Dvorak - Slavonic Dance Op 72 No 8 Ab major
Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances were composed in two sets – Op 46 in 1878 and Op 72 in 1886.
Whilst the orchestral version may be the one to which many will readily refer, these pieces were originally written for piano duet and inspired by the Hungarian Dances of Brahms, also for piano duet.
Until this time, Dvorak’s reputation, as a composer, was nowhere near as popular as it became following the success of these compositions.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is not a straightforward piece by any means, so be certain that both players have good musical skills and relatively keen expressive capabilities.
The ability to enjoy working together is rather important, even if personalities are rather different. In fact, matching a more outgoing with a more shy student can sometimes work very well. Your knowledge and intuition should be the guide.
Style & Tempo
Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances are perhaps better known for their more exuberant and brilliant moods than the introspective qualities found in this final one of Opus 72.
The G minor one at the end of Op 46, for example, typifies the more popular impression of these dances with its fast tempi and full orchestral timbres. This particular example is exciting music, easy to connect with and harmonically unambiguous.
Phrasing & Articulation
There are plenty of indications in the score concerning both articulation and tempo fluctuations.
These should form the basis, alongside plenty of listening to orchestral versions, for your interpretation.
Tone & Texture
The details in the phrasing section should inform the performance as to the kinds of tonal qualities needed. These will be wide ranging.
As general guidance, one should remember that the attack should never be hard or harsh in its quality.
Even in the f and ff moments – such as Bars 13 – 20 and 92 – 100 etc – the quality of tone should be rounded.
Think of orchestral sonorities, such as the ensemble with weighty and supportive brass sounds, the excitement coming in the form of added percussion.
There is not much of technical demand here that should cause any difficulties at this level.
Nonetheless a major difficulty in playing duets arises from sitting at a somewhat awkward and unusual angle at the keyboard.
This takes some getting used to and care should be exercised to avoid too much uninterrupted time in practice, which potentially could cause tendon problems as a consequence of prolonged periods with the wrist in an uncomfortable position.
Note the subsections divided into primo and secondo fingering.
Traditionally it is the secondo player who pedals, although it may be that if the primo player was more experienced then they might do it.
The reasoning here lies in the fact that it is the secondo player who has responsibility for ensuring clear harmonic textures, and that pedalling lower register passages usually demands more changes than upper register passages.
It is important that your individual students know their own parts well before coming together. The experience of playing with another person often puts the other off, so there is quite a bit to get used to when playing with another pianist.
A good strategy is for you to play the other part during lessons in the initial stages.
As always, be clear and prioritize what you wish to work on in the lesson and do not try to do too many things at once.
Always stress the importance of knowing individual parts really well, so it is wise to cultivate a practice regime where each player leaves the lesson knowing what they will individually work on during the coming week.
You may well find that, whilst the performance is coming along in terms of notes and ensemble, it lacks real musical passion and insight.
You may also find it something of a struggle to enable your students to feel the mood with an understanding for this Slavic idiom. It may be that they do not easily achieve this, but that you can teach them a certain sense of rubato that mimics the kind of expressive performance needed.
This may not be ideal, but one has to start somewhere ! Even if the performance does not turn out to be the greatest interpretation in the world, that intuitive sense of style can be something that students will learn to feel more naturally as time goes on.
An excellent performance
This will be a delight to hear. There will be a good understanding of the ebb and flow inherent here and the ensemble will demonstrate subtleties within the balance between the two players as well as unanimity. Careful and effective pedalling will add a pleasant sheen to the textures and the effect will never become tiring on the ear. The degree to which both players act as a sensitive and single artistic unit will be very evident.
A good performance
Here there will be lots of musical features to the playing and a good sense that the players are working together as an effective musical unit. There may be a few ensemble slips and moments where the unanimity of performance could be better. However this will come across as expressive and knowledgeable playing, but without the degree of detail and the consistent subtlety that mark out a really outstanding performance.
A sound performance
This will demonstrate clear qualities of workmanship, although without the kind of flair and musical confidence that better performances will possess. The ensemble should be fairly confident and the performance will demonstrate some sense of emerging style, showing ability to handle different tempi with expressive intent. The detail may lack polish and there may be a need for more colour and tonal shading.