Schubert (arr White) - Trio from Symphony No 5
Schubert's piano music is mostly for advanced players. This piece is an arrangement of part of a movement of the 5th symphony, the Minuet and Trio. This arrangement uses the main theme of the trio but adapts it to omit the middle section, replacing it with a simple four-bar link.
There are many recordings of Schubert's Symphony no. 5, such as Charles Mackerras and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on the Veritas label, or Claudio Abbado with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on Deutsche Grammophon.
This is the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This arrangement provides plenty of variety in technical and expressive challenges. It will suit a lively, confident student with an ability to control their sound. There is a danger of playing this piece woodenly, of tripping over the semiquavers, and of letting the accompaniment overpower the melody. So the student needs to be ready to learn how to avoid these dangers.
Hand size should not be a physical problem for most, as the octaves can be jumped and the largest interval held is a seventh. However, it could affect the confidence of those who find a seventh is a big stretch.
There is a good deal of chord playing, which may need to be taught carefully to prevent misreading.
Style & Tempo
The feel is very much two-in-a-bar, and the chosen tempo should not halve the bars into a waltz! The marking “allegretto” is more for the style than the tempo – it should be light and elegant. However, the semiquavers may place a limitation on the performance speed, which may end up more like an andante. Keep checking that the opening speed is not too fast for the clean playing of semiquavers. Bars 15-16 will be the benchmark for a feasible speed.
A metronome mark for dotted crotchets could be anywhere between 50 and 70 bpm, with the upper end only for the most confident and well-rehearsed. Around 60 should be fine, avoiding ponderousness and minimising technical risks.
Phrasing & Articulation
The phrases are mostly two bars long, pairing up into a four-bar question-and-answer structure. This becomes more static in the middle section where each bar contains the same cadence, differently arranged each time.
Articulation is mainly legato, with sprightly phrase endings and some nice opportunities for gentle bouncing (bar 4 RH, bar 16, for example) – not to be confused with spiky staccato!
Tone & Texture
As the original music is scored for orchestral instruments, the piano's range of tonal possibilities should be exploited to reflect this. It is essential for the student to hear the orchestral version (and preferably the rest of the Minuet and Trio movement) to develop their own range of remembered sounds.
In the early bars a soft, strings/woodwind effect can be considered, with a sense of adding more instruments towards bar 7-8. The middle section, bars 9-12, can be imagined with striking antiphonal contrasts from one bar to the next (a very typical Schubert sound) – full orchestra then wind soloists, then strings only with wind added back in for a full but quiet sound before the pause (fermata) bar 12. These sounds in the student's head may seem to make little difference to a piano rendition but in fact will give a surprisingly varied result, with little or no conscious effort at tone control.
The texture is melody-plus-accompaniment, with the melody switching between the hands in the second half for variety. The accompaniment is based on chord progressions, with interest developed by using inversions and varied rhythms.
This is music that demonstrates how much we owe to scales and arpeggios as building blocks. There are also chords and double thirds to be tackled. Cantabile tone is required in the LH as well as the RH.
Much of the RH fingering is based around the scales and arpeggios in use. Where chords are played, fingering should provide as much legato as possible. In bar 4 LH the first chord could be fingered 4/1 with the 4 crossing over the previous 5 on to the C sharp.
The most important consideration, whatever fingering is chosen, is to keep it consistent. There are enough other challenges in this music without the self-imposed hurdle of deciding which finger to use next just as it is about to be played!
There is no need to pedal any of this music.
Listening to at least the first eight bars of the original Schubert Trio is essential early on in the learning process. Later on, it can be interesting to introduce more of the movement and discuss how Schubert varies the sound by using different orchestrations. This helps to develop the student's own memory bank of sounds to think about whilst playing.
Adult or teenage students with an interest in classical music may be interested to compare the arrangement with the original and spot where the arrangement departs from Schubert's material. It is also interesting to listen to the whole movement to understand what a bright contrast this Trio section makes with the minor-key Minuet.
As there are some quite tricky technical challenges in this arrangement, it is worth laying the foundations by associating some technical work with it: scale and arpeggio of G, slurred-pair exercises, neat vertically-aligned chord playing. Make this part of the student's routine when warming up to practise this music.
The bars that will need the most practice, and therefore are worth learning first, are 15-16. Once you have learned them, make sure you play these two bars, slowly, three times correctly, every time you do any part of this piece.
The other bars worth treating in a similar way – lots of extra attention – are bars 3-4, which are not quite as difficult but provide the first flourish of the piece and need to be absolutely reliable to achieve the best musical effect.
Always count carefully and observe all the rests and held notes.
Tempo choice will be a balance between a faster speed which makes the music lilt along, and a slower speed which ensures fluency and confidence. The worst option is a variable speed which exposes the student's weak moments! Use a metronome as a “reality check” especially if the student tends to start too fast – set the speed against their best rendering of bars 15-16 and insist that they use the same speed from the beginning.
At some stage in the learning process there will be a need to work on the LH accompaniments to prevent them “sitting down” on the second beat of the bar. This can be helped by revisiting the exercises used to develop the “down-up” slurring technique (found in books such as “Practice makes Perfect” (Oxford) and many elementary tutor books).
An excellent performance will swing along gaily, without a care in the world. All technical difficulties will be unnoticed as musical communication takes central place. Dynamics will add excitement and there will be a rainbow of tonal colour. Gentle flexing of the tempo and a nicely judged pause at bar 12 will provide a humorous sparkle.
A good performance will be taken at a tempo which enables the semiquavers to run neatly without hesitation, at the same time moving the music along in a discernible duple. The LH will play the melody with equal ease and projection as the RH. Accompaniments will be kept suitably in the background. Dynamics will be in place but perhaps without all their possibilities explored. There may be a sense of anxiety in timing the ritenuto and the bar 12 pause, but overall this will be a cheerful and competent performance.
A sound performance may well take a cautious tempo in order to accommodate the semiquavers, and there may be difficulty in getting through all the notes without hesitation or slips, especially in bars 15-16. However, the temptation to play in 3/8 rather than 6/8 will have been recognised and mostly managed, although a slower tempo will generally make the music sound a little heavy-going.