Handel - Allemande HWV 478 (ABRSM Grade 5)
Interpreting the Music
Teaching & Learning the Piece
Handel: Allemande HWV 478
• A minor
• Dignified dance in 2/2 time
• Several types of trill ornament
• Two-part counterpoint (one line in each hand)
• RH has the melody
• Cello-like LH must be expressive but not prominent
This lovely harpsichord movement is to be played in a dignified and measured tempo. However, with its origins in dance there is no need to make a pedantic or pompous impression. The music should keep moving forward.
The two-part texture of this piece could easily be imagined as a dialogue between a violin and a cello. Imagining their bowing can help with articulation and phrasing.
Experiment with different articulations in the LH as if the cellist wished to try detaching and slurring different notes. It is wise to try out a preferred articulation in all the places that seem musically parallel (e.g. bars 3 and 4, 15-16), to ensure that it continues to sound right in different settings. The least interesting option would be to play all the LH legato. However, there is quite a range of possibilities for detaching and slurring.
Some suggested articulations are at example 5A3/1.
The violin analogy is also useful for shaping the phrases on the piano is a way that is not available to harpsichord players. For a musically satisfying performance the player needs to be aware of the original style but also able to use their instrument to express everything the music is saying. So there is nothing wrong with subtly using dynamics to make the RH lines rise and fall, rather than artificially limiting the piano’s capabilities out of misplaced respect for the limitations of the harpsichord.
For the more musically mature student, the following technique is suggested, but is by no means obligatory for less competent students. Holding down the chord notes beyond their notated value at bars 8-10, 12, 13, and 18 provides an insight into the way the melody sometimes makes counterpoint with itself – the top RH notes connect up (in bar 9, the B and then the D, the C and then the E). Over-holding in this way was a performance practice that was sometimes notated with tie marks and sometimes left to the player’s discretion, so it is not possible to say for sure whether Handel meant these chords to be played like that. The idea was to prolong the sound so that the chord would ring pleasantly through the instrument and give an extra dimension to the texture.
As ever, ornaments are optional and must not disrupt the musical flow. At grade 5 there will be an expectation that ornaments will be attempted, but simpler ones are still permissible. It is worth noting that in Bach’s day keyboard ornaments were practised by complete beginners as finger exercises, so there was no need to learn how to play them later. As well as those printed in the score, additional ornaments would have been freely improvised according to the conventions of Handel’s day, so for the confident player, an extra trill in the RH G sharp of bars 2 and 13 would sound stylish (example 5A3/2 ).
The suggested realisations of the ornament at bars 7 and 17 involve counting 5 – for those who have trouble with this, a more easily measured version would use the note values at example 5A3/3 which avoids the need to subdivide into 5.
Phrase lengths are quite regular in the first half, starting with an upbeat and continuing for two bars. In the second half the phrase lengths become irregular, as is so often the case in Baroque music, and from bar 13 (upbeat to 14) to the end they could be said to overlap. This means the performer must play as if ending a phrase (e.g. in the middle of bar 16) and grow the sound of the new one out of this. A break can be made in the middle of the second beat of bar 17. (example 5A3/4)
Use of pedal would be stylistically inappropriate.
Fingering must be established and consistently used from the very first note learning. In this type of music, where there is mostly only one line in each hand, the player’s every slip and hesitation is noticeable and disruptive. Security of fingering is therefore vital. Students who like to learn hands separately first need to check very carefully as they begin to put hands together, to ensure that the need to focus on coordination does not lead to wrong fingering being adopted “in the moment” which can cause confusion and error later.
Students who prefer to play as much as possible hands together from the outset need to take this whole piece very slowly indeed, with absolute certainty about which finger goes with which. There is no room for a “fluent sight-reading” approach in this texture, as slips cannot be easily covered up. Some alternative fingering suggestions for various bars are given at example 5A3/5. Bar 12 is quite awkward to coordinate and will need careful practice however it is fingered. In bars 12-13 LH the 5th finger moves in under the 4th but does not have to be played legato.