MacDowell - To a Wild Rose

Interpreting the Music

To a Wild Rose by MacDowell is set for the ABRSM Piano examination 2013 - 2014.

Teaching & Learning the Piece

MacDowell: To a Wild Rose op 51 no.1

  • A major

  • Gentle, song-like

  • RH melody with chord accompaniment

  • Requires sensitive pedalling

  • One very awkward moment in LH

  • Not ideal for small hands

The main challenge of this piece (apart from a very specific problem in bar 41) is to make the RH melody sing out in beautifully shaped phrases. For students who have not attempted it before, it is a good piece to introduce playing a melody and an accompanying line in the same hand. The minims do not pose any real problems of tonal balance, but the need to hold them can make it harder to shape the melody without awkwardness. The student could try singing the melody whilst playing only the chords, to get a feeling for how it could sound. Playing the RH minims with the LH and the melody as beautifully as possible with the RH can also give a good idea of the sounds to aim for.

In bars 21-24 there is more of a dialogue between the hands, which concludes with both playing together in bars 25-28 on equal terms. Notice how the dynamics and ritardando marking pull the music back from a continual increase, so that although the notes move on upwards, the sense of a climax is already fading.

Although pedal will be used it is wise to learn and practise without pedal to ensure good habits of holding the minims for their full length. As much as possible should be legato. Sensitive listening will be vital for good pedalling. The movement of the foot should be unhurried and carefully timed to enable the chord changes to be clear. The una corda pedal will be helpful at bars 7-8, 16-18, and 47 to the end.

Fingering should ensure legato as much as possible. For this reason the same music will not always be fingered the same way: example 5B1/1 show how bars 5 and 7 need to have different fingerings for the next move. At bar 13-14 the RH cannot make a legato, but the LH can and should, especially as it gets more attention with a motif from the melody. One notable place where legato fingering is impossible is bar 24-25 where the RH chord change across the bar line involves moving all the same fingers up a tone. This must be caught by pedalling. The RH chords in 27 can be played with a legato connection between the top notes, and this needs to be learned very slowly as a series of movements to instil the habit of making the join. The lower two notes of each chord have to be lifted while the top note is held over. When tried for the first time this can result in frustration at uncooperative fingers, but do encourage persistence and an ultra-slow speed. Small hands may need to make more compromises using pedal, such as in bar 37 RH, where the G sharp may need to be played with 1 instead of a legato-producing 2.

Bar 41 requires extra care and practice to ensure the LH does not lose its bass note. The E is held over from bar 40 using finger 2, and continues to be held while the A and C sharp are played, catching the A with the pedal. At the end of bar 41 after playing C natural, the A should be silently depressed and held down so that it continues to sound when the pedal is changed for the B. (Example 5B1/2) On an unfamiliar piano, this must be tried out before performance to check how much pressure is needed to play the A silently. This approach is suitable for hands that can span a 9th. For those who can only manage an octave it is still possible to silently play the A in bar 42 just after letting go of the B and before playing the upper A but there will be quite a blur of notes already held by the pedal so care must be exercised in playing them. One final possibility for those with access to a suitably equipped piano is to use the sostenuto (middle) pedal to hold the low A.

The mood of an excellent performance will be sympathetic and poetic, as befits the title and the tempo direction: a wild rose is unsophisticated and delicate compared to cultivated garden varieties, with only 5 petals instead of dozens. The music depicts not only the simplicity of the flower but also the reaction of the person looking at it: charmed, perhaps, by the modest and fragile appearance of the flower which belies the hardiness needed to survive in the countryside. The petals flutter in a sudden gust of wind, the sun comes out or is covered by a cloud, the observer regretfully continues the country walk.

The more imaginative and reflective the student can be, the better the performance.

MacDowell Wild Rose.pdf

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