Bloch - Joyous March: No 5 from Enfantines
Ernest Bloch (1880 - 1959) was born in Geneva. He was a violinist as well as being a great composer, although his works are not as well known as they deserve to be.
Most of Bloch's music is essentially Romantic in style, imbued with elements of Jewish liturgical and folk music.
This piece comes from a set called Enfantines: Ten Pieces for Children. These are attractive pieces and you may hear part of Melody here from the same collection.
Pupil Match & Suitability
A good choice for a student who likes lively, joyful music but the timing is quite tricky to grasp at first so this student must have secure rhythm reading skills - or a very good memory!
Neat articulation will be required so a fairly competent grasp of technique for playing repeated staccato chords with tidy hand co-ordination is desirable.
Style & Tempo
The style is that of a march with a difference! The alternating four-time and three-time makes it impossible to march in time to this music. But that is part of the fun.
The accenting detail is an important feature, as is the detail in articulation and dynamic contrasts.
Listen to the sense of fun in Kassal's recording, noticing that pace is quick, rather faster than the suggested crotchet = 132 given in the ABRSM edition, which could feel rather leisurely for the 'allegro giocoso' performance.
Phrasing & Articulation
The articulation detail is important in terms of character, with crisp staccato suggested and slurs that have a marked strong-weak tonal emphasis.
The combination of slurred and staccato articulation is a feature of the music from Bar 42 onwards and this will need a lot of focused practice.
It is the phrasing that will ultimately cause the rhythms to come to life and make musical sense. A bar by bar approach will not be at all effective but a long line of phrasing encompassing as many as 8 bars will give the right sense of movement.
The student may need to listen several times to the piece before becoming certain of the musical direction of the phrases.
Tone & Texture
The tone needs to sound vibrant, as in Fingerhut's playing here, without actually being too loud.
Textures need to be balanced carefully so that the tune (the top notes of the RH) are the most prominent although the LH also has some accenting and should be fairly bold too.
Notice that the dynamic marking is only mf to begin with. The loudest part is the Pesante (to be played somewhat heavily) at Bars 18 and 19.
The technique is focused on playing crisp staccato at a quick pace and on keeping neat co-ordination between the hands, with well balanced chords.
Keeping the wrists flexible is important since the movement needs to come from the wrist rather than from the arms. Trying to play staccato using an up-and-down forearm action will produce a very strident tone, inappropriate in this piece.
Above all, for a pleasing tone the wrists need to have some 'give' and not be rigid. You can see that the boy in this video is making good progress in starting to play with wrists that 'give' a little, even though the piece is not yet completely fluent.
The next student does not yet have this flexibility and the phrasing and tone are less subtle - but he is still very young!
The fingering suggestions in the ABRSM edition are very good. You may need to explain to the student the importance of finger-changing on notes where neatness is particularly exposed such as Bar 30 RH.
Finger changing in the reepated LH notes at the start of the piece would be unnecessarily fussy however.
Pedalling the most crisp staccato would detract from the character of the piece but a little discreet pedalling could be used by a competent student on the last, accented beat of the bars (as in Bar 1) as long as the staccato was observed in the following bar.
'Less is more' holds good for this piece - over-pedalling would be disastrous in terms of character.
Ideally, work on playing staccato chords needs to have taken place before the piece is started. It does not matter whether this is in the context of a piece, in fact improvising staccato chord sequence is is preferable since that frees up the concentration to focus on the technique rather on getting the notes right.
Rhythms are the essential starting point for this piece and the best way to make them secure is probably to do lots of clapping work to enable an intuitive feel for the whole phrases.
Singing the tune to made up words can also work very well and once the rhythmic motifs are secure, the appropriate words can be recalled at any given point in the piece to remind the students of the right rhythm.
Note learning in this piece needs to come after the rhythmic security, otherwise it will be very difficult to achieve fluency.
Be sure to allow enough time for the student to get to grips with the final section of the piece starting at Bar 42 - this is arguably the most challenging part of the whole piece.
Practising the rhythms is the most essential way to start work on this piece. Playing the notes right with rhythmic inaccuracy will be counterproductive.
Lots of separate hands practice of the right notes with the right rhythms is what should take place early in the practice time.
Attention needs to be given to the sound of the chords in terms of balance and hand co-ordination, once the hands are played together.
In the middle section there will need to be practise in holding on the long LH notes through the bars. This is essential since the RH is going to play staccato above them so they cannot just be held with the pedal.
Special attention should be focused on the ending of the piece, from Bar 42 onwards, where confident articulation detail, controlled rhythmic precision and neat hand co-ordination are essential. It is a good idea to begin by learning this section rather than starting at Bar 1!
The most obvious source of trouble in this piece is going to be rhythmic security. No matter how good the expressive detail is, if the performance is not completely accurate and fluent it will be ineffective.
In terms of detail there can be a temptation just to play everything staccato rather than observe the slurring where indicated.Also watch out for missed attention to rests.
An excellent final performance will demonstrate the essence of the music - which is joy combined with a sense of delight in movement. This will be conveyed in pace, tone and use of detail in dynamic colour, shaped phrasing, staccato and slurring, with the more lyrical middle section bringing the outer, more ebullient sections into sharper relief. It goes without saying that an excellent performance will be fluent and accurate, with assured technical control.
A good performance will show some of the characteristics of the excellent one in terms of conveying a sense of the happy character and the pace will be lively, with some detail although technical control may not be as assured, with less even balancing of chords and maybe less neatness in hand co-ordination.
A sound performance will have continuity and reasonably secure accuracy of notes and rhythms, but the pace might be less lively. Although there will be a little detail, the mixed articulation towards the end of the piece might not be well observed and there may be a need for a keener sense of character.