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 2004 issue, Vol. XI #3.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser


To the Rising Sun was written and published in 1912, when impressionism in music was at its height. The first piece of a set of piano pieces entitled "Norwegian Mountain Idyls", it can not be considered impressionistic music, but it is highly descriptive music. The piece begins triple pianissimo, builds to a central climax marked fortissimo, and then returns to triple pianissimo for its conclusion, imitating the sun as it rises gently out of darkness, moves to full brilliance at noon, and then proceeds to a soft sunset before slipping into darkness again. Monothematic, the piece never modulates from the key of E flat major. Its theme is repeated five times before the piece dissolves in a muted coda, ending suitably with a gentle plagal cadence rather than a more definite perfect cadence.

The first problem to be solved by the player is how to keep the right-hand accompaniment figure uniformly soft in the opening and closing, when the theme is present in the left hand. This can be accomplished by playing with a 'fixed' hand, the fingers in constant contact with the keys, and using the arm to gently push the fingers into the keys with a slight rocking, rotational motion. The theme, which makes its first, second and fifth appearances in the left hand, can be projected with the use of more active fingers which fling themselves more deeply into the keys, making sure a relaxed hand weight is used to back them up.

On its third and fourth appearances, the theme is presented by the right hand, first forte, then fortissimo. These full and noble chords should be played with a loose arm. Care should be taken to have the student relax the arm and wrist instantly and completely after each large chord is played. From bars 19 to 26, the left hand accompaniment is slurred by the composer giving the performer two very useful hints. First, play each two-note slur with a definite down-up, drop-float of the arm, allowing the momentum of the drop to produce the accents as notated. Intervals which are too large to be connected by the hand should still be choreographed as a two-note slur. Second, the off-beat notes are to be played noticeably lighter than the notes on the beat.

The accompaniment of bars 27 to 29 present the player with the hardest technical challenge of the piece. Here, the fast, brilliant arpeggios spanning more than two octaves, intermingled with chords create a stumbling block which is often the undoing of what would otherwise be a fine performance. However, with some clever re-distribution, dividing the arpeggio figure between the hands, this passage becomes easy to play fortissimo, up to speed. Have the right hand play the 4th to 7th notes of the arpeggio with the fingering 1,2,3,5. Thus the left hand only has to play the first 3 notes of the arpeggio (fingering 5,2,1). Both hands are then only playing figures of a four-note chord size and are thus easily managed by any player. In bar 29, as the right hand is occupied with playing the arpeggio, the left hand must swing up and over the right hand to play the treble-clef's octave B flats on beat two. It may sound complicated when communicated on paper, but in fact it is an easy and effective solution which allows the student the technical security to play with the power and sweep which the passage requires.

Only two other technical problems exist, the rolled chords (bars 11, 13 and 15) with the associated problem of pedaling, and the portamento in bars 30 and 31. With the rolled chords, the major problem is getting the bottom note of each chord into the new pedal. Take time to roll these chords slow enough to lift the pedal on the bottom note and put it back down on the middle note. Use a light hand weight on these first two notes, bringing greater weight to bear on the top melodic thumb note with a quick arm-impulse. It should also be remembered that wide-spanned rolled chords are played most easily and powerfully with a high wrist, going over the keys in an arc. The eighth notes of bars 30 and 31 should be played portamento as marked for a better 'speaking' quality, taking care of course the hold the longer quarter and half notes. This can be accomplished using a rotational motion, pivoting from the held note. The pedal should be changed on each eighth note for clarity of texture.

Musically, To the Rising Sun should seem to start from nowhere and end the same, building carefully to a grand, but non-percussive fortissimo climax in the middle. Use the una corda for the first 6 bars and put it down again towards the end of bar 37, holding it to the end. Note in bar 9 that the dynamic marking is pui f, (louder) not just f (loud). Consider the theme here to be in a mezzo range. Also, care should be taken at bar 19 not to allow the forte to be too loud, so that the fortissimo at bar 27 can be even more effective. Note the calmato marking in bar 30 and the ritard in bar 31. Allow the pace to slacken considerably. The a tempo marking in bar 32 begins on the off-beat of the downbeat, encouraging one to first come to a short stop on the downbeat before proceeding. Be sure the double dotting which starts in bar 38 is not allowed to relax into a single dotted rhythm. The grace note in the final bar is to be played slow enough to allow the pedal to be changed on it.

To the Rising Sun is instantly appealing for students and has much in it for them to learn. It makes for an extremely effective recital, festival or exam piece. It is listed at the grade 8 level in the Royal Conservatory of Music's Syllabus.

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