Shostakovich - March Op 69 no1

Interpreting the Music

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Shostakovich: March, op 69 no1

• C major
• Featured black notes
• Assertive march
• Some big jumps
• No chords

A fun piece which will suit a player with a certain boldness and a sense of humour. It catches some of the satirical mood of Shostakovich’s larger works (such as the Scherzo of his 5th Symphony) in its strongly contrasted middle section. This makes it a mixed task in terms of learning and playing: some parts are quite easy, whilst others are tricky and need lots of care.

It helps to imagine the drill sergeant shouting “left – right – left – right” in time to the LH crotchets. Avoid jabbing the repeated crotchets: instead give them the crisp confidence of smart soldiers.

At the beginning it is possible to play the first 8 bars in a single 5-finger position in each hand by starting the RH on 5 instead of 4. This encourages (or challenges) the less independent fingers 4 and 5 to play evenly. However, if your student is still having problems with these fingers it could be safer to use the printed RH 4 and stretch the thumb out slightly for the A.

The dynamic marking is mf for the first 8 bars but a more varied approach will sound interesting: one possibility is to make a crescendo to bar 5 and then drop back slightly as if in echo. The next section is full of dynamic contrasts and surprises. Here there is no need to overdo the effect – but neither should the f and p be underplayed.

Compared with the first 8 bars, there is quite a lot more to do in bars 9-15. The first essential is to land accurately on the black notes. Looking down and taking aim is the best option for both bar 9 and bar 13. Some students may need to be reminded (with a pencil mark or highlighter) where to look when they return their eye to the score.

The LH finger 3 needs to land on the A flat in bar 13 well up the key so that the thumb covers the D flat. Bar 13 -14 also contains a jump in both hands. Using finger 2 for both will help with aiming. If the thumb is kept slightly tucked under in readiness for the next note they can then smoothly get hold of the white notes that follow.

It is well worth practising this hands separately and then together. The step change in dynamics from f to p should be included in this practising so it becomes habitual.

However, the most demanding bars in the piece are yet to come. When setting practice requirements between lessons, the student should work on bars 20-23 before anything else – every student likes to start at the beginning but this is one piece where neglecting the end will seriously affect the eventual exam mark!

An important moment for the LH is the move to F in bar 21 followed by black notes. While this is happening the RH has to get to F – this may need slow practice hands together to make the coordination work – and then the RH has to jump again (or stretch) to A flat at the end of bar. It is worth pointing out that both hands here play a mirror image shape with 2 then 1. Musically and physically it seems very much like an answer to bars 14-15.

Remember that the LH briefly gets to play the melody in 20-21, so give it plenty of emphasis.

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