Back To Burgmuller for phrasing in the Romantic genre

Friedrich Burgmuller’s Twenty-Five Easy and Progressive Pieces, Op. 100, provide a feast of opportunities to develop a tonal vocabulary of well-contoured phrases. Regardless of tempo or mood set, these individual tableaux draw on the player’s imagination to realize picturesque titles, while creating clean melodic and harmonic lines.

“Tender Flower,” (Tendre Fleur), No. 10, opens with “sighing pairs” of eighth notes, played as delicately as a flower in full blossom. To achieve this sensitively rendered rhythmic/melodic synthesis in the treble, one must both internalize the imagined sound of the opening phrase while putting into play supple wrist rolls through ascending eighth pairs that spill into the Dominant measure following. A natural crescendo, executed by a subtle arm weight increase aids phrase direction.

In the bass, a harmonic underpinning helps pull the melody toward resolution. I call these junctures, “destinations” that keep music ebbing and flowing without flat lines. Such amplifies why pre-fixed dynamic markings don’t tell the complete story about how to shape unfolding phrases.

Where the composition blossoms into longer groups of notes under one slur, as in measures 5 through 8, a pianist must “feel” sub-groupings or dips, that again are aided by supple wrist gulps of notes that overall spill through well-shaped movement to cadence. The ritenuto and diminuendo at this juncture allow for a graceful tapering in the home key of D Major.

The Middle or ‘B’ section starting at Measure 9, and modulating to the Dominant key of A Major, opens at a Mezzo Forte dynamic and has a more formidable interchange between the hands. The sighing treble pairs of the opening measures of the composition, are shifted to the Bass in this second section, without a hint of the staccato markings on the second of the eighth note pairing. And although the sighing pairs at the start had so-called detached releases, they were never to be short or clipped. Nevertheless, in the second section, the listener picks up the relationship of the pairings that are now in the Left Hand, but breathed out as continuous looping figures assisted by wrist inflected groupings and warm pedaling.

Naturally, the ‘A’ section returns in the home key of D Major, as it rekindles the phrasing and dynamics as previously notated in the opener.

In the video below, I flesh out various dimensions of phrasing that accrue to this heartfelt tableau.


In my second video, I present a lesson-in-progress for Burgmuller’s La Tarentelle, No. 20, with its contrasting mood as compared to Tendre Fleur.

With a galloping 6/8 pace, the composition nonetheless has lyrically rendered phrases that are interspersed with legato and combined/legato-staccato back and forth responsive phrases. These are conversations within forward moving lines that create a dialog of emotions at quickly spaced intervals. (A feeling of TWO beats per measure, or Duple Compound permeate this composition with its opening of triplet pairings that intensify forward and pull back in short order with wrist driven motions.)

Meanwhile the chordal underpinnings in the bass, are not overplayed but provide a warm cushion for the melody. These Left Hand chords must be nurtured along with a pliant wrist to avoid a punchy tone. Where the chords become broken, they must unravel seamlessly with clockwise rotations and played softer than the melody.

A march-like section beginning in measure 33, causes a striking shift in character that still preserves a compelling shape through crescendo and decrescendo bars. Following this articulated set of measures with stark rhythmic reinforcement, the pianist must then shift emotional gears and return to a whimsical set of responsive measures with a variety of slurs and articulations. (45-48) Such emotion-packed fluctuations present the greatest challenge to realizing the essence of La Tarentelle.

Finally at the Coda, the fast paced triplet pairings that are imbued by supple wrist groupings, ascend in a gradual diminuendo to cadence, quickly followed by punctuated, forthright chords! (It’s a resounding ending!)

4 thoughts on “Back To Burgmuller for phrasing in the Romantic genre”

  1. Good morning Shirley,
    Thank you for your u-tube videos and blog.

    I am writing to inquire as to whether you are taking new students. I am retired and studying music including piano and “theory”. I have found your teaching materials very helpful. Currently I am playing piano at an intermediate level and enjoy different genres including baroque, classical, romantic, jazz and pop.

    Thank you, sincerely
    Ruth Sellers

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Thanks for your comments and inquiry.. I have perhaps an opening pending the return of a student on leave. My strength and emphasis are the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and late Romantic repertoire.. and some contemporary works.. I would not be a good choice for jazz and pop.. Shirley K


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