Haydn - Vivace assai: No. 11 from 12 petites pièces
This piece is a keyboard arrangement of part of the finale of Haydn’s Symphony no 89. It is contemporary with the composition but not clear whether it was arranged by Haydn himself. The orchestral version can be heard at:
Pupil Match & Suitability
This will suit a well-organised student who is already on the way to having a good technique in terms of speed and agility, and does not mind hard work. Although it is a cheerful and lively piece, precision is needed behind the joie-de-vivre and the performance needs to be very secure. It will also take stamina to get through the 90+ bars that make up the total including the da capo.
However, there is no great requirement for expressive playing or singing tone, so this piece may enable students who are still struggling with more romantic styles to demonstrate their strengths.
An interest in or experience of orchestral sounds will be an asset. So will a willingness to consider music in terms of harmony and form.
Style & Tempo
As noted under “Student match/ suitability”, this music requires agility and neat execution.
The vivace assai (literally 'very lively' or 'lively enough') marking does not imply an exceptionally fast tempo but a sprightly and energetic feel must be maintained throughout.
A very clear and consistent two-in-a-bar is important. This is both to avoid any sense of hurry and to ensure that rests get their full value and are not robbed of their dramatic and humorous effect.
Phrasing & Articulation
As is often the case in Classical-period music, the phrases are mostly arranged in regular sets of eight (four-plus-four) bars, with a couple of exceptions: between bars 32 and 48 there is a series of two-bar phrases, and in bars 64-68 Haydn sets the stage for the da capo by halting the onward flow for four bars, as if the music is uncertain as to which way to go next.
Such extensive use of four-bar phrases risks the music becoming tedious but Haydn overcomes this with a great variety of phrase shapes.
Musically sensitive students can be asked where they think each phrase is “going” or which is the most important note in the phrase. There may well be no right/wrong answer to this and an interesting debate can ensue.
Tone & Texture
The piano of Haydn’s day made a light and clear sound, so despite the orchestral roots of this piece there is no need to try to imitate the depth of an orchestral tutti in the equivalent bars here (e.g. bars 1-4, 7-8).
However, the dynamic markings show where the different sections of the orchestra were used and it is good to draw on these different sounds in the musical memory to help colour the playing.
The LH Alberti bass will need careful slow practice to remove unevenness and blurred notes.
The thumb is often too heavy in such patterns and the strong beats are played by weaker fingers, so the student needs to be shown how to avoid this by keeping the fingers fairly close to the keys and using a slight rocking action.
Careful listening is essential, if necessary by recording the student's attempt for them to hear.
Listen to the even version first, followed by a bumpy and rather loud version and finally one where thumb tone is too heavy.
Most of this music is made of obvious groups of notes in scale and chord patterns.
The main problem in fingering will be where 4 and 5 are used in semiquaver passages. Ideally they will be very well drilled to ensure evenness but for some students it may be prudent to use fingerings which avoid 5.
RH bar 15 is the only place where this can only be achieved by omitting notes (see “technique”).
The non-legato style of the music makes it easy to transfer fingers and hand positions up and down the keys without needing to make smooth joins.
Following the conventions of the day, Haydn wrote some sets of semiquavers as an appoggiatura followed by a quaver plus the two remaining semiquavers. These should always be performed as if all four notes were equal semiquavers.
This music is so typical of its kind that listening to the orchestral version, with other examples suggested in the Background section, is an essential part of the learning around this piece.
It is a great starting point for discussions about Haydn’s historical context, his style, his circumstances and his famous sense of humour.
The Rondo form and its common use as a finale movement can also be covered.
As this is lively, cheerful music it is tempting to play as much as possible up to speed as soon as possible.
Although there is no harm in trying out “learnt” passages up to speed, discipline is important to prevent habitual hesitations creeping in where the music is more difficult, or takes a new turn out of an established pattern.
A metronome is useful for ensuring that easier sections do not set an unsustainable tempo.
Bars 57-63 involve some tricky semiquaver patterns and switching between the hands. Fluency may break down unless all the “joins” are practised in their own right.
The test of fluency is not whether it sounds OK, but whether the student feels a sense of confidence in getting through the passage. This can only be self-assessed, and it is useful for the teacher to ask whether a fluent-sounding passage felt “comfortable” or “risky” to the student whilst playing.
If the student admits it felt risky, get them to stop at the point where it started to feel like that, and whilst holding down the last set of notes they stopped on, imagine (and perhaps sketch out) very clearly how they will continue.
It is quite difficult to teach this as it depends on self-awareness and thinking on the part of the student, but patient repetition of a difficult join in the lesson should help with practice at home.
An Excellent performance will be sparkling with good humour and confidence. There will be a real sense of shaping and understanding across the whole form as well as at phrase level. Semiquavers will sound effortless and the balance of tone between the hands will be well judged. Dynamics will be clear and well contrasted without clumsiness – the orchestral variety of the writing may even be detectable. The tempo will be very lively without any sense of hurry. The rests before the da capo will be dramatic and entertaining.
A Good performance will be technically secure and well-paced. The articulation will be without unwanted accents and there will be a sense of lightness and happiness throughout. Control of the tonal balance and dynamic contrasts will be mostly achieved but there may be areas of inconsistency. Precision in maintaining the pulse, especially during rests, will help dispel any tendency to sound anxious. Phrasing will be well-rounded and clear without seeming pedantically regular.
A Sound performance will overcome technical challenges by careful choice of speed. This may make it slower than the best performances but it will still convey suitably the cheerful mood of the piece. There will perhaps be little attention to detail in the phrasing and balance but the overall effect will allow the quality of the music to speak for itself. The general sound, especially in Alberti bass or other semiquavers, may be a little on the heavy side, and the rather foursquare nature of the phrasing may give the music a certain staidness. However, the rests will be given their correct value, providing breathing space, and some changes of dynamics will help to add variety.