Jeffrey Swinkin


Earlier systems of keyboard fingering exploit the natural differences of finger strength and utilize frequent changes of position in order to facilitate localized (gestural) phrasing and articulation, among other interpretive nuances. The modern system of fingering, by contrast, views the fingers as more homogeneous and aims to keep the hand more stationary out of a concern for purely technical facility and for promoting a longer line. This essay offers numerous examples of historical keyboard fingerings—those by C. P. E Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Schenker—in each case discussing the implications the fingering has for phrasing and other aspects of interpretation. It then offers examples of modern fingerings and directly compares them to their historical counterparts. Finally, this essay places the differences between these two schools within a broader philosophical context in an attempt to expose the aesthetic ideologies that underlie them and thus to amplify the fundamental differences between the two approaches.