Stenhammar - molto tranquillo semplice
Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871 - 1927) was very much steeped in the Romantic tradition. His love for German music stemmed from his study in Berlin and displayed a special affinity with the music of Wagner and Bruckner.
In this brief extract from the Andante from his 2nd Symphony the long wistful lines and glowing orchestral textures demonstrate that influence.
As a pianist he was ranked most highly as Sweden's finest.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece contains a lot of rich textures and shows a mature musical style.
It needs the sensitivity of a musical player, coupled with sufficient technical ease to manage a singing cantabile, smooth legato thirds and finger substitution where appropriate.
A superficial approach will end in a disappointing result, so be certain that your student has the possibilities to achieve the musical ends.
Even if producing a musical result takes some work to achieve, this is goal well worth pursuing as it is such a lovely piece.
Style & Tempo
This is an overtly Romantic piece, oozing expressive possibilities. There is a certain pastoral quality to the character of this piece, manifested in the dominant and tonic pedals (Bars 13 – 21).
The most important indication the composer gives is ‘molto tranquillo.’ This will partly be reflected in the choice of tempo but more so in the quality of phrasing, which should never give any hint of hurry or agitation.
On the other hand it is possible for it to sound terribly dull and uninteresting if it is played without any rubato or real feel for the line and for the rich harmonies that underpin the melodic process.
Phrasing & Articulation
The long slow lines of this piece demand an imaginative musical approach. The first section may be thought of as one long, undulating line, almost seamlessly divided into two shorter phrases.
The middle section is comprised of three main phrases, Bars 10 - 13; Bars 14 - 17; and Bars 18 - 21.
The final part of the piece recalls the opening section.
Tone & Texture
Everything rests on the capacity of the pianist to create different levels of tone and balance within chords. A flat, opaque texture is not a musical option.
The principle melody line is, of course, the top line of the RH.
To illustrate this, take a single chord (e.g. the C major chord in bar 17 beat 3). Imagine the sound of this chord played by an orchestra.
There will be, perhaps, the violins standing out on top, woodwind sounds filling out the interior of the chord, and the cellos supporting the whole texture from the bottom. Further warmth will be added from the double basses sounding an octave lower still than the C written.
The most demanding aspect of technique here is the need to create a sensitive balance of tone so that underneath parts do not emerge in a bumpy or unmusical manner.
The kind of work which should have taken place already in previous grades will be work to bring out a single RH melodic line with a quieter LH accompaniment. If this has not been achieved the demands of balancing tone effectively in one hand, here, will probably be too difficult.
The stretches in the chord playing dictate what can and cannot be done in terms of fingering. It is also important to note that a really good pedal technique will be the main means of creating a seamless legato.
However there are a few principles and suggestions below, for the more complex moments.
Good pedalling is essential to the success of this piece.
Clarity of instruction along with a clear strategy will help your student to grasp more readily what to do and what to listen out for when practising.
Teach the simple before the more complex.
This section is laid out in a way which deals with the obvious points of pedalling, the correct and incorrect ways to pedal, and then gives advice on the possible ways to do it and the options available.
There are a lot of quite dense textures in this piece. The capacity to play these with confidence and musical effect lies in the performer’s ability to get around the chords with ease.
Divide the piece into manageable sections and work thoroughly on the chord details.
Where smaller hands are concerned you will need to work out where to let go of notes that cannot be stretched. The pedal will usually cover these points, so better not to insist on a perfect legato but to go for the most convenient and fluent fingering.
Knowing the notes well enough to focus on the more expressive elements is crucial if the performance is to rise above anything but the perfunctory level.
Pedalling is critical to the musical success of the piece.
It is also likely to cause some concerns where it is not fully fluent and integrated into the playing.
Slow practice with concentration on good tonal projection and textural balance is an essential way to go about creating the right kinds of pianism here.
Pedalling may well cause concerns. A number of problems can present:
• Poorly coordinated pedalling
• Uncertain use of pedal
• Lack of musical awareness
An excellent performance will engage the listener in a colourful and expressive manner. The tune will always be clearly evident and the textures will enjoy a sensitive balance between the parts. Pedalling will be accomplished and there will be a natural sense of rubato. Details, such as the pp (midway), will emerge with confidence and the mood will always be tranquil.
A good performance will be an expressive one and demonstrate a confident use of pedal technique. Inner part textures may be a bit bumpy and uneven in places. There will be a sense of movement and rubato although some of the shaping may lack the refinement of a more gentle and sustained tranquillo.
A sound performance will have shape and meaning although could well lack a consistent pedal technique and may show the performer struggling still to gain the degree of tone control needed. Some parts may demonstrate real promise whilst others are quite rough in the quality.