Diabelli - Lesson in C Opus 125 No 6
Lesson in C by Diabelli is set for the 63rd Hong Kong Schools Music Festival Grade 1 Piano Class, 2011. It has previously been set for Grade 1 ABRSM examinations.
Diabelli's most famous contribution to the piano repertoire was, strangely enough, written not entirely by himself. It was a set of variations by Beethoven (Opus 120) on a theme composed by Diabelli, becoming known as the Diabelli Variations.
You may listen to Pollini playing Beethoven's Diabelli Variations here:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece is suitable for all students of around Grade 1 level since it is has an uncomplicated, pretty tune. The LH moves at a slower rate than RH, making it quite easy to manage in the early stages of playing.
The widest span needed is just one stretch of a seventh in the penultimate bar, making this piece suitable for children with small hands. If the seventh cannot yet be stretched, simply either miss out the upper note (F) or play it soon after the G.
Style & Tempo
The style is quite expressive, with dynamic contrasts and musically shaped phrasing needed. The RH ideally needs to sing out above the LH since the RH has the tune throughout.
A tempo of around dotted crotchet = 104 is ideal. The composer himself simply suggested 'Allegretto' and so the pace needs to show a feeling of movement without either dragging or being too rushed.
The main consideration is to arrive at a tempo that both reflects the style and is manageable for the student.
Phrasing & Articulation
The phrasing is in four bar units. Do not be misled by the slurs over every bar in most lines, since these are really to do with ease of articulation.
When the students plays the LH, slurring the notes gives a good feel for the steady pulse and facilitates holding the dotted minims. Matching these slurs with the RH is much easier for the student than attempting to keep an unbroken legato. Slurring also gives an elegant feel since the final note in each bar will tend to be lighter in tone.
However the actual phrase is over the whole four bars and so gaps in sound between bars should be minimised and the shaping should encompass the complete four bars. To achieve this, crescendo slightly through Bars 1 - 3 but diminuendo at Bar 4. The same approach works well for the final four bars.
Tone & Texture
A pleasing tone is needed for the RH, which is quite song-like. The LH needs to be quieter so that the melody may be heard clearly.
Dynamics should be clearly contrasted, keeping a warm sound with no suggestion of any harsh tone in forte - it is better have subtle dynamics than to allow a child with limited arm-weight to bounce their hands on the keys in order to play loudly.
The quietest part of the piece is the beginning of lines 1, 2 and 3. Care should be taken not to play so softly that the notes fail to sound.
Ask for a confident, strong tone in the last line rather than a really loud sound.
Legato playing is needed here and occasionally the RH has to be legato when the LH plays detached chords.
To help students with legato, you could liken it to walking instead of running. The weight is transferred from one finger to another like one foot to another, without ever having both feet off the ground.
Actually walk along with your student to become conscious of this and then try walking the fingers along the keys - any keys will do at first. Then transfer this learning to the real notes of the RH.
There is absolutely nothing complicated about the fingering of the first section of this piece. The fingering shown is clear and works well.
The second section needs care with fingering from Bar 9 - 12. Essential points are:
RH Finger 4 on the D of Bar 9
RH Finger 1 on the final quaver of Bar 10
LH Finger 1 on the F of Bar 10.
Pedalling is not needed in this piece.
Begin by playing the piece for the student to listen. You could incorporate getting to know the piece with developing aural awareness:
Spot two bars that sound exactly the same (Bars 1 and 2)
Which line has a different texture from the others? (Line 3, since the LH has no chords)
Which lines begin quietly? (1, 2, and 3)
Is the style of playing detached or smooth? (Smooth)
Which musical terms describe detached and smooth? (Staccato and legato)
In what way is the LH of Line 4 similar to the LH of Line 1? (Starts the same but an octave lower)
Listening to this piece at home could be part of the first week's practice. Next lesson, play a game where you ask the student to spot some deliberate mistakes that you make in notes or rhythms.
The student should then be ready to begin learning the piece. Lessons should be a template to be followed in that week's practice. See the Practice Tips section for guidance.
Before beginning hands together work please be sure to read the Trouble Shooting section!
Practice should be based on what has been covered in the lesson. Suggested plan:
Lots of listening to the piece;
Separate hands practice of the first section;
Pay special attention to accuracy, fingering and articulation.
If playing is insecure, carry on separate hands practice.
If separate hands work is secure, learn section 1 SLOWLY with hands together:
begin with Bars 1 and 2 hands together, practising 3 times;
after 3 times correct, play bars 3 and 4 hands together, practising 3 times;
after 3 times correct, play Bars 1 and 2 followed by Bars 3 and 4, all hands together;
If this is successful move onto Line 2, repeating the process.
Weeks 3 and 4
Practise Lines 3 and 4, which should by now have been covered in the lesson. Repeat the process above with these lines.
Continue building up the piece in sections, aiming for slow, expressively detailed playing. Speeding up is the final task, but by then this will be easy.
Some students play with good dynamic detail in lessons but forget to vary the dynamics on an important occasion. The solution is to arrange performing practice opportunities.
Organise little students' concerts, called Platform Concerts where the idea is to play for each other in a supportive, positive environment.
After each performance, the other students have to say two good things about the playing and they may make one positive suggestion to make the interpretation even better.
An excellent performance will demonstrate poised tone control, with the hands sensitively balanced to allow the melody to sing out clearly. Phrasing should be nicely shaped and there should be dynamic contrast with smooth legato articulation. The right pace with appropriate detail will give a convincing sense of character.
A good performance will be secure in accuracy and a little detail will be given. The pace will be quite lively and there will be a developing sense of character but without the poised tone control of an excellent performance.
A sound performance will show continuity at, perhaps, quite a cautious pace. Accuracy will be reliable overall and there will be quick recovery from any slips. Articulation will be basically smooth, although control of legato and evenness of tone will probably be rather uneven. There may be a need for dynamic contrast.