Deep-layered learning should occur at all levels of piano study because it enriches the music-making experience. Taking shortcuts, and constantly reading through a composition, skimming the surface, deprive the player of being in touch with himself and the composer at the moment of creation.
One particular masterwork, that draws so many pupils into its gorgeous fold in an intensely engaged journey, is the Prelude in A minor by J.C. Bach. (one of J.S. Bach sons who lived during the Classical era, though this work has a Baroque autograph)
It’s an ethereal composition that happened to woo me the minute I heard it, and now years past that first exposure, I partake of its beauty as a pianist and teacher.
I stumbled upon the Prelude one day in Faber’s Developing Artist Series, Early Intermediate Level, but frankly, I would not go so far as to label it one way or another, since the whole process of absorbing its many dimensions makes it difficult to categorize.
So rather than boxing it in, I encourage students who are “ready,” to relish the harmonic and melodic contour of this piece, in a baby-step adventure.
It starts with blocking out broken chords, and “feeling” a melodic strand that seeps through these sonorities. In the first half there’s a pedal point, meaning that one note played by the thumb in the left hand, has both dissonant and consonant chords in the TREBLE traveling through it.
In the second “B” section, the “harmonic rhythm increases” through a series of “secondary dominants,” (creating transitory but powerful modulations) that melt the heart and intensify pleasure. Here again, a “blocking” approach aids learning.
I’ve noticed that many students are amply gratified by playing through lush harmonies, though once they unravel the melody, their joy is intensified. Naturally, exploring the theoretical dimension of this masterpiece, creates an even more profound understanding of what unfolds.
The video instruction that I recorded, details the approach that has produced so many touching performances rendered by adults and children.
But first, here’s my play through: