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 2007 issue, Vol. XIV #3.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser


Joaquín Turina (1882 - 1949) was one of a group of Spanish composers, the others being de Falla, Albéniz, Granados and Mompou, who literally put Spain on the map musically in the twentieth-century. Turina was an excellent pianist, and his piano music is beautifully written for the instrument. The piano was his preferred instrument to write for and he left a large body of over a hundred works for it, largely in a facile semi-popular style. Although his studies in Paris (composition with d'Indy, piano with Moszkowski) brought him in contact with the impressionists, a school which had a large and lasting impact on him, he remained true to his Spanish roots, writing vibrant works infused with Spanish color.

Turina wrote two sets of Danzas gitanas (Gypsy Dances), Op. 55 (1930) and Op. 84 (1934). These pieces take their inspiration from the gypsy world of Granada and rank among Turina's best-loved piano works. While being music of modest scope and ambition, these pieces are charming, exciting, and well-written for the piano, their characteristic rhythms providing an authentic feel of 'Spanishness'. The Op. 55 set owes much of its popularity to the final piece, Sacro-monte.

Sacro-monte (Sacred Mountain) refers to the Montserrat (literal translation, 'saw-tooth mountain') which is near Barcelona. The spiritual center of Catalonia, this mountain hosts a Benedictine monastery, numerous hermitages, and the black Madonna of Montserrat, known as the Patron Saint of Catalonia. (To view the Montserrat, type in its name on the internet, and view it on Wikipedia, or on the Montserrat Tourist Board site.)

Sacro-monte makes use of the flamenco farruca which Turina acknowledged when he commented that the piece is "a farruca taken live, by this I mean I got as close as possible to authentic Gypsy formulas." Like most pieces of Spanish character, allusions to guitars and castanets are present. After three stomps of the dancer's feet, the guitar begins in bar 1. This figure should be strongly rhythmic. The LH 8th-notes work well played either legato or staccato. Pedal, if used at all, should be sparse to allow the spiky guitar element to come out. I personally like to point out the harmonic progression initiated by the sforzando on beat 3 of bar 3, and ending with beat 2 of bar 5, with dabs of pedal. The assertive 16ths followed by the 8th-note foot stomps that appear in bars 7 - 9, should not be rushed, and the 16ths should be rhythmically articulated. Take care to point out the important rhythmic events supplied by the downbeats of bars 8 & 9. The upward rushing scales that 'hang in the air' in bars 12 & 13 can be perceived as both melodic and harmonic, and work well with pedal to give them body. The staccato chords of these bars can easily sound picky if not played with enough weight. Allow the arm to drop into each one. The awkward jump from the end of these scales to the first chord can be made easier if the RH plays the LH's final C of the scales (thus playing an octave) freeing the LH to begin the jump earlier. Allow a slight broadening of the final set of chords in bar 13 to give a sense of finality to this section. The undisputed authority of Spanish piano music, Alicia de Larrocha, holds the pedal down from the low beat 1 D in bar 14 until the last three 8ths of bar 16. This gives the bell-like tune of bars 14 - 16 an harmonic basis, and creates an effective semi-impressionistic, coloristic effect.

A change of character is initiated by the important sounding repeated note figure of bar 17, etc., which seems to demand some sort of swaggering, machismo rubato. Care should be taken to be sure the dotted half-note is held through the bar, here and in bars 18, 20 & 21. These bars can be pedaled liberally. The 16th note melody of bars 18 - 19 can be given real personality with a strong dynamic arch. The ensuing 16ths of bars 21 - 22 can move forward a bit to create excitement for the three stomped chords which usher in the recap of the chords from the opening.

The Più vivo in bar 36 signals an intensification of the dancer's movements, the frenetic energy spiraling ever faster. The hardest section of the piece for most students, it demands much careful and slow practice. Throughout this section the LH plays a very significant role and should be played dynamically as the RH's equal. The taxing RH figure in bars 40 - 44 involves a dropping of the wrist and arm on the thumb note and a push off, up and forward, on the last 16th of each beat (essentially a powerful and enlarged two-note slur, with a quick impulse on the thumb). It is important to not attempt to play too loudly at the forte marking in bar 40. Instead, give bars 40 & 41 a shape by crescendoing slightly and then decrescendoing on beat four. Slight ritards, coupled with a crescendo, can be utilized on beats 3 & 4 of bars 43 & 44, not only to make the notes more negotiable, but also for a more impressive musical effect. The cataclysmic headlong descent of the chords in bar 45 is made more effective by a slight lingering at the top, followed by an accellerando, all under one pedal.

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