Very often people tell me as they skim through a score “I don’t really need to practise this bit because it’s easy”. I also hear “I totally messed that bit up, and yet it’s so simple!”. While the notes themselves may be readable at sight and present no apparent technical difficulties, I don’t believe there is any such thing as an easy piece – when it comes to performance. We soon realise this when we take this so-called easy piece into a performance situation and suddenly it is not such plain sailing. All the same prerequisites of performance apply to this piece as to the next piece – communicating the musical message, playing with rhythmical awareness, quality of sound and phrasing, and good tonal balance between the hands.
Let’s look at an example from Mozart’s C minor Concerto, K.491 – a small phrase from the Larghetto (solo piano part is on the upper systems):
Any self-respecting relative beginner would be able to read the notes of this passage, they are simplicity itself. And yet to create the right sound and mood with just these few notes, to feel the phrase gradually gaining in intensity until it flowers in the last bar without overdoing it – these things are far from easy and take quite a bit of judgment and control. In the hands of a great artist this passage sounds sublime, as it should.
During the Mozart year in 2006 I played a solo programme consisting of some sonatas, variations and a selection of baby pieces (assorted Klavierstücke, some of which are suitable for elementary players). I did this not only to give the programme a bit of lightness, but also to show that these small pieces are little gems in themselves. The idea came to me from hearing a cassette recording from an LP of Daniel Barenboim playing these pieces, the poise and rhythmical vitality he brought to these little structures blew me away. I wish the recording were still available, but I can’t find it anywhere.
In this recording of Bach’s G minor Minuet from Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, listen to how Rosalyn Tureck brings a variety of touches to her very carefully considered and organised performance. There is so much to appreciate here!
If you want to listen to more vintage Tureck, here she is shedding light on some of the other smaller pieces of Bach that beginners play. I love what she does with the G major Minuet and the March in E flat.
My advice is apply the same care and consideration to so-called easy pieces (or easy parts of pieces) as you would a difficult piece you might struggle to master. Work out a good fingering, consider a range of dynamics and a variety of touches, make some pedal choices and aim to deliver a musically satisfying performance. Just because a piece is simple does not make it is easy to bring off, and a simple piece may be of great artistic merit.
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If you want to learn more about the history of the piano and piano technique, Part 2 of my eBook Series, Practising the Piano is now available. Please see below for details of how to get your copy.
Practising the Piano Part 2
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