Diabelli - Sonatina in G Op 168 No 2
This piece has been set for the 63rd Hong Kong Schools Music Festival 2011, Grade 4 piano class.
Since Diabelli was a teacher, it is highly likely that Op 168 was written for use as a teaching piece. Diabelli's sonatinas are ideal material for children - very approachable technically, without wide stretches and featuring attractive melodies.
This pianist is clearly enjoying the piece.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece is ideal for learning the basics of sonata playing since it is Classical in style even though the composer lived beyond the dates associated with Classical repertoire.
The opportunity to play a short piece with Alberti bass and few technical demands can enable the student to enjoy this kind of music in preparation for the sonatinas of Mozart and later for playing lengthier sonatas.
The piece has no wide stretches and is easily manageable by small hands.
Style & Tempo
The performance marking is Allegro moderato so the tempo needs to reflect a moderately lively character.
It is always difficult to mark down a performance like this one! It is so lovingly played with such a genuine feel for the beauty of the melodic lines, with phrasing tenderly shaped, that the fact that is is not even moderately allegro can begin to seem unimportant!
However the tempo here is only around crotchet = 96, which must be categorised as Andante. The performer comments that she is working on increasing the tempo, so the end result will probably be excellent!
Phrasing & Articulation
Here is a performance in which articulation detail is carefully given and the music is well known, even though technical control is not yet confident, with some unevenness at times, particularly in the ornamentation.
There is good dynamic variety and detail here too. Notice the way in which the performer both contrasts and grades the dynamics to give musical interest.
The hands are nicely balanced and the tone is never forced in forte, which is important for the young pianist's technical and musical development.
Tone & Texture
This piece is Classical in style, based on easily understood chord progressions. The melody line is in the RH, accompanied by a typical Classical Alberti bass in the LH.
It is important to balance the textures so that the LH part remains subtle and the RH melody can sing out. In many respects this performance is good, being confident in fluency with a sense of character, so it is a pity that the LH needs to be quieter in relation to the RH.
The main technical issue here is that of balancing the hands sensitively whilst maintaining a controlled, even LH part.
Using some rotary motion in the LH will help to achieve even control. This is a side to side, rocking motion created by rotating the forearm. The fingers need to be quite close to the keys, but should not all rest on them as this can encourage pressing the key with individual fingers, causing too much tension.
The RH needs arm weight to give a prominent melodic line, rather than either pushing with the fingers or bouncing the hand on the keys. Discourage young students from extremes of dynamics in this piece, but encourage a pleasing tone.
The fingering given within the Harris publication is well considered. Some students will question the RH initial fingering which suggests changing from 2 to 3, then using thumb-under on the last quaver of Bar 1.
This fingering does work well and you can explain it in terms of giving neat control of the first two notes followed by a strong finger for the important B that begins Bar 2.
Curious students could try various fingering combinations to find out that keeping Finger 2 gives an awkward thumb on the F sharp.
If you agree with the LH playing Fingers 4 - 1 - 2 - 1 for the first bar, do insist on a healthy hand position where a straight line is kept down the Finger 5 side of the wrist, rather than bending the hand to the side. An equally good alternative is using 5 - 1 - 3 - 1.
The ornaments are turns, as shown below the first page of the piece. The triplet notes of the turn need not be rushed, but care should be taken that Beat 2 of the RH (the D in Bar 15) coincides with Beat 2 of the LH.
The turn in Bar 43 must be played in exactly the same way:
G A G Fsharp G B.
Using a rotary action (a rocking movement of the hand as the forearm rotates) will help to achieve even control.
However keeping the fingers on the keys and pushing with each finger will create excess tension and give rhythmic unevenness.
Small children playing this sonatina need not use any pedal at all. The sonatina's essential charm lies in its simplicity of melodic line and this must not be blurred by inept pedalling, particularly if the child is not yet tall enough to reach the pedal comfortably.
Older students may wish to use some subtle pedal on the first beat of each bar. Students who are comfortable with pedalling might pedal the first and second of crotchets separately but it is easier to simply pedal the first crotchet of each bar unless the note is a minim in which case the pedal might extend for the whole two beats.
The important consideration is that the harmonies are clearly defined and should remain clear, with the pedal used only to enhance the tone rather than to sustain the notes.
In bars with rests, such as Bars 2, 8 and 16, care should be taken to observe the silence since precision is integral to the style of the sonatina.
If this piece is to be played from memory the teacher will need to give clear guidance about understanding the structure of the music. This gives a series of musical 'signposts' so that the performer need not feel lost if there are any small slips.
In particular draw attention to the changes in the outer sections that depend on the key change to the dominant in the first section, with the introduction of the C sharp, as compared with the final section that remains in the key of G major.
You could teach the outer sections first, then teach the middle section. Always insist on consistently correct fingering right from the start of the learning process.
Practice should be undertaken in sections, in accordance with what has been taught in the lesson. If the student is to learn the outer sections first then each phrase may be secured in the first section before comparison with the corresponding phrase in the final section.
Separate hands work of each two-bar phrase before trying very slowly, hands together should yield good results. Plenty of time should be allowed for learning the middle section so that this becomes as fluent as outer sections.
The LH part could be learned by playing each set of four quavers as a chord. This helps enormously with memorisation, since all four notes must be read more or less simultaneously for maximum fluency. It also helps the student to appreciate and remember the chord progressions.
This is not a piece that will present many difficulties but those that do arise will probably be related to interpretation - giving a clear sense of the elegant character, with well shaped phrasing and dynamic variety.
Students need to have performing opportunities before the big occasion since the problem can be that students have been playing with dynamic contrast in lessons but under the challenge of an audience, concentrate only on getting the notes right and forget the expressiveness.
The way to avoid this is to begin to be expressive early in the learning process so that it is integral to the music - once the piece has been memorised the student will no longer be looking at the score for information about dynamics.
You can hear a complete performance of this sonatina played here by Phillip Sear. Notice the well shaped phrasing and detail in dynamics and articulation.
An excellent performance will be confident in fluency with poised tone control. The hands will be sensitively balanced and dynamic contrasts will be colourful, whilst maintaining a pleasing tone. An appropriate pace with carefully detailed articulation will give a sense of character.
A good performance will be securely known and will show good continuity. There will be detail in dynamics and articulation at an appropriate pace, although technical control may be less assured than in an excellent performance.
A sound performance will show continuity at, perhaps, quite a cautious pace. The tempo might, on the other hand, be quick but rhythmic control might be lacking. Accuracy will be reliable overall and there will be quick recovery from any slips. There may be some expressive detail, which may be over-enthusiastic with tone control issues, or maybe not sufficiently convincing.