Brubeck - For Lydia

Interpreting the Music

Darius Brubeck - For Lydia is set for the ABRSM Grade 5 examination 2013 - 2014.

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Darius Brubeck: For Lydia

• No key signature, jazz harmonies
• Suitable for small hands but some leaps and stretches
• Intricate texture needs care with articulation
• Irregular feel – counting essential
• Relaxed contemporary jazz style
• Light-hearted and confident performance needed

This charming piece is challenging on many levels: rhythm, tone balance, agility and character to name a few. Although small hands are mostly free of the problems of large chords, there is a good deal of jumping, especially in the LH. Accurate pedalling, delicacy of touch and an ability to fine-tune the sound are needed. None of the technical difficulties should be allowed to obstruct a performance that must sparkle with life and personality.

The title refers to Brubeck’s granddaughter, and the music may be a portrayal of some facets of this 12-year-old’s character. The piece falls into three sections with related musical material. It starts with a light and rather fragmentary sound, as if the music (or Lydia?) is trying to elude us. The middle section (bars 13-20) is more joined up, with slower chord changes, using the pedal for a fuller sound and building a crescendo. The last four bars bring back the opening music but in a more confident mood which draws it into a cheerful conclusion. Imagining a scene or incident, that this music could be illustrating, can help give the performance a special quality.

Rhythmic certainty is absolutely essential from the outset so that the irregularities in the rhythm become fully familiar to the performer. Quavers should be played straight, not swing. It may be helpful to count all the quavers to ensure accuracy. It will certainly be useful to make up words to the rhythms: The first line fits very well with the words, 'A new piece, for Lydia, for Lydia to play'. Listening to the recording will also help, but always whilst singing along or tapping the pulse: the effect in performance is so irregular that it cannot be reproduced by guessing. There is also no place for distorting the pulse with rubato effects – it needs to be rock steady to enable the offbeat rhythms to make sense.

The articulation should be carefully played through in all its detail with separate hands. Putting hands together reveals a whole new layer of coordination challenges! Slow practice in small sections is essential. Bar 3 is especially intricate, with the two hands almost colliding over the same notes before the LH leaps away a twelfth.

Any laziness during practice, neglecting exact movements and disregarding the grading of touch, will be a potential source of problems in performance. Beware of any tendency to “kick” staccato notes (e.g. bars 9 and 10, both hands) which are not accented – lightness is vital.
The LH, although active, is in an accompaniment role throughout, allowing the RH to stand out. Balance of tone should be carefully controlled in the middle section. Where the LH plays repeated notes the pedal has an amplifying effect which needs to be offset by playing more softly.

Bar 11 is one place where large hands are a distinct advantage. The LH is meant to hold A and F briefly over the low G, which even for a medium hand requires some twisting and stretching. One possibility is to let go the F, if a ninth is reachable – it is only for a quaver’s duration that the note is missing. Another solution (if a ninth is too far to stretch) could be to play the LH A and the RH B with the R thumb at the same time.

Phrasing may seem a surprising topic in such a fragmented texture but it needs to be considered for a coherent performance. The whole piece grows out of the opening “gesture” in bar 1 which develops initially into a 4-bar phrase. Each phrase ending contains the possibility of a new start, with a more definite cadence at bar 12. The middle section, with its slower pace, is more like a single 8-bar phrase.

Pedal has been carefully marked in and, as this is contemporary music, should be respected as the composer’s intention. Where legato is impossible and the texture would not be blurred, it may be acceptable to add small touches of pedal elsewhere, always listening very carefully. Adding pedal is a further coordination task once the hands are able to play together with correct articulation. Once again, slow and accurate practice is the only way to ensure a reliable and correct result in performance.

The best performance will have a natural, free, almost improvised quality that gives no clue to all the hard and meticulous work that went into it!

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