Mendelssohn - Andante espressivo No 1 Op 62
Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1809. As well as composing, he was also a pianist, organist and conductor, and enjoyed considerable success across Europe.
He played a vital role in encouraging the rediscovery of the music of J.S. Bach: he conducted a performance of the St. Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829 at only twenty years old – remarkably, the piece had not been performed at all since Bach’s death in 1750.
His Lieder ohne Worte, (Songs without Words) comprise eight separate collections of pieces. They are tremendously popular with pupils and teachers alike, due to their stunning lyricism, delightful harmony and, in comparison with much romantic piano repertoire, their relative ease to learn.
Pupil Match & Suitability
There should be no doubt that pupils with larger hands will find this work considerably more manageable.
The left hand requires considerable dexterity – the arpeggio figuration frequently spans a tenth – and as is frequently the case in these pieces, the semiquavers are often swapped between both hands. This means the right hand is often faced with a large stretch, playing quieter semiquavers underneath, whilst projecting a legato melody above.
A degree of technical ability is needed, most notably the ability to play semiquavers evenly and to project the melody above other parts.
Style & Tempo
As with many pieces from the Lieder ohne Worte, this Andante espressivo should be easy-paced, should allow for rubato where necessary. and should not be rushed.
This performance by Oleg Yakerevich, at a pace around crotchet=88, demonstrates use of subtle tempo rubato.
Phrasing & Articulation
One of the most obvious structural changes to repertoire during the Romantic era was the disruption of classical-style phrase lengths.
Whereas Classical composers such as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven would employ very obvious 4-bar phrase structures, using cadences to give closure to a section of music, romantic composers were keener to promote lyricism over structure.
The Classical form was too rigid to embrace the harmonic adventure and spontaneity of romanticism. This point was taken to its logical conclusion by composers such as R. Strauss and Wagner, whose wandering tonality and relentless chromaticism appeared to allow phrases to go on forever!
Tone & Texture
It is advisable for this work, given the texture does not change a great deal, that the tone created by the performer should vary depending on the perceived mood of each section.
Tone needs to be layered: the bass notes should be weighted but by no means accented, the semiquavers in the middle should be light, and the melody needs to be projected throughout, but always relative to the overall dynamics. At no point should the tone be harsh – it is important to produce a weighted sound, and not to attack the keys from above.
This also applies for all sforzando notes, which can often be delayed rather than a great deal louder than surrounding notes.
Listen to how a string quartet approaches the clarity of textures - the melodies are clear no matter which instrument has the main focus. Notice as well the skilful interweaving of the lines.
There are two main technical challenges in this piece: firstly, maintaining an interrupted legato and projecting the melody; and secondly, ensuring that semiquavers are light and even.
It is crucial to adopt the best fingering in this piece to create the best quality sound and best possible legato in the melody.
It will be necessary to use finger substitutions to prevent the melody being interrupted wherever possible.
There are appoggiaturas marked in bars 3, 25, 27, 31 and 33.
These work best when played before the beat indicated. Played as (longer) appoggiaturas, they would disrupt the flow of the piece. Although they should be short, they shouldn’t be too clipped.
The acciaccatura in the left hand at bar 33 shouldn’t be given too much time of its own, as the music should already be slowing down at that point.
Generally speaking, the pedal should be changed in line with the harmonic rhythm; i.e. according to when the chords change.
It may be necessary in places like bar 3, where there is a risk of blurring semitones in the right hand, to change the pedal for two consecutive crotchet beats, although it is then important to sustain the minim in the left hand manually to avoid disrupting the harmony.
This problem arises again in bar 25.
As mentioned in the ‘tone and texture’ section, this piece is best taught in its various layers. The teacher could begin by employing the following teaching strategies:
1. Semiquavers alone using both hands (where indicated) with a focus on evenness;
2. Right hand alone, including where semiquavers cross over to help project the tune above the semiquavers;
3. Left hand alone, focusing particularly on pedal and sustaining minims;
4. Bass part and tune alone, especially from bars 26-33, focusing on phrasing.
Try not to do too much at once!
With a piece of this complexity, students should learn it in sections and in combinations as described in the ‘teaching strategies’ section.
Start with bars 1-10, move on to bars 11-21, and then once more comfortable with things, it may be possible to tackle the rest in one go.
It might be best to only add the pedal when practising the left hand, as the right hand should learn to connect notes manually to create the best legato, before the pedal gets involved.
Some students may have trouble achieving a smooth pedal technique.
Firstly, it is important to use the fingers to overlap notes without using the pedal at all, but secondly, the pedalling technique itself may be at fault.
The popular myth that the pedal ‘makes everything smooth’ should be dispelled – the pedal simply sustains notes: it does not truly connect them, even though legato pedalling creates this illusion.
An excellent performance show sensitivity and originality in all areas. The tune should be projected and the legato line maintained throughout. Rubato should be used appropriately and in a subtle manner, allowing the music to ‘breathe’ wherever is necessary, showing knowledge of the harmony.
The left hand should be free of accents, and semiquavers should flow evenly throughout the piece without accentuation. The bass line at bar 26 should be projected and act as a countermelody. There should be evidence of some brinkmanship towards the end in bar 38, as time is taken to project the right hand melody whilst everything else is silent.
A good performance should cover all the basics, and show a good range of dynamics, without necessarily showing originality. Pedalling should be sound throughout, with perhaps some moments of insecurity. Some rubato may be present but might be exaggerated or lead to the disruption of the melody. There should be good legato in evidence, although the tune may not be projected enough in places.
A sound performance will cover the basics, but might be lacking in refinement, with possibly some difficulty where the piece becomes more complicated. Pedalling should be present and mostly competent, but might be questionable in places where notes are trickier and concentration is more devoted to the score itself. The piece may be rather lacking in variation of tone, with little rubato or changes in dynamics.