Fauré - Andante moderato: No. 5 from Pièces brèves, Op. 84
Fauré is best remembered for his mastery of the French Art Song, or mélodie, and perhaps his well known Requiem more than anything else, despite some very lovely and well crafted works for the piano.
It was some time before he achieved the musical success he sought, but by 1896 had held the position of organist at the Église de la Madeleine in Paris. In the same year he became composition instructor at the Paris Conservatoire and later its Director, in 1905. Amongst his pupils were Ravel and Nadia Boulanger.
His style of writing, particularly for the piano, might be described as enigmatic and wistful and that would be very relevant for the andante moderato, known in the original version simply as Improvisation, and the fifth of a set of eight Pièces brèves, Op 84.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Like many musical performances, the success of this short piece is dependent upon the ability of your pupil to characterize and enjoy the creation and projection of a rich cantabile line.
A sense of improvisation and the ability to play with rubato will be needed.
Whilst not a particularly passionate piece, it has delicacy and tenderness along with considerable subtleties in the musical language.
Style & Tempo
Rubato is an essential element, especially in music of this period. The nature of it and the range of tone colour needed is dependent upon the character of each particular piece.
Understanding the harmonic structure is usually the key to any good performance, since this helps to determine the direction in which the music needs to flow and at a later stage can help the performer to hear and understand the longer phrase structures within the piece.
Phrasing & Articulation
It is possible to play with all of the qualities mentioned in the section on Tone & Texture, but without the end result sounding phrased. Therefore it is important to consider how the expressive melody emerges.
Often it spans a considerable range of the keyboard within a short space of time (e.g. bars 1 - 3). The initial semiquaver movement propels the first phrase forward. It must sing all the way through though not be in a hurry at the top, then settle at its point of momentary repose on the G# (bar 3).
This goes for many of the shorter phrases which then follow. Play it with a metronome and you will discover how static this sounds. It requires a certain rubato, although it may well be better to talk and think in terms of less concrete things, perhaps such as the way you might throw a silk scarf into the air and see it gently float down, or the way in which a feather/a leaf will float to the ground.
Tone & Texture
A flexible, rich and expressive cantabile in the RH is essential. Clarity of texture here relies upon three things:
(i) the ability to distinguish and float a sufficiently well projected RH cantabile
(ii) the capacity to play the LH with different tone - a singing bass but gentle, rippling semiquavers
(iii) clean pedalling
Confident arpeggios playing is an important feature here.
The management of LH and pedal technique is also important for clarity of textures and resonant supportive bass lines.
Much of this is straightforward and often makes use of standard arpeggio fingering - e.g. C# minor & G# major with thumb tucked under after a 2nd finger (1/9 etc).
Be certain to follow this in a similar way in bars 7 & 5 & 6 too. Using the thumb on the first of each semiquaver quadruplets causes too uncomfortable a stretch, so encourage always a thumb under onto the 2nd semiquaver.
There are two different types of musical textures here in relation to use of the pedal:
(i) arpeggiated chords
(ii) melodic lines with harmonic suspensions
This may be a short piece but there is a lot of detail neede if it is going to become fluent and musically confident.
Restrict the learning to chunks which are manageable.
It is a lovely piece but needs to be very well known if it is going to work in performance.
If your student comes to their lesson and says they "cannot do x or y" then that is probably fact.
Usually the reason is that when something particularly awkward turns up they stop dead in their tracks and become unable to think about how to go about it.
The rule is:
Unpick a problem area in small bits at a painstakingly slow pace.
Sort out the simplest point.
Then start to build on that.
Most students try something far too quickly, do not manage it and then give up.
Achieving a flowing and well balanced texture may well prove challenging.
Settle for a slower tempo if it results in a more musical flow.
Creating something of intrinsic musical value means something which has beauty of tone and is not hurried, anxious and uneasy in its manner.
An excellent performance will flow with an improvisatory quality. The phrasing will not be marked by the barlines and the mood will be contemplative, perhaps almost passionate at times, with wistfulness and a hushed ending.
A good performance will take account of the changing moods and convey a keen range of dynamics. There will be a good feel for rubato although the spontaneous quality associated with a really fine performance will probably not be evident. Communication will be tangible if perhaps a little inconsistent.
A sound performance will be up to tempo and convey something of the musical shape. However it may well be the kind of performance which lacks colour and detail. It will have something to say but will probably show more uncomfortable than confident qualities.