This week I am featuring a video tutorial on Mendelssohn’s beautiful miniature, the second from the set of Kinderstücke, op. 72, currently on Trinity College London’s Grade 7 syllabus.
Mendelssohn wrote his set of six Children’s Pieces for his young relatives during his summer holiday to England in 1842. No. 2, an andante sostenuto in the key of Eb, close in spirit to the composer’s many Songs Without Words, features a lyrical melody in the right hand supported by gently flowing semiquaver patterns in the left.
After a short introduction based on the tonic and dominant chords the melody appears with the indication cantabile (in a singing style). What does this mean for the pianist? Apart from playing the melody more strongly than the accompaniment, we also need to add shaping and shading to the line. Singing it is the very best way to find where the line needs to breathe; you will also discover where the high and low points occur. When you play, aim to replicate the line as though you were singing it. Intervals that are close together are easier to sing (seconds and thirds); those that are further apart may need a little more time to be expressive. We will surely want to give a little more space to the interval of the sixth in bar 9, for example.
The Left Hand
The left hand needs lightness and delicacy of touch, subtly pointing out the implied bass line (the melodic element in the left hand that underpins the right hand’s song) while hiding the repeated notes in between the beats. The left hand, like any good accompanist, needs to accommodate the singing line between phrases as well as helping to move it forwards in moments of intensity (the crescendo from bar 14, for example).
Beware of interrupting the flow by making a break in sound at phrase ends; a smooth legato is called for here.
As I looked at my video demonstration again, I noticed I was being extremely cautious about recommending any pedalling (apart from towards the end when it is obviously necessary, and marked in most editions). Players with sufficient mastery of the pedal will want to use light, shallow touches here and there throughout the piece – perhaps to colour a particular harmony, to help make a connection smoother, and to add a little resonance. However, this has to be done well or the results will be messy. It is good advice to begin without any pedal, and experiment a bit after the correct touches have been learned.
Further resources & links
This video is part of an Online Academy series featuring articles and over 30 video demonstrations of repertoire from Trinity College London’s 2018 – 2020 piano examination syllabus. The full collection is available for once-off purchase here or as part of 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.
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