Burgmüller’s charming set of 25 studies, the Easy and Progressive Études (Op 100) still manages to sound fresh after all these years, and continues to inspire intermediate pianists.
Each étude is short and to the point, with a descriptive title to stimulate the imagination. The technique always serves a musical goal, and because they are so well written each is useful as a way to learn about harmony, as well as form and structure.
In my Online Academy series on op. 100, I take each étude in turn. You will find a detailed teaching note and a video walkthrough that highlights the learning outcomes, with advice on the technical aspects as well as how to practise. So far, we are up to no. 18 and look forward to completing the series within the next few weeks. A short while back I wrote a blog post featuring short excerpts about the first five études, in this post I’m going to look at the next few – Progrés, Le courant limpide, La gracieuse and La chasse.
We return to C major for this lively, cheerful piece entitled Progrès (Progress). With touches of laughter suggested by the staccato quavers, this study celebrates the pleasure in making progress, featuring scales in parallel tenths, a contrary motion scale, changes of touch from legato to staccato, rapid changes in hand position with jumps in both hands, and syncopated slurs. Some of the patterns we find in Progrès can be practised not only upwards as written, but also backwards – on a loop, repeating up and back until fluent and comfortable. In this snippet from my full-length video demonstration, I look at how to practise the semiquavers in a dotted rhythm (long-short, and short-long), a good exercise for synchronising the hands and building in control of the fingers.
7. Le Courant Limpide
Le courant limpide (The Clear Little Stream) is a charming study in tonal control, evenness of touch, and using the imagination to create a vivid soundscape. The study features virtually continuous triplet motion in the right hand, the left hand crotchets providing a simple drone in the A section, and a counterpoint to the right hand’s hidden melody in the B section.
For the A section we might block the right hand triplets into their chord shapes (do this separately, and then together with the left hand, chorale-style). When we open the right hand up into the triplet patterns, we need to make sure we mobilise the hand.
8. La Gracieuse
La gracieuse (Gracefully) is in the subdued key of F major, and features written-out turns against a simple chordal background. The left hand has the chance to explore the ornament in the B section of this ternary form study, but we begin with the right hand.
If you find the turns cumbersome or awkward, it will help to practise some backward chaining. Working on each turn individually, begin by playing just the last two notes, connecting these to the next main note (thus 2-1-3). Do this fast and lightly, focussing on flexibility in the wrist and freedom in the arm. When this feels easy and sounds good, add one more link to the chain (thus 3-2-1-3) and repeat the process before beginning from the start of the demisemiquaver group (4-3-2-1-3). Burgmüller’s leggiero indication reminds us that the faster the note value, the lighter the touch.
9. La Chasse
The previous two studies were about delicacy and control of sound in the softer dynamic levels; La chasse has all the energy and colour of a hunt, with a dynamic range from pp to f. The form is rondo (A-B-A-C-A), with an introduction and a coda. We clearly hear the hunting horns and the galloping of horses’ hooves, and we feel the excitement of the occasion. Do we perhaps also detect a certain compassion for the poor fox in the troubled B section (dominant minor, poco agitato) and the expressive C section in the relative minor, marked dolente (sadly)? If you are struggling with the repeated notes, this video excerpt gives you some suggestions.
The full versions of these videos along with walkthroughs featuring other works from Burgmüller’s Easy and Progressive Études are available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.
Click here for the article on the first five études in the series.