Kuhlau - Sonatina in A Op 59 No 1 1st Movement


Friedrich Kuhlau was born in 1786, in Germany, to a musical family. Having studied piano in Hamburg, he relocated to Copenhagen in 1810 becoming a Danish citizen in 1813.

Kuhlau’s music is rooted firmly in the Classical style, showing some affinity with the work of Beethoven, whom Kuhlau knew personally and whose music he admired.

Kuhlau is remembered principally for his music for flute, for his delightful piano music and for his famous opera, Elverhoj. Kuhlau remained in Denmark until his death in 1832.

Pupil Match & Suitability

This cheerful allegro is for nimble fingered students who enjoy the Classical sonata genre.

It is a very approachable piece for the Grade 7 pianist, with few major technical challenges other than the ability to play with accuracy at a lively pace, with carefully balanced hands.

Style & Tempo

The style of this piece is typically Classical, in its use of sonata form, with the influence of Beethoven to be found in the more unusual modulation to the submediant key of F Major for the start of the development section at Bar 37. (Beethoven used a modulation to the submediant in the first movement of his ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata.)

Phrasing & Articulation

In this piece, phrasing is mostly symmetrical in four-bar groupings, according to usual Classical principles, but sometimes a longer line is more convincing and the student will need to be guided in the best approach.

Tone & Texture

The dynamic markings in the score explain every nuance of how to play musically, giving not only the main dynamic contrasts, but also indicating the balance of hands.

It would be undesirable to overdo the dynamic contrasts, as the markings in the score are often just there to tell us where we might follow the natural ebb and flow of the melodic lines and harmonies, or to indicate where the melody is to be brought out as opposed to the quieter accompaniment.


Good control of the tone and sensitive textural awareness are key technical issues.

The tone must be balanced so as to bring out the melody line, particularly when the tune moves into the lower register. The tone of the modern piano is naturally easier to hear in the middle to higher range, so any melodic lines in the lower register need to be emphasised particularly strongly.


The fingering suggested in the Schirmer edition is perfectly acceptable and there are even some useful, suggested alternatives.


The ornamentation in this piece is not unduly challenging, but the notes must be evenly controlled in timing and in tone.

The suggested ornamentation realisation within the score is perfectly good, so the teacher’s job is to advise on how to play with good control.

A slight rotary action of the wrist helps, as well keeping a little space between the keys and the fingers, rather than allowing the fingers to rest on the key surface.


Pedalling must be subtle, with no suggestion of blurred harmonies. The staccato articulation and the clarity of the semiquaver runs should be maintained, so pedalling in these places is to be approached with great caution and reserve.

As a general rule, if the listener is unaware of the pedalling but the tone sounds pleasing then the performer has achieved good results. Once the listener becomes aware of obvious sustaining of notes and of blurred harmonies, we can say that pedalling is excessive and inappropriate.

Teaching Strategies

As always, it is useful to hear a performance of the piece before beginning to learn it, so that the student is aware of the style and character of the music. Do provide the opportunity for your student to listen to the whole of the sonatina, not just to this particular movement. If you listen with your student, you will be able to point out the elements of style that are essential for a good performance.

Developing aural memory is always helpful, particularly for preventing errors in learning and this is another reason why the student might listen to the music before starting to learn it.

The teacher’s job is to ensure that the student understands the music and also to prevent any technical problems arising, by being aware in advance of potential difficulty area.

Practice Tips

Practice should reflect, indeed replicate, what has been covered in the lesson. Merely playing through from start to finish is not the most efficient method of practising.

Learning a piece to be played from memory needs a structured approach that takes into account the preferred learning styles of the student. If you help your student to identify the ways of learning that work best for them, their practice will become more efficient.


In the initial learning of the piece, point out to the student that the scale beginning in Bar 4, RH is the A major scale; the initial note of E makes it all too easy to make the mistake of playing it as the E major scale, with a D sharp.

Insist on rhythmic precision in this piece from the very beginning of the learning process, particularly where rests are concerned. For instance in Bars 63 – 66, the rhythms sound on the quaver beat, but the second one of each pair should definitely be shortened, since it is notated as a staccato semiquaver.

This is a piece in which technical competence depends very much on a secure memorisation of the score. A leap to watch out for is in Bar 85, where the LH must jump right up to the treble clef D and F sharp; should the student have to hesitate to remember, this would spoil the fluency.

Final Performance

You will need to make a decision whether or not the first section, or exposition, is to be repeated in performance; historically, the point of the repeat was both to balance the structure and to ensure that the audience had grasped the themes to be developed.

In a graded examination the repeat would not be required but for competitions you will need to check the rules and regulations.

An excellent performance will reflect the Classical style and character of the music in informed use of expressive detail at a lively pace. Authoritative technical command will enable controlled evenness of rhythm and tone, with the hands sensitively balanced. There will be a communicative sense of performance, with assured fluency and accuracy.

A good performance will show good continuity and accuracy, with appropriate use of expressive detail and a convincing sense of phrase. Technical control may not be completely assured but an appropriate pace will be maintained.

A sound performance will show continuity and accuracy at a suitable, sustained pace, with few mistakes. Some expressive detail will be given and there will be a developing sense of phrase.

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