Tchaikovsky - Daydream Op 39 No 21
This piece was composed as part of a set of pieces for the young, Children's Album. It was set for the Grade 4 piano class of the 64th HKSMF (Hong Kong Schools Music Festival) 2012.
The composer, Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893 was a Russian composer from the Romantic era. He wrote for orchestra as well as for smaller groups of instruments and he is probably best known for his ballet music for The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, as well as for his famous 1st Piano Concerto played here by the inspirational pianist, Mikhail Pletnev.
Pupil Match & Suitability
The student who performs this piece will need to be able to play expressively and to bring out the melody lines in either hand, with a beautiful cantabile.
The piece is in an invitingly easy key and although the score looks fairly complicated due to the many quaver rests, once the rhythms patterns are established, they remain fairly predictable.
Style & Tempo
This music is unashamedly Romantic in style and the performance direction 'con molto sentimento' invites an expressive performance with rubato and dynamic grading.
Bear in mind however that the tune is a charmingly simple one and a wide dynamic range with a big fortissimo would be inappropriate for the character.
The character is somewhat wistful and yet also hopeful, with the major key and beautiful melody - one suspect that the daydreams are pleasant ones.
A pace of around crotchet = 72 - 88 will convey the right mood. Playing the piece too slowly will make it drag but too fast a pace will give a jolly character rather than a dreamy one.
Phrasing & Articulation
Phrasing appears to be in four-bar units throughout, but a longer line of eight bars sounds much more musical and this is achieved by use of dynamic grading with a flexible sense of tempo rubato, as heard here.
Tone & Texture
A singing tone is absolutely essential for a good performance of Daydream by Tchaikovsky. The melody must be heard above the accompaniment so the dynamic marking should be interpreted as, for example, RH p and LH pp at the start of the piece.
The passages where the LH has the melody will inevitably prove the most challenging, since most students will have had more practice in emphasising melodies in the RH.
Listen to the relative balance between the hands here at Bars 17 - 36, where the melody passes between LH and RH.
Also notice that the accented notes are strong but not harsh in tone, since a forceful sound would not be in keeping with the character of the music.
The main technical challenge is the balancing of the textures. If can be helpful to ask the student to bring out the melody line 'too much'. What the student considers to be 'too much' is often just right!
If there are difficulties bringing out the LH this might be practised away from the particular piece, just using simple five finger exercises such as an ascending and descending 5-note scale.
Sometimes singing the melody lines while playing can help to draw attention to the appropriate notes, as can playing the piece as a duet with the teacher with the focus on who should be playing louder at any point.
The fingering given in the score is adequate for most students but do write in additional guidance at the end of the piece from Bar 33 onwards, just as a reminder. Playing this section with different fingering from before will give insecurities in performance.
The sustaining pedal is a means towards creating a rich tone and so, quite apart from its sustaining qualities, the pedal is needed in this piece for tonal resonance.
The Grade 4 student will perhaps not yet be skilled in subtle use of the the pedal so the safest way of helping is to ask for the pedal to be used with reference to the changing harmonies. Therefore there will be some bars where the pedal can remain down and some where, ideally, the dampers might be lifted three times. The key to effective pedalling is really in listening carefully and in analysing the chord sequences within the piece.
The degree to which the student is able to bring out the melody above the accompaniment is also a factor to be considered since the more firmly this is done, the more the sustaining pedal can be used. The sensitive teacher will make suggestions that are within the grasp of the individual student at this stage of their musical development.
Listen to the extract and then decide what your particular student is capable of achieving at present before giving advice on pedalling. The only option that would be inadvisable is to use no pedal at all, yet over-pedalling the piece would be be a great pity.
The piece is obviously sectional, with some repeated material so the first page and the final section will be more or less covered by teaching Bars 1 - 8.
The student clapping on the off-beat as the teacher plays the piece can be a way of securing the rhythmic relationship between the melody and the chords.
Devote plenty of time to the middle section, which is probably the most challenging part of the piece, both technically and musically.
As always, insist on correct, consistent fingering and take time over stressing the need for the tune to sing out over the chords when both are played in the same hand.
Great care should be taken with separating out the textures when this piece is still in the early stages of learning, since the melody lines need to have clarity and the chords should be relatively quieter.
Practise in sections, remembering to work on the linking of each section with the next.
The middle part of the piece where the LH takes the melody line will certainly need extra practice, both in terms of securing accuracy and also in achieving technical control of the tonal balance.
Finally the piece might be performed informally before an audience, even if this is just for friends and family. This will firstly give an indication of any insecurities that can be put right before the important performance and will then give confidence that the piece has been successfully memorised and can be played with reliable fluency.
Probably the most common mistake in this piece is to play the dotted rhythms inaccurately. These rhythms should not feel rushed but nor should they be sloppy in accuracy. Listening to the recording can be helpful, as can saying words that fit the dotted rhythm.
Other problems can be over-pedalling and playing without a feel for the dreamy style in tone and phrasing suppleness. Recording the student's playing so that they might listen to it can be effective in encouraging a more detailed and sensitive performance.
An excellent performance of this piece will show sensitivity to the dreamy mood in pace, in tone, in phrasing and in use of dynamics. The melody lines will be clearly defined and will sing beautifully above the accompanying chords. Pedalling will be successfully managed, enhancing the tone and maintaining smooth legato where appropriate.
A good performance will feature appropriate expressive detail and the pace will be suitable. Tone control and pedalling may not yet be poised, yet there will be a developing feel for the character of the music, with some sense of phrase evident.
A sound performance will have reliable continuity and accuracy, with a little dynamic variety, but may not yet show the mood with any great conviction and the hands might need more sensitive balance.