Mozart - Courante - 3rd mv from Suite in C K 399/385i
It is inevitable that within a composer’s works some aspects of their writing will be more original than others.
This particular piece is untypical of Mozart, in that it is an imitation of Baroque keyboard writing. This courante comes from an unfinished Suite in C in which Mozart imitates the style of Handel.
Whilst it is titled ‘courante’ it is untypical of a Baroque courante in both tempo and style, taking its influence more from a menuet in its mood and character.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Younger students are unlikely to be attracted to this piece, probably on account of the more complex part writing.
The technical difficulties that may be encountered in achieving a detailed and eloquent flow of parts outweigh the musical worth.
Style & Tempo
As mentioned, the style is an imitative one and untypical of Mozart.
The themes are sparse, much of the music containing rather repetitive and sequential harmonic movement.
The one moment of obvious Classical writing comes in the cadential figure at Bar 31. This typical ‘style galante’ means of delaying the final chord does not feature elsewhere in this movement.
Phrasing & Articulation
The phrase lengths are often irregular and the typical features include elongated cadential phrases at the ends of sections.
Bars 13 – 19 and 40 – 45 demonstrate this point. In both instances the writing could have concluded at Bar13 and Bar 40. However it has been extended for musical and decorative purposes.
The style of writing suggests a smooth, gently connected line.
Tone & Texture
No dynamic markings are given. It would make very good musical sense to take a mezzo forte tone as the starting point for interpretation. There is no need for great variations in tone colour and there needs to be substance to the quality of tone.
Weak sounding notes and thin tone will create the impression of uncertainty, and this is easy to do given the frequency of tricky double notes in the RH.
Ideally a more projected upper note in the RH passages will make for a more pleasant quality than one where both notes are at the same dynamic level.
Finger swapping is covered in the fingering section and is a technique to be well studied. Mobility of the hand is an important aspect of playing to be addressed here.
The position of the hand on the keyboard should vary all the time, depending upon what note and chords are being played. Constant movement of the hand into the best playing position is a fundamental feature in piano playing.
Flexibility of the wrist and comfortable forearm movements is essential. Most students will instinctively move their forearms and hand into a position which makes chord playing easier. Encourage this and do not be afraid to experiment with the position and shape of the hand for the most comfortable solutions.
Watch out for signs of stiffness and awkward hand movements. In this situation, this can often occur as a consequence of trying to achieve too much legato between chords. Decide what is possible, what is impractical and be clear in giving advice on what to connect and what not to join up.
Finger swapping is an important part of any pianist’s technique. Its need comes from the musical necessity to create well connected parts at the same time as each other.
There are different schools of thought about fingering and the need for finger swapping. This arises from the various performance practices of the time and is not something which can be approached in sufficient detail here.
Whilst pedalling is not musically necessary, it can be used very effectively to help connect notes where actual legato may not be possible.
This is a complex piece and not the easiest one to learn. Nonetheless it can be a worthwhile venture and help to build up awareness of three part textures – an important facet of playing.
Working in small sections is always a good idea. That is particularly the case here where you should aim for textural understanding and good detail at a very slow tempo first.
Always look for ways to minimize the amount of fresh work required. Therefore find out the similarities between certain passages and draw these to student’s attention.
Passages containing 3rds and 6ths are plentiful, so be certain to practise them very carefully and in a way which really allows the player to get to know the fingering with absolute certainty. It is a waste of time if, several weeks into learning the piece, the player is still uncertain of the fingering.
Half speed practice in small bits will be very helpful. Playing in a mechanical but even-toned fashion may well be helpful to ensure a firm tone and good knowledge of the notes. This kind of practice should be replaced with a more musical means of playing once everything is secure.
There are likely to be many areas which are cause for concern here.
Bars 20 – 30 will certainly take time to learn. Why not begin by taking a look at this section and working out the tonal centres, as mentioned in Teaching Strategies? It is easy to end up with wrong notes in this passage, and this will be harder to correct at a later stage.
Insistence on too much legato playing will create problems. Work out a healthy compromise so that fluency does become possible without unnecessary difficulty.
An excellent performance will have lots of eloquent detail and a sense of musical flow which highlights the poised three in a bar feel to this movement.
A good performance will demonstrate an understanding of the detail in the part writing and be musically shaped even if it lack some of the more poised refinements in its control of textures and line. Fingering problems and slips will be only occasional and will represent performance slips rather than more inherent difficulties.
A sound performance will show authority although may well lack the degree of tonal control needed to elevate it to a more musically convincing level. All the notes will be in place although the phrasing may well lack detail and finesse in places. The tempo will be consistent and not too slow.