Grovlez - Petites Litanies de Jesus
Gabriel Grovlez (1879-1944) was a French composer and pianist who studied with Faure at the Paris Conservatoire.
L’Almanach Aux Images (Book of Pictures) was written in 1922 and is a collection of 8 descriptive miniatures, each prefaced with a poem by Tristan Klingsor.
The pieces are similar to, but not derivative of, Debussy’s Children’s Corner and Faure’s Dolly Suite.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece would suit a student who enjoys the harmonies of 20th century and can play expressively, yet communicate the naive simplicity of the music.
An octave stretch is needed for several of the chords, which would not lend themselves to being arpeggiated.
The student who is able to achieve a convincing interpretation of this piece will be able to balance the chordal textures sucessfully.
Style & Tempo
The harmonies are of the 20th century. There is a strong melodic line and the music often moves homophonically, suggesting the style of sacred choral music.
The character is described by the composer as 'naif, tendre et fervent' with the obvious translation of naive, tender and fervent.
The music demands a supple sense of phrase, with rubato, as heard in this extract by Peter Katin.
Simplicity is needed at first, with the music becoming more expressive midway at Bar 14, building to a climax at Bar 26 before ending in a subdued, reverent manner.
Phrasing & Articulation
The phrasing loosely follows the rhythms of the French words in the poem, so an ability to speak the language would be a distinct advantage!
The meaning of the words is rather sad, with reference made to Jesus' death on the cross and yet the final line of each verse, 'Souriez-moi' asks Jesus to 'Smile on me'. This is a three syllable phrase that is reflected in the rhythm of Bars such as 5 - 6.
It is important to hold the final note of these 'Souriez-moi' bars for the full value, as demonstrated here by Katin.
Tone & Texture
A beautiful singing tone is essential throughout this piece, with the chords balanced sensitively.
It is worthwhile asking your student to experiment with balancing the chords in different ways to hear the relative effectiveness of a stronger melody line, stronger inner parts or stronger bass notes.
Also do this while they listen. The harmonies sound strange when the chords are insensitively balanced, yet beautiful when the balance is well judged.
The technical requirement here is complex, since it has more to do with understanding how to play expressively than with any specific physical movements
The ability to play expressively comes from a physical facility to manipulate tonal nuance and timing subtlety in meaninful combination.
The balance of the chords is of crucial importance here. Not only does the melody need to sing out but also the chord itself has to have each note balanced against the others in tone. This usually involves making subtle adjustments to give a firm bass note, lighter toned inner harmonies and a prominent melody note.
Listening to both other pianists and to oneself is the key to achieving a convincing interpretation.
There are several alternatives for fingering depending on whether the student is able to finger-change with ease.
Finger changing will help to give legato in places such as RH Bar 5 (use 5, 4-5, 4 for top notes) where no viable alternative will give such a smooth effect.
Finger changing is also useful for:
RH Bar 8, top line fingering 5, 4-5, 4, 2;
RH Bar 10 change from 1 to 2 on the first beat, RH C.
Well judged pedalling will make the quavers smooth in RH Bar 1, even though fingering for the top line is not completely legato (Bar 1: 4, 5, 4, 5 Bar 2: 3/2 for the E/D)
The only ornamentation is the grace note, octave Bbs in Bar 26, which need to be played just before the rest of the chord and must be pedalled just after the Bbs have sounded so that they sustain for the whole bar.
The pace towards the end of this phrase broadens out and the overall bar length will be three, generous crotchet beats.
The composer tells us this is to be pedalled. Without pedal the music would be unstylistic.
The pedal is needed both to sustain the legato with complete smoothness and - even more importantly - to lend resonance to the sound.
The first step, as always, is to begin with listening to the piece. The student needs to understand the style and character of the music before beginning to play it.
Be clear about your role and your priorities as a teacher.
The Grade 6 pianist should now be able to decipher the notes without your help, but you should make sure that the student is absolutely clear about the timing of the triplet rhythms, which must be even.
Another initial priority is fingering, which should be agreed upon and pencilled in before any practice takes place. Pencil in the fingering even in the repeat of the opening phrase at the end of the piece, since using different fingering here will make this section insecure in performance.
Insist that, from the very start of learning, the slurring is adhered to and that articulation of the melody is legato with the fingers, not just made to sound smooth with the pedal. The two effects are not the same.
The keys to successful practice are to manage time efficiently and to have clear, achievable goals.
We profit most from the first 15 minutes of practice time and from practising daily. We remember less from long, infrequent practice sessions.
Students who practise once or twice daily learn more than those who practise for the same overall length of time but in longer, less frequent sessions.
Students who leave sufficient time for learning a piece, that is several months rather than several weeks, gain deeper insights and learn more thoroughly.
Students who practise with a musical intention, rather than just learning the notes and rhythms, interpret better.
Students who practise performing are more confident performers.
The aspect most likely to cause difficulty is arriving at a convincing interpretation of the mood. Naive, tender and fervent is a pretty tall order for a young student.
For a student who is indeed religious, the route to success may be in communicating this in the music. However, beliefs are many and varied, so we must be careful to respect other religions as well as non-belief.
The safest policy is probably to offer this music as an impressionistic picture of how a Christian might possibly express the music, without personally associating ourselves with it.
An excellent performance will be fluent and accurate, with a supple sense of phrase and a keen feel for the reverent mood. There will be meticulous attention to detail, with the melody line singing out like a soprano chorister's clear voice. Pedalling will be managed unobtrusively, enhancing the tone.
A good performance will have expressive detail in place, showing some sense of character, although tone control may not be so poised and even as in an excellent performance. Pedalling will be appropriate, but with perhaps a few smudges in clarity of chord changes. Accuracy will be confident.
A sound performance will have reliable continuity, with few smudges in accuracy. There will be sufficient expressive detail to show careful preparation and the pace will be suitable.
Here are two different performances. Compare and list the qualities you like or dislike about each one.