Chaminade - Elegie
Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944) was a French composer and pianist whose compositions and performances were very popular in her lifetime.
She toured widely, including England and the USA. She was awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 1913, the first female composer to gain France's highest honour.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is a lovely miniature full of atmosphere and will suit a sensitive student who enjoys expressive cantabile playing. An ability to play rubato and give subtle shape to phrasing will enhance the performance. A fluent legato pedal technique is essential. The left hand has to be kept in an accompanying role throughout so the student must be technically equipped to control the balance between the hands.
Its charm and simplicity of language make it possible for quite a young player to give a good performance without the need, demanded by some elegiac music, to plumb depths of emotional experience. However, extra dimensions of poignancy can also be added by the more mature player.
Style & Tempo
An Elegy in poetry or music is generally a mournful tribute to a person who has died. As the title suggests, this Elegie depicts feelings of loss, sadness and nostalgia.
Mostly in minor mode, it has a major section in the middle which brings a brief lightening of the mood, perhaps a happy memory, before the sense of loss reawakens.
The quasi-recitative section between Bars 18 and 21 is perhaps an evocation of a moment when the regret threatens to become overwhelming.
There is a song-like quality to this music, which is very much in the Romantic salon piano style. It is possible to imagine it transcribed for violin, with plenty of vibrato on the tied second quavers that appear as a feature of the melody.
Phrasing & Articulation
The whole piece has a very legato feel and phrasing follows the song-like lines of the melody.
The recitative section, heard here, is a continuous flexible line of legato notes without a sense of division into phrases.
Tone & Texture
The main texture of the piece is a cantabile RH melody accompanied by semiquaver LH broken chord patterns. In the middle section the accompaniment becomes chordal.
The RH melody should be played with a warm cantabile (it is marked ben cantando at the beginning , dolce at bar 8, and dolcissimo at bar 12 and again when it returns in the final section). This continues through the change of texture. Even in the recitative section where the dynamic rises to f there is no need for harshness.
For the LH this means a murmuring tone which fully supports the melody but stays in the background. In Bars 6-13, heard here, the lower part of the LH picks out a bass line, and this could be gently emphasised but never allowed to distract from the melodic line.
Accents are gently leaned into, not pushed or hit.
The two hands use quite different techniques: the RH requires a cantabile touch sometimes using the lower fingers as part of the accompaniment, whilst the LH is very much in the accompanying role. Creating the right balance between them may be a technical issue for some students. However, the RH split is not difficult to achieve since the lower “part” is slow moving, so the ear naturally follows the upper melody.
LH technique in Bars 1-13 and 22-29 will involve a slight gentle rocking movement, or at least a rotary freedom in the wrist. However, there is no need to exaggerate such movements.
In Bars 18-21 the alternating of the hands will require slow practice and careful listening to ensure smoothness and shaping of the line.
LH fingering needs to be practical, to enable the accompaniment to flow smoothly.
In Bars 8, 12 and 28 the thumb should step down to A to keep the hand comfortably aligned: 5 (E flat) 1, 4 (or 5) 1, 5, 1, 5 (or 4) 1, 5, 1 (on A) 2, 3.
The acciaccatura in Bar 14 can be played with a little rubato.
The little ornament in Bar 9, repeated in Bars 13 and 29, should be played before the note so that the RH quaver movement matches up, on the beat, with the LH semiquavers.
In preparation it should be practised slowly and very carefully to ensure that the notes go down in the correct order without raggedness. In performance it will be played without any hint of tension, and again perhaps eased with a tiny rubato.
Legato pedalling is required throughout, with two exceptions: in Bars 14-17, pedal may be used sparingly to create legato or to warm up individual chords, and there is no need to pedal the recitative bars 18-21.
In places legato pedalling will mean some quite quick changes: in Bars 7-9 and similar the pedal must change on virtually every quaver to prevent blurring.
Where the opening returns in Bar 21 marked dolcissimo it is worth considering adding una corda to make it even sweeter. Tre corde (no una corda) would then apply from the upbeat to Bar 26.
Listening around the style of this Elegy will help in interpretation:
Some little details will repay careful groundwork: the ornaments in Bars 9, 13 and 29 and the slightly spread chords in Bars 11, 12, 17, 27 and 28, so that there is no tripping or interruption of flow.
Take some time to discover the chord sequences and how the hands move between them.
Bars 14-17 may look simple compared with the earlier textures but should not be taken for granted as they are rather exposed in performance. They need plenty of preparation, especially bar 15.
Find out how the patterns of Bars 18-21 make sense to the student, who is advised to memorise these bars so that they can be performed with complete freedom.
The slightly changed LH towards the end (compare bars 23-25 with Bars 3-5) has a quite different feeling. It needs to be as well-prepared, familiar and fluent as the early bars.
The LH semiquavers in Bars 1-5 and 22-25 need to be very carefully graded so that the repeated A does not become insistent to the listener. Feel a real lightness in the 5th finger, just barely playing these As.
In places the LH breaks out of its predictable pattern and this could disrupt the flow if the student is uncertain about the exact turn it takes.
Pedalling needs to be well-placed – blurring may well be a problem if it is added out of habit rather than carefully considered. If there is any tendency to muddiness, slow eveything right down and determine the two exact spots at which the pedal needs to be lifted and then pressed down again.
The recitative section should be perfectly even in its flow before beginning to experiment with rubato.
An excellent performance will catch up the audience in a mood of sorrowful reflection, with due respect to the essentially well-behaved character of the music. There will nevertheless be a poignancy and a sense that stronger emotions may be present under the surface. The singing quality of the RH will be warm and gracious, and the LH accompaniment sympathetic. Dynamics will be well observed, the chosen tempo will give a good sense of flow and there will be a sensitive and effective use of rubato.
A good performance will show a good balance of tone between the hands and a fluency that enables the music's mood to develop. There may be an impression of elegant sadness rather than deep grief. However there will be a good cantabile tone in the melody and the LH will be unobtrusive. Some flexibility of timing at key points in the music will lend shape to the phrasing. The speed will be well chosen to enable all technical difficulties to be surmounted whilst not dragging.
A sound performance will have the basic elements of the style present, with the LH generally quieter than the RH and the melody reasonably well-phrased. There may be a little stiffness in the ornaments or a lack of momentum. Rubato may be absent or half-hearted. The shift of mood in the middle section and the dramatic possibilities in the recitative section may be under-developed.