Field - Allegro moderato: Sonata Op 1 No 1
John Field (1782 - 1837) was an Irish composer, pianist and teacher. Field studied with Clementi in London and this sonata, written in 1801 was one of Field's early publications. He dedicated it to Clementi.
Field lived and worked in Russia between 1802 - 1829, eventually becoming famous principally for his Nocturnes, a genre which served as a model for the later nocturnes of Chopin.
Listen to Field's later, more lyrical style in this performance of a Nocturne played by Irish pianist John O'Conor:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece is not a particularly easy choice yet it is an attractive one. It would suit a student who enjoys music that is a little more varied and expressive in character than might be expected of a Classical Sonata.
The most demanding passages require quick moving octaves in the LH.
Style & Tempo
Field's Sonata movement Op 1 No 1 was set for ABRSM Grade 8 piano examination 2011- 2012.
Clearly, musical style is an important consideration within examination criteria. This presents a conundrum since, although Field's style might be regarded as a Romantic when one considers the later nocturnes, this sonata was his opus 1, actually composed in 1801, within the Classical era.
Ultimately, it is the music itself that guides us in our
interpretation. The lyricism and intrinsic expressiveness in this movement suggest a somewhat freer approach, particularly with regard to rubato, than might be found in a performance of Haydn or Mozart.
Listen to O'Rourke here, in an interpretation that sensitively reflects the essential style and character of the music.
Phrasing & Articulation
The key to managing articulation is in the first bar, which has the performance indication 'sempre legato', in other words 'always legato'.
Assume that legato articulation is needed unless the score indicates otherwise, such as in the LH at Bars 58 - 62. Listen to the opening bars of O'Rourke's interpretation to hear this achieved with elegance, even in Bars 12 - 13, where some performers play the dotted rhythms in a detached style.
Care should be taken with the tone of slurred pairs of notes in particular, which need a strong-weak tone for elegance of style.
Tone & Texture
Dynamics are obviously meant to be contrasted quite boldly - compare the 'development' section, which reaches ff at Bar 70, with the more restrained outer sections and notice the performance direction 'espressivo', given several times during the course of the score.
Listen to the drama of the middle section, played here by Frith, as the expressive phrase starting at Bar 63 grows over the duration of just four bars into fortissimo, then subsides as the initial motif returns, this time in a minor key, at Bar 72.
The most challenging part of this piece is the octave leaps in the LH from Bars 51 - 66. Check that the hand is in a good position, with the thumb on the edge of the keys and finger 5 towards the black keys, at a diagonal.
Avoid keeping the hand rigid in the hope that the fingers will stay the same distance apart and therefore hit the right notes next time. This just creates a tense hand and will not guarantee accuracy anyway. The hand needs to relax momentarily between each of the octaves, even though they are fairly fast moving. Aim for accuracy of the thumb notes in particular.
Memorisation of both parts will help enormously in this section since the main problem is not the leaps as such - it more about uncertainty of exactly where the hand is going next.
Fingering is always partly a matter of personal choice but the ABRSM edition shows fingering that will suit most students.
Try to ensure that fingering for ornamentation is helpful - Fingers 1, 2, and 3 are always going to be easier to control since they are independent fingers, whereas 3. 4 and 5 are less easy. Rolling the hand a little, instead of pressing each finger down individually, will make it easier to achieve neat control whatever fingering is used in turns.
In the slurred octaves it is best to use 4-1, then 5-1 if possible, to achieve a legato articulation (eg Bar 65 LH).
The ornamentation is set out very clearly in the ABRSM edition. The piece begins with a turn, as in the example here, but see below for an alternative.
Pedalling really is needed in this sonata, not just for the sustaining effect but for resonance of tone, yet the semiquaver passages must have clarity.
Some indications of where pedalling might be used are shown in the ABRSM edition eg at Bars 63 and between Bars 84 and 90. Although there are semiquavers here, they play an accompanying role rather than representing the main melody line, so clarity of any changing harmony is not so important. The octave melody will ideally be brought out strongly here in LH (Bar 84) and then in RH (Bar 86).
These are not, of course, the only places where pedal is appropriate. It may be used, for instance at the beginnings of the more lyrical bars such as at the start of the piece and also to enrich the tone of chords, such as at bars 5 - 6, where each chord needs a separate pedal.
Listening to the complete sonata would be a good starting point, or at least listening to two versions of this particular movement.
It is not mandatory to begin at the beginning when learning a new piece and it may be a good idea to teach the section that starts after the double bar line, since this needs to be particularly secure due to the technical challenges.
In the first section, watch out for any imprecise timing of dotted rhythms in the early learning stages, since it is much easier to achieve consistent accuracy if the first few times of playing are correct.
The first turn is an easy one to accomplish and it actually sounds good to play this at a leisurely pace rather than up to the speed of the rest of the movement.
This is a long movement and the student may not have played such a lengthy piece before unless they have already been working at Grade 8 level for some time. A practice schedule might be needed to keep on target for the an examination or performance. The beginning of a student performance is often the most secure part of the piece, with any mistakes occurring later.
The piece lends itself to being tackled in sections and, as suggested in the teaching strategies, learning the middle part first might be a good idea. The middle section does need to keep up to the speed of the opening section, so extra practice is in order for this part of the piece.
Students should concentrate not only on learning notes and rhythms, but also on musical playing in terms of tone, phrasing and balance. The more advanced student should be working on all aspects of performance in their practice time. Concentrating on detail is also very important - for instance are the slurs well controlled and are the rests being observed?
Sonata movements can be less easy than Romantic and 20th century music for some students to play well, in terms of both interpretation and control.
Danger areas to watch out for are unwanted changes in tempo, including an unstable pulse and misread rhythms. A lack of sensitive textural balance between the hands can also limit the musical integrity of a performance.
Accuracy is especially an issue in this style of music, as any errors will be glaringly obvious. Inconsistent neatness of rhythmic control in scalic passages is another potential problem area.
Finally, a sense of phrase and structure will greatly enhance any performance, whilst neglecting this important aspect of musicianship will be disappointing for the listener.
An excellent performance of this piece will show sensitivity to both style and character, with well shaped phrasing and a clear sense of the unfolding structure of the music. Control of neatness and tone will be impeccable and pedalling will be subtle, enhancing the tone without compromising clarity.
A good performance will be stable in pulse, with securely grasped rhythmic accuracy. The tempo will be well judged and use of detail will be appropriate. There may be less sensitivity to textural balance and tone control than in an excellent performance.
A sound performance will be secure in continuity and in accuracy, with either good detail but at a rather slower pace to accommodate technical demands or perhaps up to speed but not completely under control technically.