Mozart - Allegro in B flat - K 3
Set for the 63rd Hong Kong Schools Music Festival Grade 2 Piano Class 2011,this delightful little piece was composed by Mozart when he was only six years old in 1762 and yet it remains a popular repertoire piece for student pianists.
Here is a performance on the clavichord, which was still very much in use in Mozart's childhood days. Notice that subtle expressive detail in both articulation and dynamics was available on the clavichord.
Pupil Match & Suitability
The thing to remember about Mozart is that it is deceptively easy to listen to, relatively simple to learn ... but always difficult to interpret successfully.
The Grade 2 level pianist who performs this piece successfully will need to be rather better than average for the grade, in terms of technical control and musical awareness.
A lighthearted yet elegant sense of phrase and character is needed, involving precise control of tone, rhythmic evenness and balance between hands.
Style & Tempo
The suggested tempo of crotchet = 100 is sensible since this gives a lively character yet should not cause either continuity anxiety or loss of neat control.
It is important that the tempo should feel right both for the music and for the performer so a middle ground may need to be taken in cases where the student needs to take a cautious pace due to technical limitations. A secure performance that has a sense of phrase yet is a little on the slow side is better than one in which playing lacks control and accuracy.
Some students, on the other hand, may like to take this piece as fast a possible but then the musicality and sense of phrase may be lacking.
The pace in this performance is a on the cautious side and there is imprecise timing where some phrases are anticipated but there is detail in the articulation with a little dynamic variety and a developing sense of character.
Phrasing & Articulation
Phrasing at first suggests four bar units, but part of the attraction of this piece is the cheeky little echo of Bars 3 - 4 at Bars 5 - 6 and the similar feel of Bars 9 - 10 and 11 - 12 that successfully balances the structure.
Playing the 'echo' bars quieter, in contrast, will create the right emphasis.
It is important to reflect this structure in use of dynamic grading too, meaning that, after quite a bold beginning, the tone should taper gently quieter from Bar 3 - 4 and again at Bar 5 - 6 and so on. This is what gives the right feeling of elegance too.
Although this performance is livelier in pace than the one in the Style and Tempo section, the performer here is not yet shaping the phrasing effectively - notice that the final notes of some phrases are accented. There are a couple of note slips but the pianist does well to keep the continuity and, again, there is a developing feel for the character of the music with some detail in articulation and dynamics.
Tone & Texture
Dynamic colour can really bring this piece to life. The contrasts do not need to be big, so are well within the capacity of a child, but they do need to be well considered to reflect the structure of the music.
Notice how this young man makes an uncertain start with little dynamic variety, yet as the piece progresses he really gains in confidence. The middle section is quieter and smoother, with a much bolder final section in which phrasing is shaped and there is a lovely echo effect for Bars 25 - 26.
The most obvious technical requirement here is managing the varied articulation demands. Slurred pairs may be worked on before the piece is begun. It is useful to combine this with a little simple theory:
Ask your student to play slurred thirds anywhere on the keys, using a slight drop of the wrist on the first to make it heavier. You can call this technique the Bird and the Butterfly - the bird lands then the butterfly takes off in flight. The first note is the bird landing on a twig, the second note is the gentle, 'floating off' movement of a butterfly.
Check too that a slight rotary action is being used from one note of the pair to the other. The hand just needs to be flexible rather than rigid to achieve this since rotating the wrist is a perfectly natural action that we use for everyday tasks such as turning a door handle.
The stronger sound of the first of the pair needs to be heard within the overall context of the phrase, which still requires musical shaping. It would be wrong to give undue emphasis to Beat 2 of a bar just because it is the first note of a slur.
Carefully chosen fingering can mean the difference between fluent and hesitant playing. Be insistent on good, consistent fingering right from the very first attempts and make this a practice target.
The essential points are as follows:
RH Finger 4 must be used on the last quaver of Bar 1 so that Finger 3 may be used on the B flat of Bar 2.
LH Finger 3 is needed for the last note of Bar 2 so that Finger 2 may be used on the next E flat.
This is a good piece for exploring with a student this most important principle - fingering is chosen by taking into account not just the note we are going to play next, but the notes we will be playing subsequently in that phrase.
The grace notes in Bars 9 and 27 look like appoggiaturas but are almost always played in this piece as acciaccaturas!
They just need to be slipped in unobtrusively to coincide with the LH Beat 1 note, yet played with a short time value compared with the quavers that follow.
If you avoid making a big issue of this but make it a fun aspect of the piece, the student will not find it difficult.
Pedalling is not needed here.
A starting point could be to decide on a character for this piece. Try playing it fast then slow, with huge dynamic contrasts and then with no detail at all. Ask your student to decide what sort of character the six year old Mozart might have intended and work out together how to achieve it by choosing the right pace and deciding to include the detail.
If you have not tried involving your students in these decisions before, you will be surprised at their perceptiveness! Students need to understand the point of dynamics and articulation detail to manage them convincingly.
Lang Lang played this kind of music so well as a child by imagining the cartoon characters, Tom and Jerry chasing about as he played. You could wish for no better role model so have fun inventing a story line for this piece! The little echoes in Bars 5 - 6 and similar give rich opportunities for this kind of play.
Practice needs to reflect the previous lesson so the teacher should be very clear about what is required.
The first two weeks could concentrate on practising:
slurring thirds using the right technique
the relevant scales of B flat major, F major and C minor
learning the first section with separate hands
securing the right articulation and fingering.
For many students the target in the first week's practice could well be learning just the first 6 bars rather than the whole of the first section since there is much detail in Bars 7 - 12.
Alternatively, if you took on board the suggestion of singing the LH, you could ask for the first section LH only to be memorised during the first week's practice.
Whichever approach you take, the important thing is to tackle a small part of the piece meticulously at each stage.
Playing Mozart is never as easy as it looks and even though this was written by a child, the hallmarks of embryonic style are there - so the keywords are lively yet elegant.
Assuming that the student is capable of playing the piece, the pitfalls are not obvious ones of technique but more to do with failing to characterise the music convincingly. This is why it is suggested that the teaching process begins with exploring the character of the music.
It is never too early to introduce students to a wider perspective and Mozart's lighter arias, such as the Papagena / Papageno duet from the Magic Flute, come to mind. The way in which the orchestra gives a little ending to the vocal phrases and the interplay of melody lines may be compared with the modest beginnings made in this little piece even though the aria may be far more sophisticated.
An excellent performance will be lively in pace, with confident use of dynamic contrasts and a clear sense of phrase. The playful character of the music will be expressed in a fluent, accurate performance.
A good performance may be musical and detailed but with the odd blemish in control or stumble in accuracy. On the other hand it may be perfectly accurate but needing further detail or a more convincing sense of character.
A sound performance will be reliable in continuity but will probably be cautious in pace and may need much more attention to detail. Rests may be shortened, anticipating the next phrase entry although notes and rhythms will otherwise be mainly secure.