Chopin - Moderato in E major (Albumblatt, Opus Posth)
Frederic Francois Chopin led a short life, born in Poland in 1810 and dying from tuberculosis in Paris in 1849 at the age of only 39.
Chopin 's compositions represented the quintessential Romantic music for piano. He wrote almost exclusively for the instrument and the significance of his compositional style is huge, since it reached new heights of expressiveness as well as being technically demanding.
Chopin was largely responsible for introducing piano repertoire based on the Polish dances, mazurka and polonaise and he was innovative in his treatment of the etude, waltz, prelude and nocturne.
Chopin's preferred piano was a Pleyel instrument, but when playing in England in 1848 he was known to have chosen this Broadwood for his London recital.
Photograph with kind permission of:
David Crombie (1995) Piano. London: Balafon Books
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece is suitable for a student who enjoys expressive Romantic repertoire.
A singing cantabile is essential, with the ability to achieve subtle yet telling nuances of tone to shape the phrasing. Elegant simplicity is the key to a successful performance here.
Large hands are not essential. The student must be able to span an octave comfortably, however.
Style & Tempo
An expressive yet elegantly simple interpretation is called for, with elements of style that are traditionally associated with Romantic piano music - a singing tone, lyrical phrasing enhanced by tasteful rubato and effective use of the sustaining pedal.
There are no huge dynamic contrasts in this gentle piece, but some grading of tone is necessary to shape the dynamics and to define the structure.
Phrasing & Articulation
The character of the piece calls for smooth legato lines. Fingers should create a true legato as far as possible, rather than relying on the pedal to do the work, since the effect will be much smoother.
The semiquaver rests in Bar 2 and 14 should give gentle emphasis to the dotted rhythms, but they should not disturb the essentially legato line and the sustaining pedal may be used here, just as in the rest of the piece.
Likewise, the phrase markings have more to do with the ebb and flow of the musical lines and should not be interpreted as gaps in the melody.
Askenazy's interpretation demonstrates these points eloquently.
Tone & Texture
A singing melody line is essential here. This melody with accompaniment style is a distinguishing feature of Chopin's music and of much Romantic music in general.
Students will need guidance in listening very carefully not just to the balance between hands but, just as importantly, to the voicing of the RH chords, where the melody line needs relative weight.
Grosvenor's performance gives a clearly defined texture throughout - a firm melodic line with carefully balanced RH chords and quieter, accompanying LH chords, the bass notes sufficiently rich in tone to lend support. This extract is Bars 13-18.
Frequent hand crossing is a feature of this piece. Although some previous pieces may have had simple and obvious 'one hand over the top' crossing, this may be the first time the student may have encountered this kind of close texture hand crossing.
The context will decide which hand goes over the other, with the main consideration being maintaining fluency and textural clarity.
These suggestions may be useful:
RH over LH seems to be the best solution in all bars 2, 4, 5 and 8.
Bar 10 may be played equally easily with RH or LH on top.
A further alternative for Bar 10, useful for smaller hands, is to re-distribute the chord so that the LH plays the C sharp and the RH plays the D sharp. Some pianists find this confusing and illogical however.
Fingering needs to be well thought out, to enable legato articulation to be achieved.
Some finger-changing will help here:
Bar 5, RH change from 3-4 on the minim F sharp.
Also Bar 9, change from 4-5 on the RH E.
Ornamentation is fully written out, so there is no ambiguity. Playing the ornamentation notes before the main beat is appropriate, as in this performance:
Pedalling will basically coincide with the LH bass notes, two per bar.
Hearing the RH notes on the first beat of the bar in Bars 3 and 4 sounds pleasing and sometimes it will be preferable to change the pedal more frequently, such as for each chord in Bar 3.
Do not assume that a student at this level will necessarily understand how to achieve good use of the pedal - it is worth revising the fact that the pedal needs to be depressed just after the bass note but before the finger leaves the key.
Also it is important to stress that the pedal is used here to enhance the tone, as well as to sustain the bass notes and that the effect of enhancing the tone will mean the melody needs to be brought out even more in contrast with the LH.
Begin with listening. The student should listen to you play the piece in the lesson (or you might both like to listen together to a compete recording).
Always make listening purposeful, giving different elements to focus on, for instance:
how are dynamics used?
does the tempo stay exactly the same?
how is rubato used?
why does this NOT sound like a march?
can we make it sound like one, so that we know how not to play it?
how can we make this sound like a waltz?
are the hands the same loudness, or is the melody clear?
was the melody legato throughout or not?
how could we tell how long the phrases are?
were the dotted rhythms precise?
When you play the piece, ask the student to tell you how to vary the dynamics. Write in the student's suggestions for future use.
Practice should follow the plan given in the lesson - whatever is covered in the lesson needs to be replicated every day until it is secure and the next stages can be attempted.
When practising, the student should make the work more interesting by learning in small, achievable steps, approximating more and more closely to the agreed, desired articulation, phrasing shape, dynamics and balance.
Once the sections are becoming secure, work on fluency should enable each section to be linked together with ease and confidence.
Probably the very worst thing a student can do to this piece is to play it with swing rhythms, rather than dotted rhythms, at a brisk pace, with a loud tone.
These aberrations are guaranteed to make this lovely, gentle piece sound like a military march!
An excellent performance will be stylish, fluent and accurate, with a real sense of performance that communicates the elegant, yet expressive, simplicity of the music. Detail will be well considered, technical control impressive.
A good performance will show careful use of appropriate detail that is in keeping with both the style and character of the music. Accuracy will be secure, with pedalling well controlled. There may not be the intuitive sense of mood and assured tone control to be heard in an excellent performance.
A sound performance will be secure in notes and rhythms, with a generally quiet dynamic and some sense of phrase, although perhaps little variety. On the other hand, detail may be given but might not be sufficiently subtle. Pedalling will be used with varying success.