Beethoven - Minuet in D: No 7 from 12 Minuets, WoO 7
Interpreting the Music
Beethoven's Minuet in D: No 7 from 12 Minuets, Wo0 7 is set for the Grade 5 ABRSM piano examination 2013 - 2014.
This is an exciting piece with strong rhythms and wide musical appeal.
The best performances will show neat, confident playing with well judged dynamic colouring and a contrasting, more reflective character for the Trio, which should be just as fluent as the outer sections.
Teaching & Learning the Piece
Beethoven: Minuet in D WoO 7 no.7
• D major
• Triple time dance
• Originally for a dance orchestra
• Some large chords, may be awkward for small hands
• Dramatic and varied, not for the shy performer
• Repeated notes in Trio need good control
Unlike many Minuets we encounter in the piano repertoire, this was actually intended for dancing. It was arranged by Beethoven from the original orchestral version – there were 12 minuets in total.
Non-piano performances can be found here (no. 7 is at 12:11) performed by a string group.
It is interesting to hear how the orchestral texture differs from the piano reduction, especially in the Trio where the piano’s simple repeated chords are complemented by a countermelody. Knowing this, the student can achieve a more musical result in these bars.
One of the first errors to be avoided is holding the first LH chord for too long. It needs to come off at the second beat of bar 1. The student, learning to cope with the rhythm and skipping movements of the RH broken chords, may forget to do this.
Before trying to play the notes, clap the pulse and speak the rhythm (clapping it is too strenuous). It does not always follow an obvious pattern. Possible trouble spots include bar 3, where suddenly three crotchets halt the rush; bar 6, second beat, where the RH must start its run of semiquavers at the right moment; and bar 18 (and 20), where it is tempting to play semiquavers instead of quavers.
The slurring in the RH opening bars need not be interpreted too literally, but more felt in the relative strength of the notes, with the first of the slurred pairs being a little stronger. It is much more important to keep a sense of forward momentum up the D major broken chord pattern and to observe the light-hearted effect of the staccato notes.
Fingering choices will be partly dictated by the dynamics. Strong fingers will be better able to achieve the leaps and accents securely. In bars 12-14, for example, the given fingering is quite right for the fortissimo dynamic, even though it involves changing the fingering at the end of bar 12 to get a 3 on to B flat, and later playing a thumb on E flat. However, in bar 7 the suggested fingering at 5A2/1 may give a stronger result in the staccato chords. For small hands, there is no need to play the lowest RH D in the chords at bar 14-15 (Example 5A2/2)
The big musical challenge of the Trio is to play the repeated chords in bars 21-23 and 29-31 with real shape and interest. The best performances will show an awareness of both the dynamic markings and the triple metre. Listening to the instrumental version as mentioned above will also help the student to develop a sense of what the music is meant to contain in these bars.
Technically, the leaps in bars 25-28 may cause stumbling and hesitation. There are two different problems: the LH octaves which leap a fourth in bars 24-25 and the mid-bar movements of both hands. The problem with the LH octave is the dotted quaver-semiquaver rhythm – the fourth in bar 27 is not so hurried and therefore less of an issue. The quick jump can be securely achieved as long as the student is fully focused on either the thumb or the 5th finger, but not both (or neither!). The octave shape can be held steady and if one finger is chosen to lead, the leap will be safe.
The other problem, of moving up and down in mid-bar, is solved by removing a misunderstanding about what needs to happen. Although it looks as if both hands must move at once, they actually have to be repositioned separately. Full attention on first one and then the other will bring them both into position so that the fingers are poised on their notes ready to play when the beat arrives. Deciding which hand to move first is generally a matter of seeing which needs to get out of the way of the other. Example 5A2/3 shows how these movements can actually be measured and counted into the practice at slow speed.
Pedal is not indicated, and one perfectly good option would be to play the whole piece without pedalling. Most people will probably choose to add some pedal and it is worth experimenting with some different choices. Bear in mind the different purposes of the pedal: as well as its very common use to provide a legato join where the fingers cannot, it also opens up the whole piano to resonate.
This effect is useful for enhancing the accented chords in bars 5 and 6. However, careful listening is essential to prevent any sudden increase in resonance causing unevenness, especially when playing loudly.
Bars 17-20 could succeed with or without pedal. The effect is quite different – a soft, dry elegance without pedal, or a fuller tone with pedalled chords contrasting with the unpedalled quaver semitones in between.
Taken as whole, the Trio can be given more contrast by careful choices of pedal. The repeated quavers are especially interesting, as choosing to add pedal will make a very big change to their sound. It really is a matter of personal preference, but pedal should certainly not be used as a substitute for careful control of the tone. At the sforzando chords in bars 25-28 pedal is useful both to enrich the sound and to enable legato to the next chord.
The successful performance of this piece will bring a sense of occasion – evoking a ballroom full of dancers and the excitement of a big social event. The contrast and drama of the music will be fully expressed, whilst keeping a real sense of dance.