Clementi, Op. 36 No. 1

No Piece is too easy to teach and play thoughtfully

At this juncture of teaching, I’m savoring diverse repertoire along with my students, the youngest of whom is 10, and the oldest being over 60. What all these pupils share in common, regardless of level, is a journey through repertoire that requires a thoughtful process of learning. Even a Beginner labeled two or three note piece, needs an understanding of structure, meter, articulation, melodic contour, and dynamic variation. These same elements of analysis and exploration apply up the chain of difficulty to intermediate and advanced music.

Recently, a transfer student brought along the popular Clementi Sonatina in C, Op. 36, No. 1, (Allegro) which is all too often trivialized by its redundant march-like procession, tossed off with drumbeat accuracy. It’s to the sacrifice of plying long groups of well-shaped eighth notes as relief to the “trumpeter” opening. Other pitfalls involve one stop dynamics, and scales that are tapped out in typewriter fashion.

Since I hadn’t played the Sonatina for years, I ignited a ground up relearning process, starting with movement one. (To teach a composition, one must layer, analyze, and develop to a level of comprehension that is true to the music.)

It’s also essential that we discern from our students’ growth process, what needs clarification and improvement. The healthy distance that exists while listening to a pupil, allows a necessary objectivity that feeds our own understanding of phrasing, tone production and dynamic variation.

The Allegro, opening movement

Having an initial perception of the student’s rendering at an introductory lesson produced my own tutorial that addressed the “feeling” of 2, embedded in a meter of 2/2, but without imbuing a formulated and relentless lean on the first beat accompanied by a lighter relief on the second. What becomes apparent through introspection, is that harmonic rhythm and the melodic shaping of a 4-note arpeggio (where it occurs) throw emphasis away from a cliche procession of conspicuous DOWN-beats at various junctures in the music.

Scale passages, as well, in sequence, discourage formidable downbeat playing. (It’s better to “roll” into the depth of a scale as it unfolds than pounce on the starting note.)

Approaching an ascending one-octave scale in eighth notes, invites an underplay of the first few notes, adding weight transfer through the passage in a swell to the peak, spilling into a slurred broken octave with two repeated staccato notes following.

“Destinations” or arrivals among these many stepwise note spreads are therefore delayed past what is thought of as an initial first beat emphasis in the beginning of scales. And the “direction” of these stepwise passages to achieve “shape” and a singing line should be imbued with a “horizontal” perception that avoids a vertical, tap/tap/”notey” rendering.

Similarly, various sequences that have descending skip/step progressions require an identification of principle notes that meander through a melodic thread and cadence at their termination. (with “resolution,” not accent.) These descending sequences of slurred eighths can be blocked vertically, or practiced in long/short/long, dotted-eighth/16th rhythms. Both forms of repetition flesh out a trail of melody through a passage that advances line shaping or contouring.

Structure: Awareness of themes, keys, harmonic progressions, Development (thought very short) and Recapitulation deepen learning from the start.

Tutorial, Allegro

Play Through

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