Dussek was a 'cosmopolitan' composer, often moving around Europe to find new work. Biographies (e.g. H.A.Craw 1964) refer to the fact that he led an increasingly hedonistic lifestyle, that he wasn't particularly successful in business (his publishing house eventually went bankrupt) and that he lacked organisation. He fled London in 1799 to escape from his debts, leaving a wife and daughter in England while he went to work in Paris. He eventually died of gout at St Germain-en-Laye in 1812 at the age of 52.
He was, however, a virtuoso pianist, often entertaining London circles with his own works, and is purported to be the performer who introduced playing 'with profile to the audience'. He worked alongside John Broadwood in the development of the piano, taking delivery of the latter's first 6ft model. A forward-looking composer, he combined elements of the Classical era with features to be further explored in the Romantic period. The first movement of his sonata in B flat includes such features - exposition, development and recapitulation, but with lyric melodies and great contrasts in dynamics and scope for varying tone and use of the pedal.
The first subject enters with great aplomb and remains a strong force in the development of the movement. Students should be encouraged to note the detailed contrasts in dynamics and punctuation almost straight away. The scale passages will sparkle when played with as much brilliance as possible. The second subject is lyrical but still includes the first subject group to create cohesion and this is where the virtuosity of the pianist can shine through. The development section is an exciting exploration of the opening motif. It is full of vibrancy and colour and opportunities to demonstrate nuances throughout all dynamic ranges pp-p-mp-mf-f-ff. However, it's the crossing of hands combined with finger dexterity between bars 63 and 79 that demands most attention in this section. Trills, ornaments, precise finger work, wrist and forearm rotation are all called for throughout this movement. It stands out as something rather different in the selection compared to the full-blown Romanticism of the following two pieces, but it will appeal to students for whom 'busy' chords are more challenging.
Not knowing this piece very well, I played through the Dussek, and listened to Leif Andsnes playing the Grieg while I followed the score, and compared it again with the Dussek, and then played the Grieg through at a reasonable pace (not nearly fast enough at the end) and came to the conclusion that this is the most fiendish choice in the B list selected pieces! If Dussek's work can display virtuosity, then this really is a challenge. Usually (but not always), it comes down to which techniques a pupil feels most confident with when it comes to choosing an exam programme. Some will rise out of their comfort zone. This is definitely one for the extroverts... It has all the hallmarks of Grieg's Romantic vision, with elements of his Norwegian nationalistic style. Some experience of playing the Lyric Pieces would be helpful. Grieg demonstrates his knowledge of how to exploit the orchestral qualities of the piano in this movement - it is passionate in every sense. Melodies shine through (they were of paramount importance to Grieg), so studying some of the Lyric Pieces will develop not only an understanding of him but of the musicianship required in this performance.
Interestingly, he opens with a cryptogram rather as Bach did using German nomenclature. The E - H(B) - G represent his initials, Hagerup being his middle name and the surname of his cousin who was to become his wife. This is re-iterated in bar 13 in octaves. The quasi-Alberti bass includes leaps of a tenth and have to be played quietly, so create some tricky stretches for a small hand. Bar 11 introduces the first of many rich chords - Grieg certainly loved big chords/ intervals and octaves! Even if pupils have a large handspan, but haven't practised bravura octaves in either scales or leaps, they may find this movement very demanding. The second subject at bar 50 is in nationalistic style, as is the lovely interlude in the development section at bars 92 -105, where the movement skips into compound time.
B3 Schubert: Allegro ma non troppo. First movement of Sonata in
A minor D537
Back in the 'olden days' when one needed to gain the Advanced Certificate (pre DipABRSM), the entire sonata was one of my choices.
I have already alluded to Schubertian tertiary shifts in previous blogs, now we can see how the master does it himself to accentuate ever-changing moods. It sparkles one minute, then delves into darker expression the next.
The first subject's opening chords, in three bars + two bars, leads to an increase in passion through arpeggiated semiquavers. At bar 16 a light-footed Viennese waltz motif builds and builds with frustration until a climax at bar 24, and a diminuendo that ends in a lovely 'standstill' moment. This leads us to the second subject group in F major. In the following bars, the left hand inner voice is the most important. I would practise this first, then the upper voice, then add the bass. At bar 33 is the introduction of a motif that is to form an important part of the movement. It becomes more and more insistent, eventually reaching ff at bar 49. In the following bar, I allow the sforzando some space, before descending in quieter mood. The closing subject, from bar 54 introduces the marvellous 'sigh' motif. The sorrowful dissonances in the soprano and tenor voices here should be brought out clearly.
A modulation through G flat major takes us to the development section and a surprise shift to E major. Here the sigh motif is developed in sequence culminating in a lovely left hand moment at bar 88 - the right hand chords shouldn't be too heavy. Another fermata in which to 'pause and reflect' occurs at bars 95 to 97. The next episode is in one of Schubert's favourite keys, A flat, with sensitive stretches required through the diminished sevenths - the sigh motif soars in the soprano voice until the tension builds towards the tonic major. He's definitely in a happy mood here! In bars 117 to 121, allow the right hand to sing out and keep left hand chords lighter.
During the recapitulation, the second subject group is a third higher in the tonic major. A restatement of the first subject in the home key leads to 'questions' in A major and D major; the 'answer' is sadness, back to A minor...