Maikapar - Chez le Forgeron: At the Blacksmith
Samuil Maikapar or Maykapar (1867-1938) was born in Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire.
His childhood was spent in a naval port town (Taganrog) where he would have heard the sounds of the shipbuilding and iron forging from which people made their living.
For similar sights and sounds to those which inspired the music, watch and listen to two blacksmiths working in a reconstruction of a historic forge:
Pupil Match & Suitability
The opening of this piece will appeal to the adventurous student who enjoys new ways to play the piano. However, it requires imagination and a surprising amount of subtlety to be played successfully. The martellato passages could easily become crude and dull if played unthinkingly. The student will also be using pedal, including legato-style changes. Good coordination is needed for the middle section.
A good choice for students who enjoy musical picture-making. It will challenge a student who tends to play lazily, and if the tendency persists after learning this music it will not make for a successful performance. Precision is vital. For this reason it may also not suit students with large hands or chunky fingers, who might find some of the very close-together hand positions difficult to manage.
Style & Tempo
This is a miniature tone-picture in the long tradition of depicting scenes in music. In this case it is easy to hear the references to the blacksmith's hammer and imagine the other activites in the workshop, such as working the bellows to reheat the iron, or cooling the hot metal in a bucket of water.
The musical language is simple and tonal. The 6/8 rhythms have a swinging quality like the movements of the blacksmith's arm.
Phrasing & Articulation
The regularity of the craftsman's movements are reflected in even two- and four-bar phrases.
Given the obviousness of these references, the student should avoid the danger of over-emphasising the regularity and turning it into monotony.
Tone & Texture
Although marked martellato, the opening is dynamically only mezzo-forte, so the hammering should not be too loud; the martellato marking encourages a certain arm action, with a strong wrist and the movement coming from the elbow joint.
Notice that the tone here represent the ringing of the hammer on metal, not the dull, percussive hammering of knocking on wood!
At Bar 34 onwards the student can add more weight to this texture to make it forte.
This piece absolutely requires precision – which is even noted in the tempo marking. Slow practice will help tone control in what could otherwise become an exercise in bashing. Quick, neat movements from one set of hand positions to the next will help too.
Where the hands are physically overlapping the student will need to keep movements controlled to ensure no collisions.
You can see here how the hands need to be positioned so that they do not collide.
Bar 29 and 31 RH may be fingered 2/1 then 4 rather than 3/1 and 5 if the 5th finger is not strong enough for the accent.
Although it may be tempting to take the last two chords with one hand each, the composer notated them very carefully to make the player move both hands around together as a unit. This makes a difference to the touch used and hence the sound produced – the player's weight is focused through both hands equally and the player will swivel the whole upper body, giving a slightly machine-like quality to the action.
Pedalling is clearly marked and generally coincides with chord changes. The student should initially practise without pedal to ensure the required precision, articulation and placing of rests. As pedal is added, listen carefully to ensure the change does not cause a gap where a staccato note is not caught.
The martellato touch is fun to mess around with, and the two hands hammering away in the rhythm of the first two bars can go all over the keyboard in a mixture of improvising and experimenting.
The need for precision and firmness at the finger and wrist joints must be pointed out, so that the student does not end up practising a soggy version of the touch which fails to evoke the clanging, industrial scene of the title.
The first 20 bars are deceptively simple to learn compared with Bars 21-28, so it would be a good idea to start on these latter bars slowly, systematically and above all early. Using the LH of Bar 23 as a warm-up exercise will help.
Work through the chords, naming them as far as possible and pointing out the change of key to G minor in the middle section. Encourage the student to play the relevant scales and arpeggios.
Both hands have equally important parts to play in this piece so it is important not to neglect the LH if it is weaker. The bars which will show this up most strongly are 23-4 and 27-8, but even the martellato bars at the beginning need to have a real equality of strength and control behind the playing.
The first 20 bars consist entirely of chords and the main challenge is to change them correctly and without hesitation. This can be aided by playing them as block chords, correctly fingered, at slow speed and making sure that each transition is comfortable.
The same principle of comfort (an indicator of success in fluency) applies to bars 23-24 RH before trying to coordinate it with the faster-moving LH.
The bars most likely to give trouble are 21-28. A great deal of attention to coordination, articulation and pedalling is needed. These bars may well take longer to learn thoroughly than the rest of the piece and if they have not been started early enough, they may need remedial work before a good performance can be attained. Common problems will include failing to make each move accurately, and losing the precise articulation over time when wrestling with the notes and coordination.
Any of these problems are best addressed by taking very small chunks and slowing them right down, noticing the point at which hesitation or inaccuracy has crept in. This then needs to be worked on until corrected and the chunk can be tried at a slightly faster speed to see if the repair is secure.
Maikapar - Chez le Forgeron (At the Blacksmith) Grade 4 Level -
A complete performance of this piece, showing character and poise.
An excellent performance will evoke the noise, heat, effort and skill of the forge. The hammering will be finely controlled to give it a musicality that goes beyond its obvious pictorial quality. Dynamics will be be exciting and varied, pedalling will add warmth to the scene. There will be a sense of possibility beyond the picture itself, with the perfomer clearly caring about what is being shown and communicating something of their own feelings about it.
A good performance will show a considered and well-executed range of dynamics and touches. Pedalling will be correct and there will be a sense of atmosphere. The player will clearly enjoy the movements and technical challenges of the music, and their performance will honour the craftsmanship and hard work of the blacksmith.
A sound performance will be mostly well controlled and the required precision will be attempted. Pedalling may be a little untidy and the tone may sometimes be harsh or uneven. However, there will be a strong rhythmic impetus and a sense of energy.