piano, piano blog, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Tchaikovsky, Uncategorized

Tchaikovsky’s “Sweet Dream” requires a balanced synthesis of voices

At first glance, most piano students will not realize the amount of detailed work and analysis that applies to learning one of Tchaikovsky’s most endearing miniatures from his Op. 39 Children’s Collection. However, after an initial reading and overview, it becomes crystal clear that each voice must be parceled out and then re-integrated in a layered manner to satisfy a balance of counterpoint in the soprano and bass, with harmonic enrichment in after beats folded into the texture.

Sweet Dream p. 1 1

Naturally, flowing, relaxed arms, supple wrists, effortless breathing, and HORIZONTAL motion are embedded in all learning stages to best produce the desired singing tone that’s wedded to the music as it floats in Dream sequence. (Mental imagery certainly feeds the imagination but it cannot be solely relied upon without a deep and dedicated learning foundation.)


Most often the tendency to undermine Tchaikovsky’s delicate framing of voices occurs when the after beat intervals in 2nds, thirds, fourths, etc. start popping out, causing an incongruous, imbalanced mosaic. This is why isolating them, and subduing their impact with a supple wrist, and lighter weight transfer where needed is helpful.

As well, the outer framing voices (soprano and bass) can be discovered first alone and then together, while the student can also permute the harmonic alto afterbeats with either the bass or treble. All voices can be shuffled around in practicing before they are synthesized, noting that the contrasting middle section of “Dreaming” amounts to a prominent melodic shift where a cello line in the bass is fleshed out against chordal after beats in the treble. The player, therefore, has to deal with an inversion of voices and altered weight transfer.

Sweet Dream p. 2 1

The idea of listening for decay after a preceding cadence is also a significant component of shaping lines in an aesthetically satisfying way. It requires reading between the lines in a score, and not plunging into a raised dynamic under a note, but factoring in what came before and how it affects what comes later. (It might mean entering a note or phrase by picking it up on the decay of what preceded.) To this end, hyper-attentive listening is part and parcel of a thorough learning process that will ultimately produce beauty, nuance, and poignant responses to harmonic rhythm. (Harmonic mapping, incidentally assists phrasing and interpretation)

Finally, in my teaching video, I was able to define the necessary ingredients that most favored a growing relationship to the piece over time, and many students who had joined for me for the adventure, provided even more enlightenment as we shared back and forth.

Play Through

5 thoughts on “Tchaikovsky’s “Sweet Dream” requires a balanced synthesis of voices”

  1. I so look forward to your teaching videos. I am a 70 year old beginner and am entering my fourth year with a very fine teacher. One thing that would be helpful as I search repertoire is for you to suggest the difficulty level; for exp. I’m playing early intermediate and think that the OP 39,21 is appropriate to try on my own but not sure. I want to play beyond the notes, with sensitive execution. Many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your suggestion. I think with Op 39, No. 21, at least an Intermediate level should have been attained but whether early, middle or late Intermediate applies, is a bit of a challenge to pin down. I guess for each student certain pieces might be appropriate given their ability at a given time, so that generalizing level can be a bit binding. For many teachers, pieces that are appropriate for one “Intermediate” level student might not be for others. It boils down to tailoring a particular piece to meet the individual needs of a student in the course of his/her study. Op. 39, as you know has a real mix of levels. There are some compositions that require more developed skills in particular rapid tempos (presto), “Baba Yaga,” “Playing Hobby Horses,” than others such as “Old French Song.”


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