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 2006 issue, Vol. XIII #3.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser


The Japanese composer Yoshinao Nakada (1923 - 2000) is primarily known for his vocal works which have been amply recorded. However, he did write large-scale works for solo piano including "On a Rainy Night" (1948), "Variation Etude", a suite "Light and Shadow", and a Sonata (1949). Works for piano duet include two suites "A school for killifish" and "The four seasons of Japan". However, he is best know to pianists through his colorful, oriental flavored collection of pieces "Japanese Festival".

Nakada's "Japanese Festival", published exactly fifty years ago, is now used as a standard source of teaching material by piano teachers world wide. Its seventeen vividly characterized pieces range from the quietly meditative (The Song of Twilight), to the primitive (Dance of the Aborigines), to the humorously tongue-in-cheek (The speedy car). As a collection it contains something for everyone. The last piece of the collection, "Etude Allegro" is outstandingly well written to aid in the development of young pianists. Its simple, but effective patterns, rely heavily on rotational and alternate-hand techniques, both of which are essential in a pianist's technical arsenal. This is not to intimate that Etude Allegro is merely a dry study. Quite the opposite. Its high-powered rhythmic drive, combined with an easily assimilable harmonic language, make it an instant success with students, ensuring that they are willing to put in the necessary time and effort to master it completely. A central section containing a sensitive melody adds to the pedagogical usefulness and artistic completeness of this piece. It is a knockout recital piece.

The opening section begins with a motor theme which throws us right into the high energy of the piece. This is a good test of a student's rhythmic sense, as it requires an absolute steadiness and evenness. Here, the chattering sixteenth-note figure contains an eighth-note melody on top which must be projected, with the thumb notes being played softer, through the aid of rotary motion. In such cases, one should remember a simple rotation rule: the side of the hand which has the melodic component (or the rhythmic pulse) must be lifted higher from the keys in order to receive the energy of the rotational throw. Here this means that the thumb is kept close to the keys and fingers 3 & 4 will be lifted and thrown by the forearm. This requires the elbow to be slightly more out and elevated than usual. A good exercise to help develop this motion is to hold the thumb note down completely while playing only the upper notes, with the requisite rotational motion. The melodic half notes of bars 2 & 4 can be helped by the use of pedal, directly down on beat 3 and up on beat 1 of the next bar. The left hand has the melodic material in bars 5 & 6. The right hand in these bars can be played with greater technical ease with the use of a slight circular lateral motion. These two bars should be pedaled liberally.

The alternate hand figure in bars 7 - 10 and elsewhere, may be a student's first introduction to this important, and impressive, pianistic figure. Coordination of the hands can be awkward for some. In many cases, unevenness is partly the result of the hands using a different type of staccato. A good rule to remember is that the source of motion in each hand should be the same. By this I mean that if a wrist staccato is used, then both hands should use it. If an arm staccato is used, again, both arms should use it. Check the motion of the arms visually, and be sure it matches. The other factor which often produces an uneven rhythm here is the distance of the hand lift. Try to match this distance in both hands for a more even result. Although the left hand has the melodic material here, the right hand chords should be voiced to reinforce this.

The central section, which modulates to A flat major, contains an expressive melody floating above a gentle Alberti-bass figure. Because of the dreamier character of the music here, care must be taken to insure that the tempo matches that of the first section, as the composer requests. Although the chord changes are nothing new, and have an air of 'déjà-vu' about them (or in terms of music, should it be 'déjà-écoute'?), they are nonetheless very important in giving this well-arched melody meaning. A very simple expressive device that can be employed with great success here is to rubato slightly at harmonic shifts that one particularly likes. These rubatos should be subtle and may amount to nothing more than a slightly late placement of the downbeat (agogic accent), but they do wonders for imparting expressive meaning. For example, for me, the shifts from bar 24 to 25, 26 to 27 and 34 to 35 have special significance and I like to point these out. The minor harmonization at bar 39 is also particularly effective, and I like to 'drag my feet' here a bit tempo-wise to better feel the minor key impact. To end this section, Nakada gives the left hand an effective rising figure in bars 45 - 46 which should be slightly projected.

The recap of the opening builds to an impressive climax beginning at bar 61. Bars 61 to 68 should be pedaled completely, changing on beats one and three of each bar. Here, I think it is best to take Nakada's single forte marking with a grain of salt, incorporating into it a natural dynamic rise and fall to the phrases. Bars 61 - 64 can arch with a crescendo - decrescendo while bars 65 - 68 can crescendo straight into the fortissimo at bar 69. Many an otherwise impressive performance of this toccata-like piece has been ruined by not maintaining a tight grip on the rhythm in bars 75 to the end. Keep the chords of bar 75 dead in time. Ditto for the glissando of the next bar which must arrive exactly on a perfectly timed downbeat in bar 77. Note too the decrescendo and 'piano' marking.

Etude Allegro is one of those rare pieces which has almost no upper limit of speed, provided of course that the performer has sufficient technical command to keep all clear and rhythmically exact. A modest base tempo to aim for would be the quarter note equaling 120 on the metronome. Tempo increments on top of that will only add to the excitement of the piece. Etude Allegro is listed at the grade 8 level in the Royal Conservatory of Music's Syllabus. For even more exposure to some of the techniques experienced in it, one need look no farther than the remarkably similar "Run-run!" by Octavio Pinto.

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