Handel - Menuet HWV 450/6
Handel's Menuet in G HWV 450/6 was set for the Grade 1 Piano Class of the 63rd Hong Kong Schools Music Festival 2011.
The composer Handel (1685-1759), born in Germany but becoming a naturalised British citizen, needs little introduction since he wrote some of the most famous music, the Messiah, the Water Music and the Music for the Royal Fireworks.
Anyone who is uncertain as to whether they would enjoy Handel's music should listen to this exquisite transcription by Wilhelm Kempff of Handel's Menuet in G Minor, played here by Idil Biret:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is quite a challenging piece to learn at Grade 1 since the LH moves in more or less continuous crotchets giving the student plenty to think about when the hands are played together.
Besides requiring independence of hands, it is a piece that needs some variety of articulation for an effective performance.
Style & Tempo
The menuet is not a quick dance but neither must it drag so a pace of around 132 works well.
The overall effect should be dance-like, with an elegant sense of musical line and phrase. Dynamics need to be graded more than contrasted although some variety in articulation will lend interest to the performance.
Phrasing & Articulation
Phrasing needs to be clearly defined. The way to do this is to use dynamics, tone and articulation to create a sense of the music going to the important point in a phrase and then returning from it. This way of playing reflects the natural way in which the harmony and melody create and release tension in the music.
This student has learned the music very carefully and has the right idea of playing the LH detached. What the performance now needs is a sense of phrase. The crotchets in particular sound too uniform in tone and articulation.
Tone & Texture
A bright mf will be effective at the start of the music. The repeat could be played if this is a concert performance and this may be taken at the same dynamic or slightly quieter.
Tonal gradation needs to be used to shape the phrasing by means of a gradual crescendo into the the phrase followed by a diminuendo out of it. This should be subtle, not exaggerated.
Do not start the second section too loudly since big dynamic contrasts are inappropriate for Baroque music. Bars 11 - 12 may be played a little louder than 9 - 10 to show the way in which the music is unfolding.
Bars 13 - 16 should be shaped in tone to show the four-bar phrase structure here.
It is most effective to make each successive part of the sequence starting at Bar 17 a little louder than the previous one, before ending with a slight diminuendo.
The main technical challenge for the Grade 1 pianist here will probably be achieving independence of hands.
The challenge is in varying the articulation when the hands do not do the same, for instance in Bar 3 where the LH is detached but the RH probably has legato quavers.
If the student finds this very difficult, it is perfectly possible to reflect the articulation more closely in either hand - for instance the RH quavers in Bar 3 could be played in two slurs to go with the detached LH crotchets.
Ornamentation is another aspect of technique that will probably not have been encountered at this stage. Ornamentation is really not obligatory since it would not have been notated by the composer, but it does add a special feel for the style if done neatly and successfully.
The fingering in the edition used works well with the possible exception of Bar 16. Playing the trill with fingers 4-3 as shown is easier to explain in that the same fingers remain on the same keys, but more technically difficult than using fingers 3-1-3-1.
If 3-1-3-1 is used, the hand is free to help with the fluency of the trill by using a rotary (side to side) movement, giving freedom from excess tension. If this solution is preferred, use 2 on the next F sharp (Beat 2).
Ornamentation may not have been encountered before learning this piece. It may be a good idea to begin by discussing the purpose, in life in general, of ornaments!
The purpose of an ornamental figure on a shelf is not to overpower the whole room but merely to make that room more pleasant to be in. So it is that ornaments in music should not dominate the melody line but merely make it more enjoyable and flowing.
If the student cannot incorporate the trills unobtrusively then they are best left out - lend some laughter to your lesson by imagining an ornament on a shelf that takes over the whole room and frightens the occupants!
Pedalling is not needed here.
The best way to teach this piece is by encouraging memorisation of patterns right from the start. The RH will be easier to learn than the LH because the tune is more memorable, so spend extra time on the LH, exploring the way in which scales and broken chords are used.
For the section starting at Bar 17 for example you can discover a contrary motion scale from E to A (LH) and E to C (RH), followed by a whole series of three, ascending scales in each hand. Knowing that this is a sequence - and understanding the concept - can make all the difference in ensuring secure memorisation.
If the piece is taught as a memorisation task then practice must reflect this too, so the student needs to have achievable targets for memorising the music a section at a time.
Allow time in the practice schedule for extra work on the most challenging parts of the piece.
Ask for small sections to be accurately memorised before hands together is attempted.
Hands together work needs to be VERY slow in pace to begin with and taken in small units of as little as one bar at a time, then built up gradually.
An excellent performance will show the carefree, dance-like character of the menuet in pace and in use of articulation detail. Hands will be carefully balanced with the tone skilfully controlled and the ornamentation will be neat and unobtrusive. Fluency will be assured and phrasing will be clearly defined.
A good performance will be secure in notes and rhythms, with appropriate use of expressive detail. A suitable pace will be maintained although tone control may not be as assured as in an excellent performance, with more sensitive balance between hands perhaps needed.
A sound performance will have reliable continuity even though the pace might be on the slow side. Notes and rhythms will be well known with prompt recovery from any small mistakes. There may not be any variety of articulation and dynamics may be either all on one level or perhaps over-emphasised. There may be a need for clearer phrasing.