Sandre - Mr Happy Go Lucky
Gustav Sandre (1843-1916) was a French composer who was director of the Nancy Conservatoire in Eastern France.
Sandre's most famous student was the composer Florent Schmitt, an outspoken music critic who was once described by his publisher, Heugel as 'an irresponsible lunatic'!
Although Sandre's easier piano music has become quite popular as repertoire for piano students, little seems to be known about him.
Curiously, most of his music seems to have been published, around 1900, as supplements to the magazine 'L'Illustration'.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece will hold wide appeal - it is lively and cheerful, almost circus-like in character. Students will have fun imagining Mr Happy-Go-Lucky dressed as a happy clown.
The main technical demand is the ability to bring out a LH melody against RH chords but the notes lie well under the fingers and the piece is lively without being excessively fast in tempo.
Style & Tempo
The style is Romantic in the sense that this piece not only portrays the happy-go-lucky character but also makes us feel lighthearted as we play it or listen to it.
Lightness of touch combines with somewhat quirky accenting in unexpected places in the LH melody.
The piece always has a dance-like melody in one hand with a quieter accompaniment in the other.
There is a short minor key section starting at Bar 16, where we can imagine a moment of sadness before, once again, we set off on the merry dance.
Phrasing & Articulation
Articulation detail is essential here to give a convincing sense of character. The accompanying chords need to be light and staccato, with meticulous detail in the melody lines, which require both slurred and staccato articulation.
Care should be taken to hold on the notes in the middle section where indicated, such as at Bar 21. It is so easy to shorten the minim at Bar 23, which should actually last for the whole bar.
The changes in mood between sections are effected by means of making the notes a little smoother in the middle part of the piece, as heard here.
Tone & Texture
The main challenge with regard to tone is in making the textures clear, with the tune singing out above the chords that accompany it.
The accents should be given in Bars 2, 4 and 6 (and similar) since these are placed in unexpected parts of the phrase, giving the quirky sense of character.
The actual changes in dynamic need not be great, since there is a danger in making the sound too strident for the playful character. However, observing the crescendo and diminuendo markings will shape the phrasing as well as giving vital contrast from loud to quiet, for example at Bar 16.
A rotary technique will help fluency and control in many parts of the melody lines, particularly bars that feature scales, such as Bars 7 - 8, LH.
The hand is rolled gently from side to side, meaning that the fingers do not have to work so hard and therefore do not become tense.
This enables a more even tone, especially if the fingers are held off the keys, with a little space between key and finger tip.
If the fingers rest on the keys, they have to push the notes to create the sound, which is unhelpful as regards control of both tone and rhythmic evenness.
The fingering in the ABRSM edition is excellent, with no modifications needed.
Be sure to write in the correct fingering later in the piece so that consistency is achieved. This makes for greater security and accuracy.
No pedal is needed in this piece.
A call and response approach would be fun here - teacher plays the first 4-bar phrase and student plays the second one.
Care should be taken at Bar 8 since the phrase ends on the A and the G starts the next phrase. Taking turns to play each phrase is good for securing the correct articulation for Bar 8 and for ensuring a confident sense of phrase.
Duet playing with teacher and student taking it in turns to play LH and RH can help with the sense of balance between parts - someone always needs to be louder than the other.
Try making up stories about what is happening to promote colourful characterisation of the music.
The way the parts co-ordinate can be practised by tapping on the knees.
The melody lines may be sung with the chords clapped - start on a note that gives a comfortable singing pitch.
This approach emphasises the repetitive rhythms and words may even be made up that give the rhythms and accents greater emphasis, such as:
'I'm Such a Happy MAN today I Want to sing and SHOUT and play' ... or whatever words can be made up in the student's preferred language.
The above preliminary activities make it possible for the student to play the tune whilst tapping out the chord rhythms to start with, then progress to playing the music as written in small sections with hands together.
Whatever approach is used, the notes and rhythms do, of course, need to be practised as notated and these should be tackled in small sections. Putting the hands together should not prove too difficult since the chords are repetitive.
This is such a rhythmical piece that the worst thing to happen is that it should be learned with inaccurate rhythms or that continuity should be hesitant.
Time taken with rhythm games and activities will prove worthwhile in promoting accuracy.
A slower performance that has carefully detached articulation will still sound quite lively and is far preferable to one that is fast yet has hesitations between bars.
An excellent performance will most importantly show the lighthearted character of the music in pace and articulation. The sense of fun will be reinforced by carefree fluency and there will be a sense of phrase with careful dynamics that are well controlled, with the accents given. Well balanced hands will allow the melody lines to sing out clearly.
A good performance will also show a sense of character and will have secure accuracy with reliable continuity. The detail may be less meticulous here, although articulation will usually be detached where required. Dynamics may be less poised, maybe with hands needing more careful balance, or perhaps over-enthusiastic with a rather forced tone in forte.
A sound performance will have continuity with mostly secure accuracy. Detached articulation will give some sense of character even though the pace may be on the cautious side. A clearer sense of phrase might be needed and the accents may be missing.