Haydn - German Dance, Hob. IX/12 no 4

Interpreting the Music

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Haydn: German Dance, Hob. IX/12 no 4

• C major
• Dance with contrasting Trio section
• Double thirds in both hands
• Chords up to 4 notes in LH
• Some large leaps
• Manageable for small hands
• Ornament

This German Dance by Haydn includes a Trio section with a different mood. It would be easy to imagine this music being played by orchestral instruments, and indeed it was published for orchestra too in the same year of 1792, when Haydn was already 60 years old.

This is an attractive choice for those with small hands but strength and agility will be necessary. The music should be elegant and well-controlled, with particular challenges found in the double thirds of the opening and the ornaments in the Trio.

The double thirds which feature in two of the three sections must not be ragged or patchy. Practising simple up-and-down exercises will help in preparation for this. With the contrasted dynamics given here, it may be tricky to keep some of the thirds quiet. This requires a well-controlled and positive finger movement, wrist freedom and light arms.

The clear 3-in-a-bar must not be unsettled by inadvertent bumps caused by the need to jump to a new position (e.g. bar 5). The second beat is often a repeat of the first and should always be lighter. This will require careful listening. In the early stages an exaggerated approach can get the student accustomed to the feeling of taking the weight out of the notes, even when wanting to use them as a springboard.

Performance will be enhanced by a sense of dancing, and imagination in picturing the couples making their movements. As video footage recreating 18th century German dances is hard to find, try speculating about the sort of movements that the music implies – it could be great fun to make up a dance to go with this music.

Enjoy the contrast of pace and texture in the Trio. There is a more halting quality with the minims which again can be interpreted as possible dance gestures. In symphonic works a Trio is often played by a contrasting set of instruments too. In terms of technique, this section’s main practice tasks will be the ornaments, the LH thirds and the need for some quick repositioning.

The ornaments in the Trio are of the type known as a “slide”. Musicologists have generally found that in this period a two-note slide should be played on the beat, but this is not a universal rule. The purpose of the slide is to enliven the music, not to disrupt it and many Grade 3 students will have trouble keeping it poised. Therefore it is probably better to play the main note on the beat, as demonstrated in our video.

The LH thirds cannot be joined to the octaves that follow them, so pick a fingering that is comfortable for the thirds and work on making a bump-free move to the octave. The best way to prevent untidy accenting is to move as early as possible and have the fingers placed ready on the surface of the notes before playing, rather than jumping straight down into the keys.

Since no legato is possible across most of the bar lines, make a feature of lightly detaching the last note of each bar. For example, the upbeat to bar 17 (and similar) will have to be detached to make way for the LH on the same note; the leap between bars 26 and 27 can only be played detached. This means that making a legato between 24 and 25, although playable, would sound inconsistent.

It is interesting to notice in passing how Haydn makes a clever overlap between the two phrases of bars 17-24. The last G of bar 20 both ends the first phrase and provides the upbeat that starts the second. These little signs of top quality craftsmanship help to make Haydn’s music so fresh and durable.

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