Chopin - Wiosna
Interpreting the Music
Teaching & Learning the Piece
• G minor
• Folksong-like, based on a poem “Spring”
• Gentle and expressive
• LH sustained notes under broken chords, difficult for small hands
• Hint of sadness
• RH plays melody to LH accompaniment – balance needed
• Pedalling optional
This charming, folksong-like piece was written as a setting for a poem by a friend of Chopin’s. The poem, “Spring”, refers to the lovely sights and sounds experienced by a solitary herdsman (the stream, the sound of cowbells, the heather in the fields) and then introduces a hint of melancholy (he sits on a rock with a tear in his eye) which is then carried away by the song of the lark.
Stylistically, it shows very little sign of having been written by Chopin. However, its presence in an early grade opens the door to introducing the glories of his more characteristic (and difficult) music to inspire the student! So do include some listening to a selection from Chopin’s Mazurkas, Waltzes, Nocturnes and other short pieces. You can explain how important it was to Chopin that the sound should be beautiful, with a singing melody.
The first thing to establish is whether the student is physically able to play the LH part. Their LH must be big enough to play an octave, and also to stretch their fingers comfortably over G, C, D and F sharp (ask them play these notes, holding them all down, and then report how this feels). For those whose hands are big enough, there still needs to be care to avoid tension. Not only is tension bad for the hands, but also bad for the tone. The LH provides a gently rocking accompaniment without drawing attention to itself, and tension will cause a loss of control which undermines this.
Articulation is completely legato, which means that shading of dynamics and phrasing become very important to prevent monotony. Dynamics are editorially added, and give a good sense of how to make each phrase rise and fall.
However, the balance between the hands is even more important than choice of dynamics in producing the correct sound level. The RH must sing – actually singing the line is the best way to find out how it should sound – and the LH must accompany unobtrusively. If your student is new to the idea of one hand being louder than the other, try a couple of games first:
Game 1 – “Which Leg is Loud?” Press down with all your fingertips, one hand on each leg. Keep up the pressure but make one hand press harder, then the other. Then play “chords”, more strongly on one leg than the other. A suggested pattern would be LH f /RH p x2, RH f / LH p x2, etc or you can call out “RH loud… LH loud” The student can easily feel whether they are succeeding, and get a sense of how it feels to play differently.
Game 2 – “Keep Your Cool”. On the piano, play a fairly slow, steady, quiet five-finger up-and-down scale with one hand. The aim is to keep it going at the same dynamic level throughout the game. Then with the other hand on a nearby surface (or your lap), play a matching 5-finger scale but vigorously, as if fortissimo. Most people find the “quiet” hand gets louder at this point! Regain control of the sound whilst playing both hands. Finally (keeping the quiet one going) transfer the “loud” hand to the piano and play the two hands at their respective levels. Swap hands and repeat the game!
Pedalling is suggested but is not compulsory and some children may be too small to reach. It may, however, help to get across some of the more awkward moments such as bar 16-17. There are four main options for pedalling this piece:
1. No pedal at all (in which case the LH must be very well sustained) – possibly pedal the last bar.
2. Pedal in a couple of places to facilitate legato
3. Pedal throughout
4. Pedal as a special effect (e.g. in the middle section only) to provide variety in the sound.
If the student wishes to pedal any long sections, they do need to be able to change the pedal gently and cleanly with each chord change. Because of the sustained LH line, there is no great hurry to replace the pedal after lifting it at the new half bar, so there need be no risk of accidental thumping sounds from the pedal mechanism, unless the piano itself is at fault. However, in case the piano for performance has a very noisy or squeaky pedal, be prepared to play without pedal and sustain the legato entirely by hand. In any case a better cantabile sound will result from a fully legato technique. Incidentally, choice of footwear on the day of performance should be checked on a pedal to ensure that no squeaking is caused by the sole of the shoe!
Even in bars 16-17 it is possible to finger and distribute the notes between the hands to achieve legato – it will need extra practice for coordination and tone balance but is perfectly achievable.
Apart from the continuing need to keep the LH 5th finger held down whilst playing broken chords, there are a couple of places where early misreadings may creep in. Bar 9 contains an unexpected E natural, repeated in bar 13. Bar 16 has a syncopated rhythm which may need to be carefully clapped and counted.
A successful performance will use a technically accomplished control of the sound to achieve a beautiful, singing simplicity of expression. Smooth and flexible phrasing and perhaps a touch of rubato, along with well-chosen dynamics and subtle pedalling (if used), will give this its Romantic style.