Berkeley - Allegro No 5: Five Short Pieces Op. 4
Sir Lennox Randal Francis Berkeley (1903 – 1989) was an English composer, who studied with Nadia Boulanger and then with the French composer, Ravel. Berkeley also knew the composers, Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Albert Roussel and Benjamin Britten.
Berkeley composed music for orchestra and choirs as well as for small instrumental ensembles, solo voice, guitar and piano.
Further information may be found if you http://www.lennoxberkeley.org.uk/
For a flavour of Berkeley's versatility as a composer listen to the Theme and Variations for Guitar here:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This lively, light-hearted piece would suit a nimble-fingered student who enjoys a playing at a quick pace, who can cope with irregular metre and is able to play with precise rhythmic accuracy.
This Allegro is a good choice for extending the repertoire of students who may not currently enjoy playing jazz style music. It is certainly a piece that is great fun to play and it also offers the chance to give lots of attention to very specific articulation details.
The complete set of Five Short Pieces, Opus 4 would make a varied, enjoyable recital programme.
Style & Tempo
Dotted crotchet = 92 is an ideal tempo for this piece, although much depends on the capability of the student to keep up the pace throughout, without slowing down for, or stumbling over, the semiquavers near the end.
A slightly slower pace could work as long as the articulation is buoyant and a slightly quicker tempo could be exciting - but only if technical control is still secure.
Phrasing & Articulation
Is is absolutely essential to follow the performance indications regarding articulation, as heard here. One of the aspects of articulation that students most often find difficult to grasp is that the final note of a slurred group is essentially a staccato note, in that it is not joined to the next note in articulation.
Tone & Texture
Where the textures are RH doubled by LH at the start, the RH needs to be more prominent, as heard here. In the RH thirds, the texture should favour the top line, which is the melody.
The LH is at its most important in the offbeat accents at bars 9 - 11. These accents create an exciting diversion from the RH tune. There are also important accents in bars 15 - 16, which bring the attention back to the conventional strong beats of the bar, only to be placed again on the last beat of the bar in bars 17 - 19, giving a playful character. Finally, note the accents in the final two bars of the piece.
The dynamics are varied both gradually and suddenly, which should be managed carefully in the performance - it sounds much better to crescendo at bar 4 rather than to be loud suddenly at the forte sign. Similarly, care should also be taken not to anticipate the forte - crescendo means that the start of bar 4 has to be quiet.
A bold tone is good, but a harsh tone is inappropriate.
Keep something in reserve for the loudest bar, which is the final one. Playing too loudly beforehand will take away the impact of the fortissimo at the end of the piece.
The technique of playing in thirds can be challenging for many students, but the good news is that these rarely need to be legato, in fact they are only slurred in a small part of the bars where they occur. Elsewhere, such as in the 4th quaver onwards in the 9/8 bars they may be played lightly detached, as heard here.
Playing in thirds is also combined with slurring, adding a further technical challenge.
Effective slurring of note pairs (such as bar 1, quavers 4 and 5) may be practised as a technical exercise using any two notes, preferably mixing white to white keys, white to black, black to white and black to black. Working on this in a relaxed manner, away from having to play the correct notes in a piece can be useful.
The wrist needs to drop a little when the first note of the slur is played and then the hand should float off the keys as the last note is played. The technique can be called 'The Bird and the Butterfly!' The movement can be likened to a bird landing on a branch, which bends downwards a little, before the butterfly floats off into the air. Many students seem inclined to reverse the up and down movements, giving an unmusical bump on the second note, so this is a good way of remembering the sequence of movements.
Pedalling is not really necessary in this piece, although the tone could be enhanced by very discreet touches of pedal on the first beat of some bars, such as bars 1, 2, 5 and 6.
Unless the student is completely comfortable with using the pedal in a very restrained way, it is much better to leave it out.
The danger areas in this piece are those of not achieving rhythmic precision, being unable to maintain the tempo throughout and not adhering to the performance indications.
All these problems are ones that can be avoided by vigilant teaching and careful practising. Learning the piece without correct articulation in the hope of somehow 'adding it later' is completely misguided. Similarly, learning the notes and rhythms and then studying the suggested fingering later is simply going to result in inability to play at speed and consequent stumbling, with errors in accuracy and fluency.
Here's a lively performance of Berkeley's Allegro no 5 from Five Short Pieces, Opus 4 by Terroni, from the CD Lennox Berkeley: Music for Solo Piano and Piano Duet - pianists Raphael Terroni and Norman Beedie, on the BMS label.
Interpreting the Music
Allegro - Number 5 from Five Short Pieces Opus 4 is set for the ABRSM Grade 6 piano examination 2013 - 2014.
This piece is light-hearted and lively. The articulation in the score should be adhered to strictly and the accents, such as at bars 9 - 11, bars 15 - 16 and near the end really bring the music to life vibrantly.
The best performances will be well controlled at speed, with the hands successfully co-ordinated and balanced. The irregular metre is very much a feature of this piece and timing needs, therefore, to be precise.
The recording here is on by Len Vorster of the Schirmer Ensemble from the Chamber Music of Lennox Berkeley CD on the Naxos Label.
E-MusicMaestro streams music under PRS licence.
Teaching & Learning the Piece
Teaching and learning go hand in hand, in that what is taught in the lesson should be the focus of practice at home. It is a good idea to study each phrase separately first, before attempting to play, taking just a small unit at a time.
The teacher should insist on correct articulation, using demonstration and copying so that the student does not have the chance to get into the habit of wrong articulation and rhythms. The notation should be matched carefully with what is being played so that the student understands why certain notes are to be played detached and others are not. Just very small fragments should be attempted at a time unless the student happens to be very confident and accurate as regards performance directions.
The rhythms are challenging right from the start of the piece, where the Middle C is first held for a length of two quavers, but then held at bar 3 for a duration of three quavers. A similar pattern in bars 5 and 6 is not exactly the same, with the C held both times for two quavers' duration. However, listening to the teacher play, hearing a recording many times, copying rhythm clapping and beginning to understand the phrasing will all help.
The changing metre can cause even the most competent students to make rhythm mistakes at bar 13 and 14, where the temptation is to play in 6/8 time instead of 5/8.
Special attention should be paid to the bars where the articulation is not the same in both hands. Although separate hands practise is useful for initial learning, these sections, such as bar 23 onwards (heard here) have to be worked on with both hands, first at a very slow, thoughtful pace, to experience the contrast in articulation.