Grovlez - Sarabande
Gabriel Grovlez (1879-1944) was a French composer and pianist who studied with Faure at the Paris Conservatoire.
L’almanach aux images (book of pictures) was written in 1922 and is a collection of 8 descriptive miniatures, each prefaced with a poem by Tristan Klingsor.
The pieces are similar to but not derivative of Debussy’s Children’s Corner and Faure’s “Dolly Suite”.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This would suit a pupil who is ready to explore music of the early 20th century.
They also need to be able to hear and express every dynamic level from pppp to ff.
The main challenge here is probably that maintaining a secure sense of pulse throughout the rhythmic complexities.
There are no huge stretches but some quite thickly textured chords.
Style & Tempo
The poem that inspired this piece speaks of memories of a ball and fades away like a dream as morning dawns. Follow the link for a translation:
The music tells the story of the dance and ends in bell-like chimes as the dancers disappear.
It is in the form of a rondo- ABACA +coda.
It is a sarabande (slow triple time dance) and retains the 3 in a bar feel over some complex RH rhythms. In sarabande style it leans on beat 2.
Phrasing & Articulation
The phrasing is clearly marked in and should be adhered to.
The rising RH scales need a little crescendo each time to give them a musical shape.
Directions such as tres rhythme, legato, tempo 1 and commas, clearly delineate sections and their different characters, so make sure that your pupil understands and observes them.
Tone & Texture
The main tonal challenge in La sarabande is to express the p, ppp and ppp dynamics and at the same time to delineate the melody from the accompaniment.
Think of each dynamic mark as a broad band with the RH generally at the top and the accompaniment at the bottom.
Give more importance to the longer notes and less to the semi and demisemiquavers.
In bars 13-16 (B section of the rondo), the chords are rhythmic and sonorous and need a little voicing.
At bar 17 they change dynamic and timbre - don’t anticipate this.
To practise bringing out the RH over the LH, play scales with RH at the top end of p and the LH at the bottom end of p. Apply this to similar passages in La sarabande.
Use lateral movement to negotiate a legato LH where there is a single note accompaniment. e.g. bars 1-4, 20-25.
Get your pupil to listen and assess themselves to see if this balance is working.
Make less of the shorter notes; this will lead the ear to the longer, more important notes.
Right from the start decide on a workable legato fingering, mark it in and stick to it.
Be especially careful to establish an effective fingering at Bar 26 (RH/LH) and 50 (LH).
Finger the LH of the final 3 bars carefully and practise in hand groups for security.
Rubinstein called the pedal the “soul of the piano”. It is certainly at the heart of this piece, helping to provide a legato sound and a dreamlike atmosphere.
In section A (bars 1-7) change the pedal on each LH note.
Bar 8 and 9, only pedal the first quaver so that the staccato is effective.
Bar 10, pedal every crotchet beat.
Bar 13 Use pedal to give sonority but observe the commas and lift the foot clearly off with the hands.
Bar 26-31 Change the pedal at every crotchet
Bar 34 ppp will be helped by use of the una corda until the end.
In first lessons on this piece, work together meticulously on rhythmic accuracy.
Separate hand learning and practise of melody and accompaniment are needed at bars 26-31.
Play warm up scales at p, pp and ppp then do lots of listening to dynamic levels and the balance of hands.
Liken the commas and phrase marks to punctuation.
Think of how you would orchestrate the piece i.e violins for the opening theme.
Encourage your pupil to look at the music and work out what is happening in the story; who is dancing, what is happening at bar 13, 26 at the end etc?
Lots of listening to good recordings at all stages in the learning process will be helpful, firstly for rhythmic accuracy and subsequently for arriving at a convincing interpretation.
Think of the balance of hands before starting to play.
Practice it in the rondo sections first and then the whole thing with the metronome.
Secure the dim at the end.
The tricky rhythms in the RH can be sorted out by marking in the crotchet pulse. Counting the beats by number is not nearly so important as actually feeling the pulse. Play the RH and tap a steady crotchet pulse with the LH.
The triplets at Bars 8 - 9 can disturb the sense of pulse. Keep the tempo strict by practising with the metronome.
Practise the accompanying chords in bars 26-31 on their own, since these can be a source of inaccuracy.
Pedalling can easily remain unfocused if the student is unclear about what actually needs to be sustained and where the pedal is to be used simply to enhance the tone. Practise the LH and pedal at the A sections before adding the RH.
The B in Bar 48 can often be shortened - it must be held for the full value. Count the last 4 bars accurately - no rit and note the articulation marks for the RH.
A sound performance will have accurate notes and rhythms and the characters of the different sections will be clear.
A good performance- in addition to secure rhythms, accurate notes and well characterised sections, the tempo will be adhered to and there will be an appropriate balance of hands.
An excellent performance- the piece will have the character of a sarabande and will convey the mood of each section within the required tempo. The pedal work will be secure and add to the dreamlike atmosphere. The story will be told through confident playing.