Kabalevsky - The Cavalryman

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Kabalevsky: The Cavalryman op 27 no.29

• B flat minor
• Confident, military style
• Strong staccato chords
• Dynamic contrasts
• Suitable (with modifications) for small hands
• Careful preparation needed

This lively and rhythmical piece will suit students who like showy, energetic music. The key signature may be a challenge for some students. A clear and precise staccato touch is needed, with plenty of firmness in the arm and fingers to play loudly or quietly (and switch quickly between the two). Small hands should have little or no difficulty, although some notes may need to be redistributed from the right hand to the left in the middle section.

Articulation is very carefully indicated and should be just as carefully followed in performance. Its variety gives texture and weight to the music. When one hand is playing a different articulation from the other it is even more important to keep them different. Some students may need to practise extremely slowly to prevent the differences becoming blurred.

The challenge of reading such a difficult key must not be allowed to dominate the note learning stage. It is very helpful to play the scale and arpeggio of B flat minor as a warm-up before practising this piece. Playing the primary chords will also help with key geography, especially with the slight surprise of F major as chord V – all white notes in a 5-flat key signature. As well as the notes and fingering, articulation must be correctly produced from the very outset.

Coordination is important in bars 26-42 where the melodic line and staccato chords are played by the RH. For those who have not encountered this before, it is best to play exceptionally slowly whilst checking that the top line is still held down after each staccato is let go. When the LH is added it may disrupt the RH so very slow practice will again be essential.

The dynamic contrasts from loud to quiet in the RH (bar 3 etc. and especially at bar 24) are so sudden that they could potentially obstruct the flow of the music. If included at the note-learning stage they are less likely to be a problem later; if added as an afterthought they might be forgotten or reduced in performance.

The long passage without dynamic markings except mf (bars 26-42) should not be played monotonously. The articulations and melodic shape give clues to the variety of dynamic shading that could be used.

Fingering: as so many of the notes are black, both thumb and fifth finger will have to be used on black notes. If the student feels insecure doing this, have them practise playing scales such as D flat major using C major fingering to take away some of the strangeness.

For small hands, consider playing some of the RH notes with the LH in the middle section. There are different places where this might be preferred, depending on the individual player, but too much switching could be counter-productive, such as at bars 36-37. Where the LH is indicated at bar 38 it is much easier to read if the F note heads are written into the LH line of the score.
Slow practice will help prevent confusion.

Some may find it helpful, during slow practice, to over-hold the notes of each chord and check how they look and feel to help remember how one chord moves to the next.

In the middle section the LH 5th finger could be replaced by finger 4 from bar 24 if that feels stronger and better able to withstand so many bars’ use. The other fingerings would change accordingly.

A couple of elementary mistakes to avoid: don’t overlook the change of clef in the RH at bar 21, and do play G flat in bar 41 (a G natural sounds acceptable but is not correct). A G natural may also creep in at bar 39 before the accidental is marked, and to add to the confusion the correct G flat actually sounds “wrong” played with the RH’s F.

The RH chords in bar 62 are exactly a semitone apart. Finding the first one correctly is important. Not many students will have enough grasp of harmony for it to be helpful giving it a label (such as G flat 7 /D flat), so it may be worth thinking visually. Notice also how “white plus 3 black” moves to “black plus 3 white” in the next chord.
The best performances will bring to mind a picture of the title’s cavalryman. (Try searching Google Images for “Russian Cavalry Officer”). Proud, courageous, wearing an impressive, brightly coloured uniform that flashes with polished metalwork; mounted on a large and well-trained horse, knowing that he looks very fine indeed. The music should be played with military precision and evoke the colour, the movement, and the sense of confident superiority.

Here is our E-MusicMaestro recording of The Cavalryman:

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