Hofman - In Mai
Heinrich Hofmann (1842 - 1902) was a German composer and pianist, famous in his day for composing operas and a symphony, as well as music for piano.
The title of the piece, 'In Mai' means In May, the month of cherry blossoms in Europe. Springtime is a happy time in Europe when the days are longer and becoming warmer.
This is what Spring looks like in Lancaster UK - the home of E-MusicMaestro!
Pupil Match & Suitability
Thorough knowledge of arpeggios, with the ability to play them with control and evenness is certainly going to help with learning and playing this piece.
The lyrical style will appeal to many piano students and although there are a few big chords, they are arpeggiated so students with small hands will be able to manage without difficulty as long as they have a reasonably good technique.
Style & Tempo
Set for Grade 6 piano class of the 64th HKSMF, Hong Kong Schools Music Festival 2012, the title of this piece, In Mai, gives the key to its character.
The month of May in the composer's country of Germany is the hopeful month of Spring when blossom is at its best, the weather becomes pleasantly warmer and the days become longer and lighter.
The style is lyrical, typically of Hofman's music. The performance direction, 'comodo' might not be familiar to many students but it may be translated as 'unrestrainedly' or 'comfortable in pace'.
The piece needs to flow, with a supple sense of phrase. The suggested tempo of crotchet = 76 seems just right although the pace will, of course, vary a little since rubato is needed to express the character of the music.
Phrasing & Articulation
The articulation is well detailed in the score but do not be too literal in making the staccato sound detached, since, like much Romantic music, the overall effect once legato pedal is used, will be much more subtle than this.
The staccato markings are merely what the hand does, but they do not represent an intention by the composer to have the piece punctuated by crisply detached sounds. Consider Bars 3 - 4, in which it is not possible to connect the Bar 3, RH E with the next chord, nor that chord with the one in Bar 4.
However, the pedal will soften the articulation so that it sounds almost legato, which is the required effect, as heard here.
Tone & Texture
The texture is melody and accompaniment, with the melody in the RH. A beautiful tone is so important here, particularly in the magical section from Bar 28 - 35 where the arpeggiated chords need to sound truly 'dolce', with the accompanying LH part just rippling gently in the background.
The music is never forte, only ranging between mf and p. The interest comes from the expressiveness and, in shaping the phrases, the dynamics will show many shades of tone colour.
The arpeggios involving finger crossing such as in Bar 1 are relatively easy. The student should remember that it is not necessary to lift the elbow to cross over with finger 3!
The technique for successful LH arpeggio playing in bars such as 12 is to 'take the arm with the hand'. Do not attempt to stretch the hand to cover all the notes but just practise going from the G#, jumping lightly to the D#; then after stretching from D# to G#, let the hand come back momentarily into a relaxed shape , and so on.
The hand should return as often as possible to its 'default' position of a normal-looking hand, with a straight line down the Finger 5 side of the wrist.
Fingering is clearly marked in the score, with little need to adapt or alter it.
Mostly this is straightforward legato pedalling, managed in relation to the harmony changes. It should consist of lifting the pedal after the beat whilst ensuring that the LH holds the bass note until the pedal captures it.
The video shows good pedalling technique in another Hofman piece, Zur Laute and this may be applied equally to In Mai. Notice how the pedal comes right up and clears the previous sound completely, but without making a bumpy noise.
Teaching is very much about providing a template for the week's practice.
Cover these stages of practice in the first few lessons on this piece:
RH melody line alone, Bars 1-8
RH including all RH notes, emphasising the tune
LH memorising the chord plan for the arpeggios, Bars 1 - 8
Practise LH with pedal
Hands together a little at a time slowly.
Repeat for the next section, remembering that the joins between phrases will then need to be practised.
Practice should follow the plan given in the lesson - whatever is covered in the lesson needs to be replicated every day until it is secure and the next stages can be attempted.
A good maxim is Sections - Slowly - Separately. When practising, the student should make the work more interesting by learning in small, achievable steps, approximating more and more closely to the agreed, desired articulation, phrasing shape, dynamics and balance.
Once the sections are becoming secure, work on fluency should enable each section to be linked together with ease and confidence.
The main pitfalls are to do with balancing the textures and being expressive.
Achieving the right amount of rubato is a challenge. Most students underestimate how much suppleness of phrasing is needed. We spent much of our time teaching students to play strictly in time and then we have to begin to teach them how not to play so strictly in time!
Ask the student to play with so much rubato that you tell them it is too much - this invariably results in a performance that is just right.
Students invariably underestimate the difference that needs to be made between the LH accompaniment and the RH melody. Demonstrating the right balance and recording the student's performance for their listening and comparison are useful.
An excellent performance will show a sense of style and the essentially hopeful and charming character of the music will be communicated persuasively in use of expressive detail. Tone control and musical nuance will be convincing, with the textures balanced carefully and the tone beautiful.
A good performance will show something of the character and style of the music, but with out the finesse of tone control and the lyricism of the excellent interpretation. Fluency will be reliable, with good accuracy achieved.
A sound performance will show sufficient accuracy to achieve secure continuity and some of the expressive detail will be given, showing sound musical intentions, despite possible lapses in technical control. The pace may be on the cautious side.