadership of higher music schools and universities to the conclusion that it is necessary to teach instrumental accompaniment as a separate subject.

The leadership of each conservatory, when drawing up curricula, decides on its own how deeply it is necessary for student-pianists to study a new subject (and whether to study at all). In the next section, I would like to briefly describe the study programmes in the universities of the two German-speaking countries.


It seems to me advisable to systematize the review of the Higher Schools of Music on a geographical basis, namely, moving from one federal state to another.



 

Federal Republic of Germany

 

Berlin



University of the Arts Berlin

Universität der Künste Berlin (UDK)


Optional training is only possible within the vocal accompaniment course. While studying traditional accompanist skills (vocalists), the student can go through several instrumental pieces.



 


Hanns Eisler Higher School of Music

Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler


This university has implemented one of the most interesting programmes for teaching accompaniment, both an elective and a specialized subject. The creators of this programme took a non-standard path. They divided the accompaniment into two unequal components: "Vocal accompaniment of the chamber genre" (Liedbegleitung) and "Opera and instrumental accompaniment with the basics of conducting" (Opern undInstrumentalkorrepetition mit Dirigieren Kenntnisse). Having chosen the second specialization, the student equally studies both opera scores and instrumental concerts, and also masters the skills of conducting in the opera house. In this way, specialists of a "broad concertmaster profile" are trained: a graduate can work both in the opera house and in the conservatory at the orchestral faculty, as well as conduct orchestral rehearsals in an opera or an opera studio.


I would especially like to note: a student can choose instrumental accompaniment as a specialty already starting with a bachelor's degree! Thus, if a young musician "from an early age" decides to devote themselves to concertmaster work, then they have a brilliant chance to accumulate an extensive repertoire and gain experience in this area of ​​music. This discipline is taught by Professor Alexander Vitlin, a former graduate of the Leningrad Conservatory.


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