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 2004 issue, Vol. XII #1.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser


1st. Mvt. - Allegro con Spirito

Muzio Clementi, 'the father of modern piano playing', was a true musical genius who was highly admired by the likes of Beethoven, Chopin and Brahms. His Sonatinas, especially those belonging to the Op. 36 set, are a staple of the teaching repertoire, useful in developing a fluent sixteenth note technique, allied to a musical sense of charm, humor, character and a 'singing style'.

The last Sonatina of the Op. 36 collection is the most difficult of the set. It is a splendid two-movement work. The first movement is well constructed, contains memorable melodies and abounds in sufficient sixteenth note passages to challenge any grade seven pupil. The second movement is an amiable rondo which also has plenty of technical problems in it, leaning heavily on figures requiring a well-developed rotary technique.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the first movement of this Sonatina is its sustained lyricism. Even the scale-like passage work is of a highly melodic character. The student's task, and it is a pleasant one at that, is to be sure to play in a consistently singing manner. The opening theme needs real musical shaping and a fine legato, with the sixteenths in bars 2 - 4 being beautifully equal and clear. The grace note in bar 2 should come on the beat and be approximately of a stretched sixteenth notes duration, with both the grace note and the following high 'a' getting enough weight to sound melodic, rather than a hiccup on a banana peel. Bars 3 - 6 have a playful character with bars 7 - 8 matching the legato lyricism of the opening phrase. The isolated 'sf' markings in this movement (bars 5, 6, 14, 26, etc.) should not be considered as sudden unconnected accents, but as melodic destinations which are best approached with a crescendo. The exciting scale passage in bars 9 - 11 requires a certain speed and brilliance. Remind students to keep the elbow more away from the body to facilitate the passing under of the thumb in all scale-type passages, and allow a good lateral swing at the beginning of bar 11 to avoid stiffness. The ascending melody in bars 12 - 16 is marked 'ff', but still needs tonal gradation and shape. Try a staccato touch for the 8th notes of bars 20 & 21 for character.

The expressive second subject (bars 23 - 29) is wistfully perched on a dominant-seventh harmony. Here allow the smaller slurs to help inflect the melody, but don't allow the slur separations to be overly disconnected. Think of a singer and sustain the melody. The main feature of bars 30 - 33 is rhythmic. Feel the impulse of the downbeat here. I find many editions have dubious fingering in these bars. Beginning on beat 3 of bar 30, try 1313, 2424, with 1212 for beat 1 of bar 31. Yes, this puts the thumb on the sharp, but it makes use of stronger fingers. Forearm rotation is necessary here for real technical ease. With the simple addition of a scale pattern in bars 34 & 35, the repeat of the figure from bar 30 is now more lyrical, and benefits from sensitive shaping.

One of the technical - musical problems found in the development is how to keep the left hand repeated notes steady and light. I do not advocate the changing of fingers in such cases, but always use either finger 2 or 3 (usually 2) with a 'fixed' hand and a small arm-stroke for each note. Again, I find many editions have difficult fingering for the sixteenth notes of bars 42 & 43. Beginning on beat 4 of bar 42, try 1232, 1423, 1314, 2314, 2314, and 2 for the final quarter note of bar 44. The harmonic progression of bars 48 - 52 also has a distinctive rhythmic element due to the slurs on beats 1 and 3 of each bar. Feel the forward momentum that these slurs give. Bars 52 - 56 are perhaps the most difficult in this movement for most students, due to the requirement of a powerful rotation technique. Here students need to be reminded to literally throw their arm at the upper notes of the figure to attain sufficient speed and volume. It takes practice. Incidentally, all of the sixteenth note figures in this piece can benefit from some sort of practicing in rhythms.

An important, but often overlooked source of musical vitality and interest in Classical works is the left hand. Because of the preponderance of certain stock figures in works from this period, students tend to play these left hand figures in an uninteresting and unimaginative manner, keeping them very much in the background. This robs the piece of much of its life. Instead, try to invest these figures with real musical interest and variety.

One of the first things one needs to consider, then, is what sort of touches one is going to use in these left-hand figures. Here I feel one must be guided by a need for variety, and a musical consideration of delineating and highlighting the individual characters of the various melodies. In the opening, I prefer to have my students finger-pedal the eighth note Alberti figure to give a more legato and supportive harmony to the lyrical opening melody. Give the left-hand figure in bar 8 real melodic shape and interest, and of course, do not finger pedal this bar. One can even allow the last 2 left-hand eighth notes to be staccato to help the separation of phrases. I discontinue finger pedal in bars 9 & 10 (but still use a legato touch), where I feel the excited scales of the right hand need more energy from the left hand. In bar 11, the two quarter-note octaves need a certain lift to impart energy to the cadence into the next bar. In bars 12 to 15, I like to think of the left-hand octaves as a sort of bassoon figure and I articulate it staccato, except for the 4-note chord figure at the beginning of bars 12 & 14, which I articulate legato. I return to a consistent legato touch in bars 16 - 18 to calm this passage down. I again feel the need for energy in bars 19 & beats 1 & 2 of bar 20, and thus I articulate these staccato allowing legato to return in the 2nd half of bar 20 to bar 22. A legato touch seems indispensable to accompany the 'dolce' melody in bars 23 to 29. Project the ascending bass line in bar 26 to add an interesting and effective melodic counterpoint. I like to think of the left-hand notes in bars 30 & 31, where the dynamic marking is 'forte', as more detached than those in bars 34 & 35, where the dynamic marking is 'piano'. I would again suggest a staccato touch in the leaping octaves of bars 36 & 37 to give a rhythmic drive to the exposition's final cadence. The development seems quite straightforward as regards left-hand touches, and the recapitulation can mirror the exposition.

The last thing to mention here might be a reference to editions. The clearest edition I have found is published by Carisch. It is a model of editorial restraint, and is reasonably priced as well.

An interesting note: Clementi himself published a revised version of these Sonatinas in 1820, some twenty-three years after they were originally published. The somewhat auspicious title "Six Progressive Sonatinas for the Pianoforte, the Sixth Edition, With considerable Improvements by the Author" shows that at that time, Clementi set out to improve his original work. This edition contains a great many changes and alterations, most of which were prompted by the newly expanded range of the keyboard. This later version is not much known, but can be found complete, by those interested in comparing the two versions, in Sonatinen, Volume I published by Könemann Music Budapest. Sonatinen Für Klavier, Volume II published by Henle contains two of these revised Sonatinas (Op. 36, Nos. 4 & 6). Personally, I find these later versions to be interesting, but not as good as the originals. Perhaps others feel as I do, and this is why they have not caught on.

Publications Page Main Page