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 2007 issue, Vol. XIV #4.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser

MINIATURE IN C MINOR, OP. 62, No. 15 ...from MINIATURES, OP. 62 - Theodor F. Kirchner

The German organist, pianist, teacher and composer, Theodor Fürchtegott Kirchner (1823 - 1903), is a shadowy figure, prominent in hs day as a member of the Schumann-Brahms circle, but now nearly completely forgotten. Schumann gave Kirchner his generous stamp of endorsement, counting him, along with Brahms, as one of the new crop of talented and up and coming composers. In 1859 Brahms himself wrote his publisher: "I look forward to more new works by Kirchner; please send them to me...." Clara Schumann, pivotal to the Schumann-Brahms axis was particularly fond of Kirchner, and the two appear to have had a discreet romance in the early 1860's (his Preludes, Op. 9, published in 1859 were dedicated to Clara). Yet, her perhaps exasperated summation of him "in his character there is no stability", proved remarkably prophetic. His later marriage failed and, a compulsive gambler, he was bailed out in 1884 by composers Brahms, Gade, Grieg, the pianist Hans von Bülow, and the critic Hanslick, when they raised the large sum of 30,000 marks to pay off his gambling debts. His last years were particularly sad, a series of strokes leaving him paralyzed and eventually blind.

Like Chopin and Scriabin, the majority of Kirchner's output (well over 1000 pieces) is for the piano; for the most part small-scale fantasies and character pieces. His style, while distinctive, is highly reminiscent of both Schumann's and Brahms'. Little wonder that in his day, he was considered a leading interpreter of the piano works of both these giants.

Kirchner's Miniatures, Op. 62 are a collection of 15 highly varied and distinctive pieces which are aimed at developing pianists at a level which we would now view as about from grades 5 - 7. These effective works are well worth investigating. While they have a certain comfortable feel about them, they are never predictable, yet neither are their surprising turns of phrase jarring. The last piece of the set, No. 15 in C minor, is listed in the Toronto Conservatory Syllabus at the grade 5 level.

Upon first glance, the visual style of the piece is highly Schumannesque, similar to some of the smaller pieces from his late piano opera. Even in sound there is a strong resemblance. The piece demands of its young players a strong sense of musical sweep, an easy way with rubato, an ability to move quickly from one mood to another as divergent ideas intersect, and a pronounced poetic side.

Unannounced, an upward sweeping phrase establishes the intensity and restlessness of the piece, its accumulated tension quickly relaxed by a downward answering phrase. Here, the melody, marked 'marcato', is in the left hand. The absence of a slur encourages one to use a slightly detached articulation, sounding each note with a small arm stroke, to aid melodic projection. The feeling of legato will be produced with the pedal. The dotted note rhythm, present here in the left hand, and continued throughout the piece, must not be turned into a triplet to fit in with the right hand. The right hand consists of two-note slurs which can be technically approached with a slight drop-lift of the hand. The climax of these two phrases, in bar 5, can be aided by the use of an agogic accent on the downbeat. The third phrase (bar 9) begins as the first, but quickly turns polyphonic, with a poetic turn into E flat major, which can benefit with some subtle rubato. Again, the lack of a slur would encourage a non-legato approach. Do note, however, the small slur in bar 12, which more than likely indicates a melodic lingering. The right hand voice should gradually assert itself as the left hand voice gently falls into the background. This phrase is completed with a 4 bar harmonic modulation (bars 13 - 16). The accents of the right hand can be produced with a good drop of the hand.

The next section begins with a sort of development of the opening phrase. This time, short slurs are added, giving more melodic personalization. The question and answer character of bars 17 - 18 should be pronounced. The beautifully wistful, floating phrase of bars 21 - 24 needs space, and a certain amount of rhythmic slackening and expansion is necessary. Although this phrase might seem unrelated to the piece in general, upon closer inspection, its origins can be found in bars 10 - 12. The question and answer idea of bars 17 - 18 is repeated in bars 25 - 26. In bars 27 - 28, the dotted rhythm, present in the melody throughout the piece, is made to stand on its own, ominously announcing the bold phrase of bars 29 - 32. This phrase, a stark four-bar extension of a diminished seventh chord, gives a definite 'kiss-of-doom' to the piece from which it never recovers. The next four bars (32 - 36), in the obscure key of A flat minor, try to rouse themselves but fail to do so, ending in a remorseful turn of phrase marked with a ritard. The piece ends with one last phrase marked 'forte', with a dramatic and resolute return to 'a tempo', which carries it conclusively, without ritard, to the end.

Pedal throughout is relatively straightforward. Most bars require only one pedal change on the downbeat. With careful balance, bars 21 - 22 can be played under one pedal. Bars 29 - 32 also work well under one extended pedal. The tempo I personally find appropriate is around 92 to the quarter note.

This Miniature is an excellent recital and examination piece, giving young players broad scope to engage many emotive responses. I know this piece in two published editions. One is as an inclusion in Volume 5b of the Harris Classics Series, and the other is in an edition of the complete Miniatures, Op. 62, published by the Associated Board. The Associated Board version is superior, including necessary dynamic markings inexplicably left out of the Harris Classics edition.

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