MacDowell - Hunting Song
This piece comes from a set of twelve studies written in 1890, a particularly happy period in his life when he was busy with teaching and composing commitments and several years before being appointed as professor of music at Columbia University.
Edward MacDowell (1860 - 1908) was an American composer.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece is most likely to suit a younger child. One would imagine this would not be a particularly interesting piece for either an adult or a teenager.
A child with imagination may well become absorbed in the mood of this piece and relish the opportunity to show off their sense of musical imagination when it comes to performance.
This should not prove to be a difficult piece to learn and to play. It is relatively short. Musically it will need some careful guidance.
The pedalling needs plenty of understanding and work if you wish to achieve a subtle musical effect.
Style & Tempo
It is not a particularly energetic piece and you may wonder about just how much the title really reflects the mood here. However, you will notice that there are moments of excitement and anticipation - perhaps at the thought of the huntsman finding his quarry - in contrast to the rather nonchalant (easy going) overall mood.
It is as if there is a story being told, and the performer needs to capture a sense of this ebb and flow in the playing.
This should not be a metronomic performance and there should be a certain give and take in the tempo of various sections, as well as a musical rubato where needed. For example, a slight easing of tempo where the LH has its melodies in the middle section would be perfectly in order, whereas the more robust ff moments will need a firmer tempo and rhythmic feel.
Phrasing & Articulation
In the original edition there are plenty of detailed markings.. Much of the quaver movement is staccato, except where expressly indicated otherwise.
Tone & Texture
There are three different kinds of texture here:
(I) a melodic RH with intervening chordal accompaniment
(ii) a melodic LH with off beat RH accompaniment
(iii) some unison passges
This is not a technically demanding piece. However there are technical requirements in being able to play with different tonal qualities within the same hand. For example the underneath part in the RH bars 2 & 3 and again in bars 4 & 5 when played with the thumb needs to be very quiet in comparison to the projected upper melodic line.
One way to achieve this effect is to begin by separating the two notes so that the students understand what it feels like to play with more weight and pressure on upper notes - which are usually played with 4th & 5th fingers - whilst being gentle with the thumb on the underneath notes.
Much is fairly straightforward.
There is only one and this is in bar 43.
It seems a little odd that it is an acciaccatura and not an appoggiatura, given the musical context. However, that was the composer’s wish.
Be certain, even as a quick note, to play it gracefully. Because it is quick it does not need to be accentuated. It should not draw attention to itself but feel a very natural part of the line.
Take its value out of the previous beat.
The function of the pedal is essential to add resonance to the tone of the instrument.
When used skilfully in this way, it helps the tone to sing and is as integral a part of the texture as, for example, vibrato is to a string or wind instrument.
Whilst a rudimentary use of pedal would probably be adequate here, this would not be the case at later grade levels. Therefore this is a good piece through which to hone your student’s pedalling skills.
Pieces will engage and excite those who learn them for many different reasons.
This is not a virtuosic piece, so there is no incentive for a showman to wish to learn it. On the face of it it seems to be a fairly bland kind of piece.
Therefore your approach is all important in engaging the student form the very outset.
Once your student is fired up, then it is important to give them the best means of making effective use of their enthusiasm once they have gone away from the lesson.
Tackle the hardest places first. This can, if done carefully, give a better chance that they will be able to become confident with those parts of the piece at a later stage.
A famous pianist once said that he was surprised after a particular concert by the complimentary comment of one person who congratulated him on the skill which he brought to one of the hardest sections in the piece. He replied, “Ah, but that is the part I have practised the most !”
Some students may find the musical aspect of learning this piece difficult to assimilate. This point has been touched upon in Teaching Tips.
If you find the student to be very slow to pick up on the more creative aspect of interpretation, then it may be wise to create some musical games or activities which help that student to engage much more with the creative side of their personality.
An excellent performance. There is always something about an excellent performance that stands out. These performances are not difficult to recognize. It might be that the performer seems very musical and confident. It may be on account of a very impressive technique or their ability to manipulate the tone to a very fine degree. One thing that an excellent performance always does is to communicate to the audience in a way which is often very individual and meaningful. Good communication comes about primarily by understanding the piece that one is playing and then having the inner confidence to portray that character on stage. It is not an external thing such as showmanship.
In this piece there will be a keen sense of musical imagination and colour, brought about by attention to detail in the preparation, and in the very best of performances there will be that, 'Wow, wasn’t that magical?' feeling at the end.
A good performance will demonstrate playing that certainly has a good range of dynamics and some keen tonal control. Whilst it may lack some of the musical panache and character that an excellent performance would have, it nonetheless feels pretty confident. There is a sense of promise about the performance, which gives the impression of lots of careful practice and real progress being made.
A sound performance:
Not everyone can always rise to the occasion. Some students and children are naturally quiet, or shy. They may not find it easy to express themselves on stage, yet they have learnt the piece carefully and certainly deserve credit for what they have achieved. This kind of performance often leaves the listener feeling as if they do not know what to say about it, since the performance itself does not say very much.
However, the notes will be accurately grasped with a usually good sense of continuity and rhythmic understanding.
Sometimes performances in this category have more promise than this. They may start off with lots of energy and character, but then something may go wrong and what should have been just a slip may turn into something that makes the performance feel much more shaky than it would have been on other occasions.