Pergolesi - Allegro (Sonata No. 7 in E)
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was an Italian Baroque composer and violinist who wrote lighthearted ‘comic’ operas, sacred vocal music and also number of instrumental works. Pergolesi was born in 1710 and only lived for 26 years, dying in 1736.
The influence of the Italian opera overture can be felt in the structure of the keyboard sonata of that era, in that the works consisted of three movements, fast-slow-fast in tempo, that could be played as independent pieces.
The term sonata, in the Baroque era, meant a piece that was written for an instrument to play rather than voice, only later coming to refer to the form of the Classical sonata.
This particular allegro shows the way in which keyboard music was developing, being in two main, repeated sections with a modulation to the dominant key, although the structure is less complicated and there is less development of motifs than would be expected in a Classical sonata.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is a piece that requires nimble fingers and neat ornamentation, with the ability to give subtle contrasts in dynamics to illustrate the phrasing and structure of the music.
Independent hands are needed in order to characterise the style in clearly defined textures. The music is light-hearted and flows well, making it rewarding to play.
Style & Tempo
Baroque music is so interesting to learn because the use of expressive detail is largely left to the choice of the individual performer, since composers of that era rarely gave performance indications.
There are, however, conventions in performance – and indeed fashions in interpretation – that may be used as guiding principles as to what is tasteful and appropriate.
Tone & Texture
The recording demonstrates not only effective use of phrasing, but also use of dynamic contrasts to help to define the phrasing. Dynamic variety is used to highlight the question and answer structure of the phrasing by making a sudden change from forte to piano.
It will be noticed that a crescendo sometimes adds to the feeling of musical tension as a phrase develops and that this, assuming that it is done in a subtle, tasteful manner, is indeed appropriate in Baroque music.
Awareness of texture in Baroque music is essential for convincing, idiomatic playing.
When listening to the above recording with your student, draw attention to the way in which the main melodic line, played by the violin, is much more prominent than the accompanying instruments, unless they are playing an ‘answering’ phrase in reply to the violin’s ‘questioning’ phrase.
This is very pertinent in playing Pergolesi’s music on the piano, where we are able to make one voice sing out above the other musical lines.
The most challenging technical issue here is the ability to play with independence of hands in order to define the textures. This is an aspect of technique that students find difficult even at the higher grades, as both sophisticated technique and selective listening are required simultaneously.
There are several good solutions to fingering in this piece. Much depends on the experience of your student as to whether you suggest the more complicated approach of finger changing on repeated notes, which does promote articulation precision with a musical line, or whether you go for simplicity for the sake of security.
In its original version this piece had a lot of ornamentation, for instance Bars 4, 5 and 6 also had mordents on the first beat of the bar. Some subsequent editions have missed out several of the ornaments for the sake of simplicity for the inexperienced pianist and the music does not suffer much from their omission.
Pedalling is not needed, nor expected, in this piece, although the more musically mature student may like to use subtle touches of pedal on the slurred pairs of quavers and final notes of phrases.
A useful maxim is that ‘less is more’ in music of this style, as indiscriminate use of pedal would make the textures unclear and undermine any sense of style.
Early in the teaching and learning process, try playing the piece for your student and ask them where to play more loudly and more softly.
Students are often very perceptive, intuitively choosing appropriate dynamics depending on the musical line, chord sequence and structure of the music, without necessarily being aware of the musical reasoning behind their choices.
For secure playing it is recommended that the student should bear in mind the structure of the music, which should have been discussed in lessons. Each eight bar section should be practised with separate hands and with hands together, then the sections need to be liked seamlessly together.
The main problems in a piece such as this arise from the fact that many of the phrases begin in a similar way, but develop differently. Notice that the first phrase begins in an identical way to the second phrase, but has a different ending. Attention should be drawn to similarities and differences during the lesson.
An excellent performance will be one that characterises the lively music in a stylistically convincing manner through sensitive use of articulation and dynamics. Technical control will be even and there will be obvious awareness of the textures, with the hands independently able to bring out the melodic lines. Fluency and accuracy will be assured and there will be a confident sense of performance.
A good performance will be fluent, at an appropriately lively pace, although a few small smudges in accuracy may be made. There will be some attention to musical detail and awareness of phrasing will be shown even though the tone may not always be poised and even.
A secure performance may be cautious in pace but continuity will be reliable despite a few mistakes. There will be awareness of phrasing and some care will be taken with slurring and staccato. There may not yet be much dynamic variety, or alternatively the dynamics might be too strongly contrasted, lacking the subtlety of tone needed to characterise the style successfully.