Haydn - 1st movement - Sonata in G Hob XVI/6
Set for the 63rd Hong Kong Schools Music Festival 2011, Grade 7, this sonata is one of Haydn's earlier keyboard works and we know that it was composed before 1766.
The original has no dynamic markings so indications in publications are editorial. The suggestions made here are based on the good performance practice of professional performers.
Here is an example of what might be achieved even by a young student, with hard work and good teaching advice!
Pupil Match & Suitability
This sonata movement will suit a dedicated student who has good technical control as well as an intuitive grasp of appropriate Classical style.
Although the emotion within Classical music is not overtly 'felt' in the way of playing Romantic repertoire, the music has definite moods that change and need to be conveyed to the audience.
A study of how Lang Lang immerses himself in these changing moods is enormously helpful for any student who wishes to give a convincing performance of Haydn's music, not to mention being inspired by Lang Lang's amazing technique.
It is worth reminding students that Lang Lang worked extremely hard to achieve this standard, doing six hours a day practice as a mere child!
Style & Tempo
Haydn's early sonatas are often cheerful in character and this movement is no exception. Haydn has been described as essentially well balance in personal character and his music tends to reflect that!
This movement is lively and rhythmical, with much ornamentation that is integral to the musical lines. Although it is an early work, it has a very definite 'Classical' feel in its use of harmony and melody, with the tune almost exclusively in the RH.
The LH has a little rhythmic interest at the start of the sections but its role is mainly to supply a broken chord, sometimes chordal, accompaniment.
A pace of around crotchet = 72 works well. It is inadvisable to begin too fast since semiquavers and ornamentation need to be well controlled later. The pianist here is John McCabe.
Phrasing & Articulation
The phrasing at first is a two-bar question followed by a two-bar answer that features the same opening motif of semiquaver triplets leading to repeated quavers.
Bar 5 shows a new, dotted rhythm motif and the phrasing takes on a less symmetrical feel. Haydn takes us by surprise with his originality where the phrase beginning on the upbeat to Bar 5 just continues to unfold until Bar 10 when the descending crotchet trills begin.
Thereafter the phrases begin after the cadential trills at Bars 12 and 14 and the final phrase starts at the end of Bar 16. This section is demonstrated here.
There should be a feel of continuity balanced by spaciousness in the phrasing, which needs to be shaped using dynamic grading and further defined by dynamic contrasts.
Tone & Texture
One of the things that this young man usually does well is balancing the textures - the melody line always sings clearly (occasionally the LH chords are on the loud side).
Also notice the natural way in which dynamics are used to create and release tension in accordance with the structure of the phrasing - dynamics both shape the phrasing and provide contrast, such as at Bar 5 where most performers agree on an echo effect for the dotted rhythm imitation in the middle of that bar. This occurs again at Bar 31.
Echo effects are also effectively used at Bar 27 and notice the lovely use of crescendo and diminuendo elsewhere.
This may not be a perfect performance but it has much to commend in terms of detail and style, elegance and enthusiasm, particularly for one so young.
Above all a free technique is needed. Tension that interferes with freedom of movement will prevent a fluent performance. A student who does not have an easy sense of fluidity when playing scales and broken chords is not going to give a successful performance.
A 'quick fix' is not going to be possible but to some extent tension may be minimised by knowing the music so well that anxiety is reduced in at least one respect.
Check for obvious signs of stiffness such by standing behind the student and noticing whether they raise one shoulder. This often happens at places where the LH plays fairly high on the keyboard such as Bars 10 - 12 and 14 - 16. The LH shoulder is raised and the wrist bent instead of simply moving the whole forearm in a diagonal motion in front of the body, keeping the shoulders level.
There are no particularly awkward corners here as long as common sense is used and fingering is meticulously worked through from the very first playing of the piece.
Check that fingerings are pencilled in if not perfectly obvious and also that useful fingering is chosen for the ornamentation. For instance in Bar 11 using finger 2-3, 1-3, 2-3, 1-3 makes the trills much easier than an unwise choice of fingers such as 4-5 and 4-3 since these are never going to be completely independent fingers due to the internal structure of the hand.
Occasional finger changing will prove useful in bars such as 25, Beat 2.
The ornamentation is undoubtedly a deciding factor in whether a performance of this piece would attract high marks in a competition or in an examination.
Trills need not be a great source of anxiety if approached calmly and if preparation has been thorough.
One point to remember is that a trill should not be played 'as fast as possible'. Better advice is quite the reverse - play an ideal number of notes as slowly as possible within the time window available.
Thus the trill in Bar 4 moves at the same rate as the demi-semi-quavers in Bars 1 and 3. The notes are C-B-C-B-A with the rhythm di-di-di-di dum, with the first note of the trill coinciding ON the beat with the first LH note of the bar.
Bar 8 has just the same principle: start on the upper note and play G-Fsharp-E-Fsharp-E with the same rhythm as before.
Pedalling needs to be used with caution since the worst thing one could do with this piece is to over-pedal it.
It could be played with no pedal at all.
However it can be effective for the more accomplished student to pedal discreetly the longest RH notes in places such as Bars 9 - 10, to give a warmer tone that contrasts with the previous brightness.
Pedal may also be used on long notes at phrase endings, not to give a sustaining property but to enhance the tone.
Special care must be taken if pedal is used where there are fast moving notes since the clarity of the texture must not be compromised. Advanced pedalling techniques such as 'flutter pedalling' in which the pedal is rapidly depressed and released could be used briefly in bars such as 23, and for the longer RH notes at Bar 27 and similar. Rests must be meticulously observed in either hand.
It cannot be sufficiently stressed that less is more in a Classical allegro movement and a student who is not at all confident with pedalling needs to employ caution.
By the time a student is capable of playing a piece such as this it is hoped that learning strategies will be well developed. The piece needs to be approached from a perspective of enabling secure memorisation, even if it is to be played from the score.
Analysis of the structure of the music is needed, including the overall plan and also the use of keys and modulations as well as the development of melodic motifs.
If the student's attention is drawn to the way in which certain patterns are repeated in different keys and developed in particular ways they will build up a series of 'musical signposts' so that they will always know where they are in the piece.
Teaching at this level should enable understanding and should focus on interpretation as soon as possible rather than being centred on note learning. It is never too soon to begin listening to great interpretations of music to be learned. It is not necessary for the teacher to be able to play every piece they teach with great fluency as long as they understand the technical and musical requirements of the work in question.
Practice needs to begin early for a piece of this length although if the music is approached intelligently the learning process can be made quicker and more enjoyable.
Listening before starting to learn will pay dividends since the timing will be more readily absorbed as well as the character and style of the music.
Once learning begins the student should work in a logical way, tackling short sections and then running these together once they are secure.
Sufficient time must be allowed in the practice schedule of a sonata for making the development section just as secure as the exposition section. Also the recapitulation needs plenty of practice time to allow for the fact that similar things happen but without the modulation.
The best performance in terms of style and character can be spoiled if the timing is not completely secure right from the start of the learning process.
This performance has everything in terms of detail yet the timing has a glaring inaccuracy, affecting the sense of pulse, at Bars 4 - 5.
Other pitfalls in this piece also concern timing - dotted rhythms must be absolutely meticulous in timing with no suggestion at all of 'swing' rhythms.
An excellent performance will show the lighthearted character of the piece as well as convincingly representing the style of Haydn in use of dynamic colour and articulation detail. Fluency will be assured with the ornamentation embellishing the music unobtrusively and there will be a feel for the underlying structure in phrasing definition.
A good performance will be secure in continuity and there will be careful use of appropriate detail, demonstrating good understanding of style and character. Whilst musical intentions and expressive gestures will be sound, there may be lapses in control of rhythmic or tonal evenness, or textural balance might be an issue at times.
A sound performance will show reliable continuity and the music will be well known. The performance may be musically conceived but perhaps contain a few slips in accuracy, or the playing may be completely reliable in accuracy but might need a more convincing sense of style and character in use of detail and phrasing.
This performance shows a good grasp of style and character, with textural clarity: