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 2006 issue, Vol. XIII #2.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser


Many composers, some renowned, some less known, have written collections of pieces about childhood with both affection and insight. Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Pierné, Ibert, Debussy, Grovlez, de Sévérac, Pinto and Prokofiev, to name the most obvious, all left wonderful collections of pieces designed for youthful pianists to mature on, and for mature pianists to feel youthful with. Most of these collections are staples of the teaching repertoire. Schumann's "Scenes from Childhood" and Debussy's "Children's Corner" have even attained professional concert repertoire status.

Gabriel Grovlez (1879 - 1944), although now almost forgotten, was an important and influential figure in the musical life of France as a composer, critic, piano pedagogue, and most successfully, operatic conductor. Grovlez wrote his collection "L'Almanach aux Images" (The Picture-book) in 1911. The eight pieces are described as "d'apres des poèmes de Tristan Klingsor" (after poems by Tristan Klingsor). The poems are printed as a preface to each piece.

The second piece of the set, "Berceuse de la Poupée" (The Doll's Lullaby) is a gently lullaby which takes its name and character from the nocturnally evocative poem by Klingsor which precedes it:


Little doll, with your lace bonnet
On your fine tow-like hair.
Sleep: The clock is chiming, and everyone
Has snuffed their candles out.

Pierrot is in bed and the moon has risen;
On the rooftops the cats are grey;
Sleep, and may sweet dreams come to you:
All the cats are gray, like mice.

In your crumpled dress so short,
And stockings drooping down to your feet,
Sleep, and dream on, little doll,
Of a handsome soldier of lead.

Little doll with your broken pink nose,
Little doll with your bonnet askew,
Why leave your
Blue eyes open?

Since no-one will come to give you a kiss
And the soldiers of lead will never come round
And now the sandman has come
To everyone's door.

In this gentle impressionistic piece, Grovlez quite successfully gives the feeling of sleepiness by allowing his musical themes to intersect rather than interact, much the way that thoughts come and go in an unrelated manner in an mind on the verge of sleep. It is tonally conservative, venturing no farther than the use of the whole-tone scale.

By using a standard French lullaby (which Debussy also quoted in "Jimbo's Lullaby") as the theme for the berceuse, Grovlez wasted no time in communicating the feeling of a lullaby to his French audience. This theme opens the piece and sets the gentle rocking mood. The R.H. voicing in bars 1 & 2 is tricky but becomes easier when the first chord of both bars is played with the fingering 1-3-5, and finger 2 plays the following 'F'. Care must be taken that the melody notes in bars 5 - 10, which are interspersed with chords, are carefully matched. Students can play this theme as written, but I find it easier to voice if both melody notes of beat 2 in bars 5 - 8 (and bars 56 - 59) are played with the L.H. while the R.H. takes over the L.H.'s top harmony note on the second beat. Note that the melody ends in the L.H. in bars 9 - 10, adding another complication to voicing. This theme should be phrased vocally, with vocal inflections and breathing.

The first bong of the clock appears in bar 11, and again in bars 16, 19, 46, and 67. Reliable control of these soft low notes can be attained by playing them not with the 5th finger, but from the arm with the 3rd finger, with the weight of the hand centered above. The delicate bars 12 - 13 and 17 - 18, and 68 -69, are effectively marked with long pedals by the composer. Here the R.H. can play with gently raised, outstretched fingers to give a slight 'ping' to the notes for color.

The R.H. figure in bars 20 - 21 is tricky to control, but students should be reminded not to twist the arm around to move from from one octave to the other. Instead, the hand should float from back and forth, without connecting the notes, with the wrist making no lateral adjustment. In bars 22 - 23 and 26 - 27, teachers and students should be encouraged to experiment with pedal. Some students will be able to put two bars under one pedal while others will need to change on each bar. The solution depends on tone control and voicing. Bars 24 - 25 must be under one pedal. Bar 28 begins gently, with the melody in the L.H. To keep the R.H. 16ths soft at the beginning, students can be encouraged to play with flatter fingers, close to the keys. Contrary to the composer's pedal markings for bars 31 - 33, I find the L.H. grace notes necessitate a pedal change in each bar.

The climax of the piece comes in bars 34 - 43. Here the lullaby tune is presented with surprising power, over dense chromatic chords. Is this the 'soldier of lead' that the doll is encouraged to dream of? This must not sound dry, but neither should it be too blurry. I find that bars 34, 35, 39, 40 and 41 require a pedal change on both beats of the bar, while in bars 36 - 38, 42 and 43 one pedal change on the downbeat is sufficient. It is essential that the inner voices of the R.H. and L.H. are controlled carefully with the notes perfectly matched between the hands. The triple pianissimo tone required in bars 44 - 45 can be helped with a slight undulation of the wrists, down on the beats and up on the 'ands'. The clock chimes in bars 46 - 47 add a delightfully colorful touch and should not be played shyly. Take advantage of the composer's 'mf' marking and give these a bright sound.

A magical moment occurs in bars 62 - 64, marked 'trés lointain', triple pianissimo. Here the sandman spreads his dust. A suitably disembodied sound can be created here by keeping the arms floating and trying not to strike the bottoms of the keys.

I find that this Berceuse works well at a tempo of approximately a quarter note equals 50, with much of its atmospheric character requiring a subtle rhythmic flexibility. Berceuse de la Poupée is on the Gr. VIII Toronto Conservatory list. It makes a welcome, less frequently played choice for students able to relate to its subtleties.

Publications Page Main Page