Every student should have the opportunity to play some Clementi in the early grades - not only a composer, but a great performer and manufacturer of pianos! This sonatina was a favourite of mine at school - playing Clementi led me to the world of Mozart... Lots here to think about: sparkling scale passages without undue accents, Alberti bass with the need for a light thumb, articulation nuances and staccato thirds! It's also a great chance to discuss structure and form, in this case sonata form, and how the exposition, development and recapitulation sections have different characters. The short development section, for example, is in the slightly darker in C minor before a jolly recap of the first subject and octave lower than the opening. It will be a popular choice.
I don't have any Scottish students - if I did, they would appreciate the dance character of this piece and might find the rhythms easier in bar 3. You don't often find quaver/semiquaver groups arranged short/long as in this example (not the piece itself):
In the B2 pastoral piece, Rebikov's focus is clearly on imitating the conversational character of a pipe. A nice one for discussing Russian style, stepwise movement and folk dance modes. The opening and closing sections are countryside 'idyllic' in character, with a virtuoso filling to the sandwich! I should ask my pupils if they can hear birdsong in the left hand fifths and sixths at the opening few bars - I am sure there's a cuckoo in there somewhere! The parallel seventh chords in the allegretto section might be a challenge for those with limited hand span! Some sneaky pedal maybe and play well into the keys - I would also have the pupil look at the movement of parts of the chords, I think, with some careful listening to the parts within. The pipe melody should always be allowed to sing out, especially in bars 12 to 15. The dramatic rests in bar 15 should be given full value, and I am tempted, although it doesn't say so, to add a slight ritenuto at that point. If any of my pupils play the flute or recorder, so much the better, their experience of tonguing and embouchure will help with phrasing this piece.
B3 The Donkey has Died. Now, I know I said that I enjoy Iberian styles, but this might be a tricky one to promote to my students approaching this grade, particularly the animal lovers! Not your jolly outsize souvenir donkey in a sunhat, dragged through customs, but a real one destined to be 'a beast of burden'.... It is one from which really sensitive playing will come if it's treated with respect.
A variety of techniques are asked for in the piece, particularly balance between the hands when either one has the melody line which is plaintive. The phrase structure should be observed closely, so that the emotional heart of the piece is contrasted with a longer phrase length from bar 15 onwards. There's lots of scope for developing legato pedalling again, too, with softly played chords in the left hand and sustained minims. Dynamically, is there a touch of anguish at bar 15 for the plight of the donkey? He very gradually weakens, all the way to a poignant end on the last gentle chord. Pass the hankie!
As an alternative, the Witches' Dance B5 is really good fun and Alfred publications have background notes and illustrations about the Romantic period which provide additional interest for the student. Gedike's Schulstunde B4 is also more amenable for those with smaller hands.
From a dead donkey to a moody crustacean responsible for food poisoning, or so it might suggest in the notes to Moody Prawn Blues! I find the juxtaposition of these two creatures in the book bizarrely amusing. This piece will appeal due to its laid-back swing and d minor, as a scale, has such a good feel to it, that pupils won't mind playing around with the figures to get the 'jazz band' feel. Tricky areas are the sixths, where the right hand should be relaxed and play into the keys and the denser chords on the offbeats - bars 12, 20 and 22. The cheeky ending has to be sighted well in advance.
Nikki Iles' arrangement of The Old Cowhand appeared in my blog on the Grade 2 pieces. Here in C2 is one of her own compositions, Cotton Reel. The three aspects of this piece that I would give particular attention to, in order are: the cross rhythms, the lilting phrases and the chords in thirds and sixths. Teacher and pupil can tap or clap 1 - - 2 - - and 1 + 2 + 3 + rhythms, taking turns simultaneously, before alternating them bar by bar and finally apply them to the score. It has to sound effortless. The melody line can then be sung, so that the dynamic rise and fall appears naturally, as do the syncopated tied quaver s in bars 4 and 5. Five finger exercises in thirds will help to find the best finger position to ensure that all notes in a chord go down together. The fuller chords in bars 11 and 27 might best be tackled from the middle, then add thumb and outer fingers in turn.
In C3, Jack may indeed be sad but the pianist will still need nimble fingers for the position changes and ornaments! Once again there are tied notes (pedals) that should be held well while other fingers skip around. This might be imagined played on a flute again, rather like B2; I think bars 14 to 17, with the mordents played on the beat and the quieter echo, are gorgeous. Some time spent singing the soprano line from bar 4, while playing the quavers underneath, will ensure that the falling sequence has prominence. Nice one, Mr Martin!
So my personal choice at this grade?.. Scarlatti, Carroll, Martin. I wonder how many would choose the same three?