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 Spring 2003 issue, Vol. X #3.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser


By its very nature, variation form from the classical period invariably involves an array of virtuosic keyboard figurations. As such, variations are excellent teaching pieces for developing a young pianist's technique. This is splendidly borne out in the case of Kuhlau's ebullient Six Variations in G major, Op. 42, No. 1, where each variation has some sort of standard technical challenge to overcome. This grade five piece provides a fine introduction to variation form for any student and it is a welcome, less hackneyed choice for examination and festival purposes. It is published in the Harris Piano Classics Vol. 5/a.

Theme: For this set of variations, Kuhlau wrote the simplest of themes, four phrases, each two bars long, alternating tonic and dominant, with a consistent rhythmic pattern. Already, however, the student is presented with interpretive and technical problems which must be considered if the theme is to have the buoyant and cheerful character that it should. A slight accent on the downbeat of bars 1, 3, 5 and 7 and a lightening up on beats 2 and 3, prevent these bars from sounding stolid. The staccato notes here are easily played with a slight forwards 'nudge' of the arm on each eighth note. The repeated notes present one with the question: to change fingers or not? Generally, the concept of changing fingers in such a case originated from the time when the arms were not supposed to move. This is now considered an antiquated and physically rigid approach. Using the same finger is mentally simpler and can lead to greater tonal control because of the consistency. The slurs of bars 2, 4, 6 and 8, being the points of each phrase, require a stronger downbeat 'lean' than bars 1, 3, 5 and 7. Care should be taken that the left hand chords do not receive as much of a 'lean' so that a fine balance of the hands is maintained. The last phrase of the theme can have a slight feeling of tempo relaxation and a short pause helps separate the theme from the first variation, a common interpretive practice in the performance of classical variations.

Variation No. 1: Here, the theme moves to the left hand while the right hand provides a bubbling harmonic 'swim'. Technical ease can be developed in this four-note chord figure by allowing the wrist to move in one complete elliptical circle for each bar. The wrist moves down and towards the right on the downbeat, and up and towards the left on beat 2. The left hand uses the same staccato technique which was present in the theme. For the first half of this variation, the left hand should be projected and then in the second half, the right hand asserts itself with a strong crescendo to the end.

Variation No. 2: In the second variation, the theme is repeated verbatim with an energetic sixteenth-note left-hand accompaniment. This is a good figure for the student to work on rotation in the left hand. In this figure, care should be taken that the thumb note 'D' is played softer, by keeping it closer to the key. A useful exercise to help develop this is to hold the thumb note down silently, using it as a pivot while throwing the hand at those notes played with the fingers.

Variation No. 3: Propulsive, exciting scales are the feature of this variation. Here students are reminded that scales are easier to play smoothly when the elbows are held farther out from the body. Great care should be exercised to insure that an accent is not delivered on the first note of each scale, but instead, the first downbeat of each scale should be well marked. A convincing dynamic direction can be attained when the left hand scales crescendo and the right hand scales decrescendo. The final right hand scale can have the slightest feeling of tempo relaxation followed by a very short pause, to prepare the key and mood change present in the next variation.

Variation No. 4: The switch to the tonality of E minor provides a wonderful change of mood. A temptation to play this variation slower should be resisted. However, a slightly less sharp staccato does wonders for pointing out this variations slightly doleful and reflective character. The first half of this variation seems to work well with more subdued dynamics while the expressive right hand decorations in the second half demand a stronger dynamic - emotive commitment. As with the third variation, this variation can also end with a slight ritard and a pause to prepare the listener for the return to G major and a sunnier mood in the following variation.

Variation No. 5: A chattering perpetuum-mobile variation in which the delightful right hand descending scale pattern is given rhythmic impetus from the left hand motive. Rhythmic squareness can be avoided by making the downbeats of measures 2, 4, 6, and 8 lighter, those in bars 1, and 5 stronger, and the downbeats of bars 3 and 5 the strongest of all.

Variation No. 6: The final variation has an unbuttoned Bavarian feel to it. One can almost hear the umph-pa-pa of the tubas in the left hand and the right hand figuration has a certain yodeling character. The right hand figure requires a good rotational technique when ascending and a flowing arpeggio technique when descending. Give these patterns very extroverted dynamics. The short coda creates its effect with brilliant thirty-second notes and emphatic chords. These downbeats have to be prominent and care should be taken that beat 2 is lighter. Real brilliance can be attained in the short thirty-second note runs by pulling the fingers towards the palm as one plays them. An agogic accent on the final chord gives this piece a definitive and positive ending.

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