To celebrate their Music Day on 15 June 2017, the BBC is running Ten Pieces to encourage learners to ‘get creative with classical music’: The repertoire lists put together for Ten Pieces showcase some of classical music’s best known and most significant composers, including Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Elgar – many of whom also feature in our new Piano 2018-2020 syllabus.
Knowing about these composers, and the historical context in which they were writing, can give a great insight into how to approach learning to play their music. This knowledge, in combination with listening to and performing their pieces, can also provide a solid foundation from which to explore the music of other composers writing at the same time.
To help learners gain this foundation, and to also give them the choice and flexibility to explore other styles and genres according to their personal musical style, the lists in Trinity’s new Piano 2018-2020 syllabus combine important core repertoire works with lesser known discoveries and new commissions, and include many of the composers featured in Ten Pieces. In this blog post we spotlight pieces by three of these, and provide you with notes on things to consider when learning or teaching the pieces. These notes have been taken from our brand-new Piano Teaching Notes accompanying our new Piano syllabus.
Elgar’s Andantino (1st movt from Sonatina) (Grade 4)
This is the first movement of a two-movement sonatina written for Elgar’s niece. Tender, wistful, almost hesitant in places, yet also full of Elgarian warmth and generosity. There are several performances on YouTube, and the one by John Ogden is particularly beautiful, if a little slower than advised here.
It is difficult to teach the sense of style needed for such a piece — the rubato, the handling of the largamentes, allowing the music space to speak. I recommend listening to other works by Elgar, the Enigma Variations, the cello concerto, maybe the Sea Pictures or some of the symphonies. He has come to represent something quintessentially English, which is often linked to both reticence and nobility, but Elgar is also a masterly orchestrator. All of those elements are here: notice how the orchestration is different at the return of the theme in bar 25, with added pizzicatos and a sustained note in the horn; there is hesitation in the small phrases in bars 33–36, a gathering of confidence before the heartfelt largamente melody finally finds the courage to sing with certainty. Pedal throughout will add depth to the sound, being careful though not to sustain through rests, and both analyse and hear where the appoggiaturas occur and shape accordingly. Bar 6, bar 10, bar 12…listen for the difference in meaning between the two notes as tension turns into resolution, as the sound diminishes and the bar relaxes. The LH fifth finger has an important role, sustaining some of the bass notes, playing them with slightly more weight than the other accompanying notes. The acciaccatura in bar 23 is short, but lyrical, heightening the expression in the allargando. No repeat in the exam.
J S Bach’s Prelude in D minor, BWV 635 (Grade 6)
Bach wrote a number of pieces for his own teaching purposes. The Prelude in D minor comes from a set of six familiarly known as the ‘Little Preludes’. It is in the style of a two-part invention, a duet between the two hands in which both hands are of equal importance.
The main subject (bar 1, etc) consists of three notes that move by step followed by three notes that move by skip. It is effective to play the steps more legato and the skips more detached. Experiment with mixing up legato and non-legato touches, allowing the line to breathe at phrase ends. You will want to add subtle crescendo–diminuendo hairpins to shape the semiquaver lines; quavers sound best when played with a bouncy staccato to bring out the dance quality of the piece. Fit the righthand ornaments (bars 4 and 23 together with the LH precisely (ornaments come on the beat); isolate these two bars regularly in your practice and work on them patiently. Begin your work at a slow tempo with each hand separately before you put the hands together. Practise in very small sections of one bar, stopping on the first note of the next bar. Repeat two or three times in a row with full concentration so you form good habits and avoid errors. It is most important for eventual security in performance that you organise a good fingering that suits your hand, and stick to it each and every time you practise (the fingering given here is a guide only). Thereafter you can work in two- and then four-bar units, progressing to larger sections. Even after you can play the piece fluently with both hands it is advisable to play each hand separately on occasion, listening for evenness in the semiquaver patterns as you shape and articulate the lines.
Haydn’s Moderato (1st movt from Sonata in G minor, Hob. XVI/44) (Grade 8)
The Sonata in G minor, Hob XVI/44 was composed in the early 1770s and is an example of the Empfindsamer Stil (sensitive style) developed by musicians and poets in 18th century Germany to express true and natural feelings. Sudden changes in mood are a feature of this style, and Haydn uses major and minor contrasts to express dark and light. The key of G minor is associated with sadness and tragedy.
This is one of a number of early sonatas Haydn intended for the harpsichord, which explains why there are no dynamic markings. The harpsichordist achieves colour, contrast and expression by other means; when playing this music on the piano we should feel free to avail ourselves of the resources of the piano by adding our own dynamics and pedalling in ways that are stylistically appropriate. Here are some suggestions. The sudden shift to B♭ minor (bar 9) needs a special colour; begin softly and open up the sound to the end of the phrase. A crescendo is natural in the ascending sequences (bars 15–17, etc) and implied from bar 46 as the texture thickens when voices enter one after the other. Pedal should never cover articulation markings or clarity of the part writing but we may use small dabs of pedal for colour and resonance (bar 10, 12, etc.). Pay close attention to Haydn’s articulation markings. Staccato wedges indicate detachment but notes should not be played very short; unmarked quavers may be detached. Play the second note of slurred pairs softer and slightly shorter.
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