Shostakovich - Prelude Op 34 No 17
The 24 Preludes Op 34 were written during the winter of 1932 - 1933 and follow the same pattern (tonality) as that of Chopin's 24 Preludes.
Their particular quirkiness comes from the mixture of pastiche and Shostakovich's own rich and striking harmonic palette.
Like the later Op 87 Preludes and Fugues, his desire to draw upon earlier musical influences also radiates through Opus 34. In this particular miniature, we are treated to an almost overtly Chopinesque mood underpinning the framework.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Match this piece up with a student who has the capacity for some originality and a curiosity for the musical intrique of this lovely miniature.
Understanding the mood and style is a very important facet of learning to play this well.
This should not pose any problems for pianists with small hands since the few places where larger leaps take place can be covered by pedal and in bar 34 the LH chord can easily be spread.
Style & Tempo
This piece looks simple enough from the printed page - just a few RH semiquaver runs to sort out ! Musically it poses more challenges, for the element of rubato and fleeting nature of the music requires careful consideration - especially as it is so short.
The style is that of a somewhat wayward waltz - wayward in its sudden interruption, breaking out of of 3 beats into four. Just when it gets going with an eloquent RH embellishment (bar 15) it breaks, just three bars later, into a more comic 4 beat pattern (18) and sudden change of key.
The tune reaches elegantly upwards (bar 24) with sweet initial harmonies but turning quickly rather sour as the tonality changes with the introduction of chromatic notes and the RH melody then fragments into an off beat meandering before resuming its waltz like mood (as if nothing ever happened !) with a perfect cadence (bars 27 - 28).
It ends, typically, somewhat inconclusively with the melody lingering on the dominant - Eb (RH).
Phrasing & Articulation
Typical waltz elements need to be engaged. The LH touch on beats 2 & 3 should be characteristically very light and not a spiky staccato. The tone should be very gentle.
The RH mood should be lyrical, but not overly heavy, rather more capricious.
Knowing the length of phrases is important as always, but here, where the lengths vary, it helps to focusing the phrasing so that the rubato makes sense.
The phrase structure appears to be:
1st phrase - 9 bars (1 - 9)
2nd phrase - 10 bars (10 - 19)
3rd phrase - 9 bars (20 - 28)
4th phrase - 6 bars (29 - 34)
5th phrase - 6 bars (35 - 40)
This makes for a quirky and interesting structural effect.
Tone & Texture
Notice the range of dynamics, from 'pp' to 'f'.
The melodic line should 'sing' even in 'pp'.
The role of the LH is gentle and accompanimental. It is the perfect gentleman to a rather errant RH, who would lead its partner astray if given the chance !
The musical demands here are far more substantial than the technical ones.
However, a good command of tonal colour and the capacity to create even tone easily is important.
A ready facility to create good balance between the hands is needed, as is the capacity to play with a rich cantabile RH touch.
Much lies reasonably under the fingers.
However the RH from bars 14 - 17 needs very careful working out as suggested.
Remember that balance of tone and voicing is an integral part of the results achieved when pedalling.
This is important here since there are passages which require pedalling over chromtic notes (e.g. bar 15). So long as the LH is kept quiet and the sense of musical direction maintained it will work - as in this extract.
A clean, sparsely pedalled texture would sound less convincing here. However it needs some imagination and careful listening.
Note that in this recording bar 18 enjoys separate crotchet pedals.
As always consider things from your student's perspective:
How will they wish to learn ?
What will interest and engage them ?
What will turn them off ?
Find some aspect of the piece which is easy to engage with - for example, the Ab major LH chords. Work on these to memorize, then get them to play the LH whilst you play the RH with them to give an idea of what it sounds like.
Break it down into chunks with clear instructions about how best to go about learning it.
Set smaller goals. Then if your student completes this quickly they are likely to be more motivated and possibly try further goals.
A performance of this piece lasts very little time. A lot of care needs to go into working at this piece to be successful.
Work out the leger line notes thoroughly and in small sections. Get to know them by heart - especially those on the second page (bars 23 - 26).
There are numerous pitfalls to be had here. Many of them will stem from the quality of preparation. Therefore make certain that plenty of time is left to learn thoroughly.
Knowing the notes from memory will help where the RH leaps up suddenly, as in bars 14, 20 and 24.
Insist on absolute certainty and fluency in the LH right from the outset. Any uncertainty here will mar the chances of a fluent and confident performance.
Be certain to encourage your student to take sufficient musical time and not to become 'frightened' by sudden surges of semiquavers and leger lines. Again - it is all in the preparation.
An excellent performance will show irony, delicacy and wit. The range of nuances will be substantial, though always rounded and never hard. Note how the performance here bears those hallmarks with its flexible and graceful tempo and its beautiful tone control.
A good performance will have keen contrasts and a sense of flexibility. The waltz character will shine through and there will be a fluency and confidence. The more subtle refinements may yet need working on.
A sound performance will have a solid feel for the tempo and a fairly comfortable overall grasp. Although it may be somewhat limited in its range of tonal nuances, there will nevertheless be a feel for the dynamics.