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 2005
issue, Vol. XII #3.
MAYFLOWERS - from NINE TALES - CHRISTOS TSITSAROS
Christos Tsitsaros (b. 1961) is a young American pianist - composer of growing repute. On faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an Associate Professor of Piano Pedagogy, he is active as a pianist and a composer of shorter teaching pieces, as well as larger more ambitious works. He has recorded a CD of his own piano works on the Centaur label.
Christos Tsitsaros has come to the attention of Canadian piano teachers and students as the result of the publication of two collections of his student pieces: "Cinderella Suitez" and "Nine Tales". "Nine Tales" includes a number of pieces currently listed in the Royal Conservatory Syllabus, 'Gallop', 'Snow Games', and the serenely floating, Satie-esque 'Mayflowers'.
It is easy to see in this two-page grade eight level piece, that Tsitsaros took as his point of departure Satie's Gymnopédies as regards both mood and pulse. Tsitsaros, however, eventually allows his piece to move more flowingly as it progresses, thus avoiding a static recreation of Satie's timeless original. It also has a subtly suggestive pictorial quality; Mayflowers, the bright, but not yet too strong May sun, and gentle May breezes. In the notes about the piece, Tsitsaros remarks: "In this gentle piece, a swaying quality is developed through delicate use of rubato", and indeed rubato is an essential ingredient of any performance of this piece. (For an article on rubato written by Tsitsaros go to: www.keyboardcompanion.com/RubatoArticle/Rubato2.html )
Mayflowers is not a particularly difficult piece, technically speaking, but it does have a few tricky spots. The first things to sort out are the frequently recurring tricky rhythms of a dotted 8th note followed by two 32nd notes, and the 8th note followed by three triplet 16ths. These should be isolated and practiced individually, with sensible fingering, making the difference between the two rhythms exact and reliable enough to prevent stumbling or hesitating when they occur in context. The rolled chords are good training ground for young pianists to learn to balance a rolled chord as carefully as one would balance a solid chord by projecting the top note always.
Our little Mayflowers appear right in the opening, suggested by a wistful and delicate melody marked 'poco rubato'. In this theme, with its halting accompaniment, which hovers between E minor and and A7 chords, care should be taken to impart sensitive and reflective shaping. The numerous grace notes that occur should probably be played a bit on the slowish side, as an integral part of the melody, and need not all sound the same. Notice how these grace notes are elongated to eight notes when this same melody returns in bar 40, an important and subtle key to their character. Allow the triplets in bar 8 which lead to the second phrase to be relaxed, not rushed. The 16th notes of bar 12 should likewise feel no hurry nor be bound by strict rhythmic pulse.
In bars 15 - 16 a new, sturdier, warmer, theme is introduced over a quarter-note accompaniment. Would one be reading too much into the score to suggest that this slightly warmer melody could be thought of as the bright, but not yet too hot sun of a clear May day? It does seem plausible to me. It is easy here for the student to unwittingly pick up the tempo with the introduction of the left-hand quarter notes - a temptation which must be strictly avoided. Likewise, as this theme evolves, the temptation to slow down with the introduction of an eighth note accompaniment in bar 29 must also be avoided.
At bar 35, both the accompaniment and the melody get pushed into the higher treble regions in a way that is suggestive of a chilly, early May breeze threatening our Mayflowers. Here to increase the effect, Tsitsaros accelerates the pulse of the music, subtly changing the beat to 2/4 although he does not change the notated meter. The student can accelerate these bars (35 - 38) slightly to enhance the effect, giving full due to the ritard marked by the composer in bar 39. At the end of this wind-gust, the opening theme returns, pianissimo, with a floating 8th note accompaniment, in a manner which suggests that this sudden threat of nature has had no effect on our hardy early blooms. They have survived, and are perhaps even more delicately beautiful than ever.
The sturdy, sunny, theme from bar 16 makes one last appearance in bar 48, playing itself out in ever-distant harmonies before coming to an inconclusive stop 3 bars before the end of the piece. Care must be taken to slacken the pace convincingly with a well graded decrescendo for this to be effective. A short pianissimo ascending scale - a last gentle wind-gust - ends with a tiny rolled chord, and the piece, and the scene it evokes, evaporates.
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