Liszt - Andantino in F# Teaching notes
The untitled Andantino in F sharp written in 1876 was found among Liszt's papers after his death and nothing is known about its origins. It was dedicated to Olga von Meyendorff, a close friend in Weimar with whom he kept up a lively correspondence for fifteen years.
It was published with four other unrelated pieces written between 1865 and 1879. During this period Liszt had already taken the title of Abbé (denoting minor religious orders, but not priesthood, in the Catholic Church) and no longer pursued his career and reputation as a concert hero.
He spent much time travelling extensively to give master classes in Rome, Weimar and Budapest. In contrast to his persona as a lion-hearted virtuoso performer, he was loved and respected by his pupils as a patient, encouraging and inspiring teacher (unless he thought they played badly: “Do not chop beefsteak for us!” he reportedly exclaimed to one hapless performer of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata).
Pupil Match & Suitability
The key of F sharp major requires careful reading with full attention to all the sharps in the key signature. Students who have not yet developed the ability to adapt to new keys will struggle with learning the notes correctly.
Once the key-signature hurdle is overcome, however, this piece will best suit a student with a good ear for lyrical lines and an ability to bring a sense of depth to essentially simple musical material.
A student with a flexible and sympathetic approach to phrase shaping, who knows how to convey the enjoyment of little moments of beauty, will make something very special from this miniature.
A good student attempt from this confident young performer.
Style & Tempo
A Romantic miniature: abstract and sketchy, with simple form and minimal development of its musical material. The clear melody is closely shadowed by its unobtrusive accompaniment.
The mood is reflective, perhaps nostalgic or even sad. There is a subtle sense of “so near and yet so far” in the way some harmonies fail to resolve fully until it is too late, as heard here (e.g. the LH G sharp octave in bar 11 which belongs with the G sharp minor chord in bar 10).
Phrasing & Articulation
At the outset Liszt establishes a simple 2 + 2 -bar question and answer phrase structure. It provides a gentle rise and fall in the first section (bars 1-8) followed by a sense of intensification through the next six bars (9-15) and then a decline into a more resolved and peaceful recollection of the opening phrases.
A major musical feature of this miniature is the use of feminine endings. They need to be practised from the outset with a weightless second beat to prevent an ugly effect. Try lifting the wrist early so that the note is depressed whilst the hand is rising. This helps to reduce any tendency to use the note as a springboard which would make it sound accented. Listen to the way in which Howard achieves this.
Tone & Texture
Throughout the piece, the melodic line sits at the top of the texture. The tone required for this is ideally one which allows this melody to sing out above the various accompaniments. Thinking of it as a vocal line, in the manner of a Schubert Lied, will give it the right quality. However, the opening double thirds are also a clearly pianistic texture and their simplicity is a key component of the emotional journey taken during the 21 bars of music.
At first the range is limited to the middle of the piano but the middle section, heard here, has thicker chords with a lower bass line which adds weight and solemnity to the sound. After a return to higher sounds the texture at the end is again weighted by the addition of more notes and a lower bass. This time, a more open texture gives an impression of something having been settled and contentment regained.
The key is challenging, with thumbs and 5th fingers sometimes playing on black keys. Not all students realise straight away that the hand can be moved horizontally away from the body to bring the thumb comfortably on the black keys whilst keeping the hand relaxed. Encourage freedom of movement in this plane (towards/away from the body).
Where there is insecurity due to the narrowness of the black keys, try playing silently without depressing the key: just bring the finger-tip audibly into contact with it. At first this will have to be done rather slowly and with great concentration, but can be speeded up as confidence increases.
This exercise helps to develop accuracy in reaching the exact spot required, in time for the note to sound. It can expose and counteract any tendency to grab for notes without proper preparation, since the goal of making a sound is replaced by the goal of arriving in the correct place.
In F sharp major there is no escaping the need to use all ten fingers on black notes. This is easier for fingers than thumbs, because thumbs are shorter and their use on black keys dictates a repositioning of the whole hand. Fingering decisions will probably favour using the thumb on available white notes. When repositioning the hand another consideration will be the strength, accuracy and general control the student has over the next finger – many may find it easier to use 4 than 5 for example.
Legato is another goal of fingering – and in this texture it cannot always be achieved in the most obvious place – the top line. However, by making legato joins elsewhere between chords it is possible to give the music the continuity of line and phrase that it needs. In effect, the performer is creating an illusion of legato in the melody even where it is not really present. (See also articulation and pedalling)
Bar 4 LH the C sharp could be 2. Bar 8 RH the F sharp could be 2 or 1 – the latter would distinguish it from the same notes in bar 4. Bar 10 RH the AB edition gives 5/3/1 on the semiquaver but 5/2/1 may be more comfortable for many: similarly in bar 12. Bar 15 RH 4/2 may provide a safer landing on the first chord of the bar than 5/3. Bar 20 RH the given fingering of 3 on the D sharp is correct for producing legato to the C sharp but the pedal can be used to cover the join if 2 is more comfortable.
Sensitive pedalling will both help with legato and enhance the tonal variety in performance.
Pedalling to help legato must however be linked to a careful use of fingering so that smooth lines are being achieved already. Playing will be undermined if finger legato is abandoned and the pedal carries the whole task – not least because in performance any error of pedalling will mean a guaranteed disruption to the flow. Also the use of legato fingerings will help the student cultivate a physical sense of a joined-up line, and prevent chords becoming too “vertical”, which would result in a chopped-up texture.
The una corda pedal could be used at the end of the piece to enhance the dying-away effect of the smorzando marking. If possible, try it out before deciding whether to use it in a particular performance as its effect on the overall tone can vary widely between different pianos.
The massive range of contrasts in Liszt's music are a fascinating topic for the student and they should be encouraged to listen to a selection of pieces. Even a few excerpts from the B minor Sonata, as it switches between dazzling, menacing and lyrical moods will help to set the scene. Leslie Howard's recording of Liszt's late piano works for Hyperion includes this Andantino alongside many of the more experimental sounds that Liszt explored during his latter years (such as “Nuages Gris”).
Work with F sharp major more generally as a key, so that the student begins to find all those sharps (including E sharp!) manageable. Encourage them to improvise little melodies or transpose well-known tunes into the key. Show them how to play the primary chords and the main cadences – this will also help with aural development.
Take time to become familiar with the new geography of playing in F sharp major – practise the scale and arpeggio with renewed interest, and try improvising in this key. Use the first five pairs of notes in the RH to develop a finger exercise that will help control the sound evenly.
From the outset, play everything slowly, with perfectly consistent fingering, and listen very hard to every sound produced, responding with careful adjustments to the weight and balance.
A crucial aspect of performing this will be attentive listening. A performance in which the player is responding continually to the sound will be alive and engaging. Failing to listen may well result in dreary sameness, especially in places like the repeated notes over octaves (bars 9 and 11). Keep a beautiful, singing tone throughout, even as the piece draws to a close, as heard here.
Lack of colour is another risk, where tonal shading and flexibility in the tempo, are underplayed. The music is very clearly marked with performance directions which need to be just as clearly conveyed to the audience.
It is worth trying out several different, sometimes exaggerated, interpretations. Like theatrical costumes, what seems overstated from close up will provide just the right impression to an audience further away: this is hard for an inexperienced performer to grasp and put into practice so an encouraging teacher will help by demonstrating the different effects and how they are achieved.
An excellent performance will combine simplicity with richness. The tone will be well controlled in support of a very beautiful melodic line. Phrases will be well shaped, and dynamics sensitively handled. The growth of the musical material through the piece will be well understood and the chosen mood (whether solemn, nostalgic, hopeful or simply pleasurable) conveyed so that the audience participates in it.
A good performance will show technical control of the balance between hands and within the RH, so that the melodic line is projected and shaped without disturbance. The dynamics will be observed effectively, along with the tempo fluctuations. A sense of security and a sympathy with the musical material will be evident.
A sound performance will show that the student has achieved something new in terms of technique and is beginning to explore the Romantic musical vocabulary with some understanding. The double thirds will be secure and phrase structure in place, although there may be an unevenness in playing. Some inconsistencies or slips may prevent the music speaking clearly but overall the player will communicate some pleasure and sensitivity.