The way I handle fear is to meet it head on, working through my dreaded moments. It’s the same for a killer section of music that’s marked con fuoco, “with a combination of force and speed.” The metronome marking is even more intimidating considering the barrage of 16ths. Quarter = 84!
While I might first run scared at the sight of dizzying notes, and Forte broken-chord patterns with accent marks; shifts of turbulence from one hand to another cluttered with bands of dreaded semi-quavers in break-neck speed that MUST NOT overshadow the melody wherever it appears, I just SLOW myself down and BREATHE through my practicing.
Such a time old approach applies to learning the middle section of Chopin’s Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15 no. 1 as well as any dare devilish measures found in other works.
1) As expected, I advise SLOW, mindful, ear-attentive practicing in SEPARATE HANDS for starters. (Slow doesn’t mean fast. It’s a pacing that allows you to consistently keep one tempo in good control) I will often play DOUBLE SLOW, making sure to shape my phrases as I would in a faster tempo.
FINGERING is also a big consideration in a steady, deliberate read, though if you have a better suggestion for yourself that improves phrasing or is more comfortable, enter those changes in the score.
As for dynamics, especially in regard to the motivic stream of agitated 16ths that are announced in the bass, I would do my best to implement the crescendo within a slow frame. This swell, for me, is a major challenge and one that must be met as the hallmark of this section. (The entrance immediately defines a changed mood and spirit by contrast to the framing molto cantabile at the beginning and end of the Nocturne)
2) Be sure to MAP out harmonies, chord progressions, modulations, secondary dominants, pivot chords, as you go along. (Write these into the music)
Look for melodic and harmonic sequences and tab them. Are there any echo phrases? Circle them. Is there a place in the music where you see a counter-melody that you might want to bring out? If so, then note it with a pencil. With this reference in mind, I found two measures in the Left Hand TENOR voice that drew my interest–bars 33 to 34. Not that I would be dismissive of the soprano (right hand) which contains a divine echo, but perhaps I could reveal both voices in a magical way.
3) After much saturated SEPARATE HAND practicing, I would recommend a SLOW, hands together reading, though measures with glitches should be separated out and further slowed before re-integrating them back to practice tempo.
4) When you feel very confident with a hands together reading, gradually inch up your tempo for each playing.
The video tutorial below goes into greater detail about how to practice the middle section, and the attached score can be followed along.
I haven’t yet addressed rubato in this instruction, because my first priority was to help myself and others navigate the technical terrain. (Note that I raised the iMovie volume of my speaking voice so it could be heard more clearly between playing samples)
The video focuses on the physical aspect of executing the section, with attention to undulating wrist pairings (the advice was sent to me by Seymour Bernstein)
I’ve since added more insights:
Another explored the harmonic rhythm and other analytical aspects of the section:
Seymour Bernstein, author, With Your Own Two Hands, suggested another device for practicing the mid-section to obtain a better “choreography” and smoother/more relaxed phrasing. He recommended that I play staccato in both hands, followed by legato.
Here’s what resulted when I tried out the staccato approach. It definitely afforded more relaxation of the arms and hands, but I didn’t quite amply flesh out the Left Hand notes. That will take more practice, at a slower tempo.
Followed by Legato: The second sample is better shaped despite a glitch:
One of my favorite performances of Nocturne in F Major: Livia Rev, pianist
(Unfortunately, the blue title screen has an incorrect naming of the composition)
Personally, I liked her tempo in the middle section. It was clear and passionate, not over-rushed.
Here’s the blog I wrote about her: