Allen Reiser - Publications

Allen Reiser writes a pedagogical column "Sound Thoughts" for A.P.T.A.'s (Alberta Piano Teachers' Association) quarterly newsletter - "NEWS AND VIEWS". It is amied at giving teachers hints and pointers about teaching repertoire. The following is from that column and appeared in the Fall 2003 issue, Vol. XI #1.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser


By the time that this column reaches all of you, another Canada Music Week will have passed. Many teachers and students in large and small communities throughout Canada will have prepared works by a Canadian composers for presentation on a variety of Canada Music Week recitals. This wonderful celebration of Canadian music has become a yearly ritual of our musical traditions, introducing thousands of students and listeners to Canadian music. I still remember my first real awareness of Canadian composers came by participating in such a concert when I played (a rather hastily prepared) Strangeness of Heart by Harry Somers. I can remember thinking at the time that these Canadian composers must be an important lot indeed to rate their own concert!

Taking note over the years at what works are performed frequently at these concerts has been interesting. Certain works have 'evergreen' status, surfacing year after year. Peerson's 'The Mouse in the Coal Bin', Duke's 'Barcarole', Archer's 'Jig', Southam's 'Three in Blue'. Other works tend to have a shorter shelf-life, receiving a great deal of attention for a while and then disappearing. These pieces are affected by current trends and by which composers have caught the public's fancy enough to have achieved 'flavor of the week' status. On the Calgary scene, Bartley's 'Dance No. 1' and Wuensch's 'Mini-Suite No. 1' are examples of two such works. They had a heyday here in the '80's, but seem to be rarely heard lately. Lastly, there is a large body of works that only receive periodic attention at best. Perhaps some of these pieces are not necessarily deserving of too much attention, but some are undeservedly ignored. One such piece that I feel is an absolute gem is the 'Little Romance' by Talivaldis Kenins, yet I have never heard it performed in a festival or a Canada music week concert.

Talivaldis Kenins belongs to a large group of foreign-born composers who received their training abroad and then immigrated, more or less musically fully formed, to Canada. Kenins' music is rooted in the European tradition of romanticism and he has been described as a 'contemporary romanticist' or a 'conservative modern'.

Little Romance is an affectionate and expressive little piece, merely 27 bars in length. Its language is tonal. Its strong element of longing is pervaded with an underlying sadness, giving this romance a bittersweet character. Although the piece's key signature is F major, it begins in B flat major and ends enigmatically and inconclusively in D major. The short main theme, merely four bars long, has an almost dance-like formality to it with the dotted rhythm requiring a pristine exactness. I like to think of this theme as the idealization of a romance, two young lovers blissfully happy. This calm and hopeful theme appears four times, separated by three contrasting phrases of a more intense character. The first contrasting phrase (bars 4 - 8), has a mildly troubled character and rises to a climax of considerable intensity - a first romantic spat? Probably, as the second appearance of the main theme, is now in a minor key, the lilting slurs are gone, and a new descending bass line appears, giving the theme this time around a more somber hue. All is not well in paradise. The second contrasting phrase, more troubled than the first (bars 11 - 16), rises to an even stronger and more involved climax than the first. Yet another spat? Again probably, but resolution seems to have been accomplished this time, as the third appearance of the main theme is once again in B flat major and the lilting slurs are back. The third and final contrasting phrase seems to confirm a blissful outcome, for although it also rises to a considerable climax, it does so in a warmer, more harmonious manner. The fourth and last appearance of the main theme is incomplete, breaking off into silence before shifting unexpectedly into the key of D major. Our lovers seem to have parted amicably and gone their separate ways.

The touch throughout this gentle piece is a flowing legato. The slurs which encompass 4 or 8 eighth notes have no significance other than to signal legato, which should not be marred with any lifting of the hand. The two-note slurs of the main theme, however, should be carefully inflected with a definite down-up of the wrist and hand. Also, the dotted figure of bar 2 is easier to play physically if it is subdivided into 2 slurs. Play the notes on beats one and two in one slur, lift the hand, and then play the upbeat sixteenth note and the notes of beat three as a second slur.

Chord focus of the right hand is a major consideration, with the passage in bars 13 to 15 requiring special care. To help students understand the use of the arm in producing a good focus I have found the following useful. Have the student play any chord which requires focus. Keep the fingers on the keys. Then with the arm produce a slight 'squeezing' of the finger on the key which needs projecting, keeping the other fingers light on the keys. Have the student release the keys and then produce the same sensation with a quick impulse. The left hand chords of beats 2 and 4 should be played lightly to prevent the rhythm from plodding. In bars 13 - 15, mark the left hand descending line which occurs on the beats, but keep the eighth notes which occur on the 'ands' light.

The composer's metronome marking of 100 to the quarter note seems to me a bit hasty. Try something in the neighborhood of 84 - 88 for the quarter note to allow the music to speak more personally. Rubato plays a key element in this piece. Allow the phrases to breath in a vocal manner. The climaxes of bars 7, 13 and 16 seem to require a certain stretching of the beat. The three ritards marked by the composer are vital. The ritard of bar 16, which signals the recapitulation, is particularly hard to pull off convincingly. Remember that this ritard is accompanied by a crescendo, not a diminuendo as one would normally expect at such a juncture. It is also easier to mark the voice leading in this bar if the left hand plays the right hand's 'c sharp' and 'e flat' of beats 3 and 4, leaving the right hand only an 'a' and a 'b flat' to play.

The entire piece requires pedal. It will alternate between two pedal changes per bar (on beats 1 and 3) and a pedal change on each beat where the eighth notes are more prevalent (bars 5-8, 11-16 and 23-24).

Little Romance is listed in the both Toronto Conservatory and Conservatory Canada syllabi at the grade eight level, and is available in the collection "Meet Canadian Composers at the Piano" published by Gordon V. Thompson. It is too late to give it a try for Canada Music Week this year, but there is always next year!

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