Dittersdorf - Englischer Tanz No 19 Englische Tanze
The “English Dance” - also known as the “Angloise” or “Ecossaise” (which actually refers to Scotland) - was a popular form at this time, second only to the Minuet, although not adopted into larger works such as symphonies. It had originally been imported by the French as the “Contredanse” (a corruption of “Country Dance”). It would have been danced in groups rather than couples, as many folk dances are to this day. Less formal than the Minuet, the dance was normally in 2/4 or 6/8 and formed in regular 8-bar phrases. Dittersdorf wrote a set of 20 English Dances for piano.
A version of the contredanse is performed here in 18th-century costume:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece will suit a student with a secure sense of pulse and the confidence to move around between chords. LH octave jumps may be a source of concern to those with small hands.
Style & Tempo
The form of the music is like a medley, with three virtually unrelated sections, each of 8 bars. As a dance, it has a steady rhythmic accompaniment.
Tempo will be chosen to balance the need for liveliness against the student's ability to manage the semiquavers. Bars 11-15, probably the most technically challenging, will provide a realistic view of the achievable tempo. This should be between crotchet = 70 and 80 bpm, although below 75 there is a risk of sounding sluggish.
Phrasing & Articulation
The phrasing is completely regular, as expected in a dance, and builds up in 4-bar question-and-answer (2 + 2) patterns. This regularity should not be allowed to cause monotony in performance (see Tone and Texture).
Articulation was not originally marked in the early part of the piece but as it is a dance, a certain lightness will prevail rather than generalised legato. It would be appropriate to detach quavers in bars 1-10, without going as far as staccato. Semiquavers will be legato throughout.
Tone & Texture
The RH is the lead player throughout, with the LH providing unobtrusive support – which will need to be carefully watched as repetition can draw the listener's attention. LH lightness and rhythmic variety (absolutely no plodding!) will enable this to work.
In the middle section, four bars of semiquaver movement add excitement which deserves to be exploited; keeping them light and rhythmical will produce a better effect than playing each note the same way.
The main technical requirements for this music are to do with confident playing of scales and chords (especially thirds and sixths).
There is also a need for good slurred pairs with lightness on the second note.
The LH jumps around quite extensively, so accuracy in changing position and stretching for octaves will be necessary.
With so much changing of hand position not much time is spent in comfortable five-finger shapes. Fortunately this style of music does not demand legato throughout, and in many places non-legato fingering may be more comfortable.
In this key with three black notes there will be decisions to be made about playing with the thumb on a black key, which many students instinctively try to avoid. In bar 4 LH a smaller hand may prefer to put a thumb on the C sharp but others may be happier with 2/3 or even 2/4 ready for the next bar. Bar 8 RH is one such place: 3/1 provides legato but if the quavers in bar 7 are lightly detached there is no reason not to consider 5/2 in bar 8 instead. A diehard non-thumb-user will also prefer to finger bar 12 differently: instead of 3 1 5 3 2/1, they could use 3 1 5 4 3/2.
An appoggiatura is marked in bar 24. As usual, it takes half the value of the main note.
No pedal is necessary in this piece.
This could be an opportunity to discuss the history of the piano and listen to the sound of the fortepiano which would have been in Dittersdorf's mind.
There are now many recordings of historic instruments available and this is a very approachable-sounding performance of some Cimarosa on a fortepiano:
The bars that will need to most work are bars 11-16, so it may be worth learning them first.
Chords need to sound together cleanly – work on any that feel awkward or sound ragged. Always use consistent fingering, and write it in so that there is no doubt.
Because this piece is so sectional it will be easy to organise practice in 8-bar chunks – however there is a danger of failing to join them up fluently. This is a task that requires separate attention. Starting at a convenient point close to the double bar, play straight across into the next section without hesitation. If that is not possible, slow it down to the speed that makes it achievable. Then bring it gradually up to a speed which matches the surrounding music.
The two main dangers will be dullness and lack of fluency.
Dullness will result from too much focus on the pulse, possibly even counting in quavers, without considering the bigger picture of the music's flow across four bars and eight bars. It may also result from a LH stickiness in repeating quaver chords. Exaggerate the two-in-a-bar feel and aim for the first beat, then expand this into discussing the shape of each phrase.
An excellent performance is clearly a dance, with a spring in its step and a sense of enjoyment. There will be plenty of variety of dynamics and tone. The contrasts between sections will be well exploited. The showiness of the semiquavers in the middle of the piece will add a touch of brilliance enjoyed as much by the performer as by the audience.
A good performance will be technically at ease and well shaped. There will be a clear sense of style. The dance medley form will be shown off as a source of interesting variety. Rhythms, slurring and phrasing will all be well prepared and satisfyingly achieved, with any slips ignored in the confident onward movement. The balance between the hands will be right with the LH not allowed to dominate.
A sound performance will show an ability to get round the jumps and chords without hesitation, although the overall impression may seem pedestrian. There may be a somewhat limited range of tonal colouring, achieving only some of the potential for light and shade in dynamics. Repeated accompaniment figures may be a little obtrusive at times if the student is struggling to maintain the balance between the hands.
This recording shows a poised tone with good fluency and some of the detail is given.