Shostakovich - Gavotte Trinity Grade 5
Shostakovich’s music is broadly speaking in the Romantic tradition, basically tonal but with some use of chromaticism and atonality. He was eclectic in drawing inspiration from a wide source of music and from various composers, which shows in the diverse range of styles and character that his own music encompasses.
Here we find Shostakovich in a light-hearted mood. We need not take the title too literally to mean that we have to play this exactly the way in which we might interpret a Baroque gavotte. The music partly takes its character from that dance but the structure is only loosely related. The Baroque gavotte is in 2/2 time, with the musical phrase beginning on the second minim of the bar, whereas this gavotte begins on the last beat of the bar in 4/4 time.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Shostakovich was a concert pianist and he wrote well for the instrument. His simpler piano music, such as this gavotte, lies easily under the fingers. There are some LH leaps at the start of the piece that will require confident keyboard geography, but students with small hands will not be disadvantaged by any wide stretches - the few octaves here are to be arpeggiated.
Students with a vivid imagination will enjoy the mental imagery of the dolls dancing to this tune and the harmonies, which are more adventurous than those common to the Baroque gavotte, will pleasantly stretch the boundaries of the student’s harmonic awareness.
Style & Tempo
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 - 1975) was a Soviet composer whose work has aroused strong, yet conflicting opinions. Walton, Shostakovich’s British contemporary, thought that Shostakovich was the greatest composer of the twentieth century, whereas other important composers, such as Boulez and Stravinsky, disliked his music.
Shostakovich had a difficult relationship with the Stalinist regime of his country and his music was actually denounced and banned in both 1936 and 1948.
Phrasing & Articulation
Phrasing is very clearly structured into eight -bar units, in which four-bar ‘question’ phrases are followed by four-bar ‘answer’ phrases. This applies throughout the whole piece. The phrasing may be defined clearly in performance by subtle shaping, using dynamic contour.
Notes are to be slurred where indicated and it makes good musical sense to gently detach the crotchets, rather in the manner of playing the Baroque gavotte.
Tone & Texture
The melody lines are all in the RH, which needs to be louder than the LH throughout the piece. For practical purposes, we might advise a relative balance of mp for the RH, p for the LH.
The dynamic is mostly quiet, rising only to mezzo forte at the loudest , in Bar 16.
A pleasing RH tone quality is important and the student should take care not to begin too quietly, otherwise is no room for diminuendo to pianissimo later.
Techniques relevant to this piece are:
Varying the articulation
Playing the LH acciaccaturas
We can use the child’s love of imaginary games here, by relating technique to the dancing doll. Encourage your pupil to do the actions while you play the relevant bars.
This is a piece in which there are often several equally good ways of fingering. The outline fingering suggestions given in the Boosey and Hawkes edition are sound.
There will be some bars where you will want to stress essential fingering, but for other bars you will be able to let the student make their own choice.
At this stage of playing, it is good to involve the student in making, and pencilling in, their own fingering choices, under your guidance. The important thing is that the same fingering is used each time and that the fingering still works once the piece is up to speed.
There is no ornamentation as such, apart from the acciaccaturas in the section from Bars 33 - 48.
These should be 'squashed in' almost at the same time as the semibreves are played, to create a rather discordant sound.
Playing the grace notes before the beat will not give the right effect.
Subtle use of pedal may be used to enhance the tone, rather than for sustaining any legato lines.
Too much pedal would definitely be worse than none at all in this piece.
It is a good strategy for the student to become really familiar with how the music sounds before you begin to teach the piece.
This is one reason for the suggestion of making up different dance movements for each section, as it is well known that movement aids musical memory.
If space is limited where you teach, or if the child is reluctant to engage in movement, then it would be equally effective to use a doll that the child makes to dance.
Ask the student to work on making small sections of the piece musical and detailed right from the start, rather than wading all the way through the RH and then all the way through the LH.
It is much better to practise something in the way we want to hear it right away, rather than allowing the student to use any articulation and fingering just as long as the notes and rhythms are correct. That way, the student would eventually have to unlearn inaccurate articulation and unhelpful fingering, whilst re-learning the correct way.
Even playing of chords
There are no huge technical difficulty traps inherent in this piece, but perhaps the most challenging aspect is in playing the chords with even control. Throughout the piece, it is necessary to play chords with precise co-ordination and students rarely notice if the notes of the chords fail to sound at exactly the same time.
Often, simply drawing attention to this is sufficient to effect a huge improvement. Just ask the student to suggest a mark out of 10 for precision, on three consecutive playings of the same phrase and you will usually hear a marked improvement without any need to mention the issue again.
An excellent performance will show a keen feel for the tranquil simplicity of the musical character and will transport the listeners into a carefree mood, making them want to get up and dance! Poised fluency and assured technical control will enable detailed articulation with well shaped phrasing. The overall dynamic will be quiet, yet there will be a little dynamic contour and contrast and the melody lines will sing out clearly, even where the RH plays in thirds.
A good performance will be one where continuity will be reliable at an appropriate pace and there will be a definite feel for the light-hearted dance, shown in some careful use of expressive detail and in a sense of phrase. Accuracy will be good, with no more than a few smudges, or perhaps the odd hesitant moment. Balance and tone may not yet be poised but the accents will be clearly made.
A sound performance will show reliable, steady continuity despite the odd mistake. There will be a secure sense of pulse, even though rhythms might not yet be even in control. Some of the musical detail will be given in articulation and the tone will be quiet, if not yet varied.