Fiocco - Andante from Pieces de clavecin Op 1
Joseph-Hector Fiocco (1703-41) was born in Brussels, Belgium, to Italian parents. His father Pietro Antonio Fiocco was a composer and so was one of his brothers (he was the eighth of 14 children).
Joseph-Hector was a keyboard player who worked in the cathedrals of Antwerp and Brussels. His style was influenced by the new musical fashions in Belgium, especially for fanciful titles in the style of Francois Couperin.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Suitable for students with a supple cantabile technique and ability to play ornaments with graceful confidence – there are twenty to get through.
Sensitivity and control are necessary to prevent the accompaniment becoming obtrusive or dull. The left hand is sometimes required to play in octaves but there are no large chords.
It is a good teaching piece for students who naturally prefer 19th century textures, to bridge the gap into Baroque music and explore how lyricism can be achieved in this style.
Style & Tempo
A typical Baroque slow movement combining elegance, lyricism and ornamentation. Most of the semiquavers are grouped in triplets, as if the time signature were 12/16: the Baroque principle of notes inegales can apply to those that look like normal duplets, so that they are played with the first one longer that the second, in line with the triplet subdivision. Bar 10 LH is the first place where this occurs.
You may listen to this notes inegales effect on harpsichord here in a highly ornamented version. Notice how the inegale effect works well because it is subtle rather than exaggerated:
Phrasing & Articulation
Fiocco starts off with 4-bar phrases but does not confine himself to such regularity for long: bars 9-13 are a 5-bar phrase and bars 21-23 prolong the end of phrase in a Baroque spinning-out effect. This effect is felt again at bars 33-35.
Sequences often subdivide phrases further. If these are marked off too emphatically the result can seem chopped-up or mannered. A new gesture in itself can be enough to signal the beginning of a phrase. As the sequence is set out, the performer must decide whether to present repetition as a copy, an echo (dynamically varied), an intensification or a fading away into the next phrase. There is no harm in experimenting, so as to develop a sense of all the possibilities, which will provide depth to the performance even when the overall interpretation is settled.
Listen to this performance and notice that notes inegales are not used - which is a perfectly acceptable choice. Dynamics are graded here to suggest the phrasing structure and shape.
Tone & Texture
As this was originally harpsichord music the available sounds were limited to the options on each individual instrument. With a piano, there is no need to place quite such stringent limitations on tone and the textures may be balanced to favour the definite RH melodic lines, keeping the LH chords quieter.
However, caution is advised to avoid the performance overstepping the style of the music and sounding anachronistic.
Here is the Andante played on organ, which was an instrument in use at the time the piece was written. It is easy to hear the melodic line clearly because it is played on a different manual:
Notice again the subtle use of notes inegales.
The effective and musical playing of ornaments will be a challenge for many. Slow , steady and carefully measured practice is the recipe for success.
Left hand repetition in the accompaniment needs to be carefully controlled and graded so that it does not hammer away obtrusively or with a dull repetitiveness that drains life from the melody. The absence (or very sparing use) of pedal exposes this further.
The right hand melodic line requires a singing tone which will have been developing since about grade 3 level.
The fingering given in the ABRSM edition should suit most hands and it is advisable to keep strictly to the given indications.
Alternatives are possible but the student should be able to give a reason for choices and any alternative preferences should be pencilled in.
Particular care should be taken over fingering of ornaments and it is a good idea to pencil in the finger that begins every one. This has two advantages - firstly, well-chosen, consistent fingering helps fluency and secondly, knowing which finger begins each ornament reminds the student of which kind of ornament to play.
The preface to Fiocco's Pieces de Clavecin includes a table of ornaments almost identical to that of F. Couperin. There are no fewer than seven different ornamentation marks in this movement, listed below:
Bar 1 (also at bar 14 and could be added by analogy at bar 15)
Bar 2 (also at bars 18, 19, 20, 24, 25 and 28)
Bar 21 (also at bars 25, 27, 29 and 33)
Bar 22 (also at bar 34)
Two main principles to follow concerning ornaments are:
measure them out slowly and rhythmically when you first play them. Never let an ornament interrupt the flow of the music. If one proves to be too difficult, simplify it. Ornaments are improvised flourishes, not obligatory burdens.
Most relatively inexperienced Grade 5 pianists would be advised to use no pedal at all, since obvious pedalling could easily sound inappropriate for the style.
More musically mature and technically advanced pianists may well use subtle pedalling to good effect, for the purpose of tone enhancement. The melody lines and the harmonies should, of course, remain clear.
The ornaments need to be measured into the music at slow speed as part of the initial note-learning process. Take care to assure your student that they are not at all difficult provided they are well controlled from the outset.
Try teaching this particular piece first of all without any ornamentation - it can in fact be pared down to just the chord sequences to start with. Learning without the ornamentation gives a clearer feel for the structure and for the flow of melody lines.
Plenty of practice with hands separate will help to achieve fluency well ahead of any need to worry about coordination. The grading of the LH repeated notes needs to be mastered as well as a cantabile tone and shapely phrasing in the RH, and these can easily get lost or compromised if all the extra problems of coordination are encountered too early.
Ornaments should be practised with great care and never played too fast, too soon, since that will promote unevenness and undermine the effect of ease in performance.
The playing here is clearly work in progress, as acknowledged by the performer, who improved considerably in the subsequent recording.
The obvious cause of 'trouble' here is going to be managing the ornamentation so that it enhances the music by decorating it beautifully rather than sounding anxious and disturbing the flow of the melody.
Although it is often a good idea to incorporate the ornamentation at the same time as a piece is learned, there is a strong case here for the student knowing the basic melody and being able to keep a steady pulse before attempting to decorate it with ornamentation.
A multi-pronged approach will probably work best. Singing the ornamented version before learning to play it can be helpful, as can clapping out the rhythm of the basic melody then clapping out the ornamented version.
If the student can clap or sing each different type of ornament when you point to them in a random order, they will stand a good chance of playing fluently.
It is a good idea to rebuild the piece section by section once each part becomes reasonably fluent with the ornamentation incorporated.
Having to stop and decide which ornament to do, even in the early stages practice, will often cause a student to accept as correct a version of the piece that has persistent hesitancy. Misunderstood ornamentation can also result in actual rhythmic inaccuracy, as heard in this recording.
An excellent performance will be totally at ease with both the style and the technical demands of the music. Ornaments will seem to grow directly out of the performer's own impulse as if improvised. The melody will weave its lines over an accompaniment that fits it like a glove. Dynamics and phrasing will be natural and personal, communicating the performer's own deep sense of the structure. The mood of the music will absorb the listener and bring such a sense of flow, beauty and repose that the final cadence will be heard with some regret.
A good performance will be musically convincing and attractive. There will generally be an impression of ease in the melodic line, enhanced by the ornaments, which will seem natural and well-placed. Dynamics will be well graded and appropriate, providing a sense of narrative to the music. The accompaniment will flow unobtrusively. If there are any moments of unease they will quickly pass and balance will be maintained overall.
A sound performance will ensure the melody is given due prominence over the accompaniment. Ornaments may be simplified to ensure security but will not disturb the line. There will be some dynamic variety but possibly a tendency to dryness especially by students who like to use the pedal and find its absence exposes a weakness in their technical control. The overall impression will be competent but may be a little lacking in warmth.