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 Winter 2004 issue, Vol. XI #2.

A Repertoire Masterclass with Allen Reiser

March in E flat major, BWV Anhang 127 - from the Anna Magdelana Notebook, composer unknown

Bach's Anna Magdalena Notebook is a treasure trove of teaching material of a high caliber. While many of the works included in the collection are not by Bach, Anna showed quite astute musical judgment by collecting pieces which have real value. There are three marches in the Notebook. The ones in D major, BWV Anh. 122 (Gr. 4) and in G major, BWV Anh. 124 (Gr. 5), both by C.P.E. Bach, are often taught to, and played by, students. However, the one in E flat major, BWV Anh. 127, author unknown, is rarely played or taught, although it is a fine piece at the Gr. 6 level.

The reasons for its neglect are perhaps two-fold. First it has an ongoing mixture of triplet and duplet eighth notes which presents most students with a tricky rhythmic challenge. Secondly, it has a number of ornaments present which need careful working out as well as an extra effort to play them cleanly and reliably. Apart from those two elements, nothing in this piece is of particular difficulty.

First - how to work on the mixture of triplets and duplets. Most rhythmic problems are most easily solved by students when presented as abstract concepts in clapping form first. I like to use words to steady the beat. For the triplet, use the word 'rasp-ber-ry'; for the duplet, use the word 'ap-ple'. First, have the student learn the pacing of both the triplet and the duplet separately, not in succession. Have the student clap 'rasp-ber-ry pie', giving the triplet the 'raspberry' and assigning a quarter note to 'pie'. Explain that a triplet involves FOUR equal notes, not THREE, as most students think, the fourth note being necessary to define the length of the third. Then have the student clap the duplet using the words 'ap-ple pie', giving the duplet the 'apple' and assigning a quarter note to 'pie'. Explain that a duplet involves THREE equal notes, the third note being necessary to define the length of the second. Next step: have the student practice clapping the above two rhythmic kernels back to back, alternating repeatedly, to a steady 4/4 beat: 'rasp-ber-ry pie - ap-ple pie - rasp-ber-ry pie - ap-ple pie - rasp-ber-ry pie - ap-ple pie'. When the student is rhythmically steady and accurate with this step, the next step is to remove the first 'pie' and have the student clap 'rasp-ber-ry ap-ple pie', to a steady 3/4 rhythm, thus putting the triplet and the duplet back to back as they will appear in the piece. Once this is steady and accurate, take bars 5 to 8 of the March and have the student clap the four bars as written: 'rasp-ber-ry - ap-ple - ap-ple - ap-ple - rasp-ber-ry - ap-ple - ap-ple - ap-ple - rasp-ber-ry - ap-ple - ap-ple - ap-ple - rasp-ber-ry - ap-ple - ap-ple - ap-ple'. Once this process is mastered, and it will take varying lengths of time with various students, then it is time to assign the actual notes of the piece. If, in the learning and polishing process, the student begins to rush the triplet, always have the student return to the clapping stage, and also have the student play the actual notes saying the 'raspberry-apple' formula out loud.

Second - some possible solutions for the ornaments. I say possible, because it may vary from student to student, and even if one understands the rules of ornamentation properly, ornaments can vary from performer to performer. Thus what I am about to suggest is my working out of the ornaments, and my way is not the only way. Hopefully, though, some of you may find these solutions helpful. There really are only three realizations of ornaments necessary in this piece. The first occurs at the ends of the two sections, in bars 9 and 27. I am going to suggest two ways to play this ornament; one for a less-able student and one for a student with fleeter fingers. For the less-able student these ornaments could contain 4 notes. In bar 9: d-c-b flat-c and in bar 27: g-f-e flat-f. As both ornaments are proceeded by a lower note which is flat and would be played by the 2nd finger, I would recommend the fingering 4-1-2-3 for both ornaments. For a more fleet-fingered student, the ornament could contain 6 notes. In bar 9: d-c-d-c-b flat-c and in bar 27: g-f-g-f-e flat-f. A good fingering would be 4-1-3-1-2-3 for both ornaments. The next ornament to be solved occurs in bars 12, 14, and 20. This is most effective when played as a 4-note mordent, starting on the upper note in both cases, and using the fingering 3-2-3-2. The last ornament occurs in bar 17 and is an extended trill on a half-note. For a less-able student, supply a worked-out trill of 8 sixteenth notes including a turn: e flat-d-e flat-d-e flat-d-c-d, played with 3-2-3-2-3-2-1-3. For a fleeter fingered student, encourage a free trill here, but again with a turn at the end. As a last resort for the trill-challenged student this ornament can be played as a simple 4-note mordent as is found in bar 12, etc. To help students attain flowing ornaments I give them the practice rule of 2 times slow, 1 time fast, repeated at least 10 times a day. In the slow repetitions, be sure the student lifts the fingers well, giving good clearance to the escapement action, to avoid having the ornament 'choke' at a faster speed.

Musically, this March is a sturdy and rousing piece calling for a firm tone, and good gradation of dynamics. The phrasing needs careful attention, working best with a mixture of shorter slurs and staccatos. The staccatos in this piece need careful attention, I feel. If they are too short and light, they give a the piece a picky, thin feel. If they are too long and heavy, they make for an earth-bound performance. I like to remind students to play these kind of staccatos to the bottom of the key but with an energetic motion so the key release is not too slow. The phrase 'dig into the keys with energy' often helps to convey the sound I look for.

As an all-over dynamic plan, the March begins with a bold and energetic opening which extends for 4 bars, best presented with a firm tone. At bar 5 the music seems to call for a contrasted softer tone which can then build in the following 4-bar sequence, culminating in the scale run and cadence of bars 9 & 10. Bars 11 to 14 which open the second half of the piece, seem to demand the same firm and energetic treatment as the opening. Bars 15 to 18 are in a minor key, and vary the mood somewhat, being more subdued. Here the tone can drop to heighten the music's less aggressive character. The emergence back to E flat major in bar 19 seems to signal a return to a stronger dynamic level. In Bar 23 the tone should probably soften as it did in bar 5 to allow for the same dynamic build to the conclusion of the section that occurred at the end of the first half.

Tempo-wise, it is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to play this March too quickly. A tempo of about 58 to 63 for the half note, seems to allow for the necessary energy, but also gives it a certain strength and bigness of character. Once the complexities of this score are mastered, this March will prove itself to be an excellent performance piece for both performer and audience alike.

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