Mozart piano sonata, Mozart Sonata in F Major K. 332, music study and ripening, musical phrasing, musical phrasing and breathing, pianist

Playing Mozart: Phrasing and Nuance

Expressing Mozart’s piano music beautifully is a composite of many ingredients that include vocal modeling; an understanding of form/structure and harmonic elements; sound imaging, and in the cosmos of the imagination, exploring how to produce what we want to hear. In our ongoing phase of “experimentation,” we delve through a terrain of unclarity, seeking ways to phrase expressively with shape and contour, accepting the premise that decisions we make are subject to change as our immersion deepens.

In a spirit of being receptive to a filter of new “ideas”, I revisited Mozart’s Sonata in F, K. 332, (Exposition) recreating the steps I took in sculpting phrases.

Along the path of my renewed journey, I discovered the following “POINTS of Interest” about the Exposition that provided a necessary framing of my re-learning process. I borrow a few, in part, from Dr. Clark Ross:

“There are several thematic ideas, if the transition is included. Each of the thematic ideas has a musical character that is distinct from the others.” (My comment, I found many more thematic strands in this Exposition than in most of the Mozart Sonatas I’ve studied, and each needs a unique realization through a synthesis of the musical and physical aspects of playing.)

“Principal Theme 2, (PT2) and Second Theme 3 (ST3) have similar textures (homo-rhythmic, homophonic) but their character is different. PT2 is playful, dance-like, while ST3 is more solemn and chorale-like.

“The direct modulation to d minor at the beginning of the transition (in a markedly contrasting section) is striking. It’s part of the abrupt dramatic change to the “Sturm und Drang” character. “Storm and Stress.” (from Wikipedia: Sturm und Drang is literally “turbulence and urgency.”)

(Paraphrase)…. This transition is uniquely syncopated and intense, emphasized by frequent Sforzando markings–(I note a poignant sequential modulation from D minor to C minor, via diminished chord entrances) SEQUENCES, like these, are formidable in Mozart’s music and provoke emotional/aesthetic responses.

Dr. Ross effectively reinforces structural and harmonic considerations in the Exposition that are important underpinnings of analyses, but these will not amply address the aesthetics of creating well-shaped phrases with a Mozartean singing-tone character.

In my tutorial, I absorbed a harmonic and structural dimension that ultimately complemented and expanded a hands-on, “experimental” journey through the Exposition. It included “emotional” responses to harmonic shifts and sequences that permeate the composer’s music, while it infused the learning process with a pronounced feature of attentive listening. (i.e Listening to the decay from a previous note or sonority into the next, especially in crossover measures) Riveted attention to dissolving tones, prevents unwanted accents in measures where students misguidedly believe that the first beat of 3/4, in this instance, comes with an unchallenged pronounced emphasis. If executed in this way, a phrase can be upended by interruptions in the smooth flow of a musical line. Similarly, crescendo’s made prematurely and peaking on a downbeat, because of metrical misconception, must be re-aligned otherwise to enhance expressive playing.

Where Mozart has a plethora of juxtaposed repeated notes in his contrasting themes, I demonstrate ways of shaping these, so they’re not robotically rendered.

adult piano instruction, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Lara Downes, music study and ripening, patience, pianist, piano, piano blogging, piano learning, piano study, piano teaching, San Francisco Classical Voice, Stephen Hough

Pianist, Stephen Hough talks about growing a piece over time

Stephen Hough

In this excerpt from Lara Downe’s San Francisco Classical Voice interview with Stephen Hough, the universe of growth and musical ripening is explored.

Lara Downes: Your teacher, Gordon Green, was a great influence and inspiration to you, and you’ve quoted him as saying to you, when you were a young student: “I don’t care how you’re playing the piece now, what I care about is how you’ll play it in 10 years.”

Is that still true for you? As a deeply spiritual person, how do you experience the balance of making personal effort, and also just waiting for the revelation part of that learning process?

Stephen Hough: With this business of searching, I feel that I’m still very much a beginner. The idea of being patient for 10 years is not something that comes naturally to me at all! But I do think that it’s important for us to develop this kind of patience. It’s almost like farming. I mean, if you want to grow beautiful fruit, you do have to let the trees grow. You can dump chemicals on them and get them to produce very quickly, but if you want delicious fruit that’s going to grow season after season, even beyond your own lifetime, there’s a certain sort of time that simply has to pass, and I think it’s the same with learning music. We can learn a piece of music very quickly, but we have to be aware that it’s going to get so much richer over the years..

– See more at:

I applied Hough’s philosophy to a lesson on Bach Invention 13 in A minor. What I’d extracted from Hough’s poetically framed response, centered on the quality of study from the very start with its continuum of stages. If learning was quick and haphazard, it would not grow and blossom over time.

Naturally, as I taught an adult student last night, front and center in my mind, was laying a solid foundation in the early learning phase of a new piece:

1) Fingering had to be decided and solidified. (not a dice throw experience from one playing to another) It had to be a “musical” fingering that realized a phrase’s shape and contour. Sometimes replacing a thumb with an alternate finger at a cadence could make a qualitative difference. This applied to a segment in Bach Invention 13 in A minor where the student’s choice of a thumb instead of finger 2, forced an undesirable accent.

2) Rhythm, note durations, etc. needed specific attention.

3) Slow, separate hand practice with a framing pulse, factored into foundation building that would be the best bank deposit for future musical growth. It “banked” on good fingering choices and an awareness of context: what was happening structurally and harmonically to frame the learning process. (Included was a recognition of SEQUENCES)

Context reinforced each learning stage, and CONTOURING or SHAPING LINES was part of this phase, using singing as an aid to phrasing with equal attention to dynamics.

4) Spot practicing: Where finger trapping or redundant glitches occurred, making a conscious effort to work through specific measures that needed extra focus and attention became another solid, interest bearing bank deposit for optimum musical growth. (It’s opposite was meaningless repetition)

5) FRAMING ALL OF THE ABOVE was Hough’s PATIENCE mantra, that for me, was his most resonant theme.

Bundled into such wisdom, was an avoidance of tempo charging, or driving the learning process at a rate that failed to preserve quality in the present in order to insure ripening in the future.

Stephen Hough on the Practice of Practicing

Excerpt from a Masterclass (Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody)