Gurlitt - Song Op 172 No.1
Cornelius Gurlitt was born in 1820, in Altona (then in Denmark). He was a contemporary of the composer Carl Reinecke, indeed Gurlitt studied with Reinecke’s father at the Leipzig Conservatoire. Gurlitt later studied in Copenhagen and also travelled in Europe, becoming an admirer of Schumann’s music, but he ultimately returned to work in Altona, where he died in 1901.
As a composer, Gurlitt was interested in writing music for students to learn and this piece is a good example of Gurlitt’s ability to write an attractive little piece that is suitable for the relatively inexperienced pianist.
Listening to examples of examples of Romantic piano music by the greatest composers such as Chopin and Schumann can give the student valuable insight into the expressive style needed for a successful interpretation. The teacher will undoubtedly have favourite recordings and the following are additionally suggested:
Idil Biret playing Chopin Waltzes at:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece features an appealing tune with an expressive style and it should be popular with all ages of student.
The notes lie easily under the fingers in an approachable pianistic style, making the piece pleasant to play and reasonably easy to learn. There are no widely spread chords except for the final octave B flat in the LH, so students with small hands will not be disadvantaged.
Style & Tempo
This piece is typically Romantic in style, not unlike a shorter, simpler version of a Chopin waltz, with a singing RH melody accompanied, at first, by a chordal LH that later becomes arpeggiated for the middle section, before returning to the original pattern for the final section of the piece.
A range of dynamics is needed and also some use of rubato is appropriate, with a suggestion that the middle section might be a little more animated, slowing again to the original tempo with the reintroduction of a motif that echoes the opening melody.
Phrasing & Articulation
The opening section of the piece may be thought of as one, four-bar phrase, answered by another, giving a long line of eight bars.
This pattern is then repeated for the following eight bars and again at the end of the piece.
A subtle crescendo through the first little phrase that then tapers elegantly is followed by a crescendo towards Bar 6, followed by a diminuendo to end the phrase.
Tone & Texture
Colourful use of dynamics will enhance the expressiveness of the performance.
The main technical challenges to the student in this piece are producing a singing cantabile tone and also managing confident, poised leaps in the LH between the bass note and the chord.
The RH fingering is straightforward, just involving tucking the thumb under in Bar 2.
Use of the sustaining pedal is essential here, not only to give a smooth connection of the LH bass note and the subsequent chord but also to enhance the tone of the melodic lines.
However, it is not necessary to use legato pedalling to connect all the notes, indeed some space is needed at bar endings in order to maintain clarity in the melody.
You could begin by teaching either the LH or the RH, working in chunks of four bars. The melody line will be quite easy for the student to remember and you could soon play the LH as an accompanying duet part whilst the student practises the RH. Roles may be reversed when the student learns the LH.
It is worth mentioning that secure learning comes not from practising until a phrase goes right, but practising until it cannot go wrong.
All too often, students play various wrong versions until they finally get a phrase right but, of course, this means that most of the practice time included errors!
The human memory does not, unfortunately, discriminate between remembering right notes and wrong notes, which is why previous mistakes tend to resurface under the pressure of performance.
Where the style of writing changes from chordal to arpeggiated, students often tend to slow down for the arpeggiated section.
In this piece that section should, in fact, be played in a more animated way rather than slowing down. The arpeggiated section occurs only once, meaning that it may be played through less, so extra practice must certainly be done here.
An excellent performance will be one that conveys the song-like quality of the music successfully, by making the RH sing out with a beautiful tone, above a quieter LH. Phrasing will be shaped musically and there will be the natural-sounding suppleness that characterises tasteful rubato. Dynamics will be contrasted, with a more animated pace in the poco animato section, slowing down to the original tempo for the final section. Pedalling will enhance the tone and complement smoothly articulated legato, without blurring the harmonies. Fluency will be assured throughout.
A good performance will be one that characterises the expressiveness of the music in phrasing and in tone. There will be dynamic variety and overall security at a suitable tempo, but without, perhaps, the sensitive balance of hands achieved in an excellent performance. Pedalling will generally be well judged.
A sound performance will be secure in continuity, despite the odd slip or stumble in accuracy. There will be a little dynamic variety and some sense of phrase will emerge. Pedalling will be attempted, but may be not always be successfully controlled. The middle section might be a little cautious in pace, rather than more animated.