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 Summer 2003 issue, Vol. X #4.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser


The Swiss-born Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) is a composer whose style can be surmised as a wedding of late-romanticism with impressionistic tendencies of intent, harmony and melody. His works for the piano were not many, and as such most pianists know him as the composer of the delightful set of ten pieces called "Enfantines". These pieces were published in 1924, after the composer had immigrated permanently to the United States. Each piece has a descriptive title and comes with a charming little pencil sketch, somewhat in the naive style, by Lucienne Bloch. Although these pieces are aimed at the young student pianist, they are reminiscent of Debussy's "Children's Corner" in their musical sophistication. Their titles: "Lullaby", "The Joyous Party", "Elves", "Teasing", etc. relate to events which are as much a part of a child's life now as they were over eighty years ago when these pieces were written.

The seventh piece of the set is a restful and thoughtful piece called "Pastorale". The picture which goes along with the piece, and does much to help set the mood in the player's mind, is of a peasant girl watching over a tiny flock of ducks or geese. This piece is at the Grade six level and is suitable for a student who is able to handle subtle changes of tempo and enjoys creating musical atmosphere. It is an excellent, less-hackneyed choice for festival and examination purposes.

Pastorale opens in F major, in 6/8 time, with a gently rocking melody of a serene and peaceful nature. However, already at bar five a few clouds roll in as the piece modulates to D minor. This establishes an artistic tension which will manifest itself more dramatically in bars 25 - 40. At bar 9 the music returns to the original key and mood, and gradually plays itself out. A modulation in bar 17 to A major creates a sunny effect which subsides calmly and naturally. In bar 25 the music modulates to D minor once more with the theme from the opening repeated at its original pitch, giving this section a slightly modal character. A small storm seems to brew at bar 29 and the music scuds along, threateningly, before coming to a virtual halt in bars 39 - 40. A fragment of the D minor theme is heard da lontano (from afar) giving a slightly lost and lonely feel to this juncture. The music gradually returns to home-key via C minor and E flat major before relaxing into the final appearance of the theme in F major. The last few bars have a contended, end of day's journey, feel to them.

For the student the most difficult feature to master here are the numerous changes in tempo contained within the score. I have found the best way to help a student who does not take naturally to tempo changes, is to count aloud with the student when the piece is up to speed, slowing down and speeding up the counting as needed, sort of like a 'living' metronome, until the student is able to manage the tempo fluctuations on his own. For a basic tempo, Bloch has suggested 76 to the dotted quarter-note. I find this just a scrap fast and prefer 72 to the dotted quarter-note.

Careful pedaling is also of paramount importance. Generally the pedal should be changed two times per bar, on beats one and four. A good way to help the student with a tendency to change the pedal in an overly fast, jerky, and thus blurry manner, is to get him to time his pedaling to the beats. The pedal goes up on beats 1 and 4 and down EXACTLY on beats 2 and 5, and not a scrap earlier! Care must be taken in bars 29 - 39, where the left hand plays on the off-beats, that the pedaling remains faithful to the rhythm and right hand chords, and does not start following the left hand notes. The una corda pedal should be used for all areas where the pianissimo marking is present.

One issue that must be decided upon in this piece is phrasing and the nature of the phrase marks. Personally, I view such phrasing as merely indicating logical units of thought which do not require any obvious or clumsy demarkation between them. Thus, the practice of lifting the hand at the end of all phrases seems to me inappropriate here, and not conducive to a flowing lyricism. A good guide for this piece might be to lift the hand when the phrase ends on a longer value note, and not lift the hand when the phrase ends on a shorter value note - in this case, an eighth note. The one exception to this would be the two-note slurs in the left hand in bars 10 - 14, where the lifting of the hand will give essential added emphasis to the rhythm.

Dynamics require careful thought and practice to give this piece its atmospheric character. Generally, the dynamic shaping should be more subtle rather than overt. Give the phrases gently arched dynamics. Even the piece's climax should not have too forceful or sudden dynamics. A tricky dynamic corner occurs at bar 17, where the volume shifts subito from pianissimo to mezzo-piano over the bar line. This transition is made much easier if one avoids a pedal change here, as the previous bar is in the same harmony, and one remembers that the rolled chord in such an instance is in fact a rubato, designed to delay the beat. Throughout, the left hand should be gently in the background except when it echoes the right hand in bars 6, 8 and 46. To help the student hear the different colors in the various sections, it might be useful to think of other instrumentation. I like to think of this piece as being played primarily on a flute. The tenor lines in bars 13 - 14, 20 - 23, and 60 - 63, have a more mellow character, perhaps a clarinet or a viola. At the poco animando section, bars 29 - 39, I imagine surging strings. The da lontano section, bars 41 - 44, is like a flute heard from afar. Here the student can get the right disembodied sound by playing the keys only halfway down.

While teachers must be concerned with developing good pianistic and digital skills with the young pianist, it is also important to make sure that repertoire is given which develops a students sense of imagination and gives ample freedom for the student to relate to the piece on a real personal level. Pastorale is such a piece.

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