Notes from a lesson

Rather than write an exhaustive summary of my piano lesson today, I am simply going to note the things I discussed and worked on with my teacher. While the notes are specific to the music I am working on currently (the Toccata from Bach’s 6th Partita, BWV 830, and the ‘Prelude’ from Debussy’s Pour le Piano), they have a general relevance, and I hope readers will find them useful. This post is also an opportunity for me to review, while writing, my piano lesson and what I need to focus on in the coming weeks.

We began with the Bach (Partita No.6). This piece is intended for my Diploma recital, but learning it has also reminded me of how satisfying it is to play Bach. His music is intricate, textural and cerebral, and I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this piece, having not played any Bach seriously since I left school (I am ashamed to admit!).

Overall – well played, in some places “beautifully played”, a nice sense of grandeur in the arpeggiated figures in the opening and closing sections, some good three-part playing where I’ve clearly analysed the structure of the fugue. Piece needs to be neatened up, with more colour and shape. Listen to the Chromatic Fantasia for reference as this piece shares some similar motifs. Needs more “flourish” in places. Be sure to maintain the sense of a steady pulse throughout. Do not use the pedal as a cover for sections which are difficult or less secure.

mm. 1 & 2 (and all similar measures): achieve a greater sense of grandeur and flourish through the arpeggiated figures. Keep dotted figure legato and maintain sense of forward movement into crotchets. Avoid “chunky” hands and “notey” sound through these sections. Try to move smoothly between chords with a horizontal motion.

mm. 3-6 (and all similar measures): try for “swirling” motion between the hands, almost a sense of “one hand playing”. Keep these sections lighter (as a contrast to opening measures). Distinct “toccare” feel. Slight tenuto on first note of each figure, for example, in mm. 15-16 to emphasise the chromaticism.

Take difficult or insecure bars in the Fugue and practice them slowly, in the manner of a Chopin Nocturne. As I found in my lesson, this technique enables the hands to relax. The more difficult bars should sound unforced: resist pushing into the keys in these sections, especially in more tricky three-part sections.

Semi-quaver passage work: relax the hands, again to achieve unforced sound.

Debussy: ‘Prelude’ from Pour le Piano – This piece sits rather well with the Bach Toccata as it is Debussy’s nod back to his Baroque antecedents (specifically Couperin, rather than Bach), and has very distinct “toccata” elements in its constant forward motion and the “divine arabesque of Bach”. It also contains “antagonistic” elements and oppositions of extremes, such as dynamic or colour. Despite these apparently “serious”, Baroque features, there is a delightful playfulness in this piece.

mm. 1-42 – as in the Bach Toccata, think about shared movement and “swirling” between the hands, almost a sense of the hands “playing” with each other.

mm. 42-54 – keep wrists, forearms and elbows bouncy through these big chords. Practise mf, and gradually use back to increase sound. Glissandos – don’t hang around!

mm. 55-56 – Whole tone scale: try and achieve “harp” sound, hands drawn rapidly across strings, with sweeping movement. Practice the runs in groups of 8 notes (4 per hand).

mm. 57-64 – RH “shake”, likewise from m. 69 in LH. Keep fingers “playful” through this section.

Contrary motion scale preceding Cadenza – again, keep hands light, nimble and playful. Practise RH measures slowly

Cadenza – runs should be “kaleidoscopic”, like a “harp”, fingers swept across the keys.

Final 6 bars – keep in Tempo primo. Very grand. These big chords should set up the silence for the sublime opening of the ‘Sarabande’.

Overall, this piece needs to remain playful, both technically and musically.