Schubert - Allegretto in C minor D 915
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828) was an Austrian composer who became famous for his many Lieder for voice and piano, for his symphonies, operas and chamber music, as well as for his piano music.
Schubert's piano music is clearly influenced by the Classical, structural forms of Mozart and Beethoven, but his melodic lines and musical gestures are more Romantic in character.
Schubert found it difficult to support himself as a musician, although he worked as a teacher as well as a composer. However he was helped by a circle of good friends, for instance Schober, with whom he lodged as a guest.
Schubert's friends also collected and preserved his music after his sadly premature death.
This piece was written in 1827 for one of Schubert's friends, Ferdinand Walcher, although it was not published until 1870, after Schubert's death.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is a piece that would suit a student who is a romantic at heart, someone who is ready to rise to the challenge of a piece which, though short, needs expressive changes in mood and variety in dynamics.
The opening bars show a deceptively simple opening, but there is sufficient musical interest in this piece to have attracted a number of professional pianists to record it.
An octave handspan is essential for Bars 31 - 38 and 49 - 55, a considerable portion of the piece.
Style and character
The style and character of Schubert's music is encapsulated here by David Fray, whose sensitive playing shows the beauty and lyricism of this composer's work. This is, perhaps, the best-loved of Schubert's Impromptus.
Phrasing & Articulation
Phrasing is in four-bar units in the first section of the piece, but the lines become much longer with the introduction of the interwoven melodies beginning at Bar 9 where the LH imitates the RH.
After the pause at Bar 20, Bars 21 - 24 constitute the next phrase, with an extended phrase then from Bar 25 - Bar 30.
The next section, Bars 31 - 38, returns to more symmetrical four-bar phrasing, with this pattern continuing until the end of the section, finishing with a little, two-bar conclusion, before the first part of the piece is repeated.
Listen to how clearly the structure is defined by Richter's phrasing.
Tone & Texture
A singing tone is needed here, with plenty of dynamic grading and variety to characterise the changing moods within the piece.
The opening bars feature the melody doubled at the octave but it is more effective to emphasise the RH line more than the LH.
Listen to how Pires achieves this in Bars 1 - 8, noticing the shaping of the phrases using dynamic contour as well as the pianissimo at the upbeat to Bar 5.
The first part of the piece requires musical interpretation skills rather than any demanding technique, although the student does need to be able to play with independently balanced hands to bring out the textures.
GAME FOR INDEPENDENT HANDS
This may be practised in a fun way by making up a little improvised piece called Big Right Hand, Little Left Hand.
Using a pentatonic scale such as CDE GA, the student improvises a VERY simple VERY loud pentatonic tune with first one hand, then the other.
The accompanying hand must play at first by just tapping the keys soundlessly in time with flat fingers, then progress to playing a barely heard drone (2 notes a fifth apart) accompaniment, such as C and G.
If your student is reluctant to improvise, give limited choices as this promotes confidence.
For example, you suggest the piece is four bars long and in 4 time, using the word pattern:
Big Right Hand, playing very loud,
Little Left Hand, floating on a cloud.
Then swap hands, of course.
The fingering given in the ABRSM edition is well considered and suits most hands.
Consistent, correct fingering is always essential for success, but the particular place where fingering must be absolutely certain is from Bar 9 - 17, otherwise this section can so easily break down.
Special care should also be taken in Bars 29 - 30, where many students struggle needlessly with fluency because they are using randomly chosen fingering.
This is a piece that obviously requires sustaining pedal, both to help with smooth legato and to enrich the tone.
Inexperienced teachers who worry about pedalling pieces without pedal indications in the score should be guided by the style and character of the music.
A general guiding principle for this piece is that the more chordal the texture, the more pedal is needed.
The first stage in the teaching process should involve listening to some performances of the piece so that the student understands the character of the music.
This piece lends itself to being taught in sections and it will be satisfying for the student to be able to learn one section complete before moving on to another.
Allow plenty of time in the learning process for all sections to become equally secure.
Thought needs to be given to our role as teacher so that we do not merely sit with the student as they sight read the piece for the first time.
We can draw attention to the keys, harmonies, melodic patterns and structures within the music. Students may not notice, for instance, that the LH imitates the RH in Bars 9 - 15.
Encourage learning in chunks rather than reading notes one by one - remembering an ascending arpeggio pattern is one item only, so this much easier than reading several consecutive notes.
Practice should be based, as always, on doing the right thing many times, not on playing up to speed with mistakes that we hope will go away - this way, errors will actually be reinforced.
The piece divides neatly into sections and we can subdivide Section 2 into Bars 9 - 20 and Bars 21 - 30.
Practise each section sufficiently for all parts of the piece to feel equally secure. It is almost certain that Bars 9 - 15, 29 - 30, 31 - 38 and 49 - 52 will need most practice.
Inappropriate interpretation is probably the main pitfall in this piece.
Schubert's performance markings need to be observed, but not taken too literally in some instances, for example in accenting and ffz.
Schubert used accents quite liberally to show emphasis and musical direction. Students should bear in mind that these accents must not sound percussive and forced.
Sometimes it is better to just slightly lengthen the note than to accent it loudly. The accents in Bars 15, 17, 19 and 20 are all on the first of a slurred pair, so we just need a little more than a bit more weight and length for that note compared with the following one.
Kovacevich plays here.
An excellent performance will show musical awareness of style and character. The pace will be well judged and there will be authoritative control of a singing tone and textural balance, with appropriate use of sustaining pedal.
The changing moods within the piece will be expressed eloquently, in use of dynamics, phrasing and rubato. There will be a communicative sense of performance.
A good performance will show many of the above qualities in terms of appropriate use of detail and the performance will be fluent and accurate but without the same degree of musical poise and technical control.
A sound performance will be appropriate in pace, with some musical detail and sufficient technical control to give reasonable evenness of flow. At this level there should be no overt errors that disturb the continuity, although a few unobtrusive smudges in accuracy are acceptable.