(Transcribed by Meg Sinclair, 9/1-3, 2001


(Introduction by Karel Backer…very faint)


(Mrs. Howarth:) “I would like to say something. Would you please relax. You don’t need to stand.

I think Mr. Gurdjieff intended this as a first exercise in which people took positions immediately, intentionally as STOPS.

This kind of movement was very strange when he first gave it because people were accustomed to moving in continued movement. But you see, to be able to take a position exactly and intentionally, your whole body has to be in a certain tonicity.


The pianist should, with the left hand, not only attack the chord but release it. Because, for the pupils, each position is a position. .. a position … so, not to let the hand stay. Release it.


Another thing. I don’t know why. The music is, perhaps, so triumphant that one always plays it much too loudly. I’m very glad to see you as a class … not reacting as a beginner’s class would. Because if you played like that, the beginners would all … whoof.


When you play with this kind of strength, (I know that part of it is the piano,) the pupils react immediately by stiffening. So how to find a touch that is firm, and yet is not … hardening.


Now, if I am working in this and I try to make this a cycle of sensation, I begin … Mr. Gurdjieff always said in the beginning “ remember back!” Well, moving center movements are centered in the spinal cord. So, first of all, I sense my back before I even begin. And on that support, I take my position. And I try to be aware of the sensation in my arms. and then of my legs and then of my head, neck, and face.


If the third tempo is played staccato and sounds a little bit like a dance – I lose my inner kind of weight. In each tempo, I give a little less strength getting to my position. The pianist gives a little less strength in getting to this attack.


And really, if any of you are beginning pianists, I would advise you to work on your left hand particularly. The melody is beautiful and one likes to bring it out. But it’s the left hand which gives the pupils their impetus to move and to move rightly.


And after all, you’re all clever enough, it seems to me, to be able to memorize the music. If necessary when you first play – play only with the left hand and watch the pupils.


And this question of the speeding up of the tempo. It’s very difficult to do it one third at a time. I think it’s almost accepted now that one plays the first tempo as a half note; the second tempo as a dotted quarter; and the third tempo as a quarter. So, that way you really finish twice as fast as you began, which isn’t as Monsieur de Hartmann used to do it, but we’re not all Monsieur de Hartmann. So, if you find one thing too difficult, then do the other thing.


(Cathy plays two sections of First Obligatory)


But I would like to say one thing more. Look at your music the way it’s written. Carefully. And you will see that in the first measure, there are only usually three half notes. Then in the second measure, the melody begins with eighth notes. Almost everybody plays the first three chords faster than they play the second measure. Your eye tells you, “That’s shorter, that’s longer.” So, the first three counts must be absolutely exact as you intend to continue. You’ve got to think about it and be there.


And I was very glad that … to begin with – somehow you released your left hand so that it was possible … for the pupils to really – take each position exactly. Then later – it was lost.


Do work on your left hand. The way – the weight with which you attack your note – the way you release it – is what gives the pupils the tonicity with which they should tune their own bodies.





(Approx. 100 metronome speed)


Yes, may I say something. Long ago in the Prieuré, Mr. Gurdjieff gave one way of marking time. Later he gave other ways. Here in the March, that original way of marking time should be quite strictly observed…..And the way was, that when you put down one foot, the other foot was immediately where it needed to be. Raised… so as to come down.


But the whole beginning of this March is not so heavy. I think it’s the piano. It’s all, to begin with, active and a little bit staccato so that each position is done immediately, immediately, immediately.


Remember Mr. Gurdjieff was trying to teach people in these first exercises to get to a position instantaneously. So, even though we’re bringing the arm up with a little … it should be there immediately. This marking time should be like this.


Now, if you are going to play again, believe me, that when this movement is done correctly, and always up to tempo, each section has a certain kind of tonicity.


In the beginning, Mr. Gurdjieff said, “Now, look way out.” Which surely means that having found some kind of inner awareness and sensation and presence in the First Obligatory, you try to hold on to that and then you project. It’s difficult.


So, you begin and you’re quite active – in looking out. Your second part is not quite so strong. Your next part is still not quite so strong. So that during the whole of the first series there are very slight diminuendos of energy.


The music is written badly. You really must not …It should lead exactly to the position. And it’s the way the music is written. Because it’s written with a … you know…arpeggio.




… because otherwise, why would you make a continued movement of your arms, you … something would have to be broken there. This leads to a position. And the position is important.


And in the first part, with the hands – and in the last part with the feet, those are definite positions and they shouldn’t be flapped. And the music should play with … quite definitely and rather … quietly.




Mrs. Nott once showed you how to finger that, Karel, so that it was in the hand.




And please be careful everybody. The time when people are walking backwards. There’s always a tendency by the pianist to slow down. It’s mustn’t be slower. Just really be a little quieter.




The tempo should be absolutely exact from the beginning to the end.


It’s a march!





(Approx. metronome speed 104)


That tempo was much too fast!


Monsieur de Hartmann said this music was composed for the organ…. which gives you an idea what kind of tonicity you should use.


It’s the first movement in which people are released to walk forward, sideways. So, there’s a kind of feeling of freedom…At last. After the other obligatories … I displace. But I displace (sighs) how can I say it? Well, I put my feet down firmly but … it isn’t the same kind of staccato march as the first one. It’s something that has breadth.


So try again.




In the attitudes, that first chord should resound! Two, three and four are not important. They just simply mark three counts. But the first should really sing.






Do you raise the pedal after the first count? Keep the pedal down.


Forgive me, but I’m going to correct something in your way of doing the last attitudes. The time when you have to… bend over. You’re sitting up on your knees. And you don’t … bend from here … so much . Its…you simply fell as though you have a weight across the back of your shoulder.


No, you’re not sitting back on your heels like that, you’re up straight.


Now … Sit up, Sheila! Straighten your … your thighs. Sraighten yourself. Now bend the top of your body as much as you can.


Yes. But who is this gentleman at the end who is bending forward from his sides. Straight! From your knees up to your … your breast. You’re straight! And then above that … you curve yourself over.


And the next position. Show me. This is the unrolling of a banner. So this arm is not curved in a nice ballet position. You unrolled something. Straighten. Really, much straighter. I’ve pulled it up. No, it is not curved like that. It’s pulled up. Up! Up! Up!


The elbow straight, Sylvia. And Mary. Yes.


No, Jimmy, you’re still curved. Pull your arm up as if you’ve pulled something out. That’s the position as Mr. Gurdjieff gave it. Okay. Now …


Thank you.




(Barbara Rosenthal: And I would like to ask Mrs. Howarth if she could say something to a pianist about how to bring a different quality of tone to his or her playing. Because I feel very much for this. That the piano must … must sing in a way. That it touches the feelings of the people doing movements. As in the body, and the feelings and the mind as one thing. And to me, of course the rhythm must be exact. And the technical things…the notes have to be very exact but then this is just a question of how do the fingers go on to the keys. And, if I am a pianist …)




He must listen to his own touch. The way he touches the piano, even this horrible piano which reacts always too loudly and too crisply. Try putting the hand … what different shadings you can bring to the touch.


And you must be particularly careful with that … with the more advanced pupil. The more advanced pupils now have had so much work on sensation that they have different stages of contraction and relaxation in their bodies at their disposal. If you play heavily when they wish to be buoyant and light, you spoil their work for them. And if you play staccato when they wish to be smooth, again, you spoil their work for them.You have to study your touch. Even on this piano…. Study your touch.


And, of course, the other thing that is required is accent. Accents can go very differently. They can be heavy. They can be staccato. They can be bouncy. But you have to try to find it…


For instance, in the Pointing Dervish. When the pupils turn a quarter turn on the first beat, it’s a rather heavy accent. Trummm, ta, ta, tum. And then when they come back forward, the secondary accent has a kind of bounce, trim ta, bum, bum. And if you don’t give that secondary accent, it doesn’t have any feeling of rhythm if you play – you have to lift before the … all kinds of things like this that are interesting for you. But if you haven’t done the movements yourself, you can’t understand what you need to feel.


(I think a great help, Barbara, would be a new piano!)







Always, when one speeds up one plays a little more loudly, too. Which is not necessary.


You know, the one thing that Mr. Gurdjieff asked… was that one should count aloud. In different languages. I think this is a very interesting thing to work on because later in certain movements one has certain syllables to say. And one has never practiced how to say those syllables really (Laughs) from one’s solar plexus so to speak.


But when we used to count aloud, Mr. Gurdjieff used to laugh and say, “Like sheep.” Because everybody was saying, one, two, three, four, four, three, two, one, two, three, four … and they were following the melody.


Now, it’s very interesting for the pupils to be able to count on one note, always the same tone. I don’t know how this works out with the loudness of the piano. But if sometime you would like to try to work on it….. don’t take it today. But sometime try it. And the pupils then … practice. Thinking more of the vowel in each word than saying one, two, three, four, four …and try to stay on the same note.


Question: (Inaudible)


In this exercise, also, Mr. Gurdjieff used to have us stop movement, continue counting, and take up again when he told us to having really been sensing the movements inside. Or the other way around. Continue the movement and stop the counting. You could stop the piano. And then you’d have an opportunity to feel whether they are continuing in the same way as when you were playing. I think that might be a trick to feel how it should be. If they’re moving more staccato than you were playing, well then you’ll feel it. If they’re moving more heavily than when you were playing, you’ll feel it. Only you should tell the instructor first that sometimes you’re going to stop and that the pupils should continue. For your own study….




(Karel Backer: “ I remember that when we worked on that with you, Mrs. Howarth, there were really two ways, also, that you gave it to us. And that was from the beginning, starting very slowly, and continuously increasing the tempo, very, very gradually.)


Mrs. Howarth – Yes, that’s the way it was.


(Karel Backer: :” And the other way would be to go through the sequence and then the second time you start the sequence you do it faster.”)


Mrs. Howarth – That worked, yes.




(Shiela Bura shows arm circling at approximately 70 metronome speed)


This tempo should be the same as the beginning tempo.


And will the class please forgive me if I correct something. Would you stand!


At the end of your first part, when you put your left arm above your head, and lean a little to the right and drop your right arm. Yes, do that. You also lift your left heel from the ground. No, you really lift it so that you have the foot on the toe, come on. Sheila, lift it!


No, you don’t put it away from you, Beatrice, your feet are together but you lift your left heel. All your weight is on your right.


(Question: “Do you bend your knees?”)


No. Well, you just have to let the knee go a little bit, you lift … and then that makes it much quicker and much easier to kneel. All your weight is on your right, now kneel. Yes. And the kneeling should be what we call a triangular kneeling, That is to say your thigh slopes down so that it isn’t in your way when you make the circle. It slopes down. Your right foot is close to the left knee.


Ann Marie, your knee is rather high, dear, can you really make your circle without touching it. Ah-ha. Yes. All right. This is not a movements class.


(“Chris” plays Note Values app. 80 metronome speed)


If you don’t play this part with the trills exactly right……if you were watching you would see what happens. The pupils have a circle which is continued. They have a movement of the left arm and the head. And the leg. The leg should come exactly on the beat. When, for instance, they put the leg to the side, the music slowed down on the fourth count and everybody did something so slow and so heavy and so clumsy. And when the head and the left arm bend. That also should come exactly together on the beat… That part, ….sorry, …that was really very bad.


So, simply play the left hand. Count to yourself. One and two and three and four and one …







It’s too slow.!




No, that’s good. But will you please come to me afterwards because the way you do the second part of the Mazurka is absolutely wrong. Absolutely wrong!


So come to me afterwards when the music is finished. Who taught you that? How could it be so distorted?




…when everybody was learning the Mazurka… First of all, Mr. Gurdjieff used to tell us to have our hands held as if they were holding a bowl. In this one you don’t have your fingers together. It’s as though you were holding bowls, There was a movement of the wrist that has to be done.


Secondly, when you set your arms to the side, you don’t lift them like that. You send them to the side. And you draw back … and your head goes up on the first one. Then it stays there. And you do two. And it goes down on three. But there’s no question of bending the body over, the most dreadful things you’re doing. Ta ta ta tum… The movement is along a horizontal line, except of course, your right arm is a little higher. You head is up and you put it down on the third count. …. ……..


(In her more ‘authentic’ written material Mrs. Howarth does indicate that the head is raised only on the first beat, and lowered on the second, as someone in the background, Barbara Rosenthal ?, can here be heard trying to remind her)


…..It’s a little in front of you … No, on the third. One, then you hold your head still on the one and two. One, two, three. And then again, one, two, three. Now the other side.


Not so high in the air, Beatrice, dear, bend your elbows a little more, Yes. Three. There. And again, one, two, three. Still putting your head down on two some of you. One, two, Three. Again. One, stay there. Two … Three. All right.


But what I object to, which I consider a horrible distortion, is the way you bend your bodies when you bring your arms back. You should always be open. The arms are this… But you don’t bend your body forward because you put your head down. Yes. All right.


We should get together on that, Sheila.


Well, all right. I should be seeing some of you this summer though I didn’t think it was necessary to go through the First Obligatories again. I think we better give a few minutes to some of them.


And Ann Marie, and Sylvia, come to me for a moment. ……


(End of tape)

Back To Top