Piazzolla - Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi
As aspiring musicians we often set out on a similar journey, whether as performers or composers. That might be summed up as wishing to discover ourselves through music. This is certainly true for Astor Piazzolla, whose roots were very much in the folk traditions of his own country, Argentina.
It was through the suggestion of pianist Artur Rubinstein that Piazzolla first set out on his voyage of discovery as a composer by studying with the emerging Argentinian compser Ginastera.
He then went on to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Piazzolla had, by that time, written a significant amount of music, although for Nadia Boulanger the one component missing in all of this was the heart and soul of the composer himself.
However, Piazolla felt that his background – as one of Argentina’s leading cabaret artists and bandoneon player in the night clubs of Beunos Aires – was somehow not a part of his world as a composer, almost perhaps ashamed to admit his roots.
It was Boulanger who helped him to re-connect to his roots and discover, in what he subsequently composed, the real creative context for his music.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Think carefully before assigning this piece. It needs a performer with drive and musical passion, one who is unafraid to wear their heart on their sleeve, one who is unafraid to show the musical emotions herein.
There are some technical challenges too: the large LH stretches (though these can easily be spread), the RH repeated notes and fast semiquaver 4ths.
It is an exciting piece to play and one which rewards the pianist with a certain sense of panache when it goes well. This is definitely not a piece for a shy student.
Style & Tempo
The influence of the tango is very much alive here in this tribute to the violinist and composer Alfredo Gobbi. The underlying rhythmic panache must be grasped very confidently in the a tempo sections and the player must be bold and liberal in their expressive playing of the rubato and con dolor sections.
This is hot, passionate music with sultry and reflective interludes, its mood always changing, never quite settled. If you have heard the original version for quintet you will notice that, like lots of native music of this nature, the pulse is not something fixed in metronomic quantity, but is alive and racing at times, sultry and hugely flexible at times too.
Phrasing & Articulation
There are three distinct kinds of section, and each is treated separately: the a tempo, the rubato, and the tiernamente, tristamente and con dolor sections. Refer to each one from the tabs below.
Tone & Texture
Providing you pay attention to the detail in the score, much of this takes care of itself. There are elements of punchy jazz horns in the quicker sections, with string accompanying textures and saxophone solos. Keep this, or other vivid musical imagery, in mind when encouraging your students to play expressively.
Refer carefully to the pedalling section to discover how best to take care of the accentuation and rhythmic elements at places where the LH has spread chords (bars 23 - 26 etc).
Bars 28 - 30: the singing RH is an important feature against the LH staccato (see the fingering section).
There are a number of challenging moments, although most of the writing lies fairly comfortably beneath the hands.
The repeated chords (5&6), and subsequent repeated patterns, pose momentary problems for clarity and definition, especially if the player is tense and tries harder - therefore becoming more tense.
The large LH stretches will be awkward if not worked at in a careful and methodical way.
The double fourths (35 - 38) also need working at through various exercises.
There is much that is straightforward here. Some re-arrangement of parts in places will help to ease the division of notes in chords.
There are two types of pedalling predominant in this piece:
(I) use to colour briefly moments in a texture that would otherwise require no pedal
(ii) pedal to create more expansive colour and ambience
Refer to each particular section below.
It is always a bonus when you see your student’s face light up with that “wow” feeling. You’ve just played part of the piece through to see whether this could be a good piece for a particular student to learn and they really go for it. That is always such a good start. Hopefully most who wish to learn this piece will have strong feelings about it.
Even so, it is best to structure the learning so that musical achievements are always uppermost at any one time. This often leads to the best possibility for maintaining motivation. As this is a very structured piece you can demonstrate how careful and detailed work can lead to greater chunks of knowledge than at first seems likely - due to the repetition.
Always encourage students to go for fluent, rhythmic playing.
This often means playing very much under tempo and definitely in smaller sections, but with the same musical feel to it. That can be hard to do, since the student will have a clear idea of how it sounded when you played it to them and it is a natural tendency to play faster - with the consequence of stumbling.
Many problems in performance come about as a direct consequence of poor practice techniques.
Professional players know that they need to practise in many different ways to ‘perfect’ a passage of music. Their mantra is that if you can play a certain passage in any number of ways, then you will really get to know it so well that it cannot go wrong. There is an oft heard saying that amateurs practise until they get it right whereas professionals practise until it cannot go wrong!
The two main difficulties likely to be encountered here will be down to the technical difficulties which the RH 4ths are likely to bring up, along with the LH stretches, both of which at speed demand a good degree of suppleness, lack of tension, detail in the practice routine and careful pedal application.
Be certain to work comfortably to the suggestions given in pedalling and technique sections.
From a musical perspective, the slight tempo variations and subtle mood changes may not always come across at the correct tempi in performance. Encourage your student to practise finding exactly the right tempo for each particular section - out of context - so that they can gain a more controlled sense of mood when in context.
An excellent performance will be exciting yet controlled playing, likely to send the listener away wanting to hear this quite unique piece yet again. The a tempo sections will have a slightly dark, almost sinister quality to them, whilst the grander ‘open’ qualities of the rubato sections will show space and expansiveness. There will be an unmistakeable Latin feel to the performance, one which oozes charm, wistfulness and a passionate and well defined sense of pianistic colour.
A good performance tends to leave the listener feeling on the side of the performer, since they can tell how much work has gone into this performance too. There is always a sense of promise in a good performance, since so many of the elements are alive and in place. Where it differs from the excellent one may be in different areas; any shortcomings in performance could be due to a less steely technique and so a slightly less precise and consistent sense of rhythm. It may be in the manner of musical delivery, which might sometimes waver a little.
It may good to remind ourselves that, as teachers, whilst we might always wish for excellent performances, there are students who will not reach those levels however hard they try. We should help them to take pride in what they have achieved and, under no circumstances, to allow them to feel that they have underachieved.
So, too, there are plenty of students who may not be particularly engaged in playing the piano but can nevertheless achieve a sound performance. They may have lessons because they have very pushy parents, or they may simply not be particularly suited to playing the piano. You may succeed in getting this type of student to work hard, but their heart might not be in it. This kind of performance may be lacklustre, whilst being correct enough in the notes and rhythm. There are obvious elements which demonstrate the work put in and it may well be a careful and correct performance. It could be the kind of performance in which we would all say “that has to pass” in an examination setting, simply because it has that base of good work which brings it to that level, if not, in some circumstances, very much more.